Didgeridoos, ‘liquid’ cats, and why people hate cheese: Nine of Ig Nobel’s weirdest scientific breakthroughs

When you think of scientific research you think of curing cancer, halting climate change and generally worthwhile pursuits. Well, the Ig Nobel prizes are here to turn that perception on its head with the weirdest most wonderful scientific discoveries of the year.

Didgeridoos, 'liquid' cats, and why people hate cheese: Nine of Ig Nobel’s weirdest scientific breakthroughs

Generally speaking, all of the research projects included in the Ig Nobel awards will leave you scratching your head as to why anyone has wasted their time trying to answer these questions.

So, without further ado, here are nine of the best Ig Nobel 2017 winners. Hit us on Twitter with your favourite.

1. Ig Novel prize for Economics: Don’t gamble while holding a crocodile


Want to be a better gambler? Don’t hold a crocodile before you decide to hit the slots or the poker table. According to research paper “Never Smile at a Crocodile…”, those who hold a saltwater crocodile before using an electronic gaming machine made riskier decisions. The study focused on 62 men and 41 women, discovering that – regardless of gender – those who were already “at-risk” gamblers and held the crocs placed higher bets.

When you think about it, it really doesn’t make much sense, but perhaps there’s a link between increased confidence after manhandling a crocodile.

2. Ig Nobel Peace Prize: Diddle your didgeridoo before bed to sleep better


Snore at night? Scientists discovered that if you drop a little bit of didgeridoo soloing before bed, sleep apnea sufferers could cure themselves of the affliction. The study showed that those with a moderate form of the disorder could clear their nasal obstructions with a blast on the indigenous Australian instrument.

The paper was published online in the British Medical Journal in 2005.

3. Ig Nobel prize for Physics: Cat’s are now officially a liquid


The Ig Nobel Physics Prize was awarded to the excellently named paper “Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid”. The study, led by Marc-Antoine Fardin looked at how cats “flow” like liquids due to how they can morph themselves to fit boxes or containers when they decide to occupy them.

In reality, Fardin simply looked at how everything, given enough time, can flow like a liquid. So, while you may not see a cat puddle sometime soon, Fardin’s research is an interesting look at how you can manipulate facts with science.

4. Ig Nobel prize for Anatomy: Proof that old men do have big ears


Ever wondered why old men have bigger ears than younger men? No, nor have I – in fact, I’ve never noticed there was a difference. However, James Heathcote was bothered by this so, in 1995, he set out to find out the answer by measuring the left ear of 206 patients ranging from 30 to 93. Heathcote found that the older the man was, the bigger ears they had, with ears growing around 22mm a year. Unfortunately, the paper never actually went into why men’s ears keep growing, so that mystery still remains unsolved.

5. Ig Nobel prize for Biology: Cave insects have gender-swapped their genitals


The Ig Nobel Biology Prize went to an interesting piece of research that discovered how a series of cave insects had switched genitals. In Brazil, four species of the Neotrogla genus of cave insect had traded their reproductive organs so that the female of the species have penis-like genitals made of muscles, ducts, membranes and, horrifyingly, spikes. In contrast, males had vagina-like reproductive organs. It’s not clear why this switch occurred, but the researchers believe that it’s down to females being able to mate more often and for longer periods.

6. Ig Nobel prize for Fluid Dynamics: We now know the correct way to slosh drinks


Ever wondered how fluids actually work? Jiwon Han from the University of Virginia dived into the inner workings of liquids by “studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing to learn what happens when a person walks backwards while holding a cup of coffee.” As I’m sure you can tell, it’s truly enlightening stuff. For his efforts, he won the Ig Nobel prize for Fluid Dynamics.

7. Ig Nobel prize for Nutrition: Vampire bats are becoming actual vampires


Researchers have discovered that Vampire bats have actually been sucking on the blood of humans due to a lack of their natural prey. By analysing the prey of the hairy-legged vampire bat (Diphylla ecaudata) in the Caatinga dry forests of Brazil, researchers found both chicken and human blood in their diet. It turns out, due to the lack of wild birds in the forest, these bats have taken inspiration from Transylvania and humans are on the menu.

8. Ig Nobel prize for Medicine: Scientists discovered why some people don’t like cheese


We all know someone who doesn’t like cheese. Before we just thought there was something wrong with them, but now we actually know that’s the case! A team of scientists put brain scanning tech to use to measure the extent to which people feel a disgust for cheese. It turns out that, for those who don’t enjoy cheese, the reward centres of the brain were more active when eating or smelling cheese – indicating it also reacts to feelings of aversion. Those disgusted by cheese also lack an active ventral pallidum – a core structure of our brain’s reward circuit – highlighting their dislike for the smelly stuff. It’s these centres that triggered the emotion of disgust in the cheese haters.

9.  Ig Nobel prize for Cognition: Twins can recognise themselves and their twin


Generally we’re pretty good at picking out our own face in a crowd better than someone else’s. However, for identical twins, they can spot their sibling just as easily. It sounds incredibly obvious, but until this groundbreaking research took place, it was mere speculation. For the study, researchers had male and female identical twins look at a series of photos, including pictures of their faces – minus hair and other visual identifiers – their twin’s and those of a friend. Photos were shown upright and inverted. Participants spotted their twin with the same degree of accuracy as they spot themselves.

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