Researchers, Nobel laureates, students, and curious people alike gathered Thursday evening to celebrate the Seventeenth “1st Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony” held in the Sanders Theatre at Harvard University. Created to honor 10 achievements each year that “first make people LAUGH, and then make them THINK,” the ceremony was complete with hysterical antics, odd science demonstrations, a chicken theme, and, of course, improbable research.
Mayu Yamamoto from Japan won the Ig Nobel prize in chemistry for her development of a novel way to extract vanillin, the main component in vanilla bean extract, from cow dung. In tribute to Yamamoto’s achievement, Toscanni’s imitated her achievement and distributed samples of the resulting ice cream to Nobel laureates seated on the stage. Loud chants of “Eat it! Eat it!” from the audience finally persuaded the skeptical Nobel laureates to try a taste of their samples. For those brave and adventurous enough, Toscanni’s is offering a free tasting of the ice cream today at 11 a.m. at their Central Square Location.
The prize in medicine was awarded to Brian Witcombe from the United Kingdom and Dan Meyer from the United States for their study on the “Side Effects of Sword Swallowing,” described by Witcombe as the meeting of a researcher on swallowing disorders and the world’s greatest sword swallower. Meyer gave a nerve-wracking live demonstration of his infamous sword-swallowing abilities following their acceptance speech.
The Wright Lab of the U.S. Air Force received the peace prize for their “make love not war” research and development of a “Gay bomb” designed to make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other. Also with love on their minds, Patricia V. Agostino, Santiago A. Plano, and Diego A. Golombek from Argentina received the prize in aviation for their discovery that Viagra aids jet lag recovery in hamsters.
Johanna E.M.H. van Bronswijk succeeded in making various audience members squirm with her biology prize-winning census on mites, spiders, insects, psuedoscorpians, crustaceans, bacteria, algae, ferns, fungi, and other things with whom people share their bed at night. Van Bronswijk proceeded to explain in excruciating and uncomfortable detail the mites currently crawling in the seat cushions of the Sanders Theatre and left everyone with the reminder that “you never sleep alone.”
To the audience’s delight, several past Ig Nobel Prize winners returned to join this year’s ceremony, including 2006 winner in medicine Francis M. Fesmire, best known for his research on the “Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage,” and MIT graduate Gauri Nanda ’05, winner of the Ig Nobel economics prize in 2005 for her invention of “Clocky” — an alarm clock that runs away and hides, forcing its owner to actually get out of bed to turn it off. Also from MIT, Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin PhD ’79, appeared at the ceremony as the featured prize in the annual “Win-A-Date-With-A-Nobel-Laureate” Contest. Laughlin was described as being “shapely, sassy, and smarter than you” and one who “enjoys watching quasi-particles behave badly.”
Another tradition featured in this year’s ceremony were the 24/7 lectures consisting of two parts, a 24-second technical description and a seven-word layman summary. Historian Jill Lepore’s seven-word summary of history succinctly stated: “History is the study of dead people.” Nobel laureate William Lipscomb honored tonight’s theme, “Chicken,” with his summary: “Chicken lays egg. It’s a ‘Standing Ovation’.”
For the first time, the Ig Nobel paper airplane tradition by audience members was halted under security and safety concerns and could only be dumped en masse by show technicians. Also to many people’s dismay, chicken flight was strictly prohibited.
The 2007 Ig Nobel Winners (and past winners) will be giving informal lectures tomorrow at 1 p.m. in 10-250. The lecture is free and open to the public. More information can be found at http://www.improbable.com/.