The Ig Nobel Prize is a parody of the Nobel Prize, which is awarded every autumn to celebrate ten unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research. Since 1991, the Ig Nobel Prizes have been awarded to “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” The name of the award, the “Ig Nobel Prize” is a pun on the word ignoble, an achievement “characterized by baseness, lowness, or meanness”, and is satirical social criticism that identifies absurd-sounding, yet useful research and knowledge.
The Ig Nobels were created in 1991 by Marc Abrahams, editor and co-founder of the Annals of Improbable Research and the master of ceremonies at all subsequent awards ceremonies. Awards were presented at that time for discoveries “that cannot, or should not, be reproduced”. Ten prizes are awarded each year in many categories, including the Nobel Prize categories of physics, chemistry, physiology/medicine, literature, and peace, but also other categories such as public health, engineering, biology, and interdisciplinary research.
The prizes are presented by genuine Nobel laureates, originally at a ceremony in a lecture hall at MIT, but now in Sanders Theater at Harvard University. It contains a number of running jokes, including Miss Sweetie Poo, a little girl who repeatedly cries out, “Please stop: I’m bored”, in a high-pitched voice if speakers go on too long. The awards ceremony is traditionally closed with the words: “If you didn’t win a prize—and especially if you did—better luck next year!”
The ceremony is co-sponsored by the Harvard Computer Society, the Harvard–Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard–Radcliffe Society of Physics Students.
Throwing paper planes onto the stage is a long-standing tradition at the Ig Nobels. In past years, physics professor Roy J. Glauber swept the stage clean of the airplanes as the official “Keeper of the Broom.” Glauber could not attend the 2005 awards because he was traveling to Stockholm to claim a genuine Nobel Prize in Physics.
The “Parade of Ignitaries” brings various supporting groups into the hall. At the 1997 ceremonies, a team of “cryogenic sex researchers” distributed a pamphlet titled “Safe Sex at Four Kelvin”. Delegates from the Museum of Bad Art are often on hand to display some pieces from their collection, too.
Although the Ig Nobel Awards are veiled criticism of trivial research, history shows that trivial research sometimes leads to important breakthroughs. For instance, in 2006, a study showing that one of the malaria mosquitoes (Anopheles gambiae) is attracted equally to the smell of Limburger cheese and the smell of human feet earned the Ig Nobel Prize in the area of biology. However, as a direct result of these findings, traps baited with this cheese have been placed in strategic locations in some parts of Africa to combat the epidemic of malaria.
Source: Ig Nobel Prize