It’s not the accolade scientists will most likely put down on their CV. But Thursday evening 1,200 people filled Harvard University’s historic Sanders Theater, some to throw paper airplanes, but all to hear who won a spoof prize based on the Nobel Prize.
Called the Ig Nobel Prize, the honor is bestowed according to the award’s spirited mantra that salutes scientific achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.
They are usually given out around the same time as the original, and probably more coveted, Nobel Prize bestowed by The Swedish Academy of Sciences (see Nobel Winner: It’s in the Genes).
Although there were genuine Nobel laureates on hand, like Roy Glauber who won the prize in physics last year, the Ig Nobel Prize is organized by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research.
Among this year’s awardees was a man who invented an electromechanical teenager repellant. Although Howard Stapleton of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, was not on hand to accept the prize due to a family medical situation, he was honored for building the device that makes annoying noises only audible to youth.
At first blush it sounds like science fiction, but actually the technology is made possible due to the aging process.
The device, called the Mosquito, is basically a sounder unit that emits a very high frequency modulated tone. Folks over the age of 25 usually can’t hear it. That’s because as we age we lose the ability to hear this frequency range.
The Mosquito is available through Merthyr Tydfil, Wales-based Compound Security Systems. It’s being marketed as a way to clear out mall-loitering youth.
But in a twist of irony, some teenagers are using the sound as a ringtone, allowing them to get text messages and phone calls when they aren’t supposed to, like in math class.
Another awardee whose work has some real commercial application, but perhaps not the greatest appeal, went to Francis M. Fesmire of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, for his medical case report “Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage.”
Dr. Majed Odeh and his team of Bnai Zion Medical Center, Haifa, Israel, also got honors for their subsequent medical case report, also titled “Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage.”
Other winners included Ivan Schwab of the University of California of Davis, and the late Philip May of the University of California of Los Angeles, for explaining why woodpeckers don’t get headaches.
Publication Red Herring
Date 07 October 2006