This year’s Ig Nobel Prizes were given out with great ceremony (read: loud cackles) by the journal Annals of Improbable Research Thursday night at Harvard University. They’re not necessarily for the least important research, or for work that was badly done, just for, well, the silliest-sounding.
A Dutch team won the psychology prize for studying why leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower seem smaller.
Two Japanese engineers won the acoustics prize “for creating the SpeechJammer — a machine that disrupts a person’s speech, by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.”
The physics prize went to American and British researchers who calculated how and why a ponytail bounces.
And the literature prize went to the Government Accountability Office of the U.S. government, which did a report about reports.
Some of these projects were actually done in seriousness, and published in serious scientific publications. But the winners — if that’s what you want to call them — came in good humor to accept. The awards are given out by winners of real Nobel Prizes.
“Winning an Ig Nobel has been my dream as a mad scientist,” said Kazutaka Kurihara, the co-inventor of the SpeechJammer.
Here at ABC News we took particular note of the fluid dynamics prize, won by two researchers at the University of California-Santa Barbara for their paper on how to keep a coffee cup from spilling when you walk with it. We covered them when they reported their findings in May (hint: Walk more slowly).
“The project was certainly fun. We just wanted to satisfy our curiosity and, given the results, to share what we learned with the scientific community through peer-reviewed literature,” said Rouslan Krechetnikov, the senior author, in an e-mail. He usually studies things like rocket stability and the flow of air over a plane’s wings — but took a little break when he watched colleagues making a mess when they went for coffee at a scientific conference.
Even then, when he published his findings in a journal called Physical Review E, he knew it was Ig Nobel material. But he was willing to laugh about it, and defend it with a quotation from the Nobel laureate Linus Pauling: “Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”