1. Blazing a Trail Toward a Better Barbecue
The world-record time for barbecue ignition is three seconds flat, and Purdue University Professor George Goble won the 1996 Ig Nobel in Chemistry for setting it. His trick was to use liquid oxygen, a fuel typically utilized by NASA to propel rockets into orbit. Goble piled 60 pounds of charcoal onto a grill and doused it with three gallons of liquid oxygen. Forty pounds of charcoal burned within three seconds, and, Goble says, the hamburgers were slightly overdone.
2. Car Television-For the Driver
In 1993, inventor Jay Schiffman was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in Visionary Technology for AutoVision, a device that allows a person to watch television-while driving. AutoVision uses a small projector near a car's dome light and a small mirror on the windshield above the driver's line of sight to make it appear as though a television screen were floating in space above the car in front of you. AutoVision is an example of a "head up display," which presents information to a driver (or pilot) within their field of view, eliminating the need for them to look down. To address the safety concerns, Schiffman writes on his patent application, "This display actually enhances the attention of the driver to the visual task of operating the automobile." However, this claim did not stop Michigan legislators from outlawing the device (for which they were awarded the Ig Nobel along with Jay Schiffman).
3. Clocky Alarm Clock
If hitting the snooze bar every morning is part of your daily routine, Clocky might solve your problems. This alarm clock on wheels motors itself away-off the dresser and onto the floor-and hides, forcing you to get out of bed, find it and turn it off. Gauri Nanda, at the time a graduate student at MIT, won the Ig Nobel prize in Economics in 2005 for her invention of Clocky, which is currently available at .
4. A Seat at the Periodic Table
Chemist Theodore Gray won an Ig Nobel in 2002 for his Periodic Table table, an 8-ft table assembled from wood squares engraved with the symbols of all of the elements-each containing a compartment designed to hold an actual sample of the corresponding element. Gray constructed the 500-pound table because his group at work needed a new conference table and he thought the Formica tables at office supply stores were overpriced. Although Gray only actually used the table for one meeting, he still continues to add samples of the elements to his collection-the most recent additions include manganese, cobalt, and copper.
5. Car Alarm Is Standard, Flamethrower Is Optional
After a rash of car hijackings in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1998, Charl Fourie and Michelle Wong invented a burglar alarm designed to deter any would-be hijackers. The Blaster shoots jets of fire out from under the sides of the car when a pedal inside the car is pressed. (Pictured above is a Brazilian version of the system, made 6 years after Fourie and Wong were awarded an Ig Nobel.) The fires are ignited when liquid gas, stored under the car, is released by a nozzle and lit by a spark. Fourie and Wong were awarded the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 for their invention.
6. Floating Animals
In 2000, the Ig Nobel in Physics went to Andre Geim of the Netherlands and Sir Michael Berry of the U.K. for using magnets to overcome gravity and suspend a frog in midair. Their work proved, once and for all, that although frogs are not normally magnetic, they can attain magnetic properties if they are placed in an electromagnetic field. The field they used was a few times stronger than the fields commonly used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and they conclude that it would be possible to use the same techniques to levitate a person.
7. Things That Go Splat
We're all familiar with the splattering collisions that happen between insects and our road machines, not to mention the gooey mess those collisions can leave behind. Where would see a dirty windshield, University of Florida ecology professor Mark Hostetler saw an entomological crime scene. In 1997, Hostetler won the Ig Nobel for his book, That Gunk on Your Car. The book can help you identify which type of bug that splat on your windshield belongs to by providing details of different species.
8. Reinventing the Wheel
In 2001, the Australian Patent Office issued a patent for that year's Ig Nobel Prize in Technology-the wheel. Patent lawyer John Keogh specified on his application that he had created a "circular transportation facilitation device," and included detailed diagrams of his invention. Keogh was reportedly trying to demonstrate that the system in Australia used to award innovation patents was flawed, and that the office was simply rubber-stamping submitted applications.
9. The Science of Sword Swallowing
Dan Meyer won an Ig Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2007 for his study, "Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects," which was published in the British Medical Journal in 2006. At a recent meeting of scientists and science writers in Chicago, he demonstrated the act, swallowing a 15-in. sword. In the journal, Meyer described the task in detail: He has to suppress the gag reflex, carefully slip the sword past his voice box and into his esophagus, flip his epiglottis (the small flap of tissue that ensures that food enters the stomach instead of the lungs), repress the waves of muscle contraction that normally push food down the esophagus, ever so gently nudge his heart to the left and finally repress the retching reflex in his stomach. He could have swallowed a longer sword, he said, but had just eaten Chinese food for lunch, and wasn't sure how well it would go down.
10. The Mathematics of Beer
After careful observations and tireless data collection, German researcher Arnd Leike explained the mathematics behind the rate at which beer froth dissipates, winning the 2002 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics. Leike painstakingly timed how long it took for the froth to disappear when pouring three different types of beer. He concluded that the foam undergoes exponential decay-meaning that right after the beer is poured the froth disappears quickly, and the longer beer the rests in the glass, the more slowly the remaining foam will vanish. Leike's work was published in the European Journal of Physics.