Technology & Science·Updated

Ig Nobel awards honour 'SpeechJammer' and more

The annual Ig Nobel Prize list includes one for the inventors of a gadget that forces people to shut up, and another for a study that explains why coffee spills out of a moving mug.
Prof. Robert Kirschner, wearing a bowtie, leads a group studying research that indicated leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower seem smaller. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Did you ever want to force someone to just shut up? Well, a Japanese team of researchers has invented just the thing for you: the SpeechJammer.

It's a device that disrupts a person's speech by repeating whatever he or she says at a delay of a few hundred milliseconds, and apparently it is just annoying enough to render the biggest blowhard mute.

It was named Thursday night as a 2012 winner of the Ig Nobel prize — an award sponsored by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine for weird and humorous scientific discoveries.

The Ig Nobel prize winners were announced at a gala ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

The prizes are intended as a spoof of the soon-to-be-awarded Nobel science prizes. While some of the studies may seem silly, they are real and were intended to solve real problems. They were reviewed by peers and published in scholarly journals.

Other 2012 winners included teams that studied how chimps could recognize each other from their behinds, and why coffee will spill out of a moving mug.

The only mention of Canada was in connection with the sloshing-coffee study. One member of the team that studied "fluid dynamics" was listed as Rouslan Krechetnikov (U.S./Russia/Canada).

The full list of 2012 Ig Nobel winners:

  • Psychology Prize: Anita Eerland and Rolf Zwaan (Netherlands) and Tulio Guadalupe (Peru/Russia/Netherlands) for their study Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller.
  • Peace Prize: The SKN Company (Russia) for converting old Russian ammunition into new diamonds.
  • Acoustics Prize: Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada (Japan) for creating the SpeechJammer — a machine that disrupts a person's speech by making them hear their own spoken words at a very slight delay.
  • Neuroscience Prize: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford (U.S.) for demonstrating that brain researchers using complicated instruments and simple statistics can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.
  • Chemistry Prize: Johan Pettersson (Sweden/Rwanda) for solving the puzzle of why, in certain houses in the town of Anderslöv, Sweden, people's hair turned green.
  • Literature Prize: The U.S. Government General Accountability Office for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.
  • Physics Prize: Joseph Keller (U.S.), Raymond Goldstein (U.S./U.K.), Patrick Warren and Robin Ball (U.K.) for calculating the balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail. Prof. Keller was additionally given an Ig for work he contributed to on non-drip teapots in 1999 but for which he had been wrongly overlooked at the time.
  • Fluid Dynamics Prize: Rouslan Krechetnikov (U.S./Russia/Canada) and Hans Mayer (U.S.) for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.
  • Anatomy Prize: Frans de Waal (Netherlands/U.S.) and Jennifer Pokorny (U.S.) for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends.
  • Medicine Prize: Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti (France) for advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.