There is a Parody Set of Nobel Prizes Given Out Annually for Trivial Scientific Achievements, The IG Nobel Prizes

IG Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elena Bodnar demonstrating her invention of a bra that doubles as a breathing mask.

Today I found out there is a parody set of Nobel Prizes given out annually for trivial scientific achievements.

These prizes (10 per year in a variety of categories) are called the IG Nobel Prizes (play on words: “Ignoble Prize”) and are given to those whose work “first makes people laugh, and then makes them think”.  Essentially, they are given to people whose research is highly unusual or seemingly trivial, but none-the-less is interesting and sometimes even important.

The IG Nobel Prizes have been given out annually since 1991, usually in September or October, by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research and is co-sponsored by various Harvard societies. The location of the ceremony was originally at MIT, but now is at Harvard, though lectures by the winners are given at MIT the Saturday following the ceremony so that they can expound upon their not-so-groundbreaking research.

The prizes are presented to the winners by actual Nobel laureates.  One person, Sir Andre Geim, has actually won both an IG Nobel Prize (in 2000) and a real Nobel Prize (in 2010).  He won the IG Nobel Prize for an experiment where he and another scientist successfully levitated a frog using magnets.  His actual Nobel Prize was won “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene”.

During the ceremony, each IG Nobel Prize winner is given 60 seconds to explain their research.  If they go over the time, a little girl, “Miss Sweetie Poo”, will walk up to them and yell “Please stop: I’m bored” continually until the speaker stops.  It was also once traditional for audience members to throw paper airplanes at the stage while the ceremony was taking place, but this practice has died out in recent years due to safety concerns.

Some examples of work that resulted in people winning IG Nobel Prizes includes:

  • Economics: To a group that discovered that strippers earn more when they are at their peak fertility than otherwise.  One can only imagine the significant time they had to spend at strip clubs FOR SCIENCE!!!
  • Fluid Dynamics:  To researchers who calculated the pressure build up inside penguins before they defecate.  The report was titled:  “Pressures Produced When Penguins Poo—Calculations on Avian Defecation”.
  • Aviation: For the discovery that giving Viagra to hamsters helps them recover more quickly from jet lag.
  • Peace: To Claire Rind and Peter Simmons who did research monitoring the activity of a brain cell in a locust while it watched certain scenes in the film Star Wars.
  • Biology: The discovery that a certain kind of beetle is attracted to and will try to mate with certain kinds of Australian beer bottles.  The bottles these beetles are attracted to are brown with “bobbly bits”.
  • Medicine: For the discovery that when people have a strong urge to pee, they consistently make better decisions with certain types of things and worse decisions with other kinds of things.
  • Chemistry:  For the invention of the “wasabi alarm”, which is an alarm that is used to wake up sleeping people in case of fire or other emergency (particularly useful for deaf people).  In order to build this alarm, the researchers figured out just how much wasabi to release into the air to wake people up.
  • Biology: For the discovery that herring communicate with one another via farting.
  • Medicine: For the development of replacement testicles for castrated dogs, which are available in a variety of sizes and levels of firmness.
  • Peace: To the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, Arturas Zuokas, for discovering that running over illegally parked luxury cars with tanks can effectively get rid of the problem of illegally parked cars.  (Video Here)
  • Veterinary Medicine: For the discovery that cows who are given names produce more milk than cows that don’t have names.
  • Literature: (my favorite as it’s been my philosophy “Productive Procrastination” for about a decade now)  This was awarded in 2011 to John Perry for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which states: “To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that’s even more important.”
  • Medicine: Prize given to Donald L. Unger for steadfastly only cracking the knuckles on one hand and not the other for 50 years in order to determine whether cracking knuckles can be a cause for arthritis in fingers.
  • Physics: For a project proving that heaps of string or hair will inevitably tangle.
  • Medicine: For research on how listening to country music affects suicide rates.
  • Chemistry: To Mayu Yamamoto for figuring out a way to extract vanilla flavor from cow dung.
  • Astrophysics: For a paper illustrating that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of biblical Hell, a.k.a. “outer darkness”.
  • Linguistics: To a group that conclusively demonstrated that rats occasionally are unable to distinguish between Japanese and Dutch recordings played backwards.
  • Ornithology: To a group that researched why woodpeckers don’t get headaches. (you can read about why woodpeckers don’t get headaches and more woodpecker facts here)
  • Medicine: To Francis M. Fesmire who published a report illustrating how to get rid of hiccups via “Digital Rectal Massage”.
  • Physics: To John Mainstone and Thomas Parnell who have jointly painstakingly researched the rate of drops from a glob of congealed black tar placed in a funnel in 1927.  If you’re curious, its current average rate between drops is nine years.  Easiest research project ever…
  • Peace: To the United States Air Force for trying to develop a bomb which doesn’t kill, but rather causes enemy troops to all become sexually attracted to one another, a “gay bomb”.
  • For a complete list of projects by IG Nobel Prize winners, go here.

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Bonus Facts:

  • In his own time, Alfred Nobel was known by some as “The Merchant of Death”, which was a large part of why he came up with the Nobel Prizes, to improve how history would remember him.  You can read more about this here: Alfred Nobel was Also Known as “The Merchant of Death”
  • The Chief Scientific Adviser to the British Government once requested that no British scientist be given or accept an IG Nobel Prize, due to it seemingly making a mockery of real research.  However, this has never been honored and most scientists are glad to win their IG Nobel Prizes.  Before the winners are announced, they are contacted to see if they’d be willing to accept the award; so they have the option of backing out at which point another winner will be chosen.  According to the IG Nobel Prize organizers, this almost never happens and most scientists are happy to win.
  • An example of one bizarre IG Nobel Prize winning project that ended up savings lives is the discovery that certain types of mosquitoes are attracted just as much to Limburger cheese as they are to the smell of human feet. This fact has since been used as a way to attract and kill mosquitoes in Africa, helping to combat the ongoing malaria epidemic there.
  • The inventor of karaoke, Daisuke Inoue, was awarded an IG Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for “inventing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other.”
  • Sir Andre Geim, winner of both a Nobel Prize and an IG Nobel Prize, also once listed one of his hamsters as a co-author on a research paper.
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  • “…To a group that conclusively demonstrated that rats occasionally are unable to distinguish between Japanese and Dutch recordings played backwards.”

    Did they test recordings in every other language too, then?


  • The only problem I have with the IG Noble is how so many people point to the winners as “examples” of pointless research and a waste of money. With some exceptions obviously, IG Nobel winners were usually researching pieces of a greater puzzle. Many of these experiments weren’t the point of the overall research being done, but just “out of the box” experiments to prove a premise. The real research begins when something is shown to be worth investigating, and that’s all a lot of these crazy-sounding experiments really accomplish.