Research that Makes you Laugh...then Think

On Wednesday Oct. 25 the Beckman Institute will be playing host to a show that features stories and pictures of the weird and wacky, a professor who had one of his students dress up in a gorilla suit, and opera singers belting out tunes about inertia.

Ig Nobel Improbable Research Show coming to Beckman on Oct. 25

On Wednesday Oct. 25 the Beckman Institute will be playing host to a show that features stories and pictures of the weird and wacky, a professor who had one of his students dress up in a gorilla suit, and opera singers belting out tunes about inertia.

The Improbable Research Show definitely sounds entertaining, but is it science? Most definitely, says Marc Abrahams, father of the Ig Nobel Prize and the man who will be bringing a show that is part carnival sideshow and part serious science to the Beckman Institute auditorium.

Abrahams is editor and co-founder of the Annals for Improbable Research, the science and humor magazine that administers the Ig Nobel Prizes, which are given annually for "scientific achievements that make you laugh and then make you think." Abrahams will give a presentation that includes deadpan commentary and some startling photos of some of the most entertaining Ig Nobel Prize winners of all time.

Winners from the 2006 ceremony held earlier this month included researchers who studied why woodpeckers don't get headaches and a pair of inventors who created an electromechanical device that repels teenagers.

"Most things that win Ig Nobel Prizes have this quality: people have a hard time believing that they really happened," Abrahams said. "When the actual person who did it is standing in front of you, it's at least slightly easier to believe."

The show at Beckman boasts two local winners of the Ig Nobel Prize, Beckman Institute faculty member Dan Simons and Theodore Gray from Wolfram Research in Champaign.
Simons is the professor who had his student dress up in a gorilla suit for a psychology study that, it turned out, had all the qualities prized in an Ig Nobel winner. Simons, a University of Illinois psychology professor and member of Beckman's Human Perception and Performance group, won in 2004 for his "Gorillas in Our Midst" study in which half of the subjects watching a video failed to notice a person in a gorilla suit walking through a scene. Simons' research focuses on change blindness and inattentional blindness, which studies the ways in which humans are often unaware of details in their environments.

Gray won the 2002 Ig Nobel Prize Winner for Chemistry for gathering many elements of the periodic table and assembling them into the form of a four-legged wooden periodic table.

Visitors to the Improbable Research Show will also be treated to a mini-opera titled "Inertia Makes the World Go Round."

Abrahams said his talk features both the funny side of science and highlights the importance of research in the areas of technology, medicine, and science.

"I hope these things first make people laugh and then make them think," Abrahams said. "What people think - that's up to them."

Doors open at 2:30 p.m. for the 3 p.m. show and seating is general admission. The Beckman Institute is located at 405 N. Mathews Ave., Urbana, IL.