The Best of the Ig Nobels

The wasabi fire alarm team celebrates their Ig Noble winOne of the highest honours a person can receive is that of a Nobel Prize. Many great men and women who’ve made significant contributions to humanity have picked up a Nobel for their efforts. Whether you agree that Bob Dylan deserved to pick up the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016 is beside the point, at the end of the day, the Nobel Prize is a significant achievement that is a testament to the advancement of the human race. Then there are the Ig Nobel awards.


Unusual Achievements in Scientific Research

Being the recipient of an Ig Nobel Prize is not quite as prestigious as the real thing, but it’s pretty cool anyway. Organised by the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), the Ig Nobel prize is a parody of the original Nobel Prize and is awarded to celebrate ten highly unusual achievements in scientific research for the year. The name of the award is essentially a pun on the word ignoble which defines an achievement as dishonourable or shameful.

The Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded to recipients by Nobel laureates at a grand ceremony at the Sanders Theatre at Harvard University. The great thing about the Ig Nobel awards is that that they can be awarded to anyone with a great idea. The more peculiar or random the scientific research, the better. So far there have been some doozies. This year, there have been plenty of deserving winners; for example, the Ig Nobel Prize for Anatomy was given to James Heathcote for his detailed study on why old men have big ears.

Gambling with a Crocodile

The 2017 economics prize was even more interesting. A combined effort from Australia and the USA, the award was given to Matthew Rockloff and Nancy Greer for their intriguing experiments to see exactly how contact with a live crocodile will influence a person’s willingness to gamble on electronic gaming machines. The paper basically said that online betting is intensified with reptile-induced arousal. This could be something the online gambling industry could invest in, but for the moment it’s possibly better to stick to live interaction with real people when playing live dealer games!

The Personality of Rocks

If you thought the Kiwis were immune to such trivial scientific madness, you would be wrong. In 2016, A New Zealand collaboration with the UK resulted in the Ig Nobel Economics Prize. Handed over to Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson, the prize was given for scientific research on the assessment of the perceived personalities of rocks. This is of course from a sales and marketing perspective. Along with the Ig Nobel prize, the team were awarded with a $10 trillion Zimbabwean bill. While that only equates to about 50 cents, notable Nobel laureates signed the bill, which makes it priceless really.

New Zealand also featured in the Physics Awards where Patricia Priest and Lianne Parkin of the University of Otago were honoured. The pair was successfully able to demonstrate that people would slip and fall less often on icy footpaths if they wore socks on the outside of their shoes. If it didn’t look so silly, I am sure many more people would be giving it a go.

Retrieving Whale Snot

The Ig Nobel awards are often given out to dedicated scientists and engineers who just have a slightly different idea about the world. Such was the case with the Zoological Society of London. They were handed the Ig Nobel prize for engineering when they perfected a way to retrieve whale snot using water-safe remote-controlled helicopter.

Chickens that Walk Like Dinosaurs

If you thought that was strange, consider the 2015 Biology Prize. This was handed over to the Chilean/American team who were able to determine that if one attaches a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken will then walk in a similar manner in which dinosaurs were thought to have padded around the earth. How and why they got to this line of thinking is another question altogether.

While art is usually subjective, the Italian trio of Marina de Tommaso, Michele Sardaro, and Paolo Livrea decided to test out the theory that people perceive less pain when looking at a beautiful picture rather than an ugly picture. This was determined by exposing people to a painting while shooting them in the hand with a powerful laser beam. Naturally, the Italian trio was awarded the Ig Nobel for Art.

Wasabi Alarms and Sheep Dragging

Have you heard of the Wasabi Alarm? It might be making its way into your home in the near future. A team of Japanese chemists received the Ig Nobel prize for chemistry when they were able to determine the ideal density of airborne wasabi to awaken a sleeping human. The idea was to create a wasabi-powered fire alarm that would get you out of bed when a fire is detected.

To round it off, if you are looking for a true Australian example of the Ig Nobel awards, here is a cracker. The Ig Nobel award for Physics was presented to the Australian pair of John Culvernor and Jack Harvey for determining the exact forces required to drag a sheep across different types of surfaces! That’s BAAA-rmy!