• Eric Adams, senior research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, makes his portion of a one-minute acceptance speech at the 2010 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, as his co-winners Scott Socolofsky SM ’97, PhD ”01 and Stephen Masutani (dressed as the “Star Wars” tyrant Emperor Palpatine) await their 30 seconds.

    Eric Adams, senior research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, makes his portion of a one-minute acceptance speech at the 2010 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, as his co-winners Scott Socolofsky SM ’97, PhD ”01 and Stephen Masutani (dressed as the “Star Wars” tyrant Emperor Palpatine) await their 30 seconds.

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CEE's Eric Adams receives the Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry

Eric Adams, senior research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, makes his portion of a one-minute acceptance speech at the 2010 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, as his co-winners Scott Socolofsky SM ’97, PhD ”01 and Stephen Masutani (dressed as the “Star Wars” tyrant Emperor Palpatine) await their 30 seconds.

Environmental engineers share prize with BP for work that proved oil and water really do mix


Eric Adams, lecturer and senior research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was awarded the 2010 Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry for disproving the adage that oil and water don’t mix.

Adams and his co-investigators Scott Socolofsky SM ’97, PhD ’01 and Stephen Masutani shared the prize with British Petroleum, one of the funders of a research project completed in 2000 that demonstrated that most oil from a spill in the deep ocean would in fact mix with water, rather than rise directly to the surface.

The Ig Nobels are awarded each year by Improbable Research, a local organization that inspires an appreciation for science and scientists by poking fun at research that, on the surface, appears frivolous or just plain funny. But this year, the selections for chemistry and economics displayed a deeper irony. Improbable Research ostensibly rewarded BP — whose Deepwater Horizon rig earlier this year spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months, greatly harming plant and wildlife and the region’s economy — for proving beyond a doubt what had already been demonstrated, and the heads of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and Magnetar — whose companies played a role in the recent economic meltdown — for innovative investment strategies.

In a ceremony held Sept. 30 at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre, Adams, Socolofsky and Masutani good-naturedly accepted their award. “It’s too bad BP couldn’t be with us. But in their stead and with no disrespect to either party, we bring you Steve,” Adams said, referring to Masutani, a professor at the University of Hawaii who was dressed as the “Star Wars” tyrannical ruler Emperor Palpatine, carrying a sign that said “Big Oil.”


Topics: Awards, honors and fellowships, Civil and environmental engineering, Oil spill, Water, Alumni/ae

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