The (Ig) Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize is perhaps the most prestigious, sought-after, and impressive award a person can receive.  Many of the greatest thinkers and most influential geniuses of the modern world have been its recipients.  The Ig Nobel Prize, on the other hand, is much less well-known, and much more colorful.  The award –ten of which are bestowed each year – is intended to recognize incredible achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”  The recipients’ work combines ‘serious’ scientific and cultural contribution with decidedly quirky and oddball experimentation.  The ceremonies themselves feature the same eccentric mixture of formality and absurdity – with a decided emphasis on the latter. 

YouTube: Sword Swallowing and its Side Effects – Minimovies: Ig Nobel Prizes

 The Ig Nobel Prize is, in fact, a bit more impressive than its name seems to imply.  Founded and organized by the scientific humor magazine, Annals of Improbably Research, and sponsored by various student associations at Harvard University, the award (usually) highlights truly significant discoveries.  Andre Geim, for example, won the 2000 Physics Ig Nobel Prize for successfully levitating a frog.  In 2009, he was awarded the actual Nobel Prize in physics for related research. 

Underscoring the mood of the award, the official mascot of the Ig Nobel Foundation is called “The Stinker,” and is a drawing of Rodin’s famous “The Thinker,” having fallen from its pedestal and landed in a ridiculous ass-up position.  The ceremonies themselves are held annually at Harvard University in September, and previous Nobel laureates are responsible for physically awarding the medals.  Oddball costumes, eccentric displays, sing-alongs, and outrageous outbursts are all standard features of the event.  Every year the prize has a different look, but is always comic, and includes some kind of gag-gift element like false teeth, fuzzy dice, or a rubber chicken. 

There have been many notable winners of the Ig Nobel since it was started in 1991& – far too many to name – but here’s a quick look at the accomplishments of a few previous recipients:

  • A recent Ig Nobel Peace Prize was given to The Airforce Wright Laboratory for initiating R&D into a chemical weapon “Gay Bomb,” which is supposed to make enemy soldiers irresistible to each another. 
  • The 2007 Aviation Prize was given to the scientists who discovered that Viagra speeds up jetlag recovery in hamsters.
  • In 2005, the Medicine Prize was awarded to the inventor of Neuticles: artificial canine testicles for neutered dogs.  They come in three different sizes and levels of firmness. 
  • The 2005 Ig Nobel Prize for Literature was given to the Nigerian Internet entrepreneurs who wrote (and disseminated via mass email) a series of compelling short stories from the perspective of brilliantly conceived fictional characters, each of whom needs a small monetary donation to gain access to his vast fortune. 

As you can see, there is some tough competition, and the winners come from widely varying artistic and scientific backgrounds.  But despite their unconventionality, the Ig Nobel’s do not mock science – a fact attested to by the numerous Nobel Laureates who participate each year.  Rather, the award is designed to highlight the lighter side of science, and to show that cultural accomplishment need not be stiff-collared and elitist.  Ironically enough, the Ig Nobels aren’t ignoble at all. 

What do you think? Are the awards worth it? Would you like to receive one? At Thorpe park breaks we’d love to know what you think – comment below!

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