Ten Academics Honored With Ig Nobel Prizes

Two Japanese entrepreneurs were honored at the Seventh First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony last night for inventing Tamagotchi--small, plastic, virtual pet--and diverting millions of hours of work into their husbandry.

They were among recipients honored with ten Ig Nobel Prizes at a ceremony in a packed Sanders Theatre, which are awarded annually to individuals whose inventions or achievements "cannot or should not be reproduced."

The theme of this year's ceremony was "The Big Bang" and many of the evening's performances such as an opera titled "Il Kaboom Grosso" reflected the theme.

Four Nobel laureates including Dudley R. Herschbach, Baird professor of science, attended and participated in the ceremonies.

Herschbach, who played a toga-bearing god in the performance, said the ceremony showed that science and scientists, can be fun.


"You have to approach [science] like a little kid. You have to play," he said in an interview afterward.

Indeed, the ceremony missed no opportunity to laugh at scientific ironies. Periodic "Heisenberg Certainty Lectures" interrupted the evening's program. These 30-second lectures addressed a random topic of the speaker's choice.

Throughout the evening, members of the Harvard Society for the Prevention of a Better Tomorrow were called on to block the doors.

Marc Abrahams, co-producer of the "Igs" and editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, described the ceremony as a chance "see that people with very big reputations really are people, for good and for bad."

Other Ig Nobel recipients included Mark Hostetler of the University of Florida who studied insect splats on car windows; the late Bernard Vonnegut of the State University of Albany who was honored for his work on "Chicken Plucking as a Measure of Tornado Wind Speed"; and a team of scientists led by Carl J. Charnetski who showed that listening to elevator music may help prevent the common cold.

The Igs were attacked last year by Sir Robert May, science advisor to the British government, who accused the awards of making light of serious research and damaging science.

Herschbach rejected May's accusations.

"The real scientists aren't concerned about dignity. Atoms don't care about dignity," he said.

The program will be followed this year by a series of informal, 15-minute lectures to be held today starting at 1:15 p.m. in Science Center C. The lectures will be free and open to the public.

In addition, the ceremony will be broadcast on November 28 on National Public Radio's Science Friday.

Daniel J. Benjamin '99 described the ceremony as "something I should see at least once while I'm at Harvard."

"They put together a funny performance which is very difficult to do in a stage medium," he said.

The ceremony was co-sponsored by the Annals of Improbable Research, the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard Computer Society