Crunchy leaves? Sweater weather? That’s right folks, autumn has finally arrived. Though most are giddy with excitement for apple orchards and cozy weekends, the scientific community buzzes for a different reason. Each fall, we anxiously await the announcement awarding the most intriguing and improbable research efforts from around the world.
Sorry, did you think I meant the Nobel Prizes? They’re great I guess, but I’d like to direct your attention to their whimsical cousin, the Ig Nobel Prizes. Every year since 1991, ten awards are doled out to “honor achievements that make people laugh, then think.” And unlike their more rigid relatives at the Nobel, the categories can change year by year, and vary widely from economics to entomology. They aren’t completely fun and games, either. Each of the awards, with only a few exceptions, are for genuine scientific accomplishments that involved serious, peer reviewed research. It’s just that the topics can be a little… unusual.
Take, for example, this year’s award in Physics, which went to a breathtakingly adorable study on how ducklings swim in formation, and the ways they harness fluid mechanics to expend less energy while following behind their mama. Or perhaps you might be more interested in the prize in Applied Cardiology, which highlighted a study that indicated when compatible romantic partners meet for the first time, their heart rates synchronize to show attraction. And if you’ve ever wondered why legal documents are so difficult to understand, the winners of the 2022 Ig Nobel in Literature should be able to, if not help, at least explain why.
Since there isn’t as much on the line here, The Ig Nobel Prizes can also be awarded as sharp and hilarious criticisms. For instance, the 2020 prize in Medical Education was shared by a suite of global politicians, including leaders from the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia, for their efforts in “using the Covid-19 viral pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can.” Yikes.
This fall, after we celebrate the winners of the actual Nobel Prizes, you can spend some time watching the 2022 Ig Nobel ceremony. It will surely make you laugh, then think!
Peer editor: Colleen Steward