Scholars of scorpion constipation, synchronized duckling swimming, and moose crash test dummies all garnered awards at the 32nd Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. The humorous honors, which are given for “achievements that first make people LAUGH, and then THINK,” were awarded at a virtual ceremony Sept. 15. The satirical magazine Annals of Improbable Research produced the event, and its editor, Marc Abrahams, an authority on absurdity, served as master of ceremonies.
The Ig Nobel Committee did not award a Chemistry Prize this year, but the Medicine Prize went to a chemotherapy-related discovery. A team at the Medical University of Warsaw discovered that people taking the cancer drug melphalan reported that a common side effect of the treatment—irritation in the mouth known as oral mucositis—could be prevented if the patients slowly ate ice cream or popsicles during their melphalan infusions (Sci. Rep. 2021, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-02002-x).
The announcement of the Applied Cardiology Prize made our hearts skip a beat. A team led by researchers at Leiden University won “for seeking and finding evidence that when new romantic partners meet for the first time, and feel attracted to each other, their heart rates synchronize” (Nat. Hum. Behav. 2022, DOI: 10.1038/s41562-021-01197-3).
To escape predators, some types of scorpions will jettison their tails. The tails do not grow back, so the critters are no longer able to complete their digestive processes. They can survive without their tails for several months, albeit in a state of constipation. The University of São Paulo’s Solimary García-Hernández and Glauco Machado received this year’s Biology Prize for their study of how this constipation affects the scorpions’ ability to mate (Integr. Zool. 2021, DOI: 10.1111/1749-4877.12604).
Critters—arguably cuter ones—helped clinch the Physics Prize for Frank E. Fish of West Chester University and a team from the University of Strathclyde and Jiangsu University of Science and Technology. Working independently, these researchers won for “trying to understand how ducklings manage to swim in formation.” Frank’s work was published in the book Mechanics and Physiology of Animal Swimming (1994, pp. 193–204) and the other team’s work in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics (2021, DOI: 10.1017/jfm.2021.820). Water, not the ducks, are the fluid in question, in case you were wondering.
A larger critter inspired the work that won the Safety Engineering Prize. Magnus Gens claimed that honor for designing a moose-like crash test dummy for his 2001 master’s thesis. The thesis, naturally titled Moose Crash Test Dummy, has made quite an impact: versions of Gens’s dummy have been used in countless auto-safety tests in Sweden.
Overcoming a more common obstacle—a doorknob—inspired the winners of this year’s Engineering Prize. Research from the Chiba Institute of Technology took top honors “for trying to discover the most efficient way for people to use their fingers when turning a knob” (Bull. Jpn. Soc. Sci. Des. 1999, DOI: 10.11247/jssdj.45.69).
A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Edinburgh took home the Literature Prize “for analyzing what makes legal documents unnecessarily difficult to understand” (Cognition 2022, DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2022.105070).
Say what you will about gossip, but research on this topic nabbed the 2022 Peace Prize. An international team claimed the honor “for developing an algorithm to help gossipers decide when to tell the truth and when to lie” (Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 2021, DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2020.0300).
Many argue that merit is at the core of their success. But sometimes, a team from the University of Catania writes, “we are willing to admit that a certain degree of luck could also play a role.” Its examination of talent versus luck earned the team the Economics Prize “for explaining, mathematically, why success most often goes not to the most talented people, but instead to the luckiest” (Advs. Complex Syst. 2018, DOI: 10.1142/S0219525918500145).
Finally, Peter de Smet and Nicholas Hellmuth shared this year’s Art History Prize for their study “A Multidisciplinary Approach to Ritual Enema Scenes on Ancient Maya Pottery” (J. Ethnopharmacol. 1986, DOI: 10.1016/0378-8741(86)90091-7).
A recording of the Ig Nobel ceremony will be available at youtube.com/improbableresearch; National Public Radio’s Science Friday will air an edited recording of the ceremony Nov. 25, the day after US Thanksgiving.
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