IgNoble Awards 2013

The IgNobel Prizes 2013

Every year, scientists gather at Harvard University to celebrate the prestigious IgNobel Prizes. Awarded by the science humour magazine, the Annals of Improbable Research, the IgNobels are a spoof on science’s highest honour: the Nobel Prize. The awards are given to work that “first make people laugh, then make them think.” Several items of food-beverage-related research featured this year.

The 23rd annual awards ceremony as usual featured real Nobel Prize winners handing out awards to the slightly less honorees. Many gave absurd acceptance speeches complete with costumes and props to illustrate the importance of their work.

Here are the 10 honorees. They will definitely make you laugh, but most also were doing work that touches on serious scientific questions.

Psychology: Beer Googles

For determining scientifically that people who think they are drunk also think they are attractive (British Journal of Psychology)

Researchers went to a bar, and asked people how attractive they were. You guessed it: The more drinks they had, the hotter they imagined themselves. In a lab, they also gave subjects either fake or real alcoholic beverages and asked everyone to give a presentation. The tipsy people thought their presentations they gave were more attractive, bright, original and funny – even though a panel of 22 independent (and sober) judges did not agree.

Joint Prize in Biology and Astronomy:

For finding that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way (Current Biology)

African “ball-rolling” dung beetles use the starry sky to orient themselves and to transport their dung balls on straight paths. The study was the first demonstration of this navigation ability in insects. Even crazier? The beatles specifically use the Milky Way for directions–the first known case of this kind of navigation in the animal kingdom.

Safety Engineering Prize:

For inventing an electro/mechanical system to trap airplane hijackers and drop them out of the plane (U.S. Patent Number 3811643)

Invented in the 1970s, the prescient but cartoonish system drops a hijacker through a trap door, seals him in a package, then drops him through specially installed bomb bay doors. The hijacker parachutes to Earth, where police (having been alerted by radio!) await his arrival.


For discovering that some people would be physically capable of running across the surface of a pond – if those people and that pond were on the moon (PLoS ONE)

Jesus was said to walk on water, and maybe we could too – if we all took a trip to the moon. Normally, we can’t walk on water because of “body size and proportions, lack of appropriate appendages, and limited muscle power,” the researchers wrote in their study. But on the reduced gravity of the moon, less muscle might be needed. The researchers used a reduced gravity simulator to do a test.


For discovering that the biochemical process by which onions make people cry is even more complicated than scientists had previously realised.(Nature)

The researchers discovered the most important enzyme that triggers the tears – potentially opening the door to the development of a “tearless onion.”


For parboiling a dead shrew and swallowing it without chewing, and then carefully examining everything excreted during subsequent days–all to say which bones would dissolve in the human digestive system and which would not. (Journal of Archaeological Science)

This was research done by an undergrad. Not recommended to attempt at home.


To the president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, and for the state police of Belarus, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding.

The president of Belarus did not attend the awards ceremony.


For two related discoveries: The longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely the cow will soon stand up. Second, that once a cow stands, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again. (Applied Animal Behaviour Science)

“Cows can be really boring,” UK researcher Bert Tolkamp acknowledged in his acceptance speech. “When you research cows, the best you can do is to come up with the title of a paper that at least sounds interesting.

He added: “I must admit that the behavior of the cows in our experiment was really, really disappointing … These cows just kept hanging around and they never did what we expected of them. Although in a sense, that makes it quite interesting.”

Public Health:

The medical techniques described in their report, “Surgical management of an epidemic of penile amputations in Siam”–techniques which they recommend, except when the amputated penis has been partially eaten by a duck. (American Journal of Surgery)

Thailand’s epidemic of penile amputations were usually performed by angry wives on philandering husbands, the paper states. “This outbreak appeared to have been fueled by graphic press reports and fortunately seems to have abated.”


For assessing the effect of listening to opera on heart transplant patients – who are mice (Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery)

Japanese researchers gave mice a heart transplant, and then made them listen to three kinds of music for three days: opera (La Traviata), classical (Mozart), and New Age (Enya), as well as random single sound frequencies. Verdi fans rejoice: Opera listening mice survived 26 days, whereas Enya fans, only 11 days.