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Ig Nobels Honor Amusing, Yet Educational Research

By Daniela Cako

Last night at the Sanders Theatre at Harvard, the 15th First Annual Ig Nobel prizes were distributed to 10 curious and motivated people for their almost inconceivable research. Unlike the Nobel Prize, the Ig Nobels, created by Harvard alumnus Marc Abrahams, recognize those whose research “first makes people LAUGH, then makes them THINK.”

The ceremony began with the first paper airplane thrown on stage at 7:10, which was followed by the traditional welcome speech, literally transcribed as “Welcome, welcome.” The theme of the night was infinity, with the word repeated a seemingly infinite number of times. The theme was represented in the prizes made from the finest and most infinitely cheap materials. Prizes were given out by actual Nobel laureates to the Ig Nobel recipients.

This year’s Ig Nobels included Gauri Nanda G, inventor of Clocky, an alarm clock that runs away and hides, forcing its owner out of bed. While taking an industrial designing class at MIT, Nanda came with the idea of Clocky in “an effort to humanize technology” into something that we all go through — waking up in the morning.

Also a winner was John Mainstone from University of Queensland in Australia, who was recognized for being the guardian and the conductor of an experiment rated by the 2002 Guinness Book of World Records as the longest experiment. Started in 1927 by Thomas Parnell and still ongoing, the famous Pitch Drop Experiment monitors a glob of congealed black tar that has been dripping through a funnel at a rate of about one drop every 10 years. Mainstone said he had been forced to keep the news secret, even from his wife, until one day before the announcement.

After 35 years of hard work, the 42-year-old Yoshiro Nakamats was rewarded for taking pictures of his meals for analysis. In his research, he discovered 55 important elements for a long life of as many as 144 years, which he calls the Dr. Nakamats’ Ymmu Cerebrex 55.

Other winners included Claire Rind of Great Britain, who took Peace Prize honors for electrically monitoring the brain activity of a locust watching scenes from “Star Wars,” and Edward Cussler of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, who realized “every 10 year old boy’s dream,” an experiment to determine whether people can swim faster in syrup or water. Cussler’s experiment lasted 48 hours and employed 20 willing students as test subjects, though in the end he concluded that there was no difference.

James Watson received an award in Agricultural History for his academic study of “The significance of Mr. Richard Buckley’s Exploding trousers.” Gregg A. Miller of Oak Grove, Missouri in Medicine won for inventing Neuticles, artificial replacement testicles for dogs that come in three sizes and degrees of firmness. It took “two years to get the balls rolling” for a patent for the invention, he said.

In literature, the internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria were recognized for creating a series of short but bold stories distributed via e-mail. A long list of people received the reward in Biology for being dedicated to smelling and documenting the odors produced by 131 species of depressed frogs.

The award for fluid dynamics was given to Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow for his use of basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin when it defecates — described in his paper, “Pressure Produced when Penguins Poo — Calculations on Avian Defecation.”

The 10 prize-winners will present their work in 10-250 at 1 p.m. this Saturday, providing further opportunity for a good laugh and profound thinking.