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Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science

The 1999 Ig Nobel Prizes

Ig Nobel 1999, as seen from a vantage point behind the winners and authority figures on stage.
Ig Nobel 1999, as seen from a vantage point behind the winners and authority figures on stage.

The 1999 Ig Nobel Prizes, presented for achievements that "cannot or should not be reproduced," were awarded at Harvard's Sanders Theatre on September 20 before 1200 spectators in a ceremony filled with hijinks, paper airplanes, and tea bags. The Prizes were physically handed to the winners by genuine Nobel Laureates William Lipscomb (Chemistry '76), Dudley Herschbach (Chemistry '86), Sheldon Glashow (Physics '79), and Robert Wilson (Physics '78) before a paper-airplane-throwing audience of 1200 people.

The event was produced by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), and co-sponsored by the Harvard Computer Society, and the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association. The evening also featured numerous tributes to the theme of "Heredity," including a parade of descendants of famous scientists, and a mini-opera (about human cloning) starring the Nobel Laureates and millenial mezzo-soprano Margot Button. Sheldon Glashow was the prize in the annual Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest. The event was televised live on the Internet. 

SOCIOLOGY: Steve Penfold, of York University in Toronto, for doing his PhD thesis on the sociology of Canadian donut shops.

PHYSICS: Awarded jointly to: Dr. Len Fisher of Bath, England and Sydney, Australia for calculating the optimal way to dunk a biscuit .and to. Professor Jean-Marc Vanden-Broeck of the University of East Anglia, England, and Belgium, for calculating how to make a teapot spout that does not drip.

LITERATURE: The British Standards Institution for its six-page specification (BS-6008) of the proper way to make a cup of tea.

SCIENCE EDUCATION: Awarded jointly to: the Kansas Board of Education and the Colorado State Board of Education, for mandating that children should not believe in Darwin's theory of evolution any more than they believe in Newton's theory of gravitation, Faraday's and Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism, or Pasteur's theory that germs cause disease.

MEDICINE: Dr. Arvid Vatle of Stord, Norway, for carefully collecting, classifying, and contemplating which kinds of containers his patients chose when submitting urine samples.

CHEMISTRY: Takeshi Makino, president of The Safety Detective Agency in Osaka, Japan, for his involvement with S-Check, an infidelity detection spray that wives can apply to their husbands' underwear.

BIOLOGY: Paul Bosland of The Chile Pepper Institute, at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, for breeding a spiceless jalape$o chile pepper.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION: Hyuk-ho Kwon of Kolon Company of Seoul, Korea, for inventing the self-perfuming business suit.

PEACE: Charl Fourie and Michelle Wong of Johannesburg, South Africa, for inventing an automobile burglar alarm consisting of a detection circuit and a flamethrower.

MANAGED HEALTH CARE: The late George and Charlotte Blonsky of New York City and San Jose, California, for inventing a device (US Patent #3,216,423) to aid women in giving birth - the woman is strapped onto a circular table, and the table is then rotated at high speed.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette