Podcast: The Ig Nobel Prize - Making People Laugh And Think

02/12/2015 9:52 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST


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Science doesn't have to be dead-serious or mind-numbing... not all the time, at least. There have been several discoveries that tickle the funny bone, but are as steeped in scientific concepts as they can be. For the past 25 years, the Ig Nobel Prize, organised by the magazine, Annals of Improbable Research, has been honouring many such seemingly silly scientific achievements.

Part satire, part serious, the awards recognise research that will, "first make you LAUGH, then make you THINK". They aren't kidding about the laugh bit. In 2014, a Japanese team of scientists won the Physics Ig Nobel for measuring the amount of friction between a banana skin and a shoe, and between a banana skin and the floor. And in 2013, the Ig Nobel for Peace was awarded to Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, who made it illegal to applaud in public, and the Belarus police, who arrested a one-armed man for applauding. The Ig Nobel's history is littered with truly hilarious examples.

But, behind the laughter and the absurdity, lies serious research. Take Andre Geim, for example. He won both the Ig Nobel for Physics in the year 2000, as well as the 2010 Nobel for Physics - the former, with Sir Michael Berry, for levitating a frog, and the latter, which he shared with Konstantin Novoselov, for experiments with graphene.

There are Indian cases as well - Samanth & Padma speak to a few Indian Ig Nobel winners in the episode. There's Dr. Chittaranjan Andrade and BS Srihari, who studied the prevalence of nose picking among 200 children, and then there's the example of KP Sreekumar and G Nirmalan, who figured out a way to estimate the surface area of an elephant.

These discoveries may make you wonder why or how they did what they did. They may even seem silly, but as Samanth says, "Even research that sounds absurd or ridiculous on the surface can, at some level, add to humanity's store of serious scientific knowledge."

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