Photo/IllutrationA Japanese team led by Gen Matsuzaki, professor of design at Chiba Institute of Technology, wins the engineering prize of the Ig Nobel Prize. (Mutsumi Mitobe)


As the leader of the Japanese team that won the engineering prize of this year’s Ig Nobel Prize, Gen Matsuzaki hasn’t quite come to grips with the honor, which is a parody of the Nobel prizes.

Matsuzaki, a professor of design at Chiba Institute of Technology, won the prize for a study that sought to discover the most efficient way for people to use their fingers in turning a knob.

The award was announced on Sept. 15. It marked the 16th consecutive year for a Japanese to win an Ig Nobel Prize.

Matsuzaki said that his study was not intended to make people laugh, which is the concept of the light-hearted Ig Nobel prizes. He said he spent six years on the serious research project.

Therefore, he said, “As a researcher, I have mixed feelings” about the prize.

Outside academia, Matsuzaki works as a product designer, winning awards for good designs. As a designer, he said, “I am glad if they valued my focus, which is different from the others.”

Matsuzaki launched the study, called “trying to use fingers during rotary control of columnar knobs,” about 20 years ago when he was a graduate student.

He initially became curious about the types and shapes of a rotary faucet handle and thought about what kind would be the easiest to use.

In the study, the team prepared various columns made of wood, each with different diameters, resembling a knob.

Matsuzaki asked his students to grab and turn all columns and recorded the movements of their fingers by video.

As a result, he found many people changed the number of fingers used to grip the knob depending on its diameter.

For a 10- to 11-millimeter knob, many increased the fingers used from two to three.

For a knob with a 23- to 26-mm diameter, the number of fingers used increased from three to four.

And for a knob with a 45- to 50-mm diameter, the number of fingers increased from four to five.

Matsuzaki also found the location of the striation on a knob makes a difference in the comfort level of gripping it.

The Ig Nobel Prize award ceremony was held online this year for the third consecutive year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.