Media Releases

U of T professor wins Ig Nobel Prize for ‘Jesus in Toast’ study at Harvard University

September 18, 2014

TORONTO, ON — University of Toronto professor Kang Lee has been awarded a 2014 Ig Nobel Prize for a study that found that the phenomenon of “face pareidolia”–where onlookers report seeing images of Jesus, Virgin Mary, or Elvis in objects such as toast, shrouds, and clouds–is normal and based on physical causes.

Lee was the lead author of the study “Seeing Jesus in toast: Neural and behavioral correlates of face pareidolia”, published in the journal Cortex. The research was conducted with partner institutions in China.

“Despite the humorous nature of this award, you never know what this research could lead to in the future,” says Lee. “For example, it could be used to make warning signs easier to understand or to test babies’ brain functioning.”

The Ig Nobel Prizes—produced by the science humor magazine “Annals of Improbable Research”— honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. They were awarded at Harvard University’s historic Sanders Theatre tonight before 1100 spectators. The Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony has been held annually since 1991.

The Ig Nobel Prizes were physically handed to the winners by five genuine Nobel laureates: Martin Chalfie  (chemistry, 2008), Carol Greider (physiology or medicine, 2009) Dudley Herschbach (chemistry, 1986), Eric Maskin (economics, 2007), Rich Roberts (physiology or medicine, 1993), and Frank Wilczek (physics, 2004). Professor Herschbach was also given away in the Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Laureate Contest.

Each new winner was permitted a maximum of 60 seconds to deliver an acceptance speech. The time limit was enforced by a cute-but-implacable eight-year-old girl.

In his acceptance speech, Lee explained that the ‘Jesus in Toast’ research showed that human brains are completely normal if they see nonexistent faces in everyday objects, and not being able to do so may indicate the brain lacks the ingredients for a vivid imagination. “And I have some good news for those without a good imagination,” joked Lee. “You can buy a Jesus toaster on eBay for just $49.99.”

Marc Abrahams, master of ceremonies, and editor of the “Annals of Improbable Research”, closed the ceremony with his traditional sign-off, “If you didn’t win an Ig Nobel Prize tonight — and especially if you did — better luck next year.”

Photos of Prof. Kang Lee:


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For more information, contact: 

Kang Lee Ph.D.
University Distinguished Professor
Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study, University of Toronto
Cell: 647-606-6849
Languages spoken: English, Mandarin

Dominic Ali
Media Relations
University of Toronto
Tel: 416-978-6974
Cell: 647-378-6425