Weird Highlights From 25 Years Of Ig Nobel Prizes [Interactive]

Honoring science's funniest research


In 1990, as editor of a science magazine, Marc Abrahams encountered plenty of important research. He also saw lots of science that was just plain hilarious—but those researchers remained obscure. “So,” he says, “we began to celebrate them.” He held the first Ig Nobel awards in September 1991. In the decades since, the ceremony has honored research that probes why woodpeckers don’t get headaches, and whether humans swim faster in syrup or water (it’s a wash). It’s work that lives up to the Ig Nobel tagline: “Research that makes people laugh and then think.”

Mouse over the dots to read our favorite Ig Nobels. The award language (“For…”) is quoted from Improbable.com. Graphic by Katie Peek.

The award language (“For…”) is quoted from Improbable.com. Graphic by Katie Peek.

Physics, 1992
For circular contributions to field theory based on the geometrical destruction of English crops

Psychology, 1995
For success in training pigeons to discriminate between the paintings of Picasso and those of Monet

Physics, 1996
For demonstrating that toast often falls on the buttered side

Meteorology, 1997
For the revealing report “Chicken Plucking as Measure of Tornado Wind Speed”

Safety Engineering, 1998
For developing and personally testing a suit of armor that is impervious to grizzly bears

Literature, 1999
For the six-page specification (British Standard 6008) of the proper way to make a cup of tea

Chemistry, 2000
For the discovery that, biochemically, romantic love may be indistinguishable from having severe obsessive-compulsive disorder

Physics, 2001
For the partial solution to the question of why shower curtains billow inward

Hygiene, 2002
For inventing a washing machine for cats and dogs

Engineering, 2004
For patenting the comb-over (U.S. Patent No. 4,022,227)

Acoustics, 2006
For conducting experiments to learn why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard

Veterinary Medicine, 2009
For showing that cows who have names give more milk than cows that are nameless

Peace, 2010
For confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain

Psychology, 2013
For confirming, by experiment, that people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive

Physics, 2014
For measuring the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that’s on the floor

This year’s Ig Nobels will take place on September 17. For the 20th year running, the ceremony will be webcast if you care to watch the silliness remotely. Awardees share their work onstage, interspersed with a new science-themed opera every year.

This article was originally published in the September 2015 issue of Popular Science, under the title “The Less-Noble Nobels.”

Eight Awards In Detail, Plus Three Laureates

A collection of clean, empty beakers, in black and white.
Three jalapeños: The middle one is red, the outer two are green.
Small frog floating in a white cylinder, which is viewed top-down.
A wooden coffee table in a room.
A school of herring, underwater, viewed from below
A group of well-dressed white women stand on a car, looking very 1910.
A white man in a suit with a yellow tie swallows a sword
Four white bearded men in lab coats.
Inspirational poster extolling the virtues of procrastination
Five people at a podium at an awards ceremony
Water strider on water