Science is driven by curiosity. While some topics are more useful to society, such as treating cancer or mitigating climate change, others are less consequential, such as how to best kill cockroaches on a submarine or what bacteria lurk in that piece of chewing gum stuck under a table. The latter group has a chance to shine thanks to the Ig Nobel prizes from the Annals of Improbable Research.
The 31st First Annual (yes, you read that right) Ig Nobel Prize ceremony was held last week (September 9), honoring work representing 10 categories. Because of the ongoing pandemic, the ceremony was held fully online. Winners were sent a PDF file, allowing them to cut out and assemble a gear-shaped trophy, with human teeth as the teeth in the gear, because why not?
Here is the work honored at the ceremony:
Biology: Over several years, a team of Swedish researchers analyzed variations of vocalizations made by domesticated cats and how this “meowsic” is interpreted by people.
Ecology: An international team analyzed the bacteriome of discarded pieces of chewing gum on streets and sidewalks in five countries across Europe. “Our findings have implications for a wide range of disciplines, including forensics, contagious disease control, or bioremediation of wasted chewing gum residues,” the authors write in the study.
Chemistry: In 2008 and 2015, an international team chemically analyzed the air in movie theatres, identifying the volatile organic compounds emitted by the audience, which they found was a reliable indicator of the amount of violence, sex, and profanity contained in the movie.
Economics: A French researcher compared hundreds of photographs of politicians in post-Soviet countries and found that obesity correlated with corruption.
Entomology: Back in 1971, an American team of researchers came up with a new way of managing cockroach populations on submarines.
Medicine: A team of European researchers found that for up to an hour afterward, sex that ends in an orgasm is as effective as traditional nasal decongestant sprays for clearing breathing passageways.
Peace: Three American researchers tested whether a full beard pads the face from a punch. A beard’s ability to absorb nearly 40 percent of a blow could be one reason they evolved into existence, the study authors speculate.
Physics: In 2018, a multinational team analyzed how pedestrians move in a group to avoid constantly colliding with one another.
Kinetics: An international team analyzed groups of pedestrians and found that most people anticipate the actions of others, but that those looking at their phones walk slower and are less in tune with others in the group than their distraction-free counterparts.
Transportation: A multinational team found that transporting tranquilized rhinoceroses by suspending them from the ankles rather than lying them on their sides keeps the animals’ blood pressure from dropping too much, making it a safer way for them to fly.