Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony features vaginal music player

Nobel laureates, vampire bats, identical twins, and more to ‘make people laugh, then think’

On Sept. 15, the annual Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony took place under the watchful gaze of marble statues in the historic Sanders Theatre in Harvard. A parody of the actual Nobel Prizes, the Ig Nobel Awards are given by the Annals of Improbable Research Magazine to ten researchers from various fields who conduct improbable research, that is, research that “makes people laugh and then think.”

Winning topics ranged from the fluid dynamics of spilled coffee, the length of old men’s ears, and the efficacy of vaginal music players.

Winners received a prize of 1,000,000,000,000 Zimbabwean dollars and a replica of a human head sporting a question mark (to tie in with this year’s theme, “Uncertainty”).

As usual, the Ig Nobel Awards Ceremony lived up to its lightheartedness — there were half-naked silver human “spotlights,” hilarious demonstrations of the winning experiments, a Not Safe for Work Indicator (for the squeamish factor in some of these demonstrations), and plenty of participation from the audience through paper airplane deluges (where audience members threw paper airplanes at a “target” dressed up in a bullseye suit) and a competition to win an empty cardboard box.

Scattered throughout ceremony were musical acts from “The Incompetence Opera,” a three-part musical featuring a troubled psychologist obsessed with the Peter Principle and the Dunning-Kruger Effect (an explanation of how incompetent people climb up the social hierarchy) and a dancing man dressed in an MIT sweatshirt.

Also present were Nobel Laureates Eric Maskin (2007 Economics), Oliver Harts (2016 Economics), Roy Glauber (2005 Physics), and Jerome Friedman (1990 Physics) (who showed up in a video), as well as past Ig Nobel Laureates such as John Culvenor (2003 Physics) who researched the forces required to drag sheep across various surfaces and who spoke at MIT on Saturday for the Ig Informal Lectures.

There was also a healthy dose of serious academia in the form of 24/7 lectures, where scientists  gave a 24-second technical abstract of their research, then a seven-word summary that anyone could understand. One of the lecturers, who investigated human response to AI, summarized her work as “Robots that talk are perceived as stupid.”

Among the audience members were Eden Solomon ’20 and Zhijing Jin ’19 , two MIT students whose mutual friend sang in the chorus of the Incompetence Opera. Regarding the whole affair, Solomon ’20 said that, “[she] didn’t know what to expect, but it was fantastic.”

When asked about the most shocking thing from the awards ceremony, both Solomon and Zhijing agreed that the BabyPod (the vaginal music player) “topped it.” Both agreed that they would try to attend the event again next year.

For those looking for a good laugh and then a good thought, the webcast of the Ig Nobel Prizes is available on YouTube.