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Not-so-noble Prizes Amuse and Bemuse Audiences

By Sagara Wickramasekara
STAFF REPORTER

The audience chanted a cryptic phrase, and paper airplanes came from all directions -- the crowd was throwing them from the balconies. Beach balls bounced over the mass of people, including genetically engineered Texans, lawyers for and against heredity, the Harvard and MIT students side by side, and people lecturing on the general apathy of cats towards bearded scientists.

A 7.03 lecture gone bad? A hack on Harvard? All out war in Boston? No, it was far more surreal.

The chanting of “Ig Ig Ig Nobel!” continued as the 9th 1st Annual Ig Nobels got underway in Sanders Theatre at Harvard.

Ig Nobel tradition continues

This year marks the 9th time the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR) magazine has presented the 1st annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony. The ceremony celebrates research that “cannot or should not be repeated.” They are ostensibly named after another member of the Nobel family, the lesser-known Ignatius “Ig” Nobel.

After bizarre parades and general mass confusion, Marc Abrahms, editor of AIR and Master of Ceremonies, welcomed everyone of us to Sanders Theater and the Ig Nobels, introduced the four Nobel Laureates and Ira Malone, who delivered the and extremely prestigious, well-prepared and carefully delivered welcome speech:

“Welcome, Welcome.”

At first it seemed as though the chaos was just about to end and everything would resolve into mild normality. Five seconds into the debut of “The Seedy Opera,” a new Ig Nobel opera about Richard Seed (a previous Ig Nobel winner) and his quest to clone himself, normality proved to be interminably distant.

And the winners are...

After much pomp and nonsense, this year’s awards were announced. In Sociology, Steve Penfield won for doing his Ph.D. Thesis on the sociology of Canadian donut shops. In Physics, Dr. Len Fisher and Jean-Marc Vanden-Broeck shared the prize. Dr. Fisher has calculating the optimum way to dunk a biscuit -- without those annoying chunks ending up in your tea. A list of recommended times for biscuit dunking is expected from Dr. Fisher and his group at the University in western England in the coming year. Professor Jean-Marc Vanden-Broeck has engineered a non-dripping teaspout.

The prize in Literature went to the British Standards Institute for its six-page specification on making a proper cup of tea. And of course, the Science Education prize was designed especially for and won by, the Kansas and Colorado Boards of Education.

Dr. Arvid Vatle won the Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine for classifying the kinds of containers in which his patients collected urinary samples. Chemistry was won by Takeshi Makino for developing S-Check, a spray for detecting infidelity. In Biology, Paul Bosland won for breeding a spiceless jalapeno and in Environmental Protection, Hyuk-ho Kwon was declared the winner for making a self-perfuming business suit.

The peace prize was won by Charl Fourie and Michelle Wong for inventing an automobile burglar alarm which includes twin flamethrowers. Finally, in Managed Health Care, the late George and Charlette Blonsky ’63 won for developing a machine to aid childbirth by use of centrifugal force. Each of these awards were followed by acceptance speeches and in some cases demonstrations, humorous and/or serious.

This year’s theme: “heredity”

In addition to the awards, the ceremony included many talks about and references to the theme, “heredity.” These included the “Heisenberg Certainty Principle” -- 30-second impromptu lectures, which put visiting Ig fans or Nobel Laureates on the spot.

Sister Christine led bizarre “Moments of Science,” in which labcoat-sporting individuals attempted to either run a strange machine or blow something up, usually with many blunders along the way. Dr. Lipscomb, a ’76 Nobel Laureate of in Chemistry, attempted to make tea through slide shows, using the T and Charles water.

Four acts of the Seedy Opera played out with such memorable lyrics as “So this is love. Kinda sort of. Not what I had expected./I recommend: Get your boyfriend USDA inspected.” When the maidens of New Zealand kissed Seed’s cloned sheep they turned into handsome Nobel Laureates.

More information on AIR, the Ig Nobels, and even a video broadcast of the event are all available at <http://ww.w.improbable.com>