The Wackiest Scientists to Ever Win the Ig Nobel Prize for Their Research
Each year, the Ig Nobel (ignoble, get it?) Prizes are given out to the funniest, most outlandish research produced from around the globe. Hosted by the Annals of Improbable Research, the Ig Nobels have been held at Sanders Theatre at Harvard University since 1991. The awards have been given out to "researchers" who proclaimed that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements of Hell, "biologists" who donned stilts and lived among goats, and "scientists" who have endeavored to discover everything from the existence of the five-second rule to the friction of a banana peel. This list documents the weirdest Ig award winners from the past two decades. Some semi-serious, some seriously satirical, this list of funny Ig Nobel winners is unlikely to disappoint.
- 170 VOTES
The Physicists Who Measured The Friction Between A Shoe And A Banana PeelPhoto: Glen Van Etten / Flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0
In 2012, a team of Japanese physicists took on a question that has plagued cartoon-viewers for decades: can you actually slip and fall on a banana peel?
To answer this question, the physicists measured the friction created between a human shoe, a banana peel, and linoleum. They found that, in fact, a banana peel produces less friction between the shoe and the floor than another similar object would. In other words, the banana peel kind of creates a slipping hazard! They blame the peel’s “follicular gel” for the added lubrication that reduces friction. This research won the 2014 Ig Nobel in Physics.
- 245 VOTES
The British Biologists Who Studied Ostrich Courtship Around HumansPhoto: Mike Cilliers / Flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
Ostrich farmers around the globe owe a debt of gratitude to biologists N. Bubier, Charles G.M. Paxton, Phil Bower, and D. Charles Deeming of the United Kingdom for their work on ostrich courtship behavior. Using the presence of humans to gauge the likelihood of ostriches’ sexual arousal, the biologists found that both male and female ostriches were more likely to demonstrate courtship behavior in the presence of humans. However, they also found that brief exposure to humans “did not stimulate courtship behavior in the period immediately after the human had withdrawn.” So, basically, if farmers want to get their birds in “the mood,” they’re going to have to stick around for a while. This is a finding worthy of the 2002 Ig Nobel in Biology.
- 380 VOTES
The Royal Navy That Said 'Boom' Instead Of Using AmmunitionPhoto: Piergiuliano Chesi / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 3.0
In 2000, Ig Nobel awarded their Peace prize to a rather unlikely candidate: the British Royal Navy. They won the prestigious award after budget cuts reduced the amount of live ammunition rounds supplied to different training sites. As a way to save their live rounds, Royal Navy gunners began shouting “bang” through microphones to indicate the firing of canons during training exercises. Although some in the British Parliament questioned the “quality” of this training, the Ministry of Defense insisted it gave the most “bang” for government bucks.
- 441 VOTES
The 'Mathematicians' Who Incorrectly Predicted The ApocalypsePhoto: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr / CC-BY 2.0
The 2011 Ig Nobel in Mathematics had six independent recipients. It was awarded to individuals who taught “the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations.”
The recipients? Dorothy Martin of the USA; Pat Robertson of the USA; Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the USA; Lee Jang Rim of Korea; Credonia Mwerinde of Uganda; and Harold Camping of the USA.
What did they have in common? Each predicted a specific date for the world’s end, and it turned out their predicted apocalypses... weren’t so accurate. Because of this, Ig Nobel applauded their (dis)service to the world of mathematical predictions.
- 560 VOTES
The Doctor Who Took On The Question Of Knuckle-Cracking And ArthritisPhoto: Mikael Häggström / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
“Does knuckle cracking lead to arthritis of the fingers?” This is the question that Dr. Donald L. Unger of Thousand Oaks, California, spent 50 years trying to answer. And it won him the 2009 Ig Nobel in Medicine. To conduct his research, Dr. Unger cracked only the knuckles on his left hand at least twice a day, never cracking those on his right hand. “Thus, the knuckles on the left were cracked at least 36,500 times, while those on the right cracked rarely and spontaneously."
After 50 years of cracking, Dr. Unger found that “there was no arthritis in either hand, and no apparent differences between the hands.”
Talk about dedicating your life to science!
- 650 VOTES
The Japanese Scientists Who Promoted Inter-Species CommunicationPhoto: Josh Rook / Flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
In 2002, Japanese scientists Keita Sato, Dr. Matsui Suzuki, and Dr. Norio Kogure won the Ig Nobel for Peace in recognition of their work in promoting inter-species communication. To promote this peace, they created a device called Bow-Lingual, a computer-based dog-to-human translator. Bow-Lingual is built to categorize dog barks into one of six different emotional categories. Bow-Lingual also includes information on understanding the emotions of a dog’s body language. The emotional category of a dog’s bark, when combined with their body language, should give an owner some indication of how to best serve their pooch. No more of that lost in inter-species translation nonsense!