The 2014 Ig Nobel Winners: Banana Peels to Nasal Pork

Ig Nobel Awards master of ceremonies, Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, on Sept. 18, 2014, at the
Ig Nobel Awards master of ceremonies, Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, on Sept. 18, 2014, at the awards ceremony at Harvard University. (Image credit: Ig Nobels, Screengrab)

Nobel Laureates awarded the 2014 Ig Nobel prizes tonight (Sept. 18) at Harvard University, honoring those scientific achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think, according to organizers of the event.

And there were some doozies! Winning science involved everything from dirty diapers and cat bites to slippery banana peels and ugly paintings. Here's a look at the Ig Nobel winners of 2014.

Going bananas: After testing out 12 different banana skins under the force of a shoe sole moving across it in a forward motion, the researchers found the slimy fruit skin reduced friction by one-fifth compared with a show sole by itself on a linoleum floor. The resulting friction, called the friction coefficient, between the shoe sole and banana skin was comparable to a "well-lubricated surface" like a ski on snow, the researchers wrote in their paper on the study detailed online in 2012 the journal Tribology. For this discovery, Kiyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai, took home the Ig Nobel in Physics.

Jesus in a slice of toast? This image may be doctored, but plenty of people claim to see holy faces in burnt bread. The phenonemon of seeing faces in random patterns is called face pareidolia. (Image credit: Karl Tate for Live Science)

Seeing faces: The Neuroscience Ig Nobel was awarded to a team for their study into the brain processes that underlie the odd phenomenon called face pareidolia, which is responsible for people thinking they see an image of Jesus' face in their toast. Face pareidolia has also conjured up the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich and a face in the rocky formations on Mars. In their brain-scanning study, the scientists, Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian and Kang Lee, found that expectations may be the culprit. When a person expects to see a face, say, on Mars or in a piece of toast, the expectation switches on a brain region linked to processing faces. Their trippy brain study is detailed in the April 2014 issue of the journal Cortex.

Psychopathic tendencies: Any night owls out there? Turns out, people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more psychopathic than early risers, according to a study published in 2013 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. The researchers, who also found those who stay up late are more fond of themselves and more manipulative than their early-rising counterparts, snagged the Ig Nobel in Psychology for their mental probe.

The furor of Fluffy: The purring beast that seems to rule the roost we call our homes may be causing ill health. The researchers who revealed this furry find snagged the Public Health Prize. In one of their studies, the team found that cat bites are associated with depression in humans, particularly women. As for why, the researchers speculated on various reasons, including the idea that depressed individuals may take in a cat for companionship. Fluffy may also impart a nasty parasite called Toxoplasma gondii to its pet-loving owner, causing changes to its owner's brain, the reseachers write in 2013 in the online journal PLOS ONE. "Recent studies have suggested that this parasite may actually contribute to human psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as other brain pathologies," they added.   

Dogs prefer to poop while facing north-south, a recent study suggests. (Image credit: paul prescott (opens in new tab), Shutterstock (opens in new tab))

… And Fido: Your beloved Fido wasn't left out of the Ig Nobels. Dogs are known to practice some odd behaviors, like sniffing each other's butts, but a discovery out this year takes the prize for bizarre-yet-amazing doggie behaviors: When pooping, dogs prefer to align their bodies along the north-south axis of Earth's magnetic field. The finding, detailed in the journal Frontiers in Zoology, earned a team of international scientists the Ig Nobel in Biology.

Painful gaze: Looking at ugly art can be painful. That's what researchers from Italy found when comparing the relative pain people felt when looking at an ugly painting versus a beautiful one while being shot in the hand with a laser beam. For their 2008 aesthetic study, the team took home this year's Art Prize.

Creative money: The Economics Ig Nobel went to the Italian government's National Institute of Statistics. Their achievement? Apparently, the institute got creative when aiming to fulfill the European Union's mandate to increase the national economy. They did so by including revenue gained from "prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants," according to a statement released by the Ig Nobel organizers.

Pork benefits: Another group of creative thinkers was awarded the Medicine Prize. Turns out pork is not just good eating. Researchers from the United States and India used strips of cured pork meat to treat uncontrollable nosebleeds in a 4-year-old with Glanzmann thrombasthenia, a rare blood disorder that causes easy bruising and nosebleeds. "Cured salted pork crafted as a nasal tampon and packed within the nasal vaults successfully stopped nasal hemorrhage promptly, effectively," the researchers write in their study, which was published in 2011 in the journal Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology.

Bear masks: Humans dressed as polar bears played roles in garnering the Ig Nobel's Arctic Science Prize. "Due to interactions between Svalbard reindeer (Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus) and polar bears (Ursus maritimus) during field work on Edgeøya, Svalbard, we measured response distances for reindeer from a stalking polar bear and improvised five approaches from a person disguised as a polar bear for comparison with human encounters," the team wrote in 2012 in their study published in the journal Arctic, Antarctica, and Alpine Research. Result? The "flight" response and escape suggests a predator-prey relationship between the two beasts, the researchers said.

Pooperoni: Baby poop landed scientists from Spain the Nutrition Prize. The team was looking for priobiotic bacteria that could be fermented with sausage and would survive the acidic digestive tract, such as the bacteria found alive in human feces. So they turned to dirty diapers: They collected priobiotic bacteria samples from the diapers of healthy infants who were up to 6 months old. Ultimately, they made a kind of Mediterranean fermented pork sausage called fuet, which included a strain of bacteria from infant feces. Pooperoni anyone?

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Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.