Yes, that's Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman there with half a brassiere clamped tightly over his nose and mouth. That said, this is not some scandalous spy shot that will bequeath Bill O'Reilly's next wet dream. It's actually this:
The brassiere is one of the award-winning bits of science and invention from this year's quirky, eccentric and downright entertaining Ig Nobel Awards. These awards are, in the words of organizer Improbable Research, a celebration of achievements that "make people laugh and think." A laundry list of past "winners" from The National reads like this:
In 2001, the physics award was given to Dr. David Schmidt for his research into why shower curtains often to blow inwards. In 2005, a team from Keio University won for "training pigeons to discriminate between the paintings of Picasso and Monet."
Dr. Deborah Anderson, also a former winner, was on hand this year to remind everyone about the effectiveness of Coca-Cola as a spermicide. To conclude, she was allowed seven words to describe her area of expertise—contraception—in detail: "Male contraception. Sheath it or beat it."
This year at Harvard's Sanders Theater the awards show didn't let up, with the aforementioned brassiere winning in the Public Health category. Why public health? Well, aside from providing support, the bra doubles as a life-saving gas mask; one that could be handy should a biological attack strike somewhere soon, like the unmentionables department at Macy's.
I kid, but this brassiere seriously works. Those D cups are the brainchild of the voluptuous Dr. Elena Bodnar of Illinois (by way of the Ukraine, backside pictured, above); and Raphael Lee and Sandra Marijan, both of Chicago. Bodnar passed on giving a big speech, and instead gave the audience a live demo. Her "volunteers" were a handful of Nobel laureates assembled on the stage, including Krugman. By the end of the demo, she had removed multiple bra gas masks from under her shirt and no fewer than four Nobel laureates were protected from chemical attack thanks to a hot pink layer of satin.
The rest of the night was, sadly, light on gadgets, but it did manage to get this cynical blogger to laugh pretty consistently.
There was a four act banker's opera; there were impromptu science experiments; and there were two Mexicans who managed to create diamond film from tequila. There was a researcher from Kitasato University who reduced Japanese household waste by 90% thanks to bacteria found in panda shit. There was absurdity, by design.
Acceptance speeches were brief, and if they weren't, an eight-year-old girl was on hand to interrupt the winners and move things along. Benoit Mandelbrot, the man who invented fractals, gave a 60-second keynote, was interrupted by the girl, and then sat down to play poker. Onstage.
All told, the event was a trip, and I encourage any of my Boston brethren to see it at Harvard next year for their 20th anniversary. If you do, then you too will know exactly what 1,000 paper airplanes descending from the rafters to pelt the stage below looks like first hand.
Editors Note: The official Ig Nobel awards video goes live soon at Improbable TV. Check it out.