The Ig Nobel Prize: Showing Serious Science can be Funny

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First Ig Nobel Prize

A live frog is magnetically levitated, an experiment that earned Andre Geim the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics. Geim is also the 2010 Physics Nobel Prize recipient for his work on graphene.

A live frog is magnetically levitated, an experiment that earned Andre Geim the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics. Geim is also the 2010 Physics Nobel Prize recipient for his work on graphene. Image by Lijnis Nelemans

Andre Geim became the first person to receive both the Nobel and Ig Nobel Prizes in Physics in 2010. He demonstrated that it is possible to levitate macroscopic objects using diamagnetic materials, such as water, which accounts for most of a frog’s mass.  This experiment on magnetically-levitating frogs won the 2000 Ig.

Geim’s work allows scientists to build tabletop devices to test certain materials in a weightless environment, without sending them into space. Geim also received the 2010 Nobel for his discovery of graphene, peeling scotch tape off graphite, a discovery that almost seems worthy of an Ig itself.

Science certainly does need promotion to a jaded public. Scientists perform research and write papers that rarely (if ever) get heard by the lay public, many of whom think of science as dry and boring. By focusing on the hilarious, we show that science is anything but.

Dr. Len Fisher, winner of the 1999 Physics Ig Nobel for calculating the optimal way to dunk a biscuit, says that the reason he did this work was “… to make science more accessible by showing how a scientist might think about the little problems of life.”

Bringing Silly Science to the World: NPR and Streaming Video

National Public radio broadcasts the Ig ceremony live, and re-broadcasts it for Science Friday on the Friday after U.S. Thanksgiving. It also shows live via streaming video on the Internet, bringing the Ig science message to a wider audience. So although the Ig Nobel Prize seems to take a comedic view on science, the science itself is very serious.

Resources

Fisher, Len. Len Fisher Science: Home. (2011). Dr. Len  Fisher. Accessed October 15, 2013.

Bègue, Laurent et al. ‘Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder’: People Who Think They Are Drunk Also Think They Are Attractive.  (2013). British Journal of Psychology/Wiley Online Library. Accessed October 15, 2013.

Fisher, L. Physics takes the biscuit. (1999). Nature. Accessed October 15, 2013.

Geim, A. K., & Novoselov, K. S.  The rise of graphene. (2007). Nature Materials. Accessed October 15, 2013.

Lawrence, F. Things get worse with Coke. (2004). The Guardian. Accessed October 15, 2013.

MIT Museum. The Atkins Diet Opera. (2004). The annals of improbable research. Accessed October 15, 2013.

MIT Museum. Inertia Makes The World Go Around. (2006). The annals of improbable research. Accessed October 15, 2013.

MIT Museum.  The 2010 Ig Nobel Prize Winners. (2010). The annals of improbable research. Accessed October 15, 2013.

MIT Museum. Chemist in a Coffee Shop. (2011). The annals of improbable research. Accessed October 15, 2013.

Nobel Media. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2010. (2010). Nobelprize.org. Accessed October 15, 2013.

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