Last week, the Ig Nobel Awards were held in a night that celebrates interesting discoveries made on the sillier side of science. Between a study of the usage of the word 'huh' and an experiment to make chickens walk like dinosaurs, the Prize for Chemistry was taken out by an Australian local — none other than the Flinders University Professor who discovered how to unboil an egg.
Professor Colin Raston's Vortex Fluidic Device, more commonly known as the 'unboil an egg machine', easily fills the Ig Nobel's criteria of 'something that makes people laugh, then makes them think'. The idea of uncooking an egg is nothing short of whimsy — perhaps fitting better in a Seuss book than a science lab — yet the device also can be used to help treat cancer. The judging panel at the 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize (which includes a handful of actual Nobel Prize winners and a convicted felon) must have thought so too, as it took home the prize for chemistry last Thursday. Since the research was released earlier this year, the 'unboil an egg machine' has found its place in medical science. "[This] research is already improving people’s lives," says Vice-Chancellor Colin Stirling, "with his VFD boosting the potency of a common cancer drug fourfold – meaning better treatment with fewer side effects. And that’s just the start.”
While the process is much more complicated than it sounds, the odd concept of 'unboiling an egg' was one of the main reasons this discovery was noticed by Ig Nobel judges. It also ended up being widely reported by the media — where otherwise it may have gone unnoticed by anyone outside the scientific community. “It’s not what we set out to do, to unboil an egg," Professor Raston readily admits, "but it’s the way of explaining the science involved and helping the wider world realise the momentousness of it.”
Upon being notified of his win, Professor Raston wasn't one for extended speeches, only asking: “Wow, did I really do that?” I imagine he may have said much the same thing upon unboiling an egg for the first time. In case you're curious about how the process actually works, the video below tells all — with just a trace of that classic Ig Nobel spirit.