Monday, October 08, 2007

Time for the (Ig-)Nobel Prizes

I finally finished my telescope proposals last night (a good thing, as they were due at 8am this morning). Hurray!

This week is the week that the Nobel Prizes are awarded. Today the Nobel Prize in Medicine was announced, and tomorrow will be the Nobel Prize in Physics. In an oddity of timing, this week last year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, John Mather, is visiting the University of Texas and our astronomy department as the twelfth recipient of the Antoinette de Vaucouleurs Memorial Medal. de Voucouleurs spent a lifetime studying the properties of galaxies, and the memorial medal honors an astronomer whose life exhibits such dedication to the science.

Also timed to match the awarding of the Nobel Prizes was last week's awarding of the Ig Nobel Prizes, given annually at Harvard by the Annuals of Improbable Research, a magazine dedicated to describing research that either cannot or should not be reproduced. It is (generally) all in good fun, as you might guess when you look at this year's list of winners. This year's awards studied how Viagra helps hamsters overcome jet lag, how bed sheets fold, and the health effects of swallowing swords.

The Ig Nobel Prizes aren't necessarily meant to highlight stupid research; many of the studies are quite serious. But the people publishing the studies usually realize that their work sounds quite humorous when viewed from outside the field, and they often see the humor in it themselves. And, sometimes, you are working on a projects and a fun little sidelight pops up (such as the astronomers who determined that the overall color of the universe is "cosmic latte"). On occasion, barbs are flung at people doing stupid things, but, generally, the Ig Nobels are just a rollickingly good time (at least for fairly nerdy people).

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