That time of year that we've all been anticipating is here! That's right, the 32nd First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony took place on the evening of Thursday, September 15, and the 2022 winners took their bows and hammed it up in one of the most favorite of scientific gatherings. Alas, the ceremony was online-only due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that did not take away from the fun and love of science that is expected from this festival of glee that features actual Nobel Prize winners! Without further ado, please read on for the many great, uh, achievements by this year's newest additions to the Ig Nobel ranks.
Science is the process that allows humans to identify a problem and devise experiments to examine that problem and provide solutions. Not all scientific problems are created equal, but we can agree that all science, even those super mundane details that barely anyone ever thinks of, can be important to the whole of human knowledge. One of the great draws of science is that it is both rewarding and fun, and if ever there was a repository of high-brow humor, science is it. While we celebrate great discoveries every year with the Nobel Prizes, we also have an uproariously entertaining time with the annual Ig Nobel ceremony, a somewhat obscure but highly-anticipated event for the entire scientific community that shows the fun and human side of the "lauded" researchers. Let’s look at the Ig Nobel Prize, and some of the “greatest” Ig Nobel recognitions since the award’s inception in 1991.
Like most PhD students, I had to generate publications in order to earn my doctorate, and my mentor had to use those publications to support his grant applications. The ability to churn out publications in volume is critical to sustaining academic research, and the labs with the best reputations are the ones who regularly crank out quality articles that land in top-tier journals. However, does science have to be driven this way? Are we overlooking some great scientists or discoveries because they were unable to find the opportunities for funding and exposure, and thus dropped academia in search of another career? We should explore improving accessibility to funding and publication in research so that everyone has the chance to share their ideas.
You may have stumbled upon many articles about the poor whales swallowing tons of plastic waste, flooding that is affecting communities and even national parks, or chemicals that are constantly threatening marine life. As the global temperature continues to increase, the ocean levels gradually rise, and life as we know it is threatened, it is almost like we are on our way to the apocalypse. However, humans do not have to accept this doomsday scenario! There are many things beyond our control that we will have to persuade our elected leaders to drastically change policies to conserve our natural resources, reduce pollution, and preserve biodiversity. But there are also many other things well within our control that we can do in the lab and at home to make a difference, since small actions will add up to significant positive change.
If you are reading this, either having earned your first faculty position or about to embark on leading a huge project, congratulations! You have obviously demonstrated the creative problem solving and other skills needed to successfully carry out and complete a scientific study…but maybe you’re not confident in your ability to lead or mentor? I would argue that many experiences you have accumulated up to this point will help you become the best mentor you can be, so let’s get to it as you cultivate the next generation of great researchers!
When I was in college, I enjoyed reading about Chindogu, which literally means “weird tool” in Japanese. The whole point of Chindogu was to make hilariously “unuseless” objects, somewhat like a tool that you might use, but wouldn’t actually buy because it was so absurd. An example of such absurdity is this Hay Fever Hat, and there are countless others that I would recommend you read and laugh about. Although Chindogu are essentially impractical devices meant for laughs, I got to thinking about how I MacGyver’d through graduate school in repurposing equipment and designing new ways to make my lab life easier even as our funding dwindled. Known affectionately as lab hacks, I’m sure you can find some of these on the internet, but I’ll share some of my favorites here.