Congratulations to the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel Prizes, celebrating weird and wonderful science that is making a real difference. This year’s winners, announced at the award ceremony in Massachusetts in September, include pork-based cures for nosebleeds, humans dressed as polar bears, toast that looks like Jesus and defecation from cats, dogs and children. Enjoy!
The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that make people LAUGH, and then THINK.
Here are Curious Meerkat’s favourites from the 2014 Ig Nobel Awards:
- Physics Prize: Kiyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai from Japan – for investigating the physics of stepping on a banana skin
The frictional coefficient under a banana skin on a lineoleum floor whilst a shoe is being rubbed against it is 0.07, a very low value generated by lubrication from a polysaccharide follicular gel – banana goop
- Public Health Prize: Jaroslav Flegr, Jan Havlíček, Jitka Hanušova-Lindova, David Hanauer, Naren Ramakrishnan and Lisa Seyfried from Czech Republic, Japan, USA and India – for researching the mental hazards of cat ownership
Toxoplasma gondii is a parasitic protozoan that infects somewhere in the region of 30 – 60% of humans worldwide. Although latent toxoplasmosis caused by the parasite has no medical symptoms, it can affect personality and behaviour. Toxoplasmosis makes men less interested in novelty, less impulsive and extravagant, effects that were more pronounced the longer you had been infected. In women, it is correlated with higher intelligence and experience less guilt What does all this have to do with cat owners? Well toxoplasmosis is transmitted to humans by cats, through cat bites and contact with cat urine. You could also catch it by eating your cat, but you wouldn’t do that now, would you? Another study conducted by the winners has found a link between cat bites and depression, with depression being far more common in people with cat bites than dog bites, especially for women. So owning a cat might make you depressed, intelligent, cautious and restrained, but less guilty.
- Biology Prize: Vlastimil Hart, Petra Nováková, Erich Pascal Malkemper, Sabine Begall, Vladimír Hanzal, Miloš Ježek, Tomáš Kušta, Veronika Němcová, Jana Adámková, Kateřina Benediktová, Jaroslav Červený and Hynek Burda from Czech Republic, Germany and Zambia – for investigating how dogs align their bodies when going to the toilet
Dogs prefer to do both number one and number two with their bodies aligned to the North-South axis of the Earth. This is the first demonstration of magnetic sensitivity in dogs, but interestingly researchers found this alignment only happened with the Earth’s magnetic fields were stable, which only occurs for about 20% of the daylight period.
- Neuroscience Prize: Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, and Kang Lee from China and Canada – for trying to work out why people see Jesus in a piece of toast
Face pareidolia is the term for seeing faces that aren’t really their. Our brains are keen to find faces in everything, which is why even something as simple as a colon placed next to a bracket :) for us to see a face. The researchers found that although people are able to ‘see’ both faces and letters in about 30% of random-noise images, but that the brain processes them differently. The right fusiform face area, located in the fusiform gyrus of the brain, shows increased activity in patients who ‘saw’ faces, but not when they saw letters. This area is known to be important in facial recognition, and it appears the same brain networks that control genuine facial perception also create illusionary perception of faces.
- Arctic Science Prize: Eigil Reimers and Sindre Eftestø from Norway, Germany, USA and Canada – for testing how reindeer react to humans disguised as polar bears
Sometimes researchers have to deal with unfriendly wildlife in their fieldwork, and some researchers in the Arctic have taken some elaborate actions to interact better with them. Under the guise of investigating the predator-prey dynamics between a growing polar bear population and reindeer, the authors dressed up in polar bear costumes to find out whether reindeer run away from them more or less. Reindeer run away between one and a half and two and a half times faster from a person dressed as a polar bear than a human in normal Arctic attire, suggested that they were some pretty convincing costumes!
Furthermore, honorable mentions for their sheer absurdity go out to winners of the Medicine Prize for developing a treatment for uncontrollable nosebleeds that involved shoving cured poor up the nose, the Art prize for testing whether looking at beautiful paintings can increase your pain threshold and the Nutrition prize winners for investigating whether they could use their children’s poo to ferment sausages.
And lastly, a quick shout-out to my all-time favourite Ig Nobel Prize, that went to Dr Elena Bodnar for creating a bra that doubles up as a gas-mask!