CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Getting stung by a bee on the top of your middle toe doesn't hurt as much as getting stung by a bee on the shaft of your penis (or your nostril, for that matter). If you attach a plunger to a chicken's butt, the chicken will walk like a dinosaur.
These are just two of the (real) scientific findings celebrated tonight (Sept. 17) at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony, an annual event held here at Harvard University's Sanders Theatre. The over-the-top affair, hosted by Harvard student groups and the Improbable Research organization, honors scientific research that "makes people laugh and then think."
This year, 10 Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded to scientists from all over the world, many of whom traveled to Cambridge to accept the prizes in person. Also present this evening were several Nobel Prize laureates, who helped hand out the awards and participated in a very silly opera. The distinguished scientists were also tasked with summing up their Nobel Prize-winning research in just seven words (a task they all performed quite well). [See full list of winners at the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony]
For example, Sara Lewis, a professor of evolutionary and behavioral ecology at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, had this to say about her years spent researching lightning-bug sex: "Female fireflies favor fancy, food-filled flashes." And Frank Wilczek, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the recipient of the 2004 Nobel Prize in physics, summed up the very broad topic of beauty like this: "Beauty — we like it when we see it."
The winners of this year's Ig Nobel Prizes had slightly more time to talk to the audience about their work. One of the most fascinating speeches of the night came from Jerome Choo, a former graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), who was one of several recipients of this year's Ig Nobel Prize in physics. He was also the only one at the ceremony wearing a toilet seat around his neck.
"Have you ever seen a panda, a goat or an elephant pee?" Choo asked the audience. If you have, and you happened to have counted how long it took these animals to empty their bladders, you may have found that, on average, their bathroom breaks last for about 21 seconds.
Choo and his colleagues found that all mammals weighing more than 6.6 lbs. (3 kilograms) take about the same amount of time to pee. How is that possible? Well, smaller animals may have smaller bladders that hold less pee, but their pee comes out slowly, one drop at a time. Larger animals, on the other hand, have more pee to unleash at potty time, but their longer "pee-pee pipes" (plus gravity) help them push the urine out more quickly, Choo said.
Though the event was charged with lighthearted bathroom humor, there were certain rules everyone in the audience had to follow. For example, prize recipients who droned on for too long during acceptance speeches were scolded by Ms. Sweetie Poo, a little girl wearing suspenders and a sly grin who saddled up next to gregarious recipients to screech, "Please stop. I'm bored." At certain points in the ceremony, Ms. Sweetie Poo was everyone's hero.
But the golden rule governing the night? Paper airplanes could be thrown on stage only at very specific times, and they had to be aimed at certain human targets wearing special equipment (a face mask). That and, whenever anyone said the word "life," which was the theme of this year's ceremony, everyone had to cheer (and they did). [No Duh! The 10 Most Obvious Science Findings]
These ridiculous traditions paired well with the hilarious research discussed. The most blush-worthy research rewarded at the ceremony came from scientists in Japan and Slovakia who are studying the effects of sex and kissing on certain kinds of allergic skin reactions. (Swapping spit and other fluids helps reduce allergic reactions in some people, it turns out.) The researchers behind that study took home the Ig Nobel Prize in medicine.
"We are experts in kissing now. If you have any trouble, just ask us," Jaroslava Durdiaková, a researcher at Comenius University in Slovakia, said before blowing a kiss to the audience.
While Durdiaková was undoubtedly the sweetest award recipient of the night, the researchers who figured out how to partially unboil an overcooked egg were met with the most excitement. Who wouldn't like to know this information? However, you need some machinery to perform this magical feat, they explained before walking off stage with their Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry (a potted plant with no plant in it).
Several award recipients chose to act out their research in lieu of giving a formal speech. The Chilean researchers who figured out that sticking a plunger to a chicken's butt made it walk "like a dinosaur" stuck plungers to their own butts and performed a little dinosaur promenade. Then, there were the researchers who figured out that driving someone with a stomach ache over a speed bump is a good way to find out if that person has appendicitis. They were painfully funny.