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The Ig Nobel - Or is Michael Gorbachev the Antichrist

The Stinker - the official mascot of the Ig Noble Prizes

Image credit: Improbable Research

A Prize That First Makes People Laugh, and Then Makes Them Think

We have all heard about the Nobel prize - the grandest dream achievement of every scientist. But exactly 30 years ago the scientific world started celebrating the work of those who deal with the smaller and sometimes absurd-looking questions about the life, universe, and everything. Since then, every year on the First Annual Awards Ceremony the Ig Nobel Prizes are given to scientists who first make us laugh and then make us think.


In 1991 Marc Abrahams, the editor, and co-founder of the Annals of Improbable Research created the Ig Nobel Prize. Originally, it was given for discoveries "that cannot, or should not, be reproduced". Since then, Marc has been the master of the ceremony of the awards. Each year between 9 and 13 awards are given in categories that are not constant. Still, chemistry, biology, and physics are represented almost every year. In the beginning, the ceremony was held in a lecture hall in MIT and later in Moved to Sanders Theater in Harvard University. Most awards are presented by actual Nobel Prize winners. Thus the idea, that the prizes are satirical, but their goal is to support what is commonly called "small science".

The Ig Nobel Prize already has its own rituals. During the ceremony, paper planes are thrown on the stage. For many years the Professor in Theoretical Physics from Harvard Roy J. Glauber is cleaning the airplanes as the official "Keeper of the Broom." In 2005 he wasn't able to attend the awards, because on the same dates he was receiving an actual Nobel Prize in Physics in Stockholm. Another tradition is Miss Sweetie Poo - a little girl who screams "Please stop: I'm bored" in a high-pitched voice if speakers talk too long. The words: "If you didn't win a prize—and especially if you did—better luck next year!" mark the end of each ceremony.

Image credit: Improbable Research

Throughout the years Ig Nobels were given for researches such as:

Art – Presented jointly to Jim Knowlton, modern Renaissance man, for his classic anatomy poster "Penises of the Animal Kingdom," and to the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, for encouraging Mr. Knowlton to extend his work in the form of a pop-up book.

Mathematics – Presented to Robert W. Faid of Greenville, South Carolina, farsighted and faithful seer of statistics, for calculating the exact odds (710,609,175,188,282,000 to 1) that Mikhail Gorbachev is the Antichrist.

Psychology – Presented to Shigeru Watanabe, Junko Sakamoto, and Masumi Wakita, of Keio University, for their success in training pigeons to discriminate between the paintings of Picasso and those of Monet.

Physics – Presented to Jack Harvey, John Culvenor, Warren Payne, Steve Cowley, Michael Lawrance, David Stuart, and Robyn Williams of Australia, for their irresistible report "An analysis of the forces required to drag sheep over various surfaces".

Peace: Stephan Bolliger, Steffen Ross, Lars Oesterhelweg, Michael Thali, and Beat Kneubuehl of the University of Bern, Switzerland, for determining whether it is better to be hit on the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle.

Ig Nobel Prizes in 2020

On September 17, 2020, at the 30th Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony the following prizes were given (Source: Impossible Research):

  • Acoustics: Stephan Reber, Takeshi Nishimura, Judith Janisch, Mark Robertson, and Tecumseh Fitch, for inducing a female Chinese alligator to bellow in an airtight chamber filled with helium-enriched air.
  • Psychology: Miranda Giacomin and Nicholas Rule, for devising a method to identify narcissists by examining their eyebrows.
  • Peace: The governments of India and Pakistan, for having their diplomats surreptitiously ring each other's doorbells in the middle of the night, and then run away before anyone had a chance to answer the door.
  • Physics: Ivan Maksymov and Andriy Pototsky, for determining, experimentally, what happens to the shape of a living earthworm when one vibrates the earthworm at high frequency.
  • Economics: Christopher Watkins, Juan David Leongómez, Jeanne Bovet, Agnieszka Żelaźniewicz, Max Korbmacher, Marco Antônio Corrêa Varella, Ana Maria Fernandez, Danielle Wagstaff, and Samuela Bolgan, for trying to quantify the relationship between different countries' national income inequality and the average amount of mouth-to-mouth kissing.
  • Management: Xi Guang-An, Mo Tian-Xiang , Yang Kang-Sheng, Yang Guang-Sheng, and Ling Xian Si, five professional hitmen in Guangxi, China, who managed a contract for a hit job (a murder performed for money) in the following way: After accepting payment to perform the murder, Xi Guang-An then instead subcontracted the task to Mo Tian-Xiang, who then instead subcontracted the task to Yang Kang-Sheng, who then instead subcontracted the task to Yang Guang-Sheng, who then instead subcontracted the task to Ling Xian-Si, with each subsequently enlisted hitman receiving a smaller percentage of the fee, and nobody actually performing a murder.
  • Entomology: Richard Vetter, for collecting evidence that many entomologists (scientists who study insects) are afraid of spiders, which are not insects.
  • Medicine: Nienke Vulink, Damiaan Denys, and Arnoud van Loon, for diagnosing a long-unrecognized medical condition: Misophonia, the distress at hearing other people make chewing sounds.
  • Medical Education: Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, Narendra Modi of India, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Donald Trump of the US, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan, for using the COVID-19 viral pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can.
  • Materials Science: Metin Eren, Michelle Bebber, James Norris, Alyssa Perrone, Ashley Rutkoski, Michael Wilson, and Mary Ann Raghanti, for showing that knives manufactured from frozen human feces do not work well.
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