Every year in Norway, Nobel Prizes are awarded to scientists who have made outstanding contributions to human knowledge. Also taking place every year, but at a far less formal ceremony in Cambridge, Mass., "Ig Nobel" Prizes are given to scientists who have made outstanding, but also hilarious, contributions to the field.
The 2011 awards will be handed out tomorrow night (Sept. 29), and if they're anything like last year's honorees, they're bound to be a hoot. For instance, Richard Stephens, a psychologist at England's Keele University, won the 2010 Ig Nobel "Peace Prize" for proving that swearing relieves pain. Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse of the Zoological Society of London won the engineering prize for securing petri dishes to the front of a helicopter to collect samples of whale snot in order to study disease in the mammals.
In past years, the ceremony awarded research on why woodpeckers don't get headaches, how best to deal with the word "the" in indexes, the discovery of dead gay duck sex, and even the development of a chemical process for turning tequila into diamonds.
All these research projects were scientifically rigorous and significant enough to have been published in peer-reviewed academic journals — a requirement for consideration by the Ig Nobel Prize selection committee.
"The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology," states a press release from Improbable Research, an organization that publishes a magazine called Annals of Improbable Research and administers the prizes.
Nominees from around the world will attend the 21st annual ceremony, as will hundreds of intrigued spectators. Check back with Life's Little Mysteries for continuing coverage of the event, and the strange science it highlights.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.