The Ig Nobel awards: Scientific progress goes 'boink'

  • (Network World)
  • 20 September, 2012 18:25

Thursday night, Harvard University will host a ceremony to honor some of those who have made key contributions to science in 2012. Kind of.

LAST YEAR: 2011 Ig Nobel Prizes honor offbeat research

The Ig Nobel awards are a nerdy (well, nerdier) take on the famous Razzies. Instead of hammering the worst of Hollywood's output for the year, however, the Ig Nobels closely follow the format of the real Nobel Prizes, recognizing the weirdest and silliest contribution to science, the arts and society in general.

If you don't think that sounds exciting, let me point out here that past winners have included:

" A Japanese research team that used giant panda poop to break down common kitchen trash.

" The New Zealand author of a study entitled "The Significance of Mr. Richard Buckley's Exploding Trousers," which is maybe the best title for anything ever.

" University of California scientists studying why woodpeckers don't get headaches.

" A team of economists who found, somehow or other, that exotic dancers earn more when at peak fertility.

" Mayor Artkras Zuokas of Lithuanian capital Vilnius, who demonstrated a novel way of controlling illegal parking. (An interesting pick for a group headquartered in Cambridge, Mass.)

The categories for awards are fluid - while Annals of Improbable Research, the science humor publication that holds the event generally selects a winner for chemistry, biology, literature, math and so forth, it hasn't been shy about creating new awards for particularly deserving contenders.

Nor are the Ig Nobels simply picking on the Ed Woods and Battlefield Earths of the scientific realm. Andre Geim, who won an Ig Nobel for his work in levitating frogs in 2000, won a real Nobel Prize a decade later for his invention of graphene, an atom-thick carbon allotrope with potentially groundbreaking applications in both science and the real world.

So, if geniuses, panda poop and municipal officials driving over cars in armored personnel carriers aren't interesting to you, go ahead and look elsewhere for entertainment this evening. For everyone else, however, there's a live webstream available here, and look for more coverage from us here at Network World tomorrow.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold. Who knows, he may well tweet about the ceremony as it happens.

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