Marc Abrahams has a funny way of looking at things. Literally. As the editor and co-founder of the scientific humor publication Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), author of many anthologies and articles including the new book This is Improbable, and creator of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, the man has a great deal of experience in squeezing good laugh out of some serious research. Holding a degree in mathematics from Harvard University, Abrahams has also spent many years developing optical character recognitions systems for computer product companies before founding his own educational software business. When not producing blog posts or op-ed pieces, Abrahams is most likely busy producing his Internet TV series, giving interviews on public radio, or writing librettos for a series of science mini-operas. Dubbed by the American Medical Association as “the Puck of Science” and by the Washington Post as “the nation’s guru of academic grunge”, Abrahams harnesses the power of levity and personal charisma to engage the public in science, technology, and medicine.
The next Ig Nobel Prize ceremony will be held on September 20, 2012 and broadcasted on public radio and webcast live from Harvard’s Sanders Theater. The Prizes honor the achievements of those individuals, like Abrahams, inspire interest in scientific inquiry through laughter and creativity. Many of these recipients are joined by real Nobel Laureates, adding some gravitas to the otherwise silliness of the awards. Since 1991, 10 awards have been presented, and are available for perusal through their online archive.
The titles of the studies in each discipline are honestly some of the funniest pieces of literature I have ever read, and are worth looking through. The ceremony itself allows delegations of five people or more to form colorful, costumed groups that can register to be officially celebrated during the event. Winners are allowed 60 seconds to explain their projects, and are later invited the following weekend to further elaborate their motives and discuss the details of their research.
In disciplines that are regularly ignored or feared due to their intimidating jargon, complex methodologies, or dry content, it is wonderful to hear that there are champions of science that focus on outreach and accessibility. How could you not giggle at the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists™? Snicker over an engineer demonstrating how to turn a bra into a pair of emergency face masks? Be awed by an opera based on a bacterium’s struggle to live in a woman’s infected tooth? Go on and have a smile for science!