Weird science: Ig Nobel Prize ceremony 2015 highlights

Mammal urination duration, chickens that walk like dinosaurs and how to unboil an egg are among the prize winning studies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 September, 2015, 7:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 September, 2015, 7:02pm

This year’s prize is a potted plant and a bogus 10 trillion Zimbabwean dollars, but each September for 25 years, scientists from around the world have flocked to Harvard University to collect their Ig Nobel Prizes – which honour and mock them in equal measure.

This year, researchers from Taiwan and the US were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in physics for testing the principal that mammals – big and small – take the same length of time to urinate.

The economics prize was a send-up, however, and went to the Bangkok Metropolitan Police, for offering to pay officers extra cash if they refused to take a bribe.

The awards mimic the Nobel Prizes, but with noble intent. They were conceived to celebrate unusual academic achievements that make people laugh, and then think.

They are handed out at a gala ceremony at Harvard University in the US, by genuine Nobel laureates. The ceremony is produced by science-humour magazine the Annals of Improbable Research, and co-sponsored by the Harvard Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard Radcliffe Science Fiction Association. They are intended to encourage an earnest interest in science, medicine and technology.

Patricia Yang, David Hu, Jonathan Pham and Jerome Choo won the physics prize for work on the paper “Duration of urination does not change with body size”. Their aim was to test the theory that most mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds – plus or minus 13 seconds.

“Have you ever seen a goat, a panda or an elephant pee? If you had, you would have learned that all animals in the world, heavier than about 3kg, urinate for about the same duration. On average, mammals urinate for about 21 seconds. We call this the law of urination,” Hu said after receiving the award.

“The answer is gravity,” the team concluded. “All animals have a pee-pee pipe. Because of gravity, the taller the pipe, the faster the pee.”

The economics prize went to the Bankgok police force for enticing officers with extra cash to reject bribery following last month’s deadly bombing at the Thai capital’s Erawan shrine. It was reported that a key suspect paid police a US$600 bribe to enter the country illegally from Cambodia.

“The winners could not, or would not, join us here tonight,” Marc Abrahams, master of ceremonies and editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, said. “Had they been here, we would have given them 10 trillion [Zimbabwean] dollars.”

Among other winners, the chemistry prize was awarded to US scientists who invented a way to partially unboil an egg.

The literature prize went to a team headed by Mark Dingemanse from the Netherlands for discovering that the word “huh?”, or its equivalent, seems to exist in every language, although they did not discover why.

A team from the US and Chile took the biology prize. They observed that when a weight is attached to the rear end of a chicken, it walks in a way similar to how dinosaurs are believed to have moved.

Last year, six scientists from China and Canada were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in neuroscience for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus on a piece of toast.