Nowadays, this event has attracted attention for some time, perhaps no less than the award of the Nobel Prizes. It is an alternative pseudo-scientific ritual – Ig Nobel Prizes.
Since 1991, the ceremony has been held invariably in the same place – Sanders Theatre at a very respectable and respected educational institution – Harvard University in the American city of Cambridge (Massachusetts).
Our story is about some scientific discoveries, which were presented at Sanders Theatre this year.The theater was chosen as the venue for a reason. The Ig Nobel Prizes is a real show with the aesthetics of student skits. In 2021, even the Coronavirus Pandemic, due to which the organizers preferred the online format, could not break the usual atmosphere and established traditions.
The audience threw paper airplanes into the theatre stage. The scene, of course, was filmed separately, and then edited for the video of the ceremony. A comic opera specially written for “Ig Nobel”, as always, sounded under the dome of Sanders Theatre in the intervals between the announcement of the nominations and the winners.
However, those who consider the Ig Nobel Prize to be a parodic and frivolous undertaking are mistaken. Actually, it is not true. The laureates receive awards for research “that makes you laugh first, then think”.
That is, “Ig Nobels” are no less serious scientists than “nobels”, just the organizers want to demonstrate that science is not always something furiously boring and standardized, and scientists are also capable of humor and non-trivial actions from the point of view of practical use. To emphasize that “correct” and “incorrect” science is still science, the comic prize is presented by the most real Nobel laureates.
Moreover, even among the Ig Nobel authors of the most original and amusing scientific works, there are real “nobels” sometimes. For example, Andre Geim in 2000 received the Ig Nobel Prize for his experiment with a frog levitating in a magnetic field. And in 2010, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the technology of obtaining graphene. In 2021, at Sanders Theatre, the host of the ceremony, the editor-in-chief of AIR (Annals of Improbable Research) magazine, Mark Abrams, presented the work of scientists from 24 countries.
Our almanac decided to tell you about the most outstanding “Ig Nobel” achievements of 2021.
Susanne Schötz studied the melody profile in human-cat communication, analyzing various variants of purring, meowing, rumbling, squealing, moaning, hissing… Receiving the award, Suzanne personally demonstrated several types of feline vocalizations. Cats, like humans, vary widely in the melody of their sounds, but we don’t know how to interpret them. It is important to know, if only because cats are increasingly used in therapy and as companions in institutions such as nursing homes. Schötz’s project was funded not by anyone, but by Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation.
A Spanish-Iranian group of scientists led by Leila Satari published the results of a study of chewed and discarded gum in Scientific Records. Doing it, they spent months collecting chewing gum abandoned by people and sticking to the sidewalks and studying how its chemical composition changes, as well as the bacteria living on it. The 2018 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Professor Frances Arnold, who presented the prize, recognized the outstanding value of Leila Satori’s work for forensic science and epidemiology. At the same time, during the awarding ceremony, the professor herself actively chewed gum and even inflated bubbles.
Jörg Wicker with colleagues from the University of Mainz (Germany) decided that it is boring to track people’s emotions by EEG changes or pulse fluctuations. It has been done more than once before. But to do it on the basis of the analysis of volatile organic substances that the body secretes is the very thing. As a result, Wicker built a model that, by smell in the cinema hall, is able to restore, if not the content of the film itself, then the number of scenes of violence, foul language and other tense moments. It is not yet clear where such a model can come in handy, but in the era of big data, it will undoubtedly be needed somewhere.
Paul Blavatsky, an employee of the Montpellier Business School (France), received the award for proving that the level of corruption in the country is clearly correlated with the level of obesity of its senior government officials. The study was based on an analysis of the profiles of officials from the former Soviet republics. In Ukraine, it is difficult for us to believe in this pattern: in our country, people do an excellent job of dealing with corruption without visible signs of obesity. But perhaps, after Blavatsky’s research, we should take a closer look at those who lead us.
Another German scientist, Olcay Bulut from Heidelberg University Hospital, together with three like-minded people, proved that a good orgasm can clear the nose no worse than medications used to fight a cold. However, Olkay tracked the effect of orgasm only on patients with chronic rhinitis. But he hopes that the Ig Nobel Prize will help him to get new grants and expand the representation of other countries in the group of participants in the experiment.
The American Ethan and his colleagues tested the hypothesis that one of the main functions of a beard is to protect a man from blows during a fight. To do this, they conducted a series of scientific experiments. Studies have shown that male facial hair actually absorbs up to 37% of impact energy. Ethan believes that by studying the beard, science is still at the very beginning of the journey. Further, it is necessary to find out: a beard appeared in the process of evolution as a protective device, or the presence of a beard on the face of some men provokes others to fight.
Scientists from the Netherlands, the USA, Italy and Taiwan have teamed up to create a model in 6 months to understand how pedestrians continually adapt their walkways in an effort to maintain mutual comfort distances and avoid collisions. The goal of the work is to effectively manage complexity reduction for efficient data classification and selection.
In principle, in this category, Japanese scientists received an award for about the same as the above-named pedestrian researchers. But they were interested in a slightly different aspect – why pedestrians, although they try in every possible way to avoid collisions, sometimes still crash into each other.
Four scientists from the United States found a “New method of fighting cockroaches in submarines” and tested it experimentally on 8 submarines. To save sailors from the unpleasant company of these ubiquitous insects, they developed a combination of chemicals based on good old dichlorvos. Whether the submarine crews were delighted with this discovery and the smell of dichlorvos remained outside the scientific interest of the authors of the study.
Robin Radcliffe brought together 12 scientists from the USA, Namibia, South Africa and Britain to solve one very urgent problem – they had to understand how the metabolism of rhinos changes if they are turned upside down. A crane was even specially rented for it. Fortunately, none of the rhinos and scientists were injured during the experiments.