Mad Scientists and Spoof Nobel Prize: Beetle Mating, Yawning Turtles And End-Of-World Claim Get Ig Nobel, 2011

The best and funniest of science will be awarded this month. As should be the rule, humour must precede seriousness and following that we have the Ig Nobel being given out before the Nobel Prizes. The Ig Nobel prize, a spoof of the Nobel Prize and given out yearly by Harvard University, honors the craziest of science ideas, which were taken a little too seriously by people. Though the world of physics was never revolutionized by the contribution of the Ig Nobel Prize winners (that is, if you don’t consider getting vanilla from cow dung revolutionary), there’re always some great laughs. This year’s Ig Nobel prizes went to ideas as diverse as Beetle Sex with a beer bottle and Yawning Turtles.

Not Quite Nobel...

Procedure and Protocols – or some semblance thereof

The aim of the Ig Nobel is to make people laugh and then make them think. The prize is handed over by real Nobel Prize Winners! The recipient is given exactly 60 seconds to make his/her acceptance speech. If that limit is exceeded, a little girl gets up and says that she’s bored. Try continuing after that! Yes, this is all in good humor.

The Winners! (Or Losers!)

The categories are the same as the Nobel Prize physics, chemistry, medicine and peace. The winner of this year’s Biology prize, Daryll Gwynne, researched how beetles would try to mate with a beer bottle confusing it for a large female. As Gwynne says:

It’s a great example of an evolutionary trap. They seek the biggest, browniest female they could find, but then these beetles wouldn’t leave the bottles and would eventually drop to one side and be preyed upon by ants.

He changed the shape of the bottle, but the beetles did the same thing. Yes, at Harvard, even fun is taken seriously.

The Medicine Ig Nobel was given for demonstrating that people can better control their emotions when they have a strong urge to urinate! Yes, I know what you’re thinking why did you never think of that?

The prize for Physiology went to a whole pan-continental team! A British-Dutch-Hungarian-Austrian team established that there is no contagious yawning behavior in red-footed turtles! That does provide a nice point to add to the list: How humans and tortoises are different, right?

The Chemistry prize went to a team of Japanese scientists for creating a fire alarm that gives off the pungent smell of Wasabi, a Japanese culinary mix renowned for its nose-clearing properties. The aim is to alert people who are blind or deaf, of if they are sleeping with earplugs on.

Japanese scientists are all smiles as their pungent creation gets the Ig Nobel

The Physics Ig Nobel went to a group for explaining why discus throwers get dizzy, while hammer throwers don’t!

The best laugh comes from the Math Ig Nobel! Six people were awarded the prize for predicting that the world will end for a number of years and still living to receive the prize. Their prize citation bore out their priceless contribution – for teaching the world to be careful while making mathematical assumptions. Yes, and they’ll receive the award, in full blood!

The Ig Nobel Prize Giving Ceremony is here:


Just For Laughs

The Ig Nobels should be more popular than the Nobels themselves. After all, how can you ignore the prize honoring people for magnetically levitating a frog (Andre Geim, 2001) and for finding the optimal way to dunk a biscuit (Len Fisher, 1999). This just goes to show that in addition to being accurate and awe-inspiring, science can be rip-roaringly funny!

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.