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The Ig Nobel Awards: Researchers Invent a Wasabi Fire Alarm

wasabi, etc. at Kiyokawa
wasabi, etc. at Kiyokawa
Anne Fishbein

The Nobel committee has been awarding their coveted prizes this week, which fact may have overshadowed the announcement of the 21st annual Ig Nobel (get it?) awards, sponsored by the Annals of Improbable Research and handed out last Thursday at a Harvard University ceremony. The Ig Nobel awards, spoof prizes given to real, albeit somewhat wacky, science innovations and bestowed by actual Nobel laureates, included one for a wasabi fire alarm.

Developed by researchers at the Shiga University of Medical Science in Japan, the alarm emits airborne particles of the Japanese horseradish that are so concentrated that they wake any nearby sleepers. No word on whether the alarm includes directions to the nearest sushi restaurant, although that would seem logical for reasons of both dinner and escape. Other than the wasabi fire alarm, award-winning inventions included one developed by neurologists at Brown University who determined that driving with a full bladder is as distracting as driving while sleep-deprived or mildly drunk.

Awards were also given out to researchers from the UK, Austria, the Netherlands and Hungary for their study "No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise;" various people who have examined why apocalyptic predictions are always, or at least have always been, wrong; a Norwegian researcher for trying to understand why people sigh; two scientists for their work discovering that a certain kind of beetle mates with a certain kind of Australian beer bottle; and a Lithuanian mayor who deals with parking offenders by crushing stray vehicles with an army tank (our personal favorite).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Ig Nobel ceremony is co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students, the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, and the Harvard Computer Society. Harvard, of course, is also responsible for The Harvard Lampoon and Conan O'Brien, among a few other things.


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