It’s a tradition not nearly as old as the Nobel Prize and a lot stranger: Since 1991, some of Planet Earth’s best and brightest researchers have gathered at Harvard University, offering awards for ridiculous scientific discoveries with practical applications. Oh: The awards are presented by actual Nobel prize winners, and they are called the “Ig Nobels.”
Get it? It’s a lot to take in.
This year prizes went to researchers who, among other discoveries, figured out how to partially unboil an egg, tested the theory that all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds, figured out every language has a word like “huh?” and figured out which body part hurts most when stung by a bee. (Unsurprising answer to that last one: the male sex organ was among the most painful locations)
The ceremony’s program tried to explain the methods behind the madness.
“Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded for achievements that first make people laugh, then make them think,” it read. “Imagine every ceremony you have ever had to endure. Loop them all together, at high speed, upside down. Add ten Ig Nobel Prize winners. That’s the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.”
The ceremony also features an event called the “24/7 Lectures,” in which “several of the world’s top thinkers each explains her or his subject twice” — once in 24 seconds, and once in seven words “that anyone can understand.” Examples of fields of study: “Firefly sex” and “Internet cat videos.”
And there was also the premiere of a mini-opera about a competition to choose the best species of life, not to mention “ceremonial bows” by past winners.
Quite the night.
Without further ado, here are the winners via the Annals of Improbable Research, which oversees the Ig Nobels:
CHEMISTRY PRIZE — Callum Ormonde, Colin Raston, Tom Yuan, Stephan Kudlacek, Sameeran Kunche, Joshua N. Smith, William A. Brown, Kaitlin Pugliese, Tivoli Olsen, Mariam Iftikhar, Gregory Weiss, for inventing a chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg.
REFERENCE: “Shear-Stress-Mediated Refolding of Proteins from Aggregates and Inclusion Bodies,” ChemBioChem, January 2015.
PHYSICS PRIZE — Patricia Yang, David Hu, Jonathan Pham, Jerome Choo, for testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).
REFERENCE: “Duration of Urination Does Not Change With Body Size,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014.
LITERATURE PRIZE — Mark Dingemanse, Francisco Torreira, Nick J. Enfield, for discovering that the word “huh?” (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language — and for not being quite sure why.
REFERENCE: “Is ‘Huh?’ a universal word? Conversational infrastructure and the convergent evolution of linguistic items,” Mark Dingemanse, Francisco Torreira, and Nick J. Enfield, PLOS ONE, 2013.
MANAGEMENT PRIZE — Gennaro Bernile, Vineet Bhagwat, and P. Raghavendra Rau, for discovering that many business leaders developed in childhood a fondness for risk-taking, when they experienced natural disasters (such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and wildfires) that — for them — had no dire personal consequences.
REFERENCE: “What Doesn’t Kill You Will Only Make You More Risk-Loving: Early-Life Disasters and CEO Behavior,” Gennaro Bernile, Vineet Bhagwat, and P. Raghavendra Rau, Asian Finance Association (AsianFA) 2015 Conference Paper. Accepted for publication in the Journal of Finance.
ECONOMICS PRIZE — The Bangkok Metropolitan Police for offering to pay policemen extra cash if the policemen refuse to take bribes.
REFERENCE: Numerous news reports.
MEDICINE PRIZE — Awarded jointly to two groups: Hajime Kimata; and to Jaroslava Durdiaková, Peter Celec, Natália Kamodyová, Tatiana Sedláčková, Gabriela Repiská, Barbara Sviežen)á, and Gabriel Minárik, for experiments to study the biomedical benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing (and other intimate, interpersonal activities).
REFERENCE: “Kissing Reduces Allergic Skin Wheal Responses and Plasma Neurotrophin Levels,” Hajime Kimata, Physiology and Behavior, November 2003.
REFERENCE: “Reduction of Allergic Skin Weal Responses by Sexual Intercourse in Allergic Patients,” Hajime Kimata, Sexual and Relationship Therapy, May 2004.
REFERENCE: “Kissing Selectively Decreases Allergen-Specific IgE Production in Atopic Patients,” Hajime Kimata, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 2006.
REFERENCE: “Prevalence and Persistence of Male DNA Identified in Mixed Saliva Samples After Intense Kissing,” Natália Kamodyová, Jaroslava Durdiaková, Peter Celec, Tatiana Sedláčková, Gabriela Repiská, Barbara Sviežená, and Gabriel Minárik, Forensic Science International Genetics, January 2013.
MATHEMATICS PRIZE — Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer for trying to use mathematical techniques to determine whether and how Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed, during the years from 1697 through 1727, to father 888 children.
REFERENCE: “The Case of Moulay Ismael-Fact or Fancy?” Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer, PLOS ONE, 2014.
BIOLOGY PRIZE — Bruno Grossi, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals, Rodrigo A. Vásquez, José Iriarte-Díaz, for observing that when you attach a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken then walks in a manner similar to that in which dinosaurs are thought to have walked.
REFERENCE: “Walking Like Dinosaurs: Chickens with Artificial Tails Provide Clues about Non-Avian Theropod Locomotion,” Bruno Grossi, José Iriarte-Díaz, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals, Rodrigo A. Vásquez, PLoS ONE, 2014.
DIAGNOSTIC MEDICINE PRIZE — Diallah Karim, Anthony Harnden, Nigel D’Souza, Andrew Huang, Abdel Kader Allouni, Helen Ashdown, Richard J. Stevens, and Simon Kreckler, for determining that acute appendicitis can be accurately diagnosed by the amount of pain evident when the patient is driven over speed bumps.
REFERENCE: “Pain Over Speed Bumps in Diagnosis of Acute Appendicitis: Diagnostic Accuracy Study,” Helen F. Ashdown, Nigel D’Souza, Diallah Karim, Richard J. Stevens, Andrew Huang, and Anthony Harnden, BMJ, 2012.
PHYSIOLOGY and ENTOMOLOGY PRIZE — Awarded jointly to two individuals: Justin Schmidt, for painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects; and to Michael L. Smith, for carefully arranging for honey bees to sting him repeatedly on 25 different locations on his body, to learn which locations are the least painful (the skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm). and which are the most painful (the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft).
REFERENCE: “Hemolytic Activities of Stinging Insect Venoms,” Justin O. Schmidt, Murray S. Blum, and William L. Overal, Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology, 1983.
REFERENCE: “Honey Bee Sting Pain Index by Body Location,” Michael L. Smith, PeerJ, 2014.
Some images from Thursday’s ceremony: