Monday, October 10, 2011

All Romp, No Pomp

Thought for the day:  Do electrons have a negative influence on society?

Everybody likes to receive awards. Remember how nice it was to see gold stars on your first grade school papers? Then there's sports trophies and letters, academic awards, medals and ribbons. The plaques and gold watches from work. (Then again, it's highly possible some employers have regressed to giving gold stars.) Even the ubiquitous participation certificates are a nice acknowledgement of endeavor.

The most prestigious awards in the world are probably the Nobel prizes. They not only come with a huge amount of prestige, but a hefty amount of cash, as well. The first Nobel awards were presented in 1901, and as you probably know, they've been funded since year one by the estate of Alfred Nobel, inventor of nitroglycerin and dynamite, who obviously wanted to leave a lasting legacy that didn't go boom.

Ninety years after the first Nobel prize was awarded, a spoof of the Nobel prize was presented for the first time.

The Stinker, Ig Nobel symbol

The Ig Nobel (pronounced ig-no-BELL) prize, a play on the word ignoble, and an American parody of the Nobel prizes, is awarded for the ten most unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research. Organized by The Annals of Improbable Research, a scientific humor magazine, the awards are presented at Harvard University each year, and the presenters are actual Nobel laureate winners. The aim of these awards? First make people laugh, and then make them think. The whimsical-looking awards, suitable for hanging on a bathroom wall, go to serious scientists whose studies may be a bit, shall we say, offbeat. (For example, last year's engineering prize was awarded for a method of collecting whale snot with a remote-controlled helicopter.)

Recently, in a celebration completely devoid of decorum or pomp, this year's winners were feted by the scientific community. Winners included: for chemistry, the inventors of a wasabi-based fire alarm; for medicine, a study that shows decisions can be influenced when we reeeeally have to pee; and for biology, the discovery of a beetle that likes to mate with a beer bottle. American John Perry took the prize in literature for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which states, "To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something even more important." And my personal favorite award went to the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, who scored the Ig Nobel Peace prize for demonstrating the problems of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running over them with an armored tank.

Peaceful parking through tanks.

Just goes to show ya. Science isn't all serious all the time. The entire ceremony of this year's Ig awards can be found on Youtube, if you care to take a gander, but here's a really cool (and short) promo  you may enjoy.

What's kinda cool is scientists from all over the world dip into their own funds to attend these ceremonies. Allegedly, very few of the recipients turn down the prizes or fail to show up to accept them. Makes me wonder how some other scientists might have responded to an invitation. Here's what I think :

  • Audubon would probably wing it.
  • Ampere's passport wouldn't be current.
  • Darwin would wait to see what evolved.
  • Boyle would be under too much pressure to attend.
  • Edison would consider it an illuminating experience.
  • Einstein would find it relatively easy to attend.
  • Ohm might resist the idea.
  • Pavlov would drool at the thought.
  • Pierre and Marie Curie would radiate enthusiasm.
  • Watt would consider it a great way to let off steam.
  • Volta would be electrified at the invitation, and Archimedes, absolutely buoyant.

Enough. Just remember: scientists aren't mad, by gollyTheir senses of humor can be just as wacky as ours. And science really can be fun.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


  1. Ah, but what would Tesla do? :D

    Great post! I'd never heard of the Ig Nobel award and some of those past award winners sound awesome.

    And if the scientists really do show up to claim the award, then they have more of a sense of humor than I would have given them credit for! (Can't see Sheldon Cooper attending ... unless it was an award given TO Leonard.)

  2. If you came up with all those whizzers on the various responses of scientists, I bow before a brilliant mind! Wow.

    Of course you know what will be running through my mind all day now.

  3. I just love coming over here. You teach me something new every day. I have never heard of these Ig Nobel awards. Great stuff. Whale snot, oh my God...

  4. There have been times when I could have used that "tank theory".

  5. Susan, you started my week off just right - with a laugh. I appreciate your noble deed.

  6. Love it! What does it say about me that I'd rather spend time with the recipients of the IgNobel awards than the Nobel awards? Uh, never mind. Don't answer that.

  7. Hi, y'all. Happy Monday. Thanks for stopping by, and for taking the time to leave a comment.

    Dianne- Hmmm, Tesla, huh? I think his attendance would've sparked a lot of interest in the scientific community, and generated a real buzz. You're right; I don't think Sheldon would attend, either. Unless his pals didn't tell him about the IG part.

    M.G.- Thanks. I came up with some of them on my own, but others jumped into my head so quickly, I probably read something along these lines years ago, and the memory stuck in the back corners of my mind. (Ya never know when that useless information stored back there may come in handy!)

    Anne- Thanks. If you do a google search on the Ig Nobel awards, you can find some of the other winning studies from past year. OMG!!!!

    Delores- Yeah, me, too, but that mayor made it into more than just a theory. He actually ran over those cars with a tank!

    Arleen- Glad to hear it. Noble deed? That's as groan-worthy as some of my stuff!

    Linda- It says you have a great sense of humor.

    Connie- Glad to give you a morning L.

  8. Whale's get colds? Wow, who'da' thunk?

  9. Hi-ya, Skippy. Guess so, but I don't wanta be around while they're sneezing. Take care.

  10. Again... love it, Susan. It makes me wish I'd seen beyond all those brain-nullifying formulas at school. When science and gross combine!

  11. Funny, interesting, and thought provoking, really hysterical. Loved it.

  12. I think structured procrastination has a lot of promise!

  13. Hi, Carrie. Glad ya liked it. As a lifelong science nerd with a weird sense of humor, I was thrilled to learn about the Ig Nobels.

    Colleen- Thank you, ma'am, and thanks for stopping by.

    Al- Me, too. I'll have to give the whole idea more thought, though. Later, of course. Much later.

  14. I have never heard of Ig Nobels, either. If Alfred Nobel were alive and living in NYC, his yard would be trashed today.

  15. Hi-ya, Manzie. You're probably right. Take care.