In 1965, George and Charlotte Blonsky, a married couple living in New York City, were granted US patent #3216423 for an “Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force”. When a woman is ready to deliver her child, she lies on her back on a circular table. She is strapped down. The table is then rotated at high speed. The baby comes flying out. This is intended to “assist the under-equipped woman by creating a gentle, evenly distributed, properly directed, precision-controlled force, that acts in unison with and supplements her own efforts”.
Though meticulously and lovingly engineered with safety features to protect both mother and child, the device never made it into general use. Few people other than the Blonskys perceived the need for it. Their method stands rather outside most birthing traditions. Their mechanism is expensive and complex. Also, the tiny net designed to catch the child may be inadequate to the task.
The Blonskys, though childless, loved children. Their idea was conceived during a visit to the Bronx Zoo. They noticed an elephant that was slowly spinning in place. A zookeeper (wrongly) told them that’s what elephants do prior to giving birth. The Blonskys were posthumously awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for their invention in 1999. They and the invention inspired an opera, The Blonsky Device, that premiered in 2013.
Marc Abrahams is the founder and master of ceremonies of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, honoring achievements that make people laugh, and then think. The prizes are handed out by genuine Nobel Laureates at a gala ceremony held in autumn at Harvard University and broadcast on National Public Radio and on the Internet. He co-founded the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, which he still edits. Marc has a degree in Applied Mathematics from Harvard College, spent several years developing optical character recognition computer systems (including a reading machine for the blind) at Kurzweil Computer Products, and founded Wisdom Simulators. He writes columns for many international newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, discusses improbable research on NPR’s Science Friday and has written the librettos for sixteen science mini-operas that premiered as part of the Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies.