Every day brings more news about groundbreaking studies and researchers making huge scientific strides. But what about the more unusual, imaginative studies that don’t get covered in the normal news cycle?
For that, we have the Ig Nobel Prizes, given out annually at Harvard University. These awards honor research that may seem absurd or ridiculous at first blush, but actually reveals important scientific truths. As such, the prizes are handed out by actual Nobel laureates.
This year’s awards ceremony (the 27th overall) was held yesterday. Here are the 10 eccentric studies that brought home the gold:
- The physics prize went to Marc-Antoine Fardin of the University of Lyon for his study “On the Rheology of Cats,” which proved that since felines adopt the shapes of their containers, they’re technically both solids and liquids.
- The peace prize went to an international group of scientists and musicians who showed that playing the didgeridoo can help treat snoring and sleep apnea.
- Australians Matthew Rockloff and Nancy Greer of Central Queensland University won the economics prize for a study which assessed peoples’ willingness to gamble after holding a crocodile. People who had negative feelings after touching the animal bet less, while people with no negative feelings bet more.
- British doctor James Heathcote received the anatomy prize for his study “Why Do Old Men Have Big Ears?” The reason is that our ears grow as we age, on average by 0.22 mm per year.
- An international research team took home the biology prize for their discovery of a cave insect which had developed both a penis and vagina.
- Korean student Jiwon Han won the fluid dynamics prize for his research showing that people are less likely to spill coffee while walking backwards.
- Twilight fans should check out the research which won the Ig Nobel for nutrition. A group of scientists discovered that three species of vampire bats began feeding on human blood in the absence of avian prey.
- European neuroscientists took home the Ig Nobel for medicine. They used advanced brain-scanning technology to determine the neurological reasons why some people are disgusted by cheese.
- A group from the University of Rome received the cognition prize for proving that identical twins can’t tell themselves apart in photos.
- You’ve probably heard that pregnant women play music to calm their babies down in the womb. Well, the Spanish scientists who won the obstetrics prize took things one step further, proving that fetuses respond even more strongly to music played inside the mother’s vagina. There’s even a patent for a device which can do just that.
A lot of this research may sound like nonsense, but it has real world applications. For example, the crocodile gambling paper “was the first study to examine the emotional impact of excitement on gambling choices, which has obvious benefits toward addressing a very serious behavioral and mental health problem,” Rockloff told the Associated Press.
What will they think of next? We’ll have to wait for next year’s Ig Nobels to find out.