The Nobel Prizes: respected, cherished, and overall, very serious. But have you heard of the less-famous Ig Nobel Prize?
Turns out, there is a competition specifically for scientific achievements that “make people LAUGH and then THINK” (Improbable). They reward out-of-the-box research and discoveries.
The title “Ig Nobel” is a pun on the word “ignoble” which means “characterized by baseness, lowness, or meanness” (Merriam-Webster). The pun pokes fun at critics who call certain scientific research absurd and highlights the importance of all scientific achievements.
The ceremony itself reflects the wacky nature of the prizes. In fact, when a winner goes over their allotted time, an eight-year-old girl exclaims “please stop I’m bored” repeatedly until the speaker is forced to wrap up their speech!
The prizes are handed out by former Nobel Prize winners. This year’s Ig Nobels featured scientists like Eric Maskin who won a Nobel in economics in 2007, Roy Glauber, who took home the Nobel for physics in 2005, and Martie Chalfie, who was awarded the prestigious chemistry prize in 2008. But the real stars of the show are the winners of the Ig Nobles themselves!
The Wacky Winners!
In the Medicine category, Professor David Wartinger of Michigan State University won the award for his discovery that riding bumpy roller coasters can dislodge kidney stones!
Kidney stones are small crystalline minerals and salt deposits that form inside the kidneys. They are extremely painful to get rid of naturally, even if they do not actually cause serious harm. Doctors usually recommend patients drink a lot of water. But when one of his students reported that a ride on the Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster in Walt Disney World had dislodged his kidney stone, Wartinger's curiosity was piqued. He tested with a model and concluded that the rattling motion of a roller coaster does indeed work!
Did you know that wine connoisseurs can sniff out a female fruit fly in a cup of wine? Swedish researchers discovered that female fruit flies produce a distinctive smell because of a specific pheromone they carry and that can spoil a glass of white wine. They wondered whether we could distinguish female flies from male flies based on smell. Turns out, wine experts with a keen sense of smell could identify wines with the female flies in them!
But Wait, There’s More!
In Chemistry, scientists found a new cleaning solution which comes from a very unique place: our mouths! They found that saliva is very efficient at removing smudges without damaging the underlying material. This research might even help us create a saliva-like cleaning fluid in the future!
The prizes for Literature and Peace also catch our attention. For the Literature Prize, scientists investigated whether or not people really read instruction manuals. Turns out, they don’t. And, in a surprising twist, a lot of people believe that manuals make it more difficult because some things should be so easy that you shouldn’t even need a manual. The Ig Nobel Peace Prize went to a group of researchers who discovered the multitude of reasons behind road rage. They concluded that aggressive drivers who shout and curse others can increase the risk of road accidents.
All these experiments and research projects may seem wacky, but they also have some really cool, helpful applications. So maybe next time you are thinking of a science fair project, think outside the box, and you may just become a future Ig Nobel Prize winner!
Sources: BBC, Improbable.com, arstechnica, HowStuffWorks, osteopathic.org