Ig Nobel 2022: Research on constipated scorpions, knob turning awarded for making people ‘laugh, then think’

Research on the sex lives of constipated scorpions, a life-size moose crash test dummy made of rubber, the efficient way to turn a door knob, and analysis of attraction in “blind dates” are some of the studies awarded this year’s Ig Nobel prize for making people “laugh....then think.”

For the third consecutive year, the 2022 Ig Nobel prize winners were also announced in a pre-recorded webcast on the Annals of Improbable Research magazine’s website.

The Ig Nobel prizes, awarded annually since 1991, honor research achievements that make people “laugh...then think.”

Nobel laureates, including Frances Arnold – who won the prestigious award in the Chemistry category in 2018 – and Esther Duflo who won in the Economics division in 2019, handed the Ig Nobel prizes to this year’s winners.

The Ig Nobel award winners also received a nearly worthless Zimbabwean $10 trillion bill.

Winners included scientists who discovered that there are “fewer harmful side effects” when ice cream replaces one common component of chemotherapy, and researchers who found an innate sense of physics in cute ducklings.

The duckling study probed why they followed their parents in a straight line.

Biologist Frank Fish from West Chester University in Pennsylvania who was involved in the study explained that the duckling behaviour is related to energy conservation, adding that the little ducks are drafting similar to cyclists and runners in a race.

“It all has to do with the flow that occurs behind that leading organism and the way that moving in formation can actually be an energetic benefit,” Dr Fish said.

The West Chester University biologist shared the award with scientists, including Zhi-Ming Yuan from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow who discovered that ducklings swam in their mother’s wake.

“By riding the waves generated by a mother duck, a trailing duckling can obtain a significant wave-drag reduction,” scientists found in the study that was published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics in October 2021.

Scientists speculate these ideas could be applied to the transport of shipping lanes by having ships in tow behind each other to reduce drag.

“We are trying to bring this idea to the naval architects area so we try to make ships smaller but smart just like the maneuver of the ducklings. So we will have just a big one [ship] in front, and a chance we got is the idea probably of a ‘sea tram’ which can save a lot of energy,” Dr Yuan said.

Researchers, including Glauco Machado from the University of São Paulo in Brazil won the award in the Biology category this year for studying if constipation interferes with the sex life of scorpions.

Many animals, including scorpions, lose a part of their body to escape predators – a process called autonomy.

However, when these creatures detach their tails, they also lose the last portion of the digestive tract which may lead to constipation and likely eventual death, scientists say.

“After autotomy, individuals lose nearly 25 per cent of their body mass and the last portion of the digestive tract, including the anus, which prevents defecation and leads to constipation, because regeneration does not occur,” researchers reported in the study.

Their research found that while tail loss did not have any immediate effect on scorpion locomotion, long-term decrease in movement of autotomised males may impair their mate searching.

However, scientists found that since death by constipation takes several months, “males have a long time to find mates and reproduce.”

Magnus Gers won the 2022 Ig Nobel in the Safety Engineering category for making a life-size rubber moose “crash test dummy”.

Mr Gers observed that the large deer are often involved in automobile collisions in Sweden’s highways but car manufacturers rarely test their vehicles for animal crashes.

“What’s important to understand is that the whole outset of creating this moose crash test dummy is to understand what kind of damages can be done to vehicles by these animals out on the Swedish roads, and all the parts of the world where these big animals reside,” he said.

Other winners included a team from the University of Edinburgh in the UK and from MIT in the US for analysing what makes legal documents unnecessarily difficult to understand, and another won the Ig Nobel peace prize for developing an algorithm to help gossipers decide “when to tell the truth and when to lie.”

A Japanese scientist team won the award in the engineering category for their study to discover the most efficient way to use one’s fingers when turning a knob.

In the “applied cardiology” category, Eliska Prochazkova from Leiden University in the Netherlands and her team, won the 2022 Ig Nobel for finding that when new romantic partners meet for the first time, and feel attracted to each other, “their heart rates synchronize.”