Ig Nobel Prize

Ig Nobel Prize

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The Ig Nobel Prizes are an American parody
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

 of the Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

s and are given each year in early October for ten unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research. The stated aim of the prizes is to "first make people laugh, and then make them think". Organized by the scientific humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research
Annals of Improbable Research
The Annals of Improbable Research is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to scientific humor, in the form of a satirical take on the standard academic journal...

(AIR), they are presented by a group that includes Nobel Laureates at a ceremony at Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

's Sanders Theater
Sanders Theater
Sanders Theatre or Sanders Theater is the premiere lecture and concert hall at Harvard University. It is internationally known for its superior acoustics, which in New England are only surpassed by Jordan Hall, Mechanics Hall, Worcester, and Boston Symphony Hall.-History:Plans for the theater...

, and they are followed by a set of public lectures by the winners at MIT.


The first Ig Nobels were awarded in 1991, at that time for discoveries "that cannot, or should not, be reproduced". Ten prizes are awarded each year in many categories, including the Nobel Prize categories of physics, chemistry, physiology/medicine, literature, and peace, but also other categories such as public health, engineering, biology, and interdisciplinary research. With the exception of three prizes in the first year (Administratium
Administratium is a well-known joke in scientific circles, and is a spoof both on the bureaucracy of scientific establishments and on descriptions of newly discovered chemical elements....

, Josiah Carberry, and Paul DeFanti
Paul DeFanti
Paul DeFanti is the fictional recipient of the 1991 Ig Nobel Prize in the area of Pedestrian Technology "for his invention of the Buckybonnet, a geodesic fashion structure that pedestrians wear to protect their heads and preserve their composure." This makes him one of only three fictional people...

), the Ig Nobel Prizes are for genuine achievements.

The awards are sometimes veiled criticism (or gentle satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

), as in the two awards given for homeopathy
Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine in which practitioners claim to treat patients using highly diluted preparations that are believed to cause healthy people to exhibit symptoms that are similar to those exhibited by the patient...

 research, prizes in "science education" to the Kansas and Colorado state boards of education
Colorado State Board of Education
The Colorado State Board of Education is a government body in the U.S. state of Colorado tasked with "general supervision of public schools." It is composed of members elected from districts corresponding to Colorado's congressional districts – following the 2000 census, there are seven districts...

 for their stance
Kansas evolution hearings
The Kansas evolution hearings were a series of hearings held in Topeka, Kansas, United States May 5 to May 12, 2005 by the Kansas State Board of Education and its State Board Science Hearing Committee to change how evolution and the origin of life would be taught in the state's public high school...

 regarding the teaching of evolution, and the prize awarded to Social Text
Social Text
Social Text is an academic journal published by Duke University Press. Since its inception as an independent editorial collective in 1979, Social Text has addressed a wide range of social and cultural phenomena, covering questions of gender, sexuality, race, and the environment...

after the Sokal Affair
Sokal Affair
The Sokal affair, also known as the Sokal hoax, was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies...

. Most often, however, they draw attention to scientific articles that have some humorous or unexpected aspect. Examples range from the discovery that the presence of humans tends to sexually arouse ostrich
The Ostrich is one or two species of large flightless birds native to Africa, the only living member of the genus Struthio. Some analyses indicate that the Somali Ostrich may be better considered a full species apart from the Common Ostrich, but most taxonomists consider it to be a...

es, to the statement that black hole
Black hole
A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that...

s fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell
In many religious traditions, a hell is a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife. Religions with a linear divine history often depict hells as endless. Religions with a cyclic history often depict a hell as an intermediary period between incarnations...

, to research on the "five-second rule
Five-second rule
A common superstition, the five-second rule states that food dropped on the ground will not be contaminated with bacteria if it is picked up within five seconds of being dropped...

", a tongue-in-cheek belief that food dropped on the floor will not become contaminated if it is picked up within five seconds.

In 2010, Andre Geim
Andre Geim
Andre Konstantin Geim, FRS is a Dutch-Russian-British physicist working at the University of Manchester. Geim was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics jointly with Konstantin Novoselov for his work on graphene...

 became the first person to receive both the Nobel
Nobel can mean:*Nobel Prize, awarded annually since 1901, from the bequest of Swedish inventor Alfred NobelThe Nobel family:*Alfred Nobel, , the inventor of dynamite, instituted the Nobel Prizes...

 and an individual Ig Nobel prize.


The name is a play on the word ignoble ("characterized by baseness, lowness, or meanness") and the name "Nobel" after Alfred Nobel
Alfred Nobel
Alfred Bernhard Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, and armaments manufacturer. He is the inventor of dynamite. Nobel also owned Bofors, which he had redirected from its previous role as primarily an iron and steel producer to a major manufacturer of cannon and other armaments...

. The official pronunciation used during the ceremony is ˌɪɡnoʊˈbɛl "-no-". It is not pronounced like the word "ignoble" (ɪɡˈnoʊbəl).


The prizes are presented by genuine Nobel laureates, originally at a ceremony in a lecture hall at MIT but now in Sanders Theater
Sanders Theater
Sanders Theatre or Sanders Theater is the premiere lecture and concert hall at Harvard University. It is internationally known for its superior acoustics, which in New England are only surpassed by Jordan Hall, Mechanics Hall, Worcester, and Boston Symphony Hall.-History:Plans for the theater...

 at Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

. It contains a number of running jokes, including Miss Sweetie Poo, a little girl who repeatedly cries out, "Please stop: I'm bored," in a high-pitched voice if speakers go on too long. The awards ceremony is traditionally closed with the words: "If you didn't win a prize — and especially if you did — better luck next year!"

The ceremony is co-sponsored by the Harvard Computer Society, the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association
Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association
The Harvard–Radcliffe Science Fiction Association is a society based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1986, its purpose is to promote science fiction and aid in activity of those interested in the genre. Membership is open to current and former students at Harvard University...

 and the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students.

Throwing paper airplanes onto the stage was a long-standing tradition at the Ig Nobels, changed at the 2006 ceremony because of "security concerns". In past years, physics professor Roy Glauber has swept the stage clean of the airplanes as the official "Keeper of the Broom". However, Glauber could not attend the 2005 awards – he was traveling to Stockholm
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...

 to claim a genuine Nobel Prize in Physics
Nobel Prize in Physics
The Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded once a year by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895 and awarded since 1901; the others are the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Nobel Prize in Literature, Nobel Peace Prize, and...


The "Parade of Ignitaries" brings various supporting groups into the hall. At the 1997 ceremonies, a team of "cryogenic sex researchers" distributed a pamphlet titled "Safe Sex at Four Kelvin
Liquid helium
Helium exists in liquid form only at extremely low temperatures. The boiling point and critical point depend on the isotope of the helium; see the table below for values. The density of liquid helium-4 at its boiling point and 1 atmosphere is approximately 0.125 g/mL Helium-4 was first liquefied...

". Delegates from the Museum of Bad Art
Museum of Bad Art
The Museum of Bad Art is a privately owned museum whose stated aim is "to celebrate the labor of artists whose work would be displayed and appreciated in no other forum". It has two branches, one in Dedham, Massachusetts, and the other in nearby Somerville...

 are often on hand to display some pieces from their collection, showing that bad art and bad science go hand in hand.


The ceremony is recorded and broadcast on National Public Radio and is shown live over the Internet. The recording is broadcast every year, on the Friday after U.S. Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving (United States)
Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving Day, is a holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November. It has officially been an annual tradition since 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated on Thursday,...

, on the public radio program Science Friday. In recognition of this, the audience chants the first name of the radio show's host, Ira Flatow
Ira Flatow
Ira Flatow is a radio and television journalist and author who hosts National Public Radio's popular Science Friday. He is probably best known on TV for hosting Newton's Apple, a television science program for children and their families.-Biography:...


Two books have been published with write-ups on some of the winners: The Ig Nobel Prize (2002, US paperback ISBN 0-452-28573-9, UK paperback ISBN 0-7528-4261-7) and The Ig Nobel Prize 2 (2005, US hardcover ISBN 0-525-94912-7, UK hardcover ISBN 0-7528-6461-0), which was later retitled The Man Who Tried to Clone Himself (ISBN 0-452-28772-3).

An Ig Nobel Tour has been an annual part of National Science week in the United Kingdom since 2003. The tour has also traveled to Australia several times, Aarhus University in Denmark in April 2009, Italy and The Netherlands.


In 1995, Robert May, Baron May of Oxford
Robert May, Baron May of Oxford
Robert McCredie May, Baron May of Oxford, OM, AC, PRS is an Australian scientist who has been Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, President of the Royal Society, and a Professor at Sydney and Princeton. He now holds joint professorships at Oxford, and Imperial College London...

, the chief scientific adviser to the British government, requested that the organizers no longer award Ig Nobel prizes to British scientists, claiming that the awards risked bringing genuine experiments into ridicule. Many British researchers dismissed Lord May's pronouncements, and the British journal Chemistry & Industry in particular printed an article rebutting his arguments.

A September 2009 article in The National, titled "A noble side to Ig Nobels," says that although the Ig Nobel Awards are veiled criticism of trivial research, history shows that trivial research sometimes leads to important breakthroughs. For instance, in 2006 a study showing that the malaria mosquito
Mosquitoes are members of a family of nematocerid flies: the Culicidae . The word Mosquito is from the Spanish and Portuguese for little fly...

 (Anopheles gambiae
Anopheles gambiae
Anopheles gambiae is a complex of at least seven morphologically distinguishable species of mosquitoes in the genus Anopheles. This complex was recognised in the 1960s and includes the most important vectors of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa and the most efficient malaria vectors known.This species...

) is attracted equally to the smell of Limburger cheese
Limburger cheese
Limburger is a cheese that originated during the 19th century in the historical Duchy of Limburg, which is now divided among modern-day Belgium, Germany, and Netherlands. The cheese is especially known for its pungent odor commonly compared to body odor....

 and the smell of human feet earned the Ig Nobel Prize in the area of biology. As a direct result of these findings traps baited with this cheese have been utilized in strategic locations in some parts of Africa to combat the epidemic of malaria.

See also

External links