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

Honoring science's funniest research

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.

Chemistry, 1994

A Texas state senator earned an Ig Nobel for requiring permits to purchase laboratory glassware—one of many times the committee has used its position to spotlight people who hinder science. But just as often, scientists themselves are skewered: In 1993, the literature prize went to all 976 authors of a 10-page biology paper.Flickr user amylovesyah
Three jalapeños: The middle one is red, the outer two are green.

Biology, 1999

A spiceless jalapeño might seem like an oxymoron, but a horticulturalist at the Chile Pepper Institute of New Mexico State University was recognized for developing one. The pepper—dubbed the NuMex Primavera—allows a chef to create a salsa that’s mild but still tastes like jalapeños.Image from HortScience journal, October 1988
Small frog floating in a white cylinder, which is viewed top-down.

Andre Geim (Physics, 2000)

In 2000, Geim and a collaborator won an Ig Nobel for levitating a frog. (They were demonstrating that high-power electromagnets can lift objects that aren’t inherently magnetic.) In 2010, Geim received a Nobel prize—sans “Ig”—in physics, for isolating graphene with simple adhesive tape.Image by Lijnis Nelemans, available on a CC BY-SA 3.0 license
A wooden coffee table in a room.

Theodore Gray (Chemistry, 2002)

Popular Science's "Gray Matter" columnist earned a 2002 Ig Nobel for his periodic-table table, a coffee table holding samples of nearly all 118 elements. As a Swiss citizen, Gray is technically a two-time winner: The Swiss people hold a 2008 prize for "adopting the legal principle that plants have dignity."Courtesy Theodore Gray
A school of herring, underwater, viewed from below

Biology, 2004

Two teams won prizes for discovering that herring communicate underwater by emitting gas—that is to say, by farting—at a rate that creates an audible chirp. According to Marc Abrahams, the research diffused an international incident: The Swedish government had initially assumed the chirp was from Russian spy submarines.Image by Flickr user zemlinki
A group of well-dressed white women stand on a car, looking very 1910.

Mathematics, 2006

The honor went to a pair of researchers who calculated how many group pictures you must snap for everyone’s eyes to be open in at least one. Their rule of thumb? For groups of 20 or fewer, divide the number of people by three, and take that many photos.Courtesy Library of Congress
A white man in a suit with a yellow tie swallows a sword

Medicine, 2007

Winners often demonstrate their inventions and discoveries at the Ig Nobel ceremony, which is held on the Harvard campus each September. In 2007, an author of a study on the side effects of sword swallowing—sore throats were common—swallowed a sword on stage. No report on how his throat felt the next day.Courtesy Improbable.com
Four white bearded men in lab coats.

Public Health, 2010

A study of microbes and toxins in beards—​specifically, the beards of researchers working in laboratories—caught the fancy of the Ig Nobel committee. It also became the basis for safety guidelines in biohazard labs worldwide, Abrahams says. The image here is Figure 2 from the original 1967 paper. The bearded researchers are demonstrating different sampling techniques.Image from Applied Microbiology, July 1967. Reprinted with permission.
Inspirational poster extolling the virtues of procrastination

Literature, 2011

In 1996, a Stanford philosophy professor wrote a theory of structured procrastination. He argued that high achievement comes by working on important tasks as a means of avoiding other important tasks—for example, the papers he was avoiding grading. The procrastinators on the Ig Nobel committee lauded the author 15 years later.Katie Peek. Computer image by Raumrot
Five people at a podium at an awards ceremony

Joseph Keller (Physics, 1999 and 2012)

Only a few people have the honor of being singled out for Ig Nobels twice. Joseph Keller won in 1999 for a model of a dripless teapot spout, and then again in 2012 for a calculation of the forces that move hair in a ponytail.Courtesy Improbable.com
Water strider on water

Physics, 2013

Craving your own Jesus moment? Italian researchers earned an Ig Nobel for finding a way to walk—or more accurately, run—on water. The secret: You have to weigh less than about 160 pounds, and the water you’re running across needs to be on the moon.Image by Flickr user knickinoptik