Woodpeckers, Alarm Clocks and Science!

One of the pinnacles of scientific achievement is to win a Nobel Prize. Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Alexander Fleming and others have won it for some of the greatest discoveries in science.

There is however another award which recognises the bizarre and unusual research that often goes unnoticed. These are the Ig Nobel Prizes.

The awards are presented every year in September, and are handed out by Nobel Laureates. The whole ceremony is relaxed and humourous: if the winners take too long in their speech, a small girl called Miss Sweetie Poo walks onto the stage and repeats “please stop, I’m bored” over and over until the winner leaves.

Here is a selection of some of the past winners (it’s hard to pick just a few: there are so many awesome choices!)

  • 2012 Neuroscience Prize: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford, for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.
  • 2012 Medicine Prize: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimise the chance that their patients will explode.
  • 2011 Physics Prize: Philippe Perrin, Cyril Perrot, Dominique Deviterne and Bruno Ragaru, and Herman Kingma, for determining why discus throwers become dizzy, and why hammer throwers don’t.
  • 2011 Peace Prize: Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania, for demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armoured tank.
  • 2010 Management Prize: Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo of the University of Catania, Italy, for demonstrating mathematically that organisations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.
  • 2006 Ornithology Prize: Ivan R. Schwab, of the University of California Davis, and the late Philip R.A. May of the University of California Los Angeles, for exploring and explaining why woodpeckers don’t get headaches.
  • 2005 Economics Prize: Gauri Nanda of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for inventing an alarm clock that runs away and hides, repeatedly, ensuring that people DO get out of bed, and thus theoretically adding many productive hours to the workday.

The image above is an amalgamtion of two: The woodpecker is courtesy of Tony Wood and the alarm click is courtesy of Batholith, both under Creative Commons Licences.