For over 30 years, editors at the Annals of Improbable Research have awarded the Ig Nobel Prizes which are parodies of the real Nobel Prizes announced in October each year. The Ig Nobels celebrate unusual areas of research that are intended to “make people laugh, and then think.” The winner this year in the public health category was Seung-min Park of Stanford who invented a toilet incorporating sensors that perform urinalysis and defecation analysis with a built-in telecommunications link. The winner is seen above right sitting on his invention next to The Thinker, a famous sculpture by Rodin.
Winners of the communications prize were from Spain whose award was based on neuroimaging studies of people who are experts in speaking backwards. One winner commented, “Backward speech constitutes an extraordinary ability to quickly reverse words, and even sentences, which requires reordering phonemes while retaining their identity.” The images revealed increased grey matter volume and enhanced functional connectivity in key parts of the brain associated with language.
The prize for nutrition was won by two Japanese scientists for their research on electrified chopsticks and drinking straws (seen left). Hiromi Nakamura of the University of Tokyo said, “The taste of food could be changed immediately and reversibly by electrical stimulation, and this is something that has been difficult to achieve with conventional ingredients such as seasonings.” She believes their research has demonstrated that the saltiness of food could be enhanced by electrical stimulation of the tongue.
The winner of the Ig Nobel Prize for chemistry and geology was Jan Zalasiewicz from the UK for explaining why many scientists like to lick rocks. Although the 18th century Italian geologist Giovanni Arduino was reputed to have used taste to identify rocks and materials, Zalasiewicz revealed that modern field geologists applied their tongue for a different reason: “We do it to help the sense of sight, not taste, because a wet surface shows up the mineral particles better than a dry one does.”
The award for medicine went to a group from California for using cadavers to explore whether there is an equal number of hairs in a person’s two nostrils, while the psychology prize was awarded for experiments on a city street to gauge how many passers-by stop and look upward when seeing others doing this. Scooping the mechanical engineering prize were researchers from Texas who transformed a dead spider into a gripping tool (seen below, © Daniel Preston), introducing a novel area of research they dubbed “necrobotics.” Definitely a case of making you laugh, then think!