Wasabi Smoke Alarm Wins 2011 Ig Nobel Prize

A Japanese research team has been awarded the 2011 Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their patented invention, the Wasabi Smoke Alarm. As previously reported at InventorSpot in March of 2008, the silent alarm releases a mist of pungent wasabi oil that will wake up those with hearing disabilities in case of fire or a related emergency.

Japan is a true powerhouse when it comes to winning Ig Nobel Prizes, as Japanese recipients have now won awards for the fifth straight year. Previous Ig Nobel Prize winners from Japan have been recognized for using slime molds to design rail networks (2010), proving panda poop can dissolve kitchen refuse (2009), teaching amoebas how to navigate mazes (2008), and for developing a method of extracting vanillin (vanilla fragrance and flavoring) from cow dung (2007).

Those who may, er, poo-poo the topics of Japan's previous Ig Nobel Prizes are reminded of the goal of these awards, which is to “honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.”

Conceived by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research and now in their 21st year, the Ig Nobel Prize has evolved from merely spoofing the renowned Nobel Prize to being accepted as a legitimate way to bring research in outwardly unusual fields to international attention.

The award winners themselves are proud of their research and take the humorous aspects of the Ig Nobels in stride. “We invented the Wasabi Fire Alarm to wake up people with hearing disabilities in cases of emergency,” stated Makoto Imai, assistant professor at the Shiga University of Medical Science where the device was conceived, designed and tested.

Imai, who described the alarm as a “life-saver”, was honored along with Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami at the awards ceremony which took place on Thursday, September 29th, 2011 at  Harvard University's Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

The Shiga University team had filed an application to patent the Wasabi Fire Alarm on February 5th, 2009, and were given US patent application number 2010/0308995 A1.

Since April of 2009, several Japanese manufacturers including Tokyo-based Bioscenz Inc. have brought silent wasabi smoke and fire alarms to the retail market, recommending them for use in hospitals, nursing homes, hotels and private homes. (via Mainichi Daily News)