The Ig Nobel Prize — not to be confused with its more serious counterpart, the Nobel Prize, awarded in Sweden each year — acknowledges unusual, dubious and sometimes just plain weird achievements in 10 areas of human knowledge and culture.
Honourees travelled to Harvard University from as far away as Australia, Kuwait and France to be at the Ig Nobel ceremony attended by some 1,200 people Thursday night.
The event was staged by the Annals of Improbable Research, the scientific humour publication that established the prize in 1991.
Dr. D. Lynn Halpern of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and James Hillenbrand of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., were recognized with an Ig Nobel for Acoustics for their 1986 paper, Psychoacoustics of a Chilling Sound, or why people hate the sound of fingernails dragged across a blackboard.
The research was similar to the Ig Nobel Peace Prize winner's so-called Mosquito device, which exploits the inability of adults to hear high-frequency sounds.
The device can emit a piercing, painful tone that repels teenagers and people in their early 20s —or, it was later discovered, create a cellphone ringtone inaudible to adults.
The device was inspired by a run-in inventor Howard Stapleton's daughter had with teen boys loitering at the corner store in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, where they live.
Stapleton recalled the ear-splitting sound that drove him out of the room as a 12-year-old boy when he visited his father at the ultrasonic welding shop where he worked — a sound none of the adults could hear.
Stapleton's company has sold the Mosquito devices to retailers, governments, police and homeowners throughout the U.K., with the first units set to arrive in North American stores in a few days.
Cure for hiccups
"I'm a serious guy, and something I wrote in 1987 is coming back to haunt me," said Dr. Francis Fesmire of his paper, which describes a novel and unorthodox technique for curing chronic hiccups.
His paper Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage won the doctor of emergency medicine and director of the Erlanger Medical Center's emergency heart unit in Chattanooga, Tenn., the Ig Nobel for Medicine.
"I saw this patient who couldn't stop his hiccups," Fesmire said. After making a variety of unsuccessful attempts, he decided to give it one last try. "I stuck my finger in his bottom" — for the first and last time, he added.
Other Ig Nobels granted included awards for:
- Literature, which went to Daniel Oppenheimer of Princeton University for his report Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.
- Chemistry, awarded to Antonio Mulet, Jose Javier Benedito and Jose Bon of the University of Valencia, Spain, and Carmen Rossello of the University of Illes Balears, in Palma de Mallorca, for Ultrasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature.
- Mathematics, honouring Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes of the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization, for Blink-Free Photos, Guaranteed. The research calculated the number of photographs a person must take to ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed.
Prizewinners will give free public lectures on Saturday.