The 2021 Ig Nobel Awards - The Most Weird and Wonderful Research You've Probably Never Heard Of
For anyone who doesn’t know, the Ig Nobel Prizes are one of the most coveted awards in modern science (in our humble opinion anyway). Organised by the Annals of Improbable Research and co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association; they celebrate research that first makes you laugh, and then makes you think. As a result, the winners end up being a collection of some of the weirdest and wackiest research the world has to offer. And that makes it the perfect event for PartyLab Industries.
In many ways, the Ig Nobel Prizes represent everything PartyLab Industries stands for. Instead of letting lots of wonderful research never see the light of day, the Ig Nobels attempt to shatter the Ivory Tower of academia and make novel research accessible and understandable by all. Some of the winners may seem odd, or downright weird at times (we’re looking at you, creators of the poop-knife), but their work often has extremely important real-world implications. If these researchers never took the time to study such abstract questions in such detail, numerous important subsequent breakthroughs wouldn’t have happened.
The Ig Nobel Ceremony
The overall result is a wonderfully zany ceremony where genuine Nobel prize winners present the awards to their Ig Nobel counterparts, paper airplanes are flown as a matter of formality, and winners only get 60 seconds to describe their work following their victory. All in all, it makes science more approachable, easily understandable, and downright interesting.
This year, the event took place via webcast on Thursday the 9th of September. Ten winners were announced and presented their prizes by a host of former Nobel Laureates (all equally bemused and entertained). A wonderful Mini-Opera called “A Bridge Between People” was staged, and the ceremonial paper airplanes flew (we told you it was interesting).
Below we’ve detailed each category, the winners, and their research. We’ve tried our very best to ensure all members of each research team was accounted for but if there is anyone missing (or if we’ve blatantly messed up the spelling of a name) please get in touch so we can give the winners the credit they deserve!
Now…onto the awards!
Ig Nobel Award Winners
Susanne Schötz, Robert Eklund, and Joost van de Weijer picked up the biology prize for their simply purr-fect (you’ll get it in a minute, and you’ll absolutely hate us for it) collection of five papers examining the acoustic differences in purring between four different cats. The research was able to provide evidence for the ability in humans to identify situations as differentiated by cat tones. This suggests a deeper level of human-to-cat communication existing than previously thought. And if you thought our “purr-fact” pun was bad, you’ll only be delighted to know that the researchers named this type of communication “meowsic.”
A Comparative Acoustic Analysis of Purring in Four Cats
A Phonetic Pilot Study of Vocalisations in Three Cats
A Phonetic Pilot Study of Chirp, Chatter, Tweet and Tweedle in Three Domestic Cats
A Study of Human Perception of Intonation in Domestic Cat Meows
Melody in Human–Cat Communication (Meowsic): Origins, Past, Present and Future
Leila Satari, Alba Guillén, Àngela Vidal-Verdú, and Manuel Porcar brought home the gold for their thorough examination of the bacteriome of chewing gum which had been stuck to pavements. The team were able to map the development of the bacteriome and see how it developed after being introduced to different microbiota during chewing. The findings are claimed to have implications for “a wide range of disciplines, including forensics, contagious disease control or bioremediation of wasted chewing gum residues,” according to the authors of the paper.
The Wasted Chewing Gum Bacteriome
For the Chemistry prize we look to the Max-Planck Institute in Mainz, Germany. Jörg Wicker, Nicolas Krauter, Bettina Derstroff, Christof Stönner, Efstratios Bourtsoukidis, Achim Edtbauer, Jochen Wulf, Thomas Klüpfel, Stefan Kramer, and Jonathan Williams examined the composition of the air in movie theatres. They did this in order to try and determine the levels of violence, drug use, sex, and swear words in the film being screened.
Organic matter expelled through breathing and through the skin are linked to our emotions. Using this principle, the research team hypothesised that this could therefore be used to establish a more objective way to grade and rate films for age certificates.
Proof of Concept Study: Testing Human Volatile Organic Compounds as Tools for Age Classification of Films
Cinema Data Mining: The Smell of Fear
Pavlo Blavatskyy was presented the prize for Economics for his work that discovered a direct correlation between the corruption in a countries’ government and the Body Mass Index (BMI) of its politicians. Yes, you read that right. The higher the obesity in your politicians; the more corrupt the government is likely to be.
Specifically, Blavatskyy compared hundreds of photographs of various politicians across different post-Soviet countries and then used a visualisation algorithm to estimate their respective BMIs. This data was then compared to data from various corruption, trust, and integrity indexes. And, would you believe it, a strong positive correlation was revealed.
Obesity of Politicians and Corruption in Post‐Soviet Countries
In some markedly less wholesome (but nevertheless important) research; Olcay Cem Bulut, Dare Oladokun, Burkard Lippert, and Ralph Hohenberger received the IG Nobel Prize for Medicine. Their work looked at whether or not sexual activity could help relieve a congested nose. Promising results showed that nasal breathing improved following climax to the same degree as if a nasal decongestant was used.
We expect doctors to be happily handing out prescription orgasms within the week.
If you use this new information in an attempt to pick-up a prospective mate however, we claim absolutely no responsibility for what they do to you (and we don’t mean that in a good way).
Can Sex Improve Nasal Function? — An Exploration of the Link Between Sex and Nasal Function
Ethan Beseris, Steven Naleway, and David Carrier were awarded the Peace prize for their work testing the hypothesis that beards were evolved in men to soften the impact of a punch. Previously thought by some, including Charles Darwin, to be nothing but flashy face ornaments; the research showed that our beard-emboldened brothers can potentially absorb 37% more energy than the clean-shaven cohort.
“Other great apes slap, but no one punches.”
Ths quote from one of the authors could offer a clue as to why our beards began to evolve in the first place. Further weight can be added to this hypothesis when we factor in that beards typically only develop in males and at the the point of sexual maturity (when male rivalry begins to develop also). My scientific hypothesis? All the other homosapiens were just jealous of the glorious beards grown by some of their peers and resorted to violence. It’s a real “chicken-and-egg” dilemma!
Impact Protection Potential of Mammalian Hair: Testing the Pugilism Hypothesis for the Evolution of Human Facial Hair
The coveted prize for Physics was awarded to Alessandro Corbetta, Jasper Meeusen, Chung-min Lee, Roberto Benzi, and Federico Toschi for their work in trying to figure out just how pedestrians manage to avoid walking into each other.
Using complex sensors placed in Eindhoven Railway Station; the research team was able to model how people avoid each other so expertly. This kind of work could be highly beneficial when designing and developing civil infrastructures in order to make them as safe as possible.
Physics-based modeling and data representation of pairwise interactions among pedestrians
As we move into the field of Kinetics, a similarly styled study took the prize. Hisashi Murakami, Claudio Feliciani, Yuta Nishiyama, and Katsuhiro Nishinari were awarded the IG Nobel in Kinetics for their research on how smartphones cause pedestrians to collide more frequently than normal. Many of the cognitive strategies and patterns observed in the previous prizewinners research were seen here again in relation to how people avoid collisions. However, these patterns became visually delayed when pedestrians were distracted by their phones. It also caused a knock-on effect for people who had no distractions. This shows that the “sidewalk samba” we all do to avoid someone in front of us is very much a co-operative dance.
Mutual Anticipation Can Contribute to Self-Organization in Human Crowds
Now, we’ve all been there. It’s late, you’re trying to go to bed, but just out of the corner of your eye you see a horrifying cockroach in the corner of your submarine. Well don’t you worry, because John Mulrennan Jr., Roger Grothaus, Charles Hammond, and Jay Lamdin have the perfect solution for you. Awarded the Entomology prize for their research; the aforementioned men developed a new method for cockroach control aboard submarines. By treating the subs with a specific aerosol, a better than 97% control was initially obtained. So next time you decide to take your submarine out for a weekend trip, rest easy that your roach problem should be mostly solved. You’re on your own with everything else though…
A New Method of Cockroach Control on Submarines
Again, another common real-world situation here. You’re just finished your weekly grocery shop, you have almost everything loaded into your car, but the rhinoceros you bought from the middle aisle in Lidl just won’t fit! What’s the best way to get it home? Obviously you’re going to airlift it – that’s not a question. But should you transport it upside-down? Well thankfully for all of us avid rhinoceros buyers, a multinational team of researchers have answered the question for us.
Robin Radcliffe, Mark Jago, Peter Morkel, Estelle Morkel, Pierre du Preez, Piet Beytell, Birgit Kotting, Bakker Manuel, Jan Hendrik du Preez, Michele Miller, Julia Felippe, Stephen Parry, and Robin Gleed are the brilliant minds awarded the IG Nobel Prize for Transportation. Their work concluded that it is in fact safer for the rhino to be transported oriented upside-down when dangling from a moving helicopter. In this case, the rhino is fortunately safely put under sedation. Unfortunately however, that means that at this moment in time no rhinoceros has been able to provide a comment on their personal preference for this new mode of transport.
The Pulmonary and Metabolic Effects of Suspension by the Feet Compared with Lateral Recumbency in Immobilized Black Rhinoceroses (Diceros bicornis) Captured by Aerial Darting
Until Next Year for the Ig Nobels
And so that concludes our roundup of this years Ig Nobel Prizes. We hope that at least one of these brilliant pieces of research made you laugh, and we hope even more of them made you think.
Now we don’t normally do this, but considering just how much the global pandemic has impacted the world we decided to make an exception. The Ig Nobels are a cause very close to our hearts here at PartyLab Industries. We honestly believe they represent so much about what science and science communication can be when done right. The awards have been unable to sell physical tickets for two years now and are looking for help in order to keep going. We would never ask anyone to give to anything if they’re not in a position to do so, but if you’re able to, the link to donate is here.
At the very least, go look at the extraordinary work they do and have a peruse through the previous winners. It makes for some interesting, thought-provoking, and hilarious reading!
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