Ig Nobel Prize winners: Self-colonoscopy, roller-coaster kidney stones
A Harvard University ceremony featuring two massive paper airplane launches honored funny but practical scientific studies. In 2018, the annual awards included a worthless cash prize handed out by real Nobel laureates.
The comfort of a home colonoscopy, the benefits of taking out anger aimed at a boss on a voodoo doll and cannibalism's lack of nutritional benefits were all scientific discoveries that received Ig Nobel Prizes on Thursday in a laughter and music-filled ceremony at Harvard University.
The annual prize series honors 10 comical but practical scientific studies "that first make people laugh, and then make them think." The prize is run by Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), an international scientific humor magazine that satirizes traditional academic journals, and seeks to raise public attention about science.
The event was broadcast live on YouTube and will later air on American National Public Radio.
The recipients of the 2018 Ig Nobel Prize came to Cambridge, Massachusetts, from all over the world — at their own expense — to be honored for the research in a quirky ceremony. They also received a worthless cash prize of 10 trillion Zimbabwean dollars.
Among the awardees on Thursday night was Lindie Liang, a Canadian business professor studying workplace aggression, who took home the economic prize. She determined that allowing workers to take out aggression at their boss through a virtual voodoo doll led to the workers feeling better because "their injustice perceptions are deactivated."
James Cole, a British archaeology lecturer, determined that despite the accepted perception behind human cannibalism, human flesh is not actually calorie-dense.
"We're not super nutritious," the recipient of the nutrition prize said.
Dr. Akira Horiuchi, a Japanese pediatrician, was honored with the medical education prize for his at-home, seated self-colonoscopy procedure, while a group of Spanish traffic researchers took home an Ig for measuring the frequency, motivation and effects of shouting and cursing while driving. The team, which found that one in four drivers yells or curses behind the wheel, won the Ig peace prize.
Other prize categories included medicine (kidney stones can be passed more quickly on roller-coasters) and literature (most users of high-tech products don't read the instruction manuals).
The theme of this year's ceremony, which took place in Harvard's Sanders Theater, was the heart. The event included the premiere of "The Broken Heart Opera" as well as the traditional paper airplane deluge.
AIR and Ig award founder Marc Abrahams emceed the evening while actual Nobel Prize laureates handed out the awards to the winners.
The winners' speeches were kept to a strict 60-second time limit, with 8-year-old Dorothea Hartig as "Miss Sweetie-Poo" interrupting them with her annually-repeated complaint, "Please stop. I'm bored."
An ignoble prize for real research
The Ig-Nobel-Prize is a pun on the word ignoble. In the past, entries tackled questions such as: When bitten by insects - where on the human body are the bites most painful? Or: Is it really possible that Sultan Mulai Ismail fathered 888 children between 1697 and 1727? One Australian scientist was even awarded the prize for "unboiling" an egg.
21-second potty break
One essential question for humankind and our four-legged friends: How long does it take to urinate? A team led by U.S. researcher Patricia Yang found the answer: 21 seconds plus or minus 13 seconds. In previous years the prize was awarded to related research…
Earth's magnetic field shows the way
Dogs align themselves with the earth's magnetic field when doing number twos. Czech researchers observed 70 canines from 37 breeds. The answer: The preferred direction is along the north-south axis. That got them the Ig Nobel Prize for Biology in 2014.
Is yawning among red-footed tortoises contagious?
In 2011, the Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology went to researchers of cognitive biology from Vienna University. They wanted to find out if yawning is contagious among red-legged tortoises. While humans often find yawning to be contagious, the research group found that that's not the case among tortoises. The study was published in "Current Zoology."
Slipping on banana peel
The winners of the Physics award in 2014 came from the Kitasato University in Japan. They looked into the friction-coefficient of banana peel on linoleum floor. The result: polysaccharide follicular gel in the banana peel does indeed perform a lubricating function. In regular English, that banana peels are really slippery - ouch!
Depressing cat bites
In 2014, the prize in the Public Health category went to researchers looking into the correlation between cat bites and depression. The scientists had analyzed patient data and concluded that among women who had been treated for cat bites, there was a significant increase in cases of depression. The recommendation: next time your cat bites you, better see a shrink!
Solutions against hijackers
The 2013 prize for Security Engineering went to the inventor of a fully automated hijacker disposal device. The culprit falls into a trap, gets bundled up as a handy package by a wrapping machine and then dropped out of the plane on a parachute. This would save the police SWAT-team a lot of work in cases like the hijacking of the German plane "Landshut" in Mogadishu in 1977.
Seeing Jesus in toast
People who believe they've seen Jesus on a slice of bread or on a tortilla - such news hit the media time and again. Neurologists from China and Canada found out what happens inside the brain when we are recognizing faces in places where there usually are none. What they found was a whole network of brain-sections responsible for face-recognition. This got them the 2014 prize for Neurology.
Dung beetles look to the stars
In 2013 there was a joint prize for biology and astronomy: An international team found out that dung beetles looked to the shining light of the Milky Way for orientation when the moon was absent. When the sky was clear, the beetles were able to walk a straight line. As soon as the sky was overcast they lost all sense of direction.
Hunting whale-breath with drones
The 2010 Engineering award went to the American inventors of a special drone for whale-watching. But the drone that was used to fly closely over the whales' heads also had another task: whale smelling. The breath coming out of the animals' nostrils includes bacteria, the amount of which marine biologists are measuring. Beautiful pictures like this one were a by-product of the research.