Dangling Rhinos And Decongesting Orgasms Win This Year's Ig Nobel Awards


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockSep 10 2021, 14:30 UTC
Rhino upsidedown.

The Transportation prize went to the scientists who discovered that found dangling rhinoceros upside down from a helicopter is the safest way to transport rhinos. Image courtesy of Cornell University

Dangling rhinos, bubblegum biomes, and decongesting orgasms are just some of the winners of the 2021 Ig Nobel Prizes that were revealed Thursday evening. 

Unlike their stuffier older sibling, the Nobel Prizes, the Ig Nobel Prizes are a celebration of scientific breakthroughs that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.” Run by the magazine Improbable Research, the annual awards are now in their 31st year — and just as ridiculous as ever. This year’s awards took place via a fever dream-like webcast, as opposed to its usual setting of Harvard University, due to COVID-19, where real Nobel laureates handed out the 10 prizes. The awards are also, apparently, big in Japan as they were also specifically broadcasted through a Japanese webstream.


The Ig Nobel Transportation Prize went to the scientists who discovered that dangling rhinoceroses upside down from a helicopter is the safest way to transport rhinos. Mixing up genetic diversity by moving individuals to different habitats is vital for rhinos' conservation, so as ludicrous as this sounds (and alarming as it may be for anyone looking up in the skies in the African savannah and seeing a rhino danging upside down there), this is important work. 

The Peace Prize went to a trio of American scientists who put forward the argument that beards evolved to soften the blows of punches to the face. No wonder beards are so common among hipsters. 

This year’s medical prize was scooped by the team that discovered orgasms can be as effective as decongestant medicines at improving nasal breathing. For the bunged-up among you, that very important research can be read here.


Pavlo Blavatskyy won the Economics prize for his study on how the obesity of a country’s politicians may be a good indicator of that country’s corruption. It turns out, a fat belly may be a good way to spot a fat-cat politician. 

A collection of studies by Susanne Schötz looking at cat vocalizations — from purrs and chirps to tweets and tweedles — won the Biology Prize. 

A study that looks at the different species of bacteria that live on wads of discarded chewing gum stuck to the sidewalk swooped the Ecology Prize. 


“A New Method of Cockroach Control on Submarines” won the Entomology Prize. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the secret to eradicating roaches from a submarine is spraying the hell out of cabins with an insecticide.

The Physics Prize went to a team that carried out experiments and physics-based modeling to learn why pedestrians do not constantly collide with other pedestrians. A similar study that looked at why pedestrians do sometimes collide with other pedestrians was awarded the Kinetics Prize.

And that just about rounds things up. If this selection of quirky yet oddly important research tickled your taste buds (or funny bone) then check out our round-up of last year’s winners, which included drunken worms and knives made from frozen human poop. The things people explore for science. 

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