Ig Nobels to Honor the Hilarious Side of Science on Thursday

The Ig Nobel Prize mascot.
The official mascot of the Ig Nobel Prizes— "The Stinker." (Image credit: Improbable Research)

Science doesn't always have to be serious. In fact, sometimes it can be quite funny. Not convinced? You can see for yourself on Thursday (Sept. 18) at the 24th annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, an event that honors the hilarious (and sometimes ridiculous) side of scientific research and discovery.

Much like its slightly more famous counterpart, the Nobel Prize, the Ig Nobel Prize is bestowed upon those who have recently made significant contributions in such fields as chemistry, physics and biology. However, Ig Nobels tend to go to scientists whose research is as funny as it is thought-provoking.

"The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think," according to a statement from Improbable Research, the organization behind the award ceremony. "The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people's interest in science, medicine and technology." [Silly (and Serious) Science: The 10 Ig Noble Prize Winners of 2013]

Ten Ig Nobels are awarded each year at Harvard's Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and this year's ceremony will be webcast live on Live Science.

The ceremony is notoriously light-hearted, with a slew of entertaining acts interspersed between acceptance speeches. Each year sees the premiere of an original "mini-opera," with themes that run the gamut from silly to strange. In keeping with the theme of this year's ceremony, which is "food," the latest opera is entitled "What's Eating You," and tells the tale of characters who stop eating food and instead consume only pills.

Though the awards are certainly tongue in cheek, they are presided over by well-respected academics and researchers, including several Nobel laureates. This year's ceremony will feature several 24-second lectures, including one from Martin Chalfie, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, who will speak about bioluminescence. Two other Nobel laureates will also be sharing their wisdom with audience members and viewers of Thursday's ceremony.

Of course, the real stars of the show are the Ig Noble Prize winners themselves. Improbable Research doesn't publish any information regarding who might be present at this year's ceremony, but the organization does keep a full list of every prize winner since the award's inception in 1991.

Some of the most hilarious research lauded in years past includes work done by a team of Italian researchers that led to the discovery that people are capable of walking on water, but only if those people — and the water they're walking on — are located on the moon. The finding earned the scientists last year's Ig Nobel Prize in Physics.

In 2013, the Biology Prize was awarded to two scientists who discovered that there is a kind of Australian beetle that continuously tries to mate with empty beer bottles. And in 1999, a Norwegian doctor was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in medicine for "carefully collecting, classifying and contemplating which kinds of containers his patients chose when submitting urine samples," according to Improbable Research.

In addition to the Ig Nobel ceremony, Improbable Research also hosts a series of informal lectures in the days following the event. These lectures give new prize winners an opportunity to explain why they decided to conduct their strange, obscure or just plain funny scientific research.

When they're not preparing for their annual awards ceremony, the organization also publishes its own magazine, called the Annals of Improbable Research, as well as a series of newsletters and a monthly newspaper column in The Guardian.

Follow Elizabeth Palermo @techEpalermo. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth is a former Live Science associate editor and current director of audience development at the Chamber of Commerce. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University. Elizabeth has traveled throughout the Americas, studying political systems and indigenous cultures and teaching English to students of all ages.