BOSTON – Researchers who measured the slipperiness of banana peels, the ability of pork strips to stop nosebleeds and the reactions of reindeer to humans in polar bear suits were among the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel prizes for comical scientific achievements.
The annual prizes, meant to entertain and encourage global research and innovation, are awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research as a whimsical counterpart to the Nobel Prizes, which will be announced next month.
A team of Japanese scientists earned the Ig Nobel Physics Prize for detailing the hazards of stepping on a banana peel in their paper titled “Frictional Coefficient under Banana Skin.”
The researchers were identified as Kiyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai from Kitasato University in Kanagawa Prefecture. They were awarded for their study of the slipperiness of banana peels.
“When I heard that we had won an Ig Nobel, I was equal parts surprised and pleased,” said Mabuchi, 63, in an interview with before the award ceremony. Mabuchi traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to accept the award on the team’s behalf.
The project had applications in Mabuchi’s area of research, which is human joints.
“The mechanism that reduces friction in joints is the same one that makes a banana easy to slip on,” he said.
At the ceremony, Mabuchi sang about that similarity to the tune of the 1960s pop hit “I Will Follow Him,” including the chorus, “Banana, banana, banana, why are you so slippy, so slippy, so slippy?”
Other teams earned prizes for studying what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in their toast, how infant poop can be used in the production of fermented sausages and how pork strips can be stuffed into peoples’ nostrils to stop severe nosebleeds.
Ig Nobel prizes this year also went to researchers who measured the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, investigated whether cat ownership can be mentally hazardous and studied how people who routinely stay up late can be more psychopathic.
Former winners of real Nobels handed out the spoof awards at a ceremony at Harvard University on Thursday. The ceremony included a three-act mini-opera about people who stop eating food and instead nourish themselves entirely with pills, inspired by the pill-heavy diet of Google engineering director Ray Kurzweil.
A personal favorite of Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals and architect of the Ig Nobels, was a study by a team of Norwegian and German researchers who tested how reindeer react to seeing humans wearing polar bear costumes.
“I’ve never in my life met anyone who disguised himself as a polar bear to frighten a reindeer,” Abrahams said.
Thursday’s winners also included scientists from the Czech Republic, Germany and Zambia who determined that dogs prefer to align their body axis with the Earth’s north-south geomagnetic field lines while defecating, and the Italian government’s National Institute of Statistics for increasing the official size of the economy by including revenues from prostitution, drugs dealing, smuggling and other crimes.