The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but, 'That's funny...'

ISAAC ASIMOV (1902-1992)

Ig Nobel Prizes

The 1999 Ig Nobel Peace Prize went to the inventors of cars with flamethrowers that were used to prevent carjacking.


Science is like sex: sometimes something useful comes out, but that's not the reason we are doing it.

Making people laugh, then think.

As the organisers describe it: ‘The Ig Nobel Prizes honour achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative and spur people's interest in science, medicine and technology. Every year, in a gala ceremony at Harvard University, 1,200 splendidly eccentric spectators watch the winners step forward to accept their Prizes. These are physically handed out by genuinely bemused genuine Nobel laureates.’
When viewed in context, even the strangest research can be seen to have a serious purpose behind it. For example, an Ig Nobel winning research paper that discusses the effects on sperm motility when doused in different brands and versions of cola sounds like madness. However, when you learn that some women in developing countries are using cola as a form of contraceptive because they believe it kills sperm, the research is revealed to be part of ongoing work to improve a community’s health. 

The Annoyance of Professor John Trinkaus

Professor John Trinkaus of City University, New York, is a man with a mission. He has been patiently and methodically quantifying and cataloguing all the things that annoy him for more than a quarter of a century. He has recorded his findings in nearly 100 academic papers.

For example, it annoyed him that people didn’t always comply with a stop sign near his house. So he counted the number of cars that came to a complete stop and those that didn’t. Then he revisited the spot three years later and again counted the number of times there was non-compliance within the same period of time. Three years later he did the same. He did this five times over a period of 15 years.

Among the many other annoyances documented by Professor Trinkaus are baseball caps being worn ‘the wrong way’, the use of ‘buzzwords’ in political commercials, lost gloves, using mobile phones while driving, waiting times at the doctor’s surgery, use of sirens, colour preferences of sports shoes, delays at supermarket checkouts, and shoppers’ perceptions about uncooked minced beef.
He has published four studies solely about children’s apparent emotional states when visiting Santa’s grotto in stores. His results make interesting reading. In Visiting Santa: An Additional Look (2007), he reports: ‘Two informal enquiries of the emotions of 600 children queued up to meet Santa Claus in shopping malls during the 2003 and 2004 Yuletide seasons suggested that about 80% appeared to be indifferent to seeing Santa. Emotions were estimated using a standard scale of facial expressions (Using a modified six cartoon-face rating scale, employed in the health care field to help judge pain being experienced by young children). A replication of these studies in 2005 observing another 200 children indicated that this rate declined (to about 60%) the closer it was Christmas day. To investigate in more detail the feelings of the guardians accompanying indifferent children, this study was conducted in 2006. Of the total of 300 guardians (who were accompanying 300 children) 87% appeared to be happy. They were escorting 91% of the 200 children who seemed to be indifferent.’
In 2003 he was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for Literature.

Dr Elena Bodnar won an Ig Nobel Prize for designing a bra that, in an emergency, can be converted into two gas masks.


Most scientists - no matter what they're doing, good or bad - never get any attention at all.

Gauri Nanda received the 2005 Ig Nobel Prize for Economics for inventing an alarm clock that scoots away and hides.

The 2005 Ig Nobel prize for chemistry was won by the team who proved that swimming in syrup is as quick as swimming in water.

Scrotal Asymmetry

In 2002 Chris McManus won the Ig Nobel prize in Medicine for his 1979 paper, Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and in Ancient Sculpture. In most men the right testicle is both higher (for over 60% of men) and larger than the left. However, thanks to McManus’ painstaking examinations of 107 different Greek and Roman sculptures, he noticed that they were getting it wrong. While the largest group of statues correctly made the right testicle higher, it also wrongly made the left larger. In the second most popular group the left is depicted as being higher (which is incorrect) and the right one larger (correct). 

This mistake might have been because of theories in the ancient world about the roles of the testicles. Anaxogoras had a theory that male seed come from the right testicle and female seed from the left. Some people reacted by trying to produce more boys – it was suggested that a binding around the left testicle would ensure sperm only came from the right testicle and so a male child would be conceived. This idea survived through the Middle Ages and is found as late as 1891, in a book called The Essentials of Conception by one Mrs Ida Ellis. She claims, ‘It is the male who can progenate a male or a female child at will, by putting an elastic band round the testicle not required. The semen from the right testicle progenates male, while that from the left female children.’

There were other beliefs about determining a baby’s sex as well - Empedocles suggested that it was determined by the mother, the womb being hotter on the right and so producing male children on that side. 

The 2012 Ig Nobel Prize for Physics went to the team who found an equation to predict the  movement of a human ponytail.

Cows with names give more milk than nameless cows; a discovery that won the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize in Vetinary Medicine.

OVID (43 BC – AD 17/18)

The glow of inspiration warms us; it is a holy rapture.

In July 2011, a Belarusian court found a one armed man guilty of applauding in public. They got an Ig Nobel Peace Prize.

The 2004 Ig Nobel Prize in Biology was awarded to 5 scientists for showing that herrings communicate by farting.