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Jan Zalasiewicz (right) wins in the category Chemistry and Geology: "Fundamental Thing"

Photo: dpa

The prize in chemistry and geology goes to a research team that investigated why experts like to lick stones.

In the mechanical engineering category, a group that has built a gripping tool from dead spiders wins.

And in medicine, the finding that people have about the same amount of hair in both nostrils is awarded.

Sounds weird? It should be!

For the 33rd time, the Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded in the USA on Friday night. They are pronounced "ignoble", which translates as dishonorable. The traditionally bizarre gala took place online for the fourth time in a row. According to the organizers, the awards are intended to "celebrate the unusual and honor the imaginative." The prize is awarded to scientific studies that "first make you laugh and then make you think".

It gives him great pleasure to receive the prize for such a "fundamental thing," said researcher Jan Zalasiewicz, who has studied the matter of licking stones. According to his team's analyses, in the 18th century, the Italian geologist Giovanni Arduino still used his sense of taste to identify minerals. In the meantime, the reason for licking has changed: "We use the sense of sight, not the sense of taste, because the mineral particles are easier to see on a damp surface than on a dry one," says Zalasiewicz.

Corpses with nose hair and dead spiders

A team from the USA, Canada, Iran and Vietnam was much more morbid. It has counted the nose hairs of 20 corpses and found about 110 to 120 specimens per nostril.

Mechanical engineers from India, China, Malaysia and the USA also had to deal with dead creatures. "While we were setting up our lab, we noticed a dead, curled up spider at the edge of a corridor," said Te Faye Yap of Rice University, according to a report in the Guardian. Our aha moment came when we realized that spiders only have flexor muscles to pull their legs inwards and use hydraulic pressure to stretch their legs outwards."

The researchers' trick is that spider legs can be reopened by applying pressure. Using this "necrorobotic" approach, the group invented a spider-based gripping tool that can be used to lift objects with irregular shapes. However, they are unlikely to have been too heavy.

South Korean-American experts also invented the so-called Stanford toilet – a toilet that uses various tools to analyze the substances excreted by humans. They were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in Public Health. "Don't waste your excretions," said researcher Seung Min Park of Stanford University in his short acceptance speech at the award ceremony.

Experiments with electric chopsticks

A team of researchers from Argentina, Spain, Colombia, Chile, China and the USA were honored for their research into the brain activity of people who are experts in backward speech. "Thank you for this fun prize, we are happy to accept it," said scientist María José Torres-Prioris from Malaga University and her colleague Adolfo García – forwards and backwards.

Researchers from China, Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Ireland, the USA and Japan received a prize in the category "Education" for their methodological study of boredom among teachers and students. Among other things, it is more likely that students will be bored in class if they expect it in advance, the team said in its acceptance speech. In addition, students are more likely to be bored in class if they have the impression that the teacher is bored.

A researcher from Japan was also honored for their experiments on the question of whether electric chopsticks and straws can change the taste of food. "The taste of food can be changed instantly and reversibly by electrical stimulation, and that's something that's hard to achieve with conventional ingredients like spices," said Hiromi Nakamura, a researcher at the University of Tokyo, according to the Guardian. It is possible to increase the salt content of food by electrical stimulation of the tongue.

Colleagues from France, Great Britain, Malaysia and Finland received an award because they investigated what people feel when they write a word over and over again. The phenomenon is an example of a "jamais vu" – the opposite of a "déjà vu", they report. People suddenly find the familiar unfamiliar. For the work there was the Ig Nobel Prize in literature.

Of course, a curious sex study should not be missing from the list of award-winning works: The Prize for Physics went to researchers who have studied the effects of sexual activity of anchovies on the ocean. When the fish gather off the Galician coast at night to spawn, they create small eddies that mix different layers of water in the oceans.

The event ended with the traditional closing words of the moderator Marc Abrahams, editor of a scientific journal on curious research: "If you haven't won an Ig Nobel Prize this year, and especially if you've won one: better luck next year!"