David Le Page
South African innovation has achieved global recognition once again – the Blaster flame-thrower car defence system of Charl Fourie and Michelle Wong has been awarded the annual Ig Nobel Peace Prize.
Wong said this week that Blaster was honoured to have received the prize, but unfortunately did not have time to attend the ceremony, held at Harvard University on September 30.
Blaster has sold 200 of its devices, which eject balls of flame from either side of a car. Customer feedback does not yet include any accounts of successful peacekeeping missions.
The Ig Nobel prizes, awarded annually once a year by genuine Nobel laureates, reward individuals whose achievements “cannot or should not be reproduced”.
This year’s awards included that of 1979 Nobel Physics Laureate Sheldon Glashow to an audience member in the Win-a-Date-With- a-Nobel-Laureate Contest.
Glashow also featured as a sheep in the chorus of The Seedy Opera, along with fellow Nobel luminaries Dudley Herschbach (chemistry, 1986), William Lipscomb (chemistry, 1976) and Robert Wilson (physics, 1978). The Seedy Opera is a four- act musical meditation on the theme, long neglected in this oeuvre, of sheep cloning.
The prize for literature went to the British Standards Institution, for its six- page specification on the proper way to make a cup of tea. Takeshi Makino, president of the Safety Detective Agency in Osaka, Japan, walked away with the chemistry prize, for S-Check. It’s a spray designed to help suspicious housewives detect semen on their husbands’ underwear. The problems this poses for frequent masturbators will no doubt be raised at future Igs.
Sadly, George and Charlotte Blonsky were unable to personally receive the managed healthcare prize, posthumously awarded for their 1965 patent on a rotating bed intended to assist women in labour with centrifugal forces. A particularly ingenious feature of the bed is the off- switch, activated by the force of the new- born infant’s ejection into a receiving net.
Demonstrating that innovation is not the sole preserve of academia and the private sector were the Kansas and Colorado state boards of education, undisputed winners of the science education prize. These two venerable institutions have removed the teaching of evolution from state curricula, thus advancing the cause of science backwards.
Englishman Len Fisher spent two months establishing the optimal way to dunk biscuits, and plans to publish tables indicating how long which biscuits should be dunked at which temperatures by which nuts.
Fisher shared the physics prize with maths professor Jean-Marc Vanden-Broeck, who has spent 17 years trying to develop a design for a non-dripping tea pot.
Visit the Ig Nobel awards site at www.improbable.com