Ig Nobel awards 2015: 7 strange science breakthroughs

It’s always nice for your work to be recognised. Of course, that recognition can come with varying degrees of respect. It’s fair to say that receiving an Ig Nobel prize won’t be a massive help in terms of future funding, pushing hard that old expression that “any publicity is good publicity”.

The Ig Nobel prize seeks to honour “improbable research” that will “first make people laugh, and then make them think”. Here’s what took the science awards at the 25th annual event:

Ig Nobel prize for Chemistry: Unboiling eggs

Is it possible to unboil an egg?

Are you a chef at a restaurant that serves breakfasts and brunches? Do your diners often send back their boiled eggs for being overdone? Then Callum Ormonde from the University of Western Australia has something you’ve just got to see.

The research found that a vortex fluid device could convert unfolded proteins into proteins. A little impractical for most chefs, sure, but valuable none the less. More usefully, the research could transform the production of cancer treatments, if the technology makes it beyond the breakfast table.

Ig Nobel prize for Physics: 21 seconds to gobladder_size_in_nature

Are all animals’ bladders the same capacity?

Who knew So Solid Crew were referring to urination in their musical oeuvre? It took Patricia Yang from the Georgia Institute of Technology to discover the connection, revealing that almost all mammals empty their bladders in 21 seconds, plus or minus 13.

Kneeling besides goats, cows and elephants (yes, even elephants) with a stoic expression and a stopwatch in hand may not seem the best use of time, but the researchers believe it could have interesting repercussions for the design of everything from water towers to drinking backpacks.

Ig Nobel prize for Biology: Rise of the dino-chickenschicken_t_rex

Can we make chickens walk like dinosaurs?

For most of us, putting a plunger into the tails of chickens and pretending they’re dinosaurs is just a hobby. For Bruno Grossi from the University of Chile, it’s science.

By doing this, the researchers noted that the chickens adjusted their usual walk, to give us an insight into how the T Rex might have moved. If it was a bit shorter and considerably more fluffy.

Here’s a video of what the research looks like.

Ig Nobel prize for Physiology and entomology: Aggravating beeshoneybee

“Where on the body is it most painful to be stung by a bee?”

This was a joint award for Justin Schmidt from Southwest Biological Institute and Michael L Smith from Cornell University. They answered the age-old question: where on the body is it most painful to be stung by a bee?

Smith, in particular, was rigorous to a fault. Possibly because nobody else would volunteer, he became his own guinea pig, getting honey bees to sting him repeatedly on 25 different locations of the body. He discovered that the best places to be stung are the skull, the middle toe tip and the upper arm, and that you should avoid the nostril (ow!), the upper lip (OW!) and the penis shaft (NO. JUST NO).

This one has echoes of the 1994 Medicine winner, who tried to cure himself of a rattlesnake bike by attaching spark-plug wires to his lips with the car engine running at 3,000rpm for five minutes. Patient X – I salute you.

Ig Nobel prize for Economics: Watching the watchmenbangkok_police

Can you eliminate bribes with bribary?

The Bangkok Metropolitan Police force will have been thrilled to receive the economics prize for their novel idea of giving police officers more cash if they refuse to take bribes.

Presumably accepting the bonus would see it being forfeited.

Ig Nobel prize for Mathematics: Embellished story is embellishedmoulay_ismail

Is it possible to have 600 sons?

Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer from the University of Vienna proved that Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty may have been exaggerating about the number of children he’d fathered.

Born in 1672 and dead by 55, the mathematicians found that it would be possible for the Moroccan emperor to father 600 sons, but pretty unlikely. “Moulay had to have had sex once or twice a day, which you might actually regard as a low number, but if you think this is every day, every single day for an entire life, this is quite a lot.”

Ig Nobel prize for Literature: Huh, interestinghuh

Is the word ‘huh’ in every language?

I know this one isn’t science, but it’s so pointless it just had to be included. Mark Dingemanse from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics discovered that the word “huh” or equivalent was used in every language to ask a question.

It’s the rarest of things: a linguistically universal word. Huh.

Feeling scientifically inspired? Still plenty of time to do some unusual research for consideration next year…

Images by Vanessa Lollipop, David Davies, Andy Murray, Wikimedia, Monsieur Lui and Dave Worley used under Creative Commons

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