What rewards: Failed Doomsday Predictions, Beer-Loving Beetles, Effects of a Full Bladder on Decision-Making, The "Theory of Structured Procrastination", and the Wasabi Fire Alarm?

Why, the IgNobel prizes do! The prizes that make you laugh, and then make you think. And then, maybe, become really useful. From the press release:

(September 29, 2011, CAMBRIDGE, MA, USA) The 2011 Ig Nobel Prizes, honoring achievements that first make people LAUGH, and then make them THINK, were awarded at Harvard University's historic Sanders Theatre tonight before 1200 spectators in a ceremony filled with coffee, chemistry, opera singers, and paper airplanes. Around the world, thousands watched on YouTube. This was the 21th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony.

Seven of the ten new winners journeyed to Harvard — at their own expense — to accept their Prizes.

The Ig Nobel Prizes were physically handed to the winners by seven genuine Nobel laureates: Dudley Herschbach (chemistry, 1986), Rich Roberts (physiology or medicine, 1993), Jack Szostak (physiology or medicine, 2009), Roy Glauber (physics, 2005), Eric Maskin (economics, 2007), Peter Diamond (economics, 2010) and Louis Ignarro (physiology or medicine, 1998). Professor Ignarro was also given away in the Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest.

The event was produced by the science humor magazine "Annals of Improbable Research" (AIR), and co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students, and the Harvard Computer Society.

The ceremony also featured numerous tributes to the evening's theme of "Chemistry," including a performance of Tom Lehrer's classic song "The Elements", by Nobel laureate Rich Roberts and Harvard Medical School professor Thomas Michel.

The night included the premiere of a new mini-opera called "Chemist in a Coffee Shop," about a chemist who discovers that coffee shop employees know a lot about coffee chemistry. It starred Maria Ferrante, Roberta Gilbert, Thomas Michel and Daniel Rosenberg, with conductor/stage director David Stockton.

Each new winner was permitted a maximum of sixty (60) seconds to deliver an acceptance speech; the time limit was enforced by a cute-but-implacable eight-year-old girl.

Several past Ig Nobel Prize winners returned to take a bow and, in one case, swallow a sword: Don Featherstone (1996 art prize, for creating the plastic pink flamingo), Dan Meyer (2007 medicine prize, for co-authoring the medical study "Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects"), Deborah Anderson (2009 chemistry prize for testing whether Coca-Cola is an effective spermicide), and Hyuk Ho Kwon (1999 environmental protection prize, for inventing the self-perfuming business suit).

Marc Abrahams, master of ceremonies (and editor of the Annals of Improbable Research), closed the ceremony with the traditional, "If you didn't win an Ig Nobel prize tonight — and especially if you did — better luck next year."

The event was webcast live on YouTube, and will be available in recorded form at . An edited recording of the ceremony will be broadcast on National Public Radio's "Science Friday" program on the day after Thanksgiving.

The winners will try to explain themselves at greater length (five minutes each) in free public lectures on the afternoon of Saturday, October 1 at MIT.

For more info see www.improbable.com

And below we have the WINNERS THEMSELVES. Over the next few days I will be blogging more in depth about their accomplishments, as well as some of the further fun and weird science talks taking place on Saturday.


Fromm the press release:


The 2011 Ig Nobel Prize winners:


Anna Wilkinson (of the UK), Natalie Sebanz (of The Netherlands, Hungary, and AUSTRIA), Isabella Mandl (of Austria) and Ludwig Huber (of Austria) for their study 'No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise."

REFERENCE: 'No Evidence Of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise Geochelone carbonaria," Anna Wilkinson, Natalie Sebanz, Isabella Mandl, Ludwig Huber, Current Zoology, vol. 57, no. 4, 2011. pp. 477-84.


Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami of Japan, for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm.

REFERENCE: US patent application 2010/0308995 A1. Filing date: Feb 5, 2009.


Mirjam Tuk (of The Netherlands and the UK), Debra Trampe (of The Netherlands) and Luk Warlop (of Belgium). and jointly to Matthew Lewis, Peter Snyder and Robert Feldman (of the USA), Robert Pietrzak, David Darby, and Paul Maruff (of Australia) for demonstrating that people make better decisions about some kinds of things — but worse decisions about other kinds of things‚ when they have a strong urge to urinate.

REFERENCE: "Inhibitory spillover: Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains," Mirjam A. Tuk, Debra Trampe and Luk Warlop, Psychological Science, vol. 22, no. 5, May 2011, pp. 627-633.

REFERENCE: "The Effect of Acute Increase in Urge to Void on Cognitive Function in Healthy Adults," Matthew S. Lewis, Peter J. Snyder, Robert H. Pietrzak, David Darby, Robert A. Feldman, Paul T. Maruff, Neurology and Urodynamics, vol. 30, no. 1, January 2011, pp. 183-7.


Karl Halvor Teigen of the University of Oslo, Norway, for trying to understand why, in everyday life, people sigh.

REFERENCE: "Is a Sigh 'Just a Sigh'? Sighs as Emotional Signals and Responses to a Difficult Task," Karl Halvor Teigen, Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, vol. 49, no. 1, 2008, pp. 49–57.


John Perry of Stanford University, USA, for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which says: To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important.

REFERENCE: "How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done," John Perry, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 23, 1996. Later republished elsewhere under the title "Structured Procrastination." < http://www-csli.stanford.edu/~jperry>


Darryl Gwynne (of Canada and Australia and the USA) and David Rentz (of Australia and the USA) for discovering that a certain kind of beetle mates with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle.

REFERENCE: "Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females (Coleoptera)," D.T. Gwynne, and D.C.F. Rentz, Journal of the Australian Entomological Society, vol. 22, 1983, pp. 79-80.

REFERENCE: "Beetles on the Bottle," D.T. Gwynne and D.C.F. Rentz, Antenna: Proceedings (A) of the Royal Entomological Society London, vol. 8, no. 3, 1984, pp. 116-7.


Philippe Perrin, Cyril Perrot, Dominique Deviterne and Bruno Ragaru (of France), and Herman Kingma (of The Netherlands), for determining why discus throwers become dizzy, and why hammer throwers don't.

REFERENCE: "Dizziness in Discus Throwers is Related to Motion Sickness Generated While Spinning," Philippe Perrin, Cyril Perrot, Dominique Deviterne, Bruno Ragaru and Herman Kingma, Acta Oto-laryngologica, vol. 120, no. 3, March 2000, pp. 390–5.


Dorothy Martin of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1954), Pat Robertson of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1982), Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1990), Lee Jang Rim of KOREA (who predicted the world would end in 1992), Credonia Mwerinde of UGANDA (who predicted the world would end in 1999), and Harold Camping of the USA (who predicted the world would end on September 6, 1994 and later predicted that the world will end on October 21, 2011), for teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations.


Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, for demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored tank.



John Senders of the University of Toronto, Canada, for conducting a series of safety experiments in which a person drives an automobile on a major highway while a visor repeatedly flaps down over his face, blinding him.

REFERENCE: "The Attentional Demand of Automobile Driving," John W. Senders, et al., Highway Research Record, vol. 195, 1967, pp. 15-33.

VIDEO: < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOguslSPpqo >