Established in 1991 as a good-natured parody of the Nobel prize, the Ig Nobel awards recognise unusual and imaginative achievements in fields such as science, literature, medicine and technology. There’s always been an air of humour attached to them, something that they’ve embraced unapologetically. Attend a typical Ig Nobel award ceremony and you’ll be treated to mini-operas and scientific demos. The 24/7 lectures are another highlight, where experts must explain their work twice—once in 24 seconds, and again in just seven words. Acceptance speeches are limited to 60 seconds and the awardees are kept in check by another regular feature—an eight-year-old girl nicknamed "Miss Sweetie-Poo" who will interrupt those who exceed the time limit by repeating, "Please stop. I'm bored." until they stop.
Beneath all the jokes and good humour is solid scientific research, however. In their own words, the Ig Nobels recognise achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The topics explored by the award winners might seem frivolous on the surface but have several real-life applications.
The 2018 edition of the awards ceremony was held at Harvard University's Sanders Theater on September 13. Let’s take a look at the prize-winning research.
The idea struck after one of Prof David Wartinger's patients at Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine reported that one of his kidney stones became dislodged following a ride on the Big Thunder Mountain ride at Walt Disney World in Florida. He carried out a series of tests that indicated that a rear seating position on a roller coaster speeds up the often-painful process of passing kidney stones significantly!
2. Medical Education
Akira Horiuchi was awarded this honour for his experiments in the field of colonoscopies. It can be hard to find willing test subjects, so we’re sure you’ll agree the recipient displayed tremendous commitment to science and research and a huge amount of selflessness by conducting a series of self colonoscopies to find out how this unpleasant experience could be made better for others.
Thanks to research conducted by Swedish scientists, you can tell immediately if a fly has landed in the glass of wine you were just about to indulge in. The researchers determined that the presence of a single fly can cause the taste and smell of the wine to go “off”, saving you from an unpleasant mouthful.
We’ve all used saliva to clean off the odd smudge, but research has revealed how using saliva to clean delicate surfaces like painted ceramics and gold leaf is better than using chemical cleaners!
A trip to the zoo looks to be in order, as scientists have determined that chimpanzees imitate humans (contrary to what was believed earlier). They came to this conclusion by looking at interactions between visitors and the chimpanzees.
Admit it, no one really reads the long manuals that accompany our latest gadgets. Ignoring the manual in favour of figuring out how stuff works by tinkering around with the device is pretty much the recognised procedure, isn’t it? This is what prompted researchers to study who does and who doesn’t read manuals, in an effort to develop more user-friendly manuals in the future (which we probably won’t read either).
Taking nutritional information to another level, James Cole determined that the caloric intake from a human-cannibalistic diet is significantly lower than that from a traditional meat diet. Don’t worry, unlike the medical education award there was no self-testing here—just curiosity about the diet habits of human in the Paleolithic Era.
Driving on the roads is definitely an area where the effects of peace need to be more apparent. While most of us view the bursts of profanity and occasional road rage to be normal and harmless, scientists linked it to a higher rate of accidents worldwide.
Not a fan of your boss but not fond of confrontation either? Scientists have revealed a non-confrontational way to let out your anger and frustration. They found that stabbing a voodoo doll that represented your boss, or the other half of any abusive superior can be extremely cathartic.
10. Reproductive Medicine
We would struggle to link the two together, but this one strikes close to the heart for all men—scientists developed a way to use postage stamps to check whether the male sex organ is functioning properly. Don’t worry, there’s no embarrassing trips to the post office involved! Instead, wrapping a ‘stamp ring’ around it before bed and checking to see if it broke along the perforations in the morning due to a night-time erection will give you a better idea.
We’re sure you’ll agree that these pieces of ‘serious’ scientific research are worthy of the high honour they’ve received.