Studies of Doorknobs, Intoxicating Enemas Win Ig Nobel Prizes



Researchers who studied the sex lives of constipated scorpions were among the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel Prizes, the annual celebration of weird and wonderful scientific research. Because of what organizers at the Annals of Improbable Research called the “lurking ambitions” of COVID-19, this year’s ceremony was held entirely online for the third year in a row. Real Nobel laureates took part in the virtual ceremony, and video trickery made it appear that they were handing awards to the laureates, the AP reports. Among the winners, whose prizes included a Zimbabwean $10 trillion bill :

  • Crash test moose. Swedish researcher Magnus Gens won the safety engineering prize for creating a moose crash test dummy. He says collisions with moose are a serious hazard on Swedish roads, but vehicle safety testing rarely includes animal crashes.
  • Doorknob efficiency. A Japanese team led by industrial design researcher Gen Matsuzaki won the engineering Ig Nobel for their study of the most efficient way to turn a doorknob, the Guardian reports. Matsuzaki, whose research found that the bigger the doorknob, the more fingers are needed to turn it, said he had been honored for “focusing on a problem that no one cares about.”
  • Intoxicating ancient enemas. The art history prize went to Dutch researchers whose study of ancient Mayan pottery found that “quite contrary to the traditional view that the ancient Maya were a contemplative people, who did not indulge in ritual ecstasy, ” they may have taken “intoxicating enemas,” involving an alcoholic liquid and possibly a hallucinogenic plants, “in a ritual context.”
  • Duckling physics. Two groups were jointly awarded the physics Ig Nobel for research that showed ducklings swim in single file to conserve energy and surf in their mothers wake. “It all has to do with the flow that occurs behind that leading organism and the way that moving in formation can actually be an energetic benefit,” Frank Fish at West Chester University in Pennsylvania tells the AP.
  • Two hearts beat as one. Eliska Prochazkova, leader of a team that won the cardiology prize, says the heart rates of people on blind dates synchronized almost immediately if they were attracted to each other. “What we found in our research was that people were able to decide whether they want to date their partner very quickly,” she says. “Within the first two seconds of the date, the participants made a very complex idea about the human sitting in front of them.”
  • Luck goes further than talent. The economics Ig Nobel went to an Italian team “for explaining, mathematically, why success most often goes not to the most talented people, but instead to the luckiest,” organizers said, noting that the same team won an Ig Nobel in 2010 “for demonstrating mathematically that organizations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random.”
  • Why legalese is confusing. The literature prize went to a team that found legal documents are often confusing because of bad writing, not complicated concepts. “One of the worst tendencies is center embedding, where you take two sentences and, instead of keeping them separate, you put one inside of the other,” says Francis Mollica at the University of Edinburgh, per the Guardian.
  • Constipated scorpions. Brazilian researchers scored the biology Ig Nobel for their investigation of constipated scorpions. When scorpions detach their tails to avoid predators, they also lose their anuses, causing constipation that becomes fatal months later. They found that while there was no short-term decrease in running speed, male scorpions without tails slowed down over time, making it harder to find mates. “However, because death by constipation takes several months, males have a long time to find mates and reproduce,” they wrote in their study.

(Read more Ig Nobel Prizes stories.)

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