Scientists who discovered that Viagra helps hamsters overcome jet-lag and managed to extract vanilla flavouring from cow dung took centrestage at the 17th annual Ig Nobel Awards.
The awards, a tongue-in-cheek homage to their Scandinavian counterparts, were announced during a raucous ceremony on Thursday at Harvard University in Massachusetts to honour some of the more obscure and bizarre scientific discoveries.
The Igs, as they are known, are chosen by the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research to highlight scientific papers that, in the words of the magazine, “first make people laugh and then make them think”.
Among the winners were a British-US duo who examined the side effects of sword swallowing and a Spanish team who finally answered the question of whether rats can discriminate between Japanese and Dutch spoken backwards.
“It was a surprise, it was the last thing we expected,” said Nuria Sebastian-Galles, one of the Barcelona team of scientists, of the findings. The awards, she said, “bring out the freak inside most scientists”.
Past winners have included the creator of the plastic pink flamingo, the inventor of an alarm clock that runs and hides and a researcher who reported the first known case of homosexual necrophiliac behaviour in the mallard duck.
Research highlighted by this year’s awards ranged from a study of how sheets wrinkle and how the word “the” causes headaches for indexes to why humans can’t stop eating when presented with an apparently endless bowl of soup.
The winners were permitted just 60 seconds to give their acceptance speeches. Seven of the 10 winners this year paid their own way to accept their awards, which were handed out by six real Nobel Laureates.