Last Thursday night people across the globe held their breaths in unison, as the winners of the highly coveted, unparalleled and prestigious Ig Nobel Prizes were announced. Each pioneers in their unique fields, each boasting ground breaking ideas; forever changing the entire complexion of the scientific world.

The research they conducted breached the boundaries of what was initially thought possible, truly “outside of the box”, and the desire to investigate each concept was bold, and bravely pushed the limits of innovation.

At face value the Ig Nobel Prize is a spoof of the more famous, and supposedly more significant, annual science awards it is based on; however, under closer inspection, this is really where it’s at. The 2012 winners tackled genuine questions of the common man. For example, this year’s Fluid Dynamics Prize, made a pivotal breakthrough in discovering why we human beings constantly spill our coffee when on the move. Quite rightly such a revelation was met with applause, and paves the way for generations to no longer endure unavoidable mobile coffee spillage.

Again useful in day to day life; the Physics Prize this year was awarded to a team featuring the UK’s very own Robin Ball, who invented the Pony Tail Shape Equation. The premise is fairly simple, a calculation of the length, shape and direction of an individual’s ponytail, indicated, by what the team have called: “The Rapunzel Number”.  This exciting discovery enables possessors of ponytails worldwide to estimate exactly how their hair will fall by considering various factors, such as hair fibre thickness. The gratifications for this research go beyond run-of-the-mill ponytail maintenance however, as the team hope it can have positive effects on animating hair in computer graphics, apparently a tricky business in the computing world.

Meanwhile, the anatomists discovered chimpanzees can indentify each other by photographs of their behinds, and the Psychology Prize went to a team studying how objects change size in accordance to the body position. “How Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller”, the name of this research, uses a Wii balance board and is fairly self-explanatory.

Amidst this hardcore science is a backdrop of, naturally, very strict, officiated regulations and procedures. Certain traditions must be followed during these ceremonies, and so, in its grand 22nd year, the age old practices of throwing paper planes in the theatre were shown well deserved respect.

Some might suggest this research to be “unnecessary”, perhaps even “irrelevant”. However, such cynics only cast these putrid remarks out of jealousy – they missed this gleaming opportunity for glory, for as I’m sure you will agree, with the 2012 Ig Nobel Prize Awards, ultimately; science and human innovation prevailed.


James Hope


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