What do you get when you combine science and slightly-ludicrous research? You get the Ig Nobel prizes, celebrating the best of improbable research.
As always, you can find out more at the Ig Nobel site, but for those wanting a light chuckle for their Friday, here’s this year’s winners:
CHEMISTRY and GEOLOGY PRIZE [POLAND, UK]
Jan Zalasiewicz, for explaining why many scientists like to lick rocks.
LITERATURE PRIZE [FRANCE, UK, MALAYSIA, FINLAND]
Chris Moulin, Nicole Bell, Merita Turunen, Arina Baharin, and Akira O’Connor for studying the sensations people feel when they repeat a single word many, many, many, many, many, many, many times.
MECHANICAL ENGINEERING PRIZE [INDIA, CHINA, MALAYSIA, USA]
Te Faye Yap, Zhen Liu, Anoop Rajappan, Trevor Shimokusu, and Daniel Preston, for re-animating dead spiders to use as mechanical gripping tools.
PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE [SOUTH KOREA, USA]
Seung-min Park, for inventing the Stanford Toilet, a device that uses a variety of technologies — including a urinalysis dipstick test strip, a computer vision system for defecation analysis, an anal-print sensor paired with an identification camera, and a telecommunications link — to monitor and quickly analyze the substances that humans excrete.
COMMUNICATION PRIZE [ARGENTINA, SPAIN, COLOMBIA, CHILE, CHINA, USA]
María José Torres-Prioris, Diana López-Barroso, Estela Càmara, Sol Fittipaldi, Lucas Sedeño, Agustín Ibáñez, Marcelo Berthier, and Adolfo García, for studying the mental activities of people who are expert at speaking backward.
MEDICINE PRIZE [USA, CANADA, MACEDONIA, IRAN, VIETNAM]
Christine Pham, Bobak Hedayati, Kiana Hashemi, Ella Csuka, Tiana Mamaghani, Margit Juhasz, Jamie Wikenheiser, and Natasha Mesinkovska, for using cadavers to explore whether there is an equal number of hairs in each of a person’s two nostrils.
NUTRITION PRIZE [JAPAN]
Homei Miyashita and Hiromi Nakamura, for experiments to determine how electrified chopsticks and drinking straws can change the taste of food.
EDUCATION PRIZE [CHINA, CANADA, UK, THE NETHERLANDS, IRELAND, USA, JAPAN]
Katy Tam, Cyanea Poon, Victoria Hui, Wijnand van Tilburg, Christy Wong, Vivian Kwong, Gigi Yuen, and Christian Chan, for methodically studying the boredom of teachers and students.
PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE [USA]
Stanley Milgram, Leonard Bickman, and Lawrence Berkowitz for experiments on a city street to see how many passersby stop to look upward when they see strangers looking upward.
PHYSICS PRIZE [SPAIN, GALICIA, SWITZERLAND, FRANCE, UK]
Bieito Fernández Castro, Marian Peña, Enrique Nogueira, Miguel Gilcoto, Esperanza Broullón, Antonio Comesaña, Damien Bouffard, Alberto C. Naveira Garabato, and Beatriz Mouriño-Carballido, for measuring the extent to which ocean-water mixing is affected by the sexual activity of anchovies.
These are fun and joyous awards — and, I hasten to add, while they might seem like science money wasted, science research is accumulative, and you don’t get to some interesting and useful places (sometimes) without investigating the side avenues as well.