Whose research is the silliest of all? Ig Nobels honor science's most strange

Real Nobel laureates doled out prizes to 'honor achievements that make people laugh, and then think,' during part of the 25th annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University.

Charles Krupa/AP
While wearing a toilet seat on his head, David Hu accepts the Physics Prize, for his research on the principle that mammals empty their bladders of urine in about 21 seconds, from Dudley Herschbach (r.) the 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, while being honored during a performance at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass., Thursday. The Ig Nobel prize is an award handed out by the Annals of Improbable Research magazine at Harvard University for silly sounding scientific discoveries that often have surprisingly practical applications.

The Ig Nobel Prizes, designed to “honor achievements that make people laugh, and then think,” were recently awarded at Harvard’s Sandel Theater in Cambridge, Mass., on Thursday. As an arm of the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, the awards have been bestowed continuously for the past 25 years, and handed out by real Nobel Laureates.

This year’s winners included a graduate student from Cornell University, who allowed honeybees to sting him in 25 places in effort to determine the most painful place to be stung. Among other honorees were a trio of linguists who discovered that almost every language in the world uses the word "huh" as a fallback and business researchers who determined that corporate executives take less professional risk if they had lived through natural disasters during childhood. The ceremony also honored the Bangkok Metropolitan Police, which has offered to pay policemen more money in exchange for not taking bribes.

Mark Dingemanse and two colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, Netherlands, won the Ig Nobel for literature for determining that the word "huh" is used in languages around the world, including some of the most obscure.

"A system for fixing misunderstandings is clearly a crucial part of language," he told the Associated Press. " 'Huh?' is one element of this system: It's the basic error signal people fall back on if all else fails."

Each winner received a cash award: a Zimbabwean 10 trillion-dollar bill, equal to a couple of US dollars. The ceremony also included a three-act mini-opera about a competition between the world's millions of species to determine which one is the best.

The ceremony also featured the return of the popular 24/7 lectures, in which researchers are challenged to explain their research in both technical and layman’s terms within a given time limit. Topics of the lectures included beauty, life, and internet cat videos.

Michael Smith, the Cornell graduate student, estimated that he was stung nearly 200 times during his 2012 honeybee study. He shared his award with Justin Schmidt, an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona, who devised a pain scale for insect stings.

"Sometimes these crazy things provide a lot of insight," Professor Schmidt told AP.

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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