The Nobel and the Ig Nobel

Last week at our weekly Physics Colloquium seminar here at the University of Queensland, we were fortunate enough to have a presentation by the winner of this year's Ig Nobel Prize in Physics, our very own Prof. John Mainstone. For those not familiar with the Ig Nobel prize, as you might have guessed it is a take on the more well known Nobel Prize. The prize is intended to "celebrate the unusual and honor the imaginative".

This years winners included:

  • Prize in Medicine: for the invention of Neuticles - artificial replacement testicles for dogs.
  • Peace Prize: for electrically monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while that locust was watching selected highlights from the movie "Star Wars."
  • Prize in Economics: for inventing an alarm clock that runs away and hides, repeatedly, thus ensuring that people DO get out of bed, and thus theoretically adding many productive hours to the workday.
  • Prize in Chemistry: for conducting a careful experiment to settle the longstanding scientific question - can people swim faster in syrup or in water?
  • and many more...

Most important, of course, is the Prize in Physics, which Prof. Mainstone received for patiently conducting an experiment that began in the year 1927 - in which a glob of congealed black tar has been slowly, slowly dripping through a funnel, at a rate of approximately one drop every nine years, also known as the pitch drop experiment. This experiment is officially the longest running experiment in history and is still going strong.

For those living in Brisbane, you can witness this exciting and dynamic spectacle by visiting the UQ Physics Department where the experiment is on display.

The moral of this story? If you've ever had a completely ludicrous invention, but never had the courage the make it known, the Ig Nobel Prize might be the break you've been seeking.

2 thoughts on “The Nobel and the Ig Nobel”

  1. IgNobel: The new inquisition of ultra ortodox scientists

    IgNobel represents a new campaign to discredit unusual scientific achievements, which perhaps in the future will be useful for the advance of science.

    This new scientific inquisition, a parody of the Nobel Prizes, is
    very dangerous. In fact, it is used, in some cases anti-ethically, to attack and to ridiculize honest and prestigious scientists who curiously have published
    their scientific articles in peer-review scientific journals!!!

    My question is:
    Should the IgNobel group of ortodox scientists receive an IgNobel prize?

  2. An interesting point Arthur. I agree that much of the work that receives IgNobel prizes is serious research. However, I’m not sure whether it really has the effect of undermining this work. I tend to think that people, including the authors of the work, tend to see it merely as a bit of humour. I know that Prof. Mainstone, from my university, who received an IgNobel prize last year, was absolutely delighted. Moreover, the fact that so many authors who receive IgNobel Prizes attend the ceremony in my mind reaffirms this point of view.

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