The Ig Nobel Prize is a parody of the Nobel Prize and it is awarded to celebrate ten unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research. It was created to “honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.”
Ig Nobel is a pun on the word “ignoble”, meaning not honourable, of low character, which comes from Latin ignobilis ( in = not + nobilis = noble, famous).
Every autumn, in a gala ceremony at the Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, genuine Nobel laureates hand out Prizes to the winners. During the Thursday night ceremony, the winners are given only 60 seconds to explain themselves, but two days later they can explain their achievement more fully in public lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (MIT)
The ceremony contains a number of running jokes, including Miss Sweetie Poo, a little girl who repeatedly cries out, “Please stop: I’m bored”, if speakers go on too long and is traditionally closed with the words: “If you didn’t win a prize—and especially if you did—better luck next year!”. The audience can throw paper planes onto the stage. In past years, physics professor Roy J. Glauber was the official “Keeper of the Broom.” And had to sweep the stage clean of the airplanes. Unfortunately, he could not perform his task in 2005 awards because he was traveling to Stockholm to claim a genuine Nobel Prize in Physics.
The Ig Nobel Prizes were created in 1991 by the scientific humour magazine, the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR). At that time awards were presented for discoveries “that cannot, or should not, be reproduced”.
Ten prizes are awarded each year in many categories, including the Nobel Prize categories of physics, chemistry, physiology/medicine, literature, and peace, but also other categories such as public health, engineering, biology, and interdisciplinary research. They draw attention to scientific articles that have some humorous or unexpected aspect.
Examples range from the discovery that the presence of humans tends to sexually arouse ostriches, to the statement that black holes fulfil all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell, to research on the “five-second rule”, a tongue-in-cheek belief that food dropped on the floor will not become contaminated if it is picked up within five seconds.
Science is not ridiculed, because achievements can also be odd, funny, and even absurd, and although the Ig Nobel Awards can be seen as a criticism of trivial research, sometimes trivial research can lead to important breakthroughs. For instance, a study showing that one of the malaria mosquitoes is attracted equally to the smell of Limburger cheese and the smell of human feet made it possible to place traps baited with this cheese in strategic locations in some parts of Africa to fight malaria.
In 2010, Sir Andre Geim was awarded a Nobel Prize in physics for his work with graphene, thus becoming the first person to have received both a Nobel Prize and an individual Ig Nobel prize.