Gregg Miller mortgaged his home and maxed out his credit cards to mass produce his invention — prosthetic testicles for neutered dogs.
What started 10 years ago with an experiment on an unwitting Rottweiler named Max has turned into a thriving mail-order business. And on Thursday night Miller’s efforts earned him a dubious yet strangely coveted honor: the Ig Nobel Prize for medicine.
“Considering my parents thought I was an idiot when I was a kid, this is a great honor,” he said. “I wish they were alive to see it.”
The Ig Nobels, given at Harvard University by Annals of Improbable Research magazine, celebrate the humorous, creative and odd side of science.
Miller has sold more than 150,000 of his Neuticles, more than doubling his $500,000 investment. The silicone implants come in different sizes, shapes, weights and degrees of firmness. The product’s Web site says Neuticles allow a pet “to retain his natural look” and “self esteem.”
Although the Ig Nobels are not exactly prestigious, many recipients are, like Miller, happy to win.
“Most scientists — no matter what they’re doing, good or bad — never get any attention at all,” said Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research.
Some, like Benjamin Smith of the University of Adelaide in Australia, who won the biology prize, actually nominated their own work. “I’ve been a fan of the Ig Nobels for a while,” he said.
Smith’s team studied and catalogued different scents emitted by more than 100 species of frogs under stress. Some smelled like cashews, while others smelled like licorice, mint or rotting fish.
He recalled getting strange looks when he’d show up at zoos asking to smell the frogs. “I’ve been turned away at the gate,” he said.
This year’s other Ig Nobel winners include:
- Physics: Since 1927, researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have been tracking a glob of congealed black tar as it drips through a funnel — at a rate of one drop every nine years.
- Peace: Two researchers at Newcastle University in England monitored the brain activity of locusts as they watched clips from the movie “Star Wars.”
- Chemistry: An experiment at the University of Minnesota was designed to prove whether people can swim faster or slower in syrup than in water.
The Ig Nobel for literature went to the Nigerians who introduced millions of e-mail users to a “cast of rich characters ... each of whom requires just a small amount of expense money so as to obtain access to the great wealth to which they are entitled.”
The awards are intended as a spoof of the Nobel science prizes, also announced this week. This year, they have another link: Roy Glauber, a Harvard professor who has long taken part in the Ig Nobel festivities, was among those awarded the physics Nobel this year.