The Ig Nobel Prizes

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

This year, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their experiments with graphene, a two-dimensional, one atom-thick sheet of carbon. Winning the Nobel Prize is arguably the greatest honor for any scientist, but this isn’t the first time Geim has received a Nobel…of sorts. Back in 2000, Geim was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in Physics – for levitating a frog with magnets.

The Ig Nobel Prize, awarded for “research that makes people LAUGH, and then makes them THINK,” isn’t intended to make fun of scientific research, but a lot of the studies are pretty chuckle-inducing at first. Take Geim’s levitating frog, for example. While at first there seems to be no point to the experiment, other than to produce a “hover-frog,” Geim’s research demonstrated a phenomenon called diamagnetism. Objects that are diamagnetic get pushed away by magnetic fields. Water is diamagnetic, and frogs are mostly water. Therefore, surround a frog with a magnetic field and the force of the diamagnetic opposition can levitate a frog.

This year’s winners of the Ig Nobel Prize have been released and, as always, you’ll laugh, and then you’ll think. Here’s a sampling of the research that beat out the competition this year:

Engineering: Collect whale mucus using a helicopter

Medicine: Treating asthma symptoms with roller coaster rides

Physics: Preventing slipping on ice by putting socks over your shoes

Transportation Planning: Using slime mold to plan railroad track routes (hey, we suggested that would be a good idea months ago!)

Peace:  Swearing to relieve pain

Visit Improbable Research to learn more about this year’s Ig Nobel winners, and winners of years’ past. And you never know, a winner of this year’s Ig Nobel Prize may go on to win the Nobel Prize in the future. Or, vice versa.

October 2010

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