A New Academic Year Begins… Bring on the Ig Nobels!

Summer is, sadly, over. Freshers week is, thankfully, also over. And yet another academic year kicked off with that most amusing of academic traditions: the Ig Nobel Prizes.

This year the Ig Nobels, which recognise research that “first makes people laugh then makes them think”, celebrated its 25th first annual award ceremony.

In case you’ve never heard of the Ig Nobels, they are described by singer Amanda Palmer, herself a little off-the-wall, as “a collection of, like, actual Nobel Prize winners giving away prizes to real scientists for doing f’d-up things…”

Ig Nobels Harvard

For a quarter-century, the Igs have been dishing out prizes for unusual research, ranging from the infamous case study of homosexual necrophilia in ducks, to the 2001 patent issued for a “circular transportation facilitation device” (i.e. a wheel).

The award ceremony takes place in Harvard’s largest theatre and resembles something akin to the Oscars crossed with the Rocky Horror Show. The lucky winners, drawn from a field of 9,000 hopefuls, are indeed presented their prize by a one of a “group of genuine, genuinely bemused Nobel Laureates”.

Michael Smith

In 2010, one scientist became the first to win both an Ig and a real Nobel: Sir Andre Geim was awarded the former for his work on graphene, and the latter for levitating a frog with super strong magnets (Geim also co-authored a paper with his pet hamster, Tisha).

By the far the most bizarre this year is a study in which chickens were fitted with prosthetic tails to see if their modified gait could provide clues as to how dinosaurs walked (yes, there is a video).

Sans titre

Other gems this year include:

  • A chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg.
  • A paper answering the question: “Is ‘Huh’ A Universal World?”
  • A series of studies looking at the biomedical benefits, and consequences, of intense kissing.

If you are looking for a bit of distraction after the whirlwind of the first weeks of term, you can watch the whole ceremony online, or explore all the prizes to date with this neat data viz tool.

As is now the norm, the whole thing was also live-tweeted (#IgNobel). In fact, the Igs employ an “official observer” to linger on stage, head buried in smartphone, for this purpose.

Elsewhere on Twitter this week, I discovered:

  • That animated gifs make for great academic metaphors:

    • That the resident penguin at the University of Portsmouth library has its own account:

  • That National Punctuation Day is a thing:

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