Audience Laughs Then Learns At Ig Informal Lectures

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by Judith Lavelle

Originally posted Sept. 22, 2014 on trackingtheadvocate.wordpress.com.

Scientists responsible for 2014’s most unexpected research gave short presentations on their findings and fielded an audience’s questions from a packed auditorium at the Ig Informal Lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Saturday afternoon. The event was presented by Improbable Research, Inc. and sponsored by the MIT Press.

The lectures followed the 24th Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, held at Harvard University on Sept. 18, where research teams from around the world—from the U.S. to the Czech Republic—were awarded for unusual accomplishments in medicine, biology, physics, and more.

The stadium fills

The auditorium in MIT’s Building 26 fills with onlookers at the Ig Nobel Informal Lectures on September 20, 2014.

Marc Abrahams, founder of the Ig Nobel Prize and “Chief Airhead” at the Annals of Improbable Research, presided over the nearly three-hour event, beginning with his explanation of why the featured scientists would present both entertaining and important work. “[The research] is funny when you first heart about it,” Abrahams told the crowd, “then a week later, it’s still bouncing around in your head.”

The lectures unfolded as each of the present scientists shared a five-minute presentation on their research. Ig Nobel Laureate in physics, Dr. Kiyoshi Mabuchi, started things off by serenading the audience as a slideshow on his research—an investigation into why banana peels are so slippery—cycled on screen.

During the question and answer period that followed, Abrahams asked the crowd if anyone could translate the audience’s questions to Mabuchi’s native tongue, Japanese. Tomo Soejima, an MIT student studying chemistry and physics, spontaneously volunteered.

After the lectures concluded, Soejima said he had not expected to participate in the event when he found out about them through posters around MIT’s campus. “I was surprised,” laughed the 19-year-old sophomore.

Tomo Soj (19) translates for Dr. Something

MIT sophomore Tomo Soejima (19) takes the stage to translate for Ig Nobel Laureate Dr. Kiyoshi Mabuchi.

Other speakers presented on the neuroscience behind seeing Jesus on a piece of toast, the ability of cured pork to stop nosebleeds, and the response of reindeer when researchers disguise themselves as polar bears.

So, far a Japanese man sang a song about banana peels, and we’ve talked about seeing Jesus on toast. Strong start. Now I’m hungry. #IgNobel — Julia Sklar (@jfsklar) September 20, 2014

Midway between the award-winners’ presentations, Abrahams introduced the keynote speaker at this year’s Ig Nobel Ceremony held at Harvard University last Thursday. In 2005, he won an Ig Nobel in nutrition.

NakaMats, as he is informally known, took advantage of his allotted time at the Ig Informal Lectures to present a slide show of some of his inventions (of which there are over 3300), including the floppy disk, a popular brand of aphrodisiac, and a state-of-the-art golf putter.

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This year’s Ig Nobel Ceremony keynote speaker, Sir Dr. Yoshiro NakaMats, presents some of his over 3300 inventions.

Abrahams hailed NakaMats’s eccentricity and prolific life’s work, calling the Japanese inventor the world’s “possibly greatest human.” After his five minutes of presentation ran before he finished, the audience cheered for an encore, and Abrahams allowed him another minute.

“He’s the only Ig Nobel winner in history to receive an extra minute,” said Abrahams.

The crowd at the 2014 Ig Informal Lectures applauds Dr. NakaMats.

The crowd at the 2014 Ig Informal Lectures applauds keynote speaker, Dr. NakaMats.

After the presentations ended and before the audience was dismissed, Abrahams and David Kessler, General Manager of Improbable Research, Inc., made a plug for subscribing to the Annals of Improbable Research and for next year’s 25th Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony.

“It’ll be big,” Kessler told the crowd, “and you’ll want to be there.”

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