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Ig-noble Usage
Look what the bra has become! A pink bra as a facemask for Nobel laureate Wolfgang Ketterle

Barack Obama is not the only one with a Nobel to his name. The best invention of all time — the wonderful, fantastic, simply-can’t-do-without, sexy, supportive brassiere — has also won a major prize this year: the Ig Nobel.

Yes my dear readers, the bra in a new avatar, one in which it has been converted into two face masks that can be used to protect against poisonous gases (like in Chernobyl), infections (like H1N1), dust storms (like Down Under) and what have you, has been honoured with the most high-profile tongue-in-cheek award around.

The idea behind this invention is actually quite simple. Each cup of the bra can easily double as a facemask — one for you and one for your friend/partner!

Before you accuse me of pulling The Great Bra Hoax, let me tell you that the Ig Nobel awards are indeed presented at the Sanders Theatre at Harvard University, co-sponsored by the Harvard Computer Society, the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students.

The awards have been around for the past 19 years (they used to be presented at Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and are handed out by real Nobel Prize winners. The origin of the name Ig Nobel is indeed a pun on the word ignoble, but urban legend has it that Prof Ig Nobel was actually the fellow who invented soda pop, while Alfred Nobel’s contribution to the world was dynamite. And we all know which one is held in higher regard!

So our dear brassiere has been honoured in the category of public health. There are many other categories that the Ig Nobel awards are given in: literature, economics, peace, biology, chemistry, physics... The award ceremony is marked by members of the audience launching paper airplanes onto the stage. The litter is cleaned by the ‘Keeper of the Broom’, the renowned Professor Roy Glauber who has been doing his job diligently for years. The organisers missed his presence in 2005 when he had to travel to Stockholm to collect a Nobel Prize (the real one!) of his own, for physics. But he promptly resumed his duties from the following year.

The lady who came up with this innovation that transformed the basic bra into the Protective Face Mask is Dr Elena Bodnar. She actually brought two pink and black bras to the award ceremony and detached the four cups before putting them on the Nobel Laureates (Orhan Pamuk, Paul Krugman and Wolfgang Ketterle) present on stage.

Elena’s been smart enough to get a US patent #7255627, dated August 2007, for her invention dubbed “Garment Device Convertible to One or More Facemasks”. That will ensure that all those Indian gentlemen who’ll now claim that they too thought of this contraption after the outbreak of the H1N1 virus this year are put in their place, for there is proof that Elena beat them to it two years ago.

The Ig Nobel winners too are allowed to give a speech, just like their counterparts in Stockholm. But being much more disciplined in nature, the Ig Nobel also employs the worthy services of the fictional little girl Miss Sweety Poo, who repeatedly cries out, “I’m bored”, if the speech is too long.

Before I conclude, let me add to the ongoing feud between Indian states regarding the number of Nobel Laureates that each has produced. The heartland state of Uttar Pradesh has adequately represented us in the 19 years of the existence of the Ig Nobel awards. Naturally, we’ve won them in the category of ‘Peace’. Our respected former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee won it jointly with Nawaz Sharif from across the border, in 1998, for ‘peaceful detonation of aggressive atomic bombs’. Then another Behari, Lal Behari, again from UP, won it on three counts: first for being alive despite being declared dead in the government records; secondly, for declaring a posthumous campaign against the famed Indian bureaucracy for inventing his ‘death’; and thirdly, for founding the Association of Dead People. Our friend managed to get his rightful passport from the government of India, despite his being declared dead by them. But the hurdle to acceptance came when he was denied a visa by the US government. However, the never-say-die folks at Harvard came to India to present the award to never-say-die man Lal Behari at a special ceremony. And that’s the story of how our country got its second Ig Nobel in 2003.

There has been criticism of these awards over the years, with some British scientist types asking that they be disbanded for trivialising genuine research. But a recent article pointed out that, “A noble side to Ig Nobels is that although the Ig Nobel Awards are veiled criti cism of trivial research, history shows that trivial research sometimes leads to important breakthroughs.”

The last word, however must go to the famous science magazine — Nature: “Last, but not least, there are the Ig Nobel awards. These come with little cash, but much cachet, and reward those research projects that ‘first make people laugh, and then make them think’’’.

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