Friday, October 06, 2006

Improbable Ig Nobel Awards

Confession time. I used to subscribe to a magazine titled Annals of Improbable Research. It’s the magazine behind the annual Ig Nobel prizes - which have got a lot more publicity this year than normal.

One of the best articles I remember investigated posting various unusual objects across the US: a football with the address and stamps stuck to it, a wrapped brick (which arrived pulverised courtesy of the US Drug Enforcement Agency checking to see if it concealed something illegal), a transparent box of sand, rancid cheese, a hammer (never received) and a feather duster (that arrived, but with the comment that all mail should be wrapped).

As well as featuring particularly surreal and off-beat research papers, the magazine ran an occasional series devoted to the canteens in big research facilities – eg, Nasa, MIT – comparing such facts and figures as the standard of corporate art on the walls and percentage of bearded customers.

This year’s Ig Novel Prize winners picked up their awards on Thursday night at Harvard, and will give free public lectures on Sunday night. Awards included:
  • Peace - Howard Stapleton (from Wales) for the invention of high pitch noise generator to deter teenagers from hanging around shops, and then applying it to “mosquito” mobile phone ring tones that could only be heard by teenagers (but not their teachers of parents). Have a listen.
  • Mathematics - Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes of the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization, for calculating the number of photographs you must take to (almost) ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed. (Picture from Sky News.)

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