Winners of the Ig Nobel Prize — an award that praises humorous achievements in scientific research — have been announced. Although the prize parodies the renowned Nobel Prize, there is much to be learned from it, such as a positive attitude toward enjoying science.
Ig Nobel Prize-winning achievements are chosen every year by a U.S. science magazine from among scientific theses and other results published around the world, using the criteria of honoring “achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” In English, “ig” is a prefix used to denote an opposite.
Accomplishments that win an Ig Nobel Prize are very serious but somehow comical. This year’s Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to a group of scientists led by Prof. Shigeru Watanabe at Meikai University for measuring the total volume of saliva produced per day by a typical 5-year-old child, with the quantity having been found to measure 500 milliliters.
Japanese scientists have been awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for 13 consecutive years. Although the Japanese are occasionally said to lack originality, this may not be true regarding their capabilities in science. Their achievements seem to show the depth of generosity so firmly inherent in Japanese science that it accepts somewhat eccentric studies.
In contrast, China has received only a few Ig Nobel prizes, despite having produced a large number of theses in recent years. This seems to indicate that seemingly useless research cannot easily develop into anything good in an environment where practical studies are promoted as a state policy.
Ig Nobel Prize-winning scientific studies are full of the simple curiosity peculiar to scientists.
Humble beginnings, great ends
In 2014, a Japanese scientist received the Ig Nobel Prize in Physics for studying the slipperiness of a banana skin. He is an expert on artificial joints. When thinking about the smooth movement of joints, the scientist came up with the idea of using a banana skin as research material.
In 2000, physicist Andre Geim, who hails from Russia, won an Ig Nobel Prize for conducting an experiment in which a live frog was magnetically levitated. Ten years later, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his study of membrane carbon molecules.
It is not unusual for the flexible thinking of scientists to be the seeds of future research. Nobel Prize-winning studies include those initiated on a meager scale. In many cases, Nobel Prize recipients have looked back upon their studies and said they never expected their research would prove to be good for anything.
In recent years, Japan’s science and technology policy has emphasized a top-down approach through which funds are distributed in a manner that seeks practical implementation. Without just relying on such a method, however, importance should be given to a bottom-up type of support for research, in which scientists are allowed to utilize their freewheeling thinking.
If a recipient speaks for more than one minute in their acceptance speech at an Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, a little girl emerges from the wings of the stage, crying out, “I’m bored,” so the speech will be stopped. This can tell people that science should not be tediously explained in difficult-to-understand language.
More than a few children shy away from science and mathematical subjects in school, complaining they are difficult to learn. They can be taught science in classrooms full of laughter. This desire to have some fun would not hurt.