BBC Radio News, October 1999

Journalists had a funny feeling about Len Fisher when they visited the Englishman’s Bristol University laboratory. Anyone who spends that much time and effort researching the best way to dunk a biscuit in a cup of tea has to be in line for a top award – and so it proved.

At a ceremony in front of 1,200 spectators and a worldwide internet audience, Len Fisher was honoured with the Ig Nobel Prize for physics.

The Ig Nobels are a spoof on the Nobel Prizes which will be handed out over the next few weeks. The Ig Nobel committee recognises some of the more questionable contributions to life at the end of the 20th Century.

As they say: These are awards for achievements which “cannot, or should not, be reproduced”.

“England has always had a reputation of really treasuring its eccentrics, and this is where it’s finally paying off,” said Harvard Professor Marc Abrahams, editor of the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research and master of ceremonies at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre.

Like most winners, Dr Fisher accepted his prize in great spirit. “It’s basically scientists pulling each others’ legs,” he said.

International headlines

The Bristol researcher made headlines around the world when he announced he had cracked the physics of dunking.

He wrote an equation to show what happens when the starch globules in a biscuit absorb liquid, producing a gunge that breaks off and falls to the bottom of the cup. From this, he was able to advise everyone on the technique that would result in the perfect dunk.

The obvious importance of this research was underlined by the award of another Ig Nobel to the British Standards Institution. They were honoured for their six-page specification on the proper way to make a cup of tea.

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