12 October 2006

The Ig Nobel Prize 2006

I'm a bit late in announcing this, but still it's better than never. The winners for the Ig Nobel Prize for 2006 has been released last week. The winner for the physics prize goes to Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch for their painstaking study on why dry spaghetti breaks into more than two pieces when bent.

I particularly like the work that earned its author the prize for mathematics: Blink-Free Photos, Guaranteed, which in short calculates the number of times you have to take for a group photograph to ensure that no one is blinking.

In case you think that these are just some fancy fabrication of a highly imaginative mind, it should be clarified that these are real works done by real people and (for academic research) published in real journals/books. The rule of thumb of the Ig Nobel Prize is "research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK". Take for example the 2005 prize for fluid dynamics awarded for the study of the pressure build-up inside a penguin when they defaecate.

Sometimes the awards are given as parodical criticism, such as the 1996 prize for peace to Jacques Chirac for "commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Hiroshima with atomic bomb tests in the Pacific", and the 1994 prize for mathematics to The Southern Baptist Church of Alabama for their statistical estimate of "how many Alabama citizens will go to Hell if they don't repent".

This year's ceremony included some pretty interesting events, such as the 24/7 Lectures, in which some of the top researchers in the world (real ones) are invited to give on, their field of research:

FIRST: a complete technical description in TWENTY-FOUR (24) SECONDS

AND THEN: a clear summary that anyone can understand, in SEVEN (7) WORDS.

I am really interested in how Frank Wilczek gave his 24/7 Lecture on Dark Matter. I'll watch the webcast when I'm free.

Oh, did you know that a Singaporean was awarded an Ig Nobel prize before? It was the 1994 prize for psychology to a "practitioner of the psychology of negative reinforcement, for his thirty-year study of the effects of punishing three million citizens of Singapore whenever they spat, chewed gum, or fed pigeons."

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