Every year, the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research hosts a gala ceremony to celebrate the winners of the Ig Nobel Prizes. These prizes are intended to honor achievements that ”first make people laugh, and then make them think.” The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative—and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology.
The award ceremonies have developed a number of interesting traditions. For example, the prizes are physically presented to the winners by Nobel Laureates and every ceremony since 1996 has premiered its own mini-opera. They are written by Marc Abrahams (editor of the Annals of Improbable Research) and friends, and performed, during the ceremony, by professional opera singers and Nobel Laureates.
Another popular tradition involves how the Ig Nobel organizers have solved the problem of lengthy acceptance speeches. The solution is an eight-year-old girl called “Miss Sweetie Poo.” When recipients exceed their allotted time, Miss Sweetie Poo pays them a visit at the podium imploring them to “Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored…” A video of Miss Sweetie Poo highlights from past Ig ceremonies is available on YouTube.
Though winners are given only 60 seconds to explain themselves during the prize ceremony, the following Saturday they are given more time to explain themselves and their research more fully in the Ig Informal Lectures.
Ten prizes have been awarded each year since 1991. Here is the full list of 2012 Ig Nobel winners:
Psychology Prize: Anita Eerland and Rolf Zwaan (Netherlands) and Tulio Guadalupe (Peru/Russia/Netherlands) for their study Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller.
Peace Prize: The SKN Company (Russia) for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.
Acoustics Prize: Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada (Japan) 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.
Neuroscience Prize: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford (US) for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere—even in a dead salmon.
Chemistry Prize: Johan Pettersson (Sweden/Rwanada) for solving the puzzle of why, in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden, people's hair turned green.
Literature Prize: The US Government General Accountability Office for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.
Physics Prize: Joseph Keller (US), Raymond Goldstein (US/UK), Patrick Warren and Robin Ball (UK) for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail. Professor Keller was additionally given an Ig for work he contributed to on non-drip teapots in 1999 but for which he had been wrongly overlooked at the time.
Fluid Dynamics Prize: Rouslan Krechetnikov (US/Russia/Canada) and Hans Mayer (US) for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.
Anatomy Prize: Frans de Waal (Netherlands/US) and Jennifer Pokorny (US) for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends.
Medicine Prize: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti (France) for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.
The 2012 ceremonies, which took place on September 20, are now available online in an unedited video. (The video recording starts about an hour before the official opening of the gala. The actual ceremonies start at around the 50th minute.) Spoiler alert: there are two Miss Sweetie Poos!
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