VW Scandal, Human Goats Earn Ig Nobels

It’s that time of year. It’s time for the Nobel and Ig Nobel Prizes. One has a lot of prize money attached to it and one makes you throw paper airplanes at a human target. Both are coveted awards.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 was awarded jointly to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa "for the design and synthesis of molecular machines.”

According to a press release on the Nobel Prize website, “2016's Nobel Laureates in Chemistry have taken molecular systems out of equilibrium's stalemate and into energy-filled states in which their movements can be controlled. In terms of development, the molecular motor is at the same stage as the electric motor was in the 1830s, when scientists displayed various spinning cranks and wheels, unaware that they would lead to washing machines, fans and food processors. Molecular machines will most likely be used in the development of things such as new materials, sensors and energy storage systems.”

Now for the 26th First Annual Ig Nobel Prizes. Are your paper airplanes ready? The Ig Nobels are awarded to folks who have done something that makes people laugh then think. Unlike the Nobel Prizes, winners travel to the ceremony, at their own expense, to receive their prize from a group of bemused Nobel Laureates.

Among the distinguished guests was Professor Emeritus at Harvard University Dudley Hershbach, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry. Hershbach delivered one of the 24/7 Lectures, in which he described his science in two challenging presentations: one that lasts 24 seconds and one made up of only seven words that anyone can understand. He failed at both and got the referee's whistle.

This year’s chemistry prize went to Volkswagen, for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested. I told you the premise of the Ig Nobels is something that makes people laugh then think. . .this fits the bill. The reference: "EPA, California Notify Volkswagen of Clean Air Act Violations,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency news release.

Other winners: the physics prize for discovering why white-haired horses are the most horsefly-proof horses, and for discovering why dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones. And the biology prize awarded jointly to Charles Foster, for living in the wild as, at different times, a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox and a bird; and to Thomas Thwaites, for creating prosthetic extensions of his limbs that allowed him to move in the manner of, and spend time roaming hills in the company of, goats.

You can watch the entire Ig Nobel ceremony – complete with Moments of Science and operas interspersed throughout.

 Traci-bio-photo.jpgTraci Purdum is Chemical Processing’s senior digital editor. She has never been able to make a decent paper airplane but she has always wanted to roam hills in the company of goats. You can email her tpurdum@putman.net.