A little afternoon music
Accordion harmonies ushered in the 26th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony on Sept. 22, at Harvard University's historic Sanders Theater. The Ig Nobel awards honor unusual scientific studies that ask and answer peculiar questions about our world.
As visitors entered the theater lobby prior to the ceremony, they were greeted by the dulcet tones of a Timely Concert ("Time" was this year's theme), performed by the Boston Squeezebox Ensemble under the direction of Thomas Michel, accordion player and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
An illuminating experience
While guests, presenters, organizers and audience members found their seats and prepared for the spectacles to come, "The Whirligig of Time" solemnly sat onstage, sporting an oversize clock around his neck and a shiny propeller on his head. Assisting him was one of the ceremony's silvery "Human Spotlights," Katrina Rosenberg, a student at Northeastern University.
During two designated time periods during the ceremony, the audience was invited to throw paper airplanes at the "Human Aerodrome," a human target onstage. The role of the aerodrome was genially played by Eric Workman, who also designed the Ig Nobel prizes and the props that were used during the show.
Jean Berko Gleason, psycholinguist and a professor emerita in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Boston University, was the highly anticipated and not-at-all-long-winded welcome speaker.
Master of ceremonies
The central figure at the Ig Nobel's podium, Mark Abrahams, is a man of many hats — far more than the collapsible topper he sported for the event. Abrahams is the founder and producer of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, and he is also the editor of the humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, which inspired the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony.
Abrahams has also written the librettos for 21 minioperas performed at Ig Nobel events over the years, including the one presented this year: "The Last Second." He is illuminated by "Human Spotlight" and materials scientist Jim Bredt.
Human alarm clock
Winners are given one minute to speak after they receive their award, and the time limit is strictly enforced. In past years, after the one-minute mark passed, long-winded talkers would be interrupted by the appearance of a little girl known as "Miss Sweetie Poo," who would loudly interject with "Please stop, I'm bored!" This year, she was replaced with a "Human Alarm Clock" — three vocalists who were also part of the "Clock Chorus" in the miniopera performed during the ceremony. When speakers rambled for more than minute, the trio raised their voices in a cacophony of alarming dings and dongs.
"Performing Chemists" Joost Bonsen, Daniel Rosenberg and Michael Skuhersky made several appearances during the evening to present acts of science unburdened by description or explanation.
Susanne Åkesson, a professor of evolutionary ecology in the Department of Biology at Lund University, accepts the Ig Nobel Physics Prize, for research investigating why horses with white hair are more resistant to horseflies. Presenting the award is Dudley Herschbach, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986.
Featured guests were introduced to give mini-lectures about their research: in 24 seconds, and then in seven words. Patricia Brennan, a biologist and Adjunct Research Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, spoke about duck genital morphology, delivering the seven-word description of "Deviant duck d*cks foiled by fabulous vaginas."
Time for crime
What if a scientist in charge of the world's timekeeping devices hatched an evil plot to take advantage of time? A nefarious researcher schemes to add a secret leap second to the clocks of the world, and then using that extra second to commit high-stakes financial embezzlement and gain untold riches.
Soloists Maria Ferrante ("The Timekeeper") and Scott Taylor ("The Reporter") and the "Clock Chorus" were backed by Patrick Yacono, a pianist and biomedical researcher at Harvard Medical School, and Thomas Michel, accordion player and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Andreas Sprenger, a senior researcher with the Department of Neurology at the University of Lübeck in Germany, accepted the Ig Nobel Medicine Prize from biochemist and molecular biologist Rich Roberts, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Sprenger and his colleagues determined that it is possible for a person to relieve an itch on one side of their body by looking in a mirror and scratching the other side.