Japanese professor wins Ig Nobel Prize

The Yomiuri Shimbun

WASHINGTON — A Japanese professor won an award for research into how people use their fingers to turn knobs at this year’s Ig Nobel Prize, which recognizes humorous and profound achievements in scientific research.

Japanese researchers have been awarded Ig Nobel prizes for 16 years in a row. Founded in the United States in 1991, the award is a parody of the Nobel Prize.

Courtesy of Gen Matsuzaki
Prof. Gen Matsuzaki of the Chiba Institute of Technology

Gen Matsuzaki, 50, a professor at the Chiba Institute of Technology, and four others won the Ig Nobel Engineering Prize for insights into how the number of fingers people use when turning knob-like cylinders changes in relation to the diameter of the knob.

Matsuzaki conducted the research when he was a postgraduate student at the institute in 1997. In the study, 32 participants turned 45 cylinders with diameters ranging from 7 millimeters to 13 centimeters, and Matsuzaki recorded video footage of them to understand how the number of fingers they used changed depending on the diameter of the cylinder.

According to the research, the proportion of people using two fingers was high when the diameter was less than 10 millimeters, while the proportion of people using two fingers was the same as that of those using three fingers when the diameter was 10 to 11 millimeters.

The proportion of people using three fingers increased when the cylinder had a larger diameter.

The study found that there were diameter thresholds for the number of fingers people used. Almost all the participants used five fingers to turn cylinders with a diameter of 9 centimeters or more.

The results were published in a 1999 paper under the names of Matsuzaki and others, who also received the Ig Nobel Prize.

“At the time, there were lots of things we needed to turn, such as faucets and volume controls. We thought our research would help in the design of such things, making them easier to turn,” Matsuzaki said.

“I think people turn knobs without being aware of what they are doing. We seriously studied a theme that no one would care about usually. I think that’s why we were awarded an Ig Nobel Prize.”

Reuters file photo
Audience members throw paper airplanes at the stage during the 29th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Sept. 12, 2019.