A researcher who made a chicken walk like a dinosaur, linguists who discovered that the word “huh” is almost universal, and a scientist who timed how long it took for various animals to urinate. You guessed it: It’s that time of year again to reward the scientific research that first “makes people laugh, and then think.”
Researchers and scientists from six continents gathered for the 25th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, the spoof Nobels that rewards “improbable research.” Held this year at Harvard, the awards are handed out by actual Nobel Prize winners. This year's winners included scientists who invented a recipe to partially unboil an egg, and mathematicians who calculated if it was possible for a Moroccan emperor to father 888 children.
Winning the prize for physiology and entomology was Michael Smith from Cornell University, who undertook the painstaking research of discovering where it was most painful to be stung by a bee. Pressing the insects against 25 different parts of his body, he discovered that while the upper arm, skull and the tip of the middle toe were the least painful, the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft were the most. “A sting to the nostril is so painful it's like a whole body experience,” he said.
This prize was shared with Justin Schmidt, who devised a scale, called the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, of how painful various insect stings are by testing them on himself. Entrants included the bullet ant, which feels like “fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel.” On a scale of zero to four, it comes in at a four.
Other awards went to a team from Georgia Tech for discovering the “law of urination.” Using high-speed video analysis and fluid dynamics, they figured out that nearly all mammals larger than 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) in size take on average the same amount of time to empty their bladder: 21 seconds. This is true from elephants to goats. While this might be a surprising finding, it could also have real-world applications, from water towers to drinking packs.
Doctors from the U.K. took home the Ig Nobel prize for diagnostic medicine: They found that speed bumps could be used for diagnosing acute appendicitis, depending on how much pain a patient felt when driving over them. The prize for biology went to scientists from the University of Chile who attached weighted tails onto chickens to analyze how dinosaurs might have walked. “We cannot test it in a real T. rex or any theropod dinosaurs – but we can in a chicken,” Dr. Rodrigo Vasquez, who accepted the prize, told the BBC.
All the winners receive a trophy, this year made from a flower pot with various elements sticking out of it, and a cash prize of a Zimbabwean 10-trillion-dollar bill – which at current exchange rates is worth a couple of U.S. dollars. But the real prize is the recognition and fun while celebrating some slightly bonkers, but scientifically accurate, research at a gloriously eccentric event.
Main image: ptwo/Flickr CC BY 2.0