Every year, an organization called Improbable Research offers up the Ig Nobel Prize, a Nobel spoof award that it is given for science innovations “that first make people laugh, then make them think.” This year, our favorite entry came from researchers at the Shiga University of Medical Science, who developed something called the wasabi alarm, a fire (or general emergency alarm) that slashes noise pollution but might make anyone nearby feel sick.
The researchers identified the ideal density of airborne wasabi to awaken slumbering people in case of emergency, and then used that information to develop the alarm. The wasabi alarm patent explains:
The odorant receptacle contains an odorant. A concentration of the
odorant in air at which a person can no longer tolerate a strength of
smell is lower than a no observed effect concentration of the odorant.
The drive section causes the odorant to be emitted from the odorant
receptacle. The detector detects occurrence of an unusual situation, and
outputs a detection signal. When the detection signal from the detector
is inputted, the controller causes the drive section to emit the
odorant in accordance with the detection signal.
So if the detector (a smoke detector, for example) senses smoke, it triggers a series of events that results in sleeping home-dwellers being woken up by the overwhelming smell of wasabi. It’s probably not too pleasant, but it won’t wake your neighbors.
Believe it or not, the wasabi alarm wasn’t the craziest idea to be given an Ig Nobel this year. Other winners include a study showing that a certain type of beetle mates with Australian beer bottles, a study looking at why disc throwers get dizzy but hammer throwers don’t, and a study looking at how the urge to urinate impacts decision making.