BOSTON – William Lipscomb won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1976 for his work studying boron and hydrogen compounds and the problems of chemical bonding — serious research by a serious man.
One day a year, though, the Harvard professor lets his hair down, dressing as a beer bottle or acting in a humorous opera to help honor the strange and comical side of science at the Ig Nobels ceremony.
Lipscomb is one of a half dozen or so real Nobel Laureates who hand out the Ig Nobels, awards given out by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine for unusual and imaginative scientific discovery.
Previous honorees — many of whom actually show up to accept the dubious distinction — have included people who invented a grizzly bear-proof suit of armor, studied a locust's reactions to watching "Star Wars" or timed humans swimming through syrup.
Lipscomb, along with fellow Nobel Laureates Sheldon Glashow (physics 1979), Craig Mello (medicine 2005) and Robert Laughlin (physics 1998) are scheduled to attend this year's ceremony at Harvard on Thursday.
Participating in the Ig Nobels is a chance to show that scientists aren't a sternly serious, self-important bunch of nerds, said Glashow, a Boston University professor.
Lipscomb has in the past entertained the crowd with his clarinet, and at age 87 remains a babe magnet, said Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research.
"At the end of every ceremony there are a bunch of young women who just mob him," he said.
Nobel Laureate Roy Glauber, who won the Nobel for physics in 2005, stays behind each year to sweep up the thousands of paper airplanes launched during the ceremony.
"It's been my experience that most people have lots of sides to their character," Abrahams said. "And if they have reached the top of their profession, there are reasons certain sides of that character don't often come out.
"But the Ig Nobels are safe ground where people can relax and be themselves," he said.
Lipscomb enjoys what he calls the "dead end" of science at the Ig Nobels.
"I think it's a good place to exhibit the people who misuse science or use it for their own ends," he said.