Last month, the Ig Nobel prizes were awarded in Harvard. Sponsored by the Journal of Improbable Research, the Ig NobelsThe 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.

Here are the 2011 winners:

PHYSIOLOGY PRIZE: Anna Wilkinson (of the UK), Natalie Sebanz (of THE NETHERLANDS, HUNGARY, and AUSTRIA), Isabella Mandl (of AUSTRIA) and Ludwig Huber (of AUSTRIA) for their study “No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise.”

REFERENCE: ‘No Evidence Of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise Geochelone carbonaria,” Anna Wilkinson, Natalie Sebanz, Isabella Mandl, Ludwig Huber, Current Zoology, vol. 57, no. 4, 2011. pp. 477-84.

CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami of JAPAN, for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm.

REFERENCE: US patent application 2010/0308995 A1. Filing date: Feb 5, 2009.

MEDICINE PRIZE: Mirjam Tuk (of THE NETHERLANDS and the UK), Debra Trampe (of THE NETHERLANDS) and Luk Warlop (of BELGIUM). and jointly to Matthew Lewis, Peter Snyder and Robert Feldman (of the USA), Robert Pietrzak, David Darby, and Paul Maruff (of AUSTRALIA) for demonstrating that people make better decisions about some kinds of things — but worse decisions about other kinds of things‚ when they have a strong urge to urinate.

REFERENCE: “Inhibitory Spillover: Increased Urination Urgency Facilitates Impulse Control in Unrelated Domains,” Mirjam A. Tuk, Debra Trampe and Luk Warlop, Psychological Science, vol. 22, no. 5, May 2011, pp. 627-633.

REFERENCE: “The Effect of Acute Increase in Urge to Void on Cognitive Function in Healthy Adults,” Matthew S. Lewis, Peter J. Snyder, Robert H. Pietrzak, David Darby, Robert A. Feldman, Paul T. Maruff, Neurology and Urodynamics, vol. 30, no. 1, January 2011, pp. 183-7.

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE: Karl Halvor Teigen of the University of Oslo, NORWAY, for trying to understand why, in everyday life, people sigh.

REFERENCE: “Is a Sigh ‘Just a Sigh’? Sighs as Emotional Signals and Responses to a Difficult Task,” Karl Halvor Teigen, Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, vol. 49, no. 1, 2008, pp. 49–57.

LITERATURE PRIZE: John Perry of Stanford University, USA, for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which says: To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that’s even more important.

REFERENCE: “How to Procrastinate and Still Get Things Done,” John Perry, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 23, 1996. Later republished elsewhere under the title “Structured Procrastination.”

BIOLOGY PRIZE: Darryl Gwynne (of CANADA and AUSTRALIA and the UK and the USA) and David Rentz (of AUSTRALIA and the USA) for discovering that a certain kind of beetle mates with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle

REFERENCE: “Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females (Coleoptera),” D.T. Gwynne, and D.C.F. Rentz, Journal of the Australian Entomological Society, vol. 22, , no. 1, 1983, pp. 79-80

REFERENCE: “Beetles on the Bottle,” D.T. Gwynne and D.C.F. Rentz, Antenna: Proceedings (A) of the Royal Entomological Society London, vol. 8, no. 3, 1984, pp. 116-7.

PHYSICS PRIZE: Philippe Perrin, Cyril Perrot, Dominique Deviterne and Bruno Ragaru (of FRANCE), and Herman Kingma (of THE NETHERLANDS), for determining why discus throwers become dizzy, and why hammer throwers don’t.

REFERENCE: “Dizziness in Discus Throwers is Related to Motion Sickness Generated While Spinning,” Philippe Perrin, Cyril Perrot, Dominique Deviterne, Bruno Ragaru and Herman Kingma, Acta Oto-laryngologica, vol. 120, no. 3, March 2000, pp. 390–5.

MATHEMATICS PRIZE: Dorothy Martin of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1954), Pat Robertson of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1982), Elizabeth Clare Prophet of the USA (who predicted the world would end in 1990), Lee Jang Rim of KOREA (who predicted the world would end in 1992), Credonia Mwerinde of UGANDA (who predicted the world would end in 1999), and Harold Camping of the USA (who predicted the world would end on September 6, 1994 and later predicted that the world will end on October 21, 2011), for teaching the world to be careful when making mathematical assumptions and calculations.

PEACE PRIZE: Arturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, LITHUANIA, for demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored tank.


PUBLIC SAFETY PRIZE: John Senders of the University of Toronto, CANADA, for conducting a series of safety experiments in which a person drives an automobile on a major highway while a visor repeatedly flaps down over his face, blinding him.

REFERENCE: “The Attentional Demand of Automobile Driving,” John W. Senders, et al., Highway Research Record, vol. 195, 1967, pp. 15-33. VIDEO

I hope everyone watched the videos.

I have always been interested in the Ig Nobels, partially because they’re both scientific and funny at the same time, but also because I‘ve always been slightly worried that they would call my name for some research that I carried out in grad school some years ago.

For those who don’t know me, I used to be an archaeologist. This was pre-Indiana Jones so I can’t be accused of being a swashbuckling hero. While I dug my fair share of holes, and struggled through several lectures on multivariate statistics, I never had to carry a bull whip. My type of archaeology involved doing chemical tests on stone tools to find traces of blood, fat, pitch and amino acids from stone tools.

To put it simply, I was studying dirty dishes and trying to determine what sort of dirt was deposited  in the stone tools somewhere in prehistory. That, I reasoned, would give an indication of how the tools were used, and therefore, how a site was used.

Sadly, what I wanted to learn and what my committee wanted me to do were two different things. My committee wanted me to determine what type of critter left its blood all over the stone tool. There is one way to determining this – immunochemistry. That means that I would have to do animal experiments. Ethics state that I would need to slaughter hundreds of thousands of bunnies to finish my dissertation. I might be able to justify this if i was doing cancer research, but I never sleep again for archaeology. I still see rabbit ears in the night.

I abandoned ship and now I do jumping jacks for a living.

It’s funny to how the Ig Nobels cause me to reflect on this. If I were not the principle researcher, I would say that this research was bogus. If I hadn’t seen a red blood cell adhering to a stone tool under an electron microscope with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it, and I wouldn’t me myself. I should have listened to one of my peers who said, “Why don’t you do yourself and everyone else a favour and leave the blood alone.”

It’s a good thing jumping jacks pays more than archaeology.

Others have taken up my research. Others have found blood residues, as well as starch. Identification of lipids from the inside of a ceramic container determined that the vessel contained mare’s milk. This gives us a date of 3500 BC for the domestication of the horse.

Why? You can’t milk a wild horse.

I think the Ig Nobels have eluded me, so I can enjoy them like everyone else.

Mike Broderick is an Employment Specialist for the Neil Squire Society in Burnaby where he finds employment for people with physical disabilities. Part of this work means affiliation with the Vancouver Board of Trade where he is a member of the Ambassador Club, the Burnaby Board of Trade where he is a member of the Labour Task Force, the Tri Cities Chamber of Commerce where he is an active member of the 10X10 initiative, and the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce. He does some work as a field Archaeologist and is a  fitness instructor and frequent contributor of fitness humour articles to alive magazine in Port Coquitlam. You can reach him at home at   or at

If you’re looking for a career change, he is the Spin Doctor and can give you a resume makeover at competitive rates


  1. Sharon Says:

    Interesting and amazing. Could only access videos for visor vision and Vilnius tank.

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