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Ig Noble Ceremony Honors Hilarious Experiments

By Kyle Young
Staff Reporter

The Sixth Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, honoring people whose achievements "can not or should not be reproduced," was held at Harvard University last Thursday night.

A humorous farce of the actual Nobel Prizes, the ceremony presents the humorous and less serious sides of scientific research, quite contrary to the actual Nobel Prize ceremony held in Switzerland.

Indeed the humor of the evening was much anticipated by the full-house crowd in Sanders Theater, a Gothic cathedral next to the Science Center at Harvard. The light-hearted atmosphere in the theater prepared the audience to greet any preposterous scientific research with open laughter. Even before the show began, many anxious watchers created and tested paper airplanes for range and accuracy.

Ten categories awarded

Like the genuine Nobel ceremony, the Ig Nobel ceremony also awarded winners in 10 (albeit slightly different) categories this year: biology, medicine, physics, peace, public health, chemistry, biodiversity, literature, economics, and art.

For example, the 1996 Ig Nobel in biology was awarded to Anders Baerheim and Hogne Sandvik of the University of Bergen, Norway, for "their tasty and tasteful report" on "Effect of Ale, Garlic, and Sour Cream on the Appetite of Leeches."

The 1996 chemistry Ig Nobel was awarded to Robert Matthews of Aston University, England, for his studies of Murphy's Law, and especially for demonstrating that toast always falls on the buttered side.

The 1996 chemistry Ig Nobel was awarded to George Goble of Purdue University, for using charcoal and liquid oxygen to ignite a barbecue grill in three seconds, the world record time.

Of course, not all winners welcomed the honor bestowed by an Ig Nobel. Several winners "could not be reached for comment or refused to speak," Marc Abraham, the announcer, said in a humorous voice.

For example, France's President Jacques Chirac was not able to accept the 1996 Ig Nobel peace prize, given to honor his commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Hiroshima with atomic bomb tests in the Pacific.

Hilarious presentations featured

In between naming Ig Nobel laureates, there were also a number of hilarious presentations that punctuated the event. This year the plaster casts of the left feet of several genuine Nobel laureates were auctioned to benefit Cambridge Public Schools. The five feet raised about 100 dollars total.

The three-act opera Lament del Cockroach proved an especially entertaining performance. The opera featured two female cockroaches, Thelma and Louise, who became the prime mating choice when an asteroid headed for Earth threatens insects with extinction.

In the first two acts, Thelma and Louise talk about their disgust toward mating with the other species of onlooking insects, played by two genuine Nobel laureates. In the third act, the asteroids destroys the two cockroaches but surprisingly spares the other species of insects.

Another six Heisenberg Certainty Lectures also featured notable guests presenting humorous 30-seconds speeches.

One lecture featured Robert T. Morris, convicted felon, whose WORM virus brought down the Internet in the late 1980s. Morris shared his views about the government's new proposed policy for export cryptography. The time referee stopped the lecture before Morris could propose himself as the entrusted key keeper.

Ceremony focuses on biodiversity

This year's ceremony paid a special tribute to biodiversity. In keep with this theme, one Heisenberg Certainty lecturer argued against washing hands - to stop the ethnic cleansing of bacteria.

Another Heisenberg Certainty Lecture, "The Taxonomy of Barney," presented scientific evidence that Barney the Dinosaur was in fact not a dinosaur. Evidence provided by X-ray imaging revealed that the skeleton within the purple beast was human-like, quite different from the reptilian build of dinosaurs. The conclusion proved that children have been fooled by false advertising that portrays Barney as a real dinosaur.

The ceremony included a large cast of performers, including bonafide Nobel laureates, past Ig Nobel winners, scientists, and students. No wackiness was barred from the ceremony. How else would Reverend Chandler Newton, Sister Christine McGuirk, auctioneer Lin Calista, convicted felon Robert T. Morris, parade announcer Mark Waldstein, and the Swedish meatball king and queen participate together with bonafide Nobel laureates all in one night?

The diversity of the cast was matched only by the diversity of the viewers. In the live audience were students, professors, researchers, and reporters. Also attending were 20 delegations, including the Dilberts in Disguise and the Society for the Preservation of Slide Rules. The ceremony was taped for televised showing, recorded for broadcast on radio, and broadcasted live over the Internet.

The Sixth Annual 1996 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony was co-sponsored by The Annals of Improbable Research, the Harvard Computer Society, Tangents, and the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association. This ceremony was the second held at Harvard. The first four were held at MIT.