And now . . . the winners of the 2012 Ig Nobel Prizes
I'm standing amidst a throng of people in the entrance hall of Harvard University's historic Sanders theatre. Before me stands a man, wielding a flash light, who is coated from head to toe in gleaming silver body paint; he is wearing nothing, save for a pair of reading glasses and a tiny, aluminum-colored speedo. To my right, a scientist in a lab coat is working away feverishly at the bellows of an accordion. On my left, Nobel laureate Roy Glauber (physics, 2005) squeezes past me with a smile and a nod. Oh, and I'm pretty sure I just saw Amanda Palmer.
Am I dreaming? No. By all accounts this is better than dreaming; I am in attendance at the Twenty-First 1st Annual Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony.
The brainchild of Marc Abrahams — editor of the scientific humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research —the Ig Nobels (or "Igs" for short) were established in 1991 to pique peoples' interest in science, medicine, and technology by recognizing those research projects and societal contributions that first make people laugh, and then make them think.
The Igs are modeled loosely (and I do mean loosely) after the real Nobel Prize ceremonies held every year in Stockholm, Sweden. Yes, like the Nobel Prize ceremony, the Igs acknowledge scientists, artists, and public figures for contributing towards their respective fields…but that's pretty much where the similarities end.
Just about every aspect of the event is steeped in unconventionality. The audience, overtly vocal and incredibly boisterous, whoops and applauds like a mob of raucous sports fans at any mention of "chemistry," the theme of this year's ceremonial proceedings; a strict 60-second rule is enforced by an eight year old girl who is all too happy to yowl "please stop, I'm BORED!" in the face of any award recipient unfortunate enough to drone on for longer than a minute while delivering an acceptance speech; members of the audience, over 1200 of them, are encouraged to hurl paper airplanes at the stage at various points throughout the evening.