The Ig Nobel awards are notorious for celebrating the strangest and most entertaining scientific breakthroughs.
The prizes aim to “honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think” and are a parody of the prestigious Nobel Prizes.
Past winners have celebrated everything from the slipperiness of banana skins to the discovery that some people would be physically capable of running across the surface of a pond — if those people and that pond were on the moon.
What I love most about these quirky awards is they remind us that even the most absurd sounding questions can yield useful information.
This year’s winners include a range of unusual achievements, but each will teach you something new – while hopefully giving you a good laugh. Here are my three favourites.
If you raise a chicken with an artificial tail, it will walk like a dinosaur.
The biology award went to a group of scientists who added weighted sticks to the tails of chickens. They found they began to walk similarly to how researchers think dinosaurs walked.
While it’s impossible to know for sure how extinct species like Tyrannosaurus rex might have walked, using a modern relative gives us some idea. Birds are one of the closest evolutionary cousins of dinosaurs that aren’t extinct, so researchers raised a group of chickens from birth with extra weight that simulated a dinosaur’s tail.
They measured how posture and limb movement changed and found the chickens crouched more and their steps were longer because their centre of gravity had changed. They also stretched out their necks in an attempt to counter the extra tail-weight.
Mammals that weigh more than 3kg will urinate for the same period of time (21 seconds).
The physics award went to researchers who timed how long it took animals to empty their bladders in a paper called “Duration of Urination Does Not Change With Body Size”.
Their subjects included elephants, goats, cows and rats. All mammals weighing more than 3 kilograms emptied their bladders in about 21 seconds, while smaller animals like rats urinated much quicker.
It’s suggested this is due to the flow-enhancing properties of the urethra, which directs urine from the body. Clearly, this structure has evolved to a point where it is most efficient and mammals that share this feature use it in the same way.
The most painful place to be stung by a bee is your nostril, upper lip and penis shaft.
The winner of a joint prize for physiology and entomology ranked the pain of bee stings on different parts of the body, by volunteering as his own test subject and being stung by honey bees repeatedly.
He measured each sting with the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which was developed to rate the relative pain people feel when they’re stung by an insect.
The researcher arranged to be stung on 25 different parts of his body and found the skull, the top of the middle toe, and the upper arm were the least painful. The nostril, upper lip and penis shaft were the most painful.
Talk about dedication to science… Ouch!