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The demonstration of the “reptile-induced arousal” was part of the learning curve at the 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prizes at Harvard Thursday night. Photo: Improbable Research

Have you ever wondered why old men have big ears? Or what gender certain cave insects identify with? Or perhaps you have been plagued by the age-old question: “Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid?”

These burning questions – and their exhaustive answers – were honored at the “27th First Annual Ig Nobel Ceremony” at the Sanders Theatre at Harvard University.

“We are gathered here tonight to honor some remarkable individuals – and groups,” said Marc Abrahams, the creator and emcee of the awards, who is also editor of the Annals of Improbable Research. “Each winner has done something that makes people laugh – and think.”

The awards were:

  • The Peace Prize. An in-depth look into how effective the regular playing of a didgeridoo is in offsetting the effects of obstructive sleep apnea and snoring. One of the four authors of the 2006 BMJ study who appeared to accept the award was also the first patient.
  • The Economics Prize. An exploration of what contact with a live crocodile does to a person’s inclination to gamble, as published in the Journal of Gambling Studies in 2010, was the recipient of this year’s award. The “reptile-induced arousal” actually decreased the bets for problem gamblers, they conclude.
  • The Anatomy Prize. The honor went this year to James Heathcote, and his 1995 exploration of the connection between old men and their big ears, published in the British Medical Journal.
  • The Biology Prize. The Current Biology study “Female Penis, Male Vagina and Their Correlated Evolution in a Cave Insect” was a landmark in gender-bending discovery claimed in the journal in 2014.
  • The Fluid Dynamics Prize. A Korean high school student reported on the dynamics of how coffee spills while a person walks backward, as published last year in Achievements in the Life Sciences.
  • The Nutrition Prize. A group of scientists made the first scientific foray into the vampire bat’s feeding on human blood last December.
  • The Medicine Prize. Using the most advanced brain scanning technology, a group of French scientists precisely measured subjects’ disgust when presented with cheese, as documented in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience last October.
  • The Cognition Prize. An Italian and Spanish team baffled some twins in the 2015 PLoS One paper “Is that Me or My Twin? Lack of Self-Face Recognition Advantage in Identical Twins.”
  • The Obstetrics Prize. Getting intensely in-depth, a Spanish team proved that fetuses respond more intensely to music that is played intravaginally, as opposed to the tunes played externally atop the mother’s belly.

Of course, there was also the Physics Prizea 2014 study in the Rheology Bulletin, which finally provided the answer to the liquid/solid cats question.

“In conclusion, much more work remains ahead, but cats are proving to a rich model system for rheological research, both in the linear and nonlinear regimes,” write the scientists. “Very recent experiments from Japan also suggest that we should not see cats as isolated fluid system, but as able to transfer and absorb stresses from their environment. Indeed, in Japan, they have cat cafes, where stressed out customers can pet kitties and purr their worries away.”

The Ig Nobels are held every September, at the Sanders Theatre at Harvard, in front of a crowd of more than 1,000.

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