Ig®Nobel Prizes, 2011

September 30, 2011

Yesterday evening, in  a ceremony at Harvard University’s Sanders Theater, the Journal of Improbable Research awarded the Ig® Nobel Prizes for 2011.    The prizes are awarded for research that “first makes people laugh, and then think”.   The awards are generally based on real published research that also has elements of humor or absurdity.  The complete list of winners is available at the Journal‘s site; some of my favorites are:

  • CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami of JAPAN, for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm.
  • LITERATURE PRIZE: John Perry of Stanford University, USA, for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which says: To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that’s even more important.
  • BIOLOGY PRIZE: Darryl Gwynne (of CANADA and AUSTRALIA and the UK and the USA) and David Rentz (of AUSTRALIA and the USA) for discovering that a certain kind of beetle mates with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle.

There are two of the awards this year that deserve special mention.  The first is the Mathematics Prize, awarded jointly to a group of people who have predicted that the world would end at various times in the past.  The award citation was to:

Dorothy Martin of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1954), Pat Robertson of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1982), Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1990), Lee Jang Rim of KOREA (who predicted the world would end in 1992), Credonia Mwerinde of UGANDA (who predicted the world would end in 1999), and Harold Camping of the USA (who predicted the world would end on September 6, 1994 and later predicted that the world will end on October 21, 2011), for teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations.

Finally, the Ig® Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, Arturas Zuokas, who decided to discourage wealthy people with expensive cars from parking illegally: he ran over the parked cars with an armored personnel carrier, crushing them (YouTube video).

The list of winners, linked above, also has citations for the research papers.  Ars Technica also has an article on this year’s prizes.  I’ve written here previously about the Ig® Nobel awards in 2010 and 2009.

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