Researchers who swallowed a parboiled shrew, discovered that dung beetles navigate by the stars and invented a machine to launch hijackers from airplanes were among the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel prizes for comical scientific achievements.
The annual prizes, meant to entertain and encourage global research and innovation, are awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research as a whimsical counterpart to the Nobel Prizes which will be announced next month.
The 23rd Ig Nobel prizes this year also went to researchers who proved that people who think they are drunk also believe they are sexy, showed it would be possible to run across the surface of a pond if both the runner and the pond were on the moon, and explained in detail why onions make people cry.
The US and Canadian researchers who swallowed the parboiled shrew, winners of the Archeology Prize, were seeking to determine which of the rodent’s bones would dissolve inside the human digestive system.
Former winners of real Nobels handed out the spoof awards at a ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Thursday night. The ceremony included a mini-opera, The Blonsky Device, inspired by 1999 Ig Nobel Prize winners George and Charlotte Blonsky, who invented a spinning doctor’s table that is meant to aid women in child birth by using centrifugal force.
A personal favorite of Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals and architect of the Ig Nobels, was this year’s winner for the Ig Nobel Public Health Prize, which went to a team of doctors in Thailand who developed specialized treatments for the victims of that country’s epidemic of penile amputations.
“There really was an epidemic of this happening, and a lot of the victims were brought to the same hospital and the doctors got pretty good at dealing with it,” he said, adding the victims were often drunk men who angered their wives.
Thursday’s winners also included Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and his security detail, who took the Ig Nobel Peace Prize for making it illegal to applaud in public and for jailing a one-armed man for allegedly violating that law.
Lukashenko banned public clapping in 2011 after political dissidents seeking to avoid tough regulations on public rallies began spontaneous clapping protests in the streets.
The safety engineering prize went to late US researcher Gustano Pizzo, who invented a system to trap airplane hijackers, seal them into a package and parachute them into the hands of police.
A team from the Britain, Netherlands and Canada were awarded the probability prize for determining that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely it is it will soon stand up. They also discovered that once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon it will lie down again.
Masanori Niimi, of Teikyo University in Tokyo, won the medicine prize for his finding that mice given heart transplants survived longer when they listened to particular music. Whereas mice normally survived an average of seven days, those that listened to Verdi’s opera La Traviata survived 27 days. Those listening to the Irish singer Enya survived 11 days.
The prize-winners, who travel to the ceremony at their own expense, were given 60 seconds for an acceptance speech, a time limit enforced by an implacable eight-year-old girl.
Additional reporting by AFP and The Guardian