In what may appear to be the silliest awards program in the world, the 26th annual Ig Nobel prizes on Thursday night were awarded to people who went to unimaginable (and hilarious) lengths to study animal behavior, sexual health, and visual perception.
At a ceremony at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., the spoof awards honored people such as the late Ahmed Shafik, a professor at Cairo University in Egypt who died in 2007. He dressed rats in polyester pants to test whether the fabric made them less sexually active than rats who wore cotton or wool pants, or none at all. According to his 1993 paper, the electrostatic fields created by polyester pants could play a role in impotence.
"We have never heard of anybody else who carefully spent time examining what happens sexually to rats if you put pants on them," said Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, a humor magazine that hosts the awards, which aim to highlight scientific accomplishments that make one laugh, then think.
Winners such as Fredrik Sjöberg, who published a three-volume memoir about collecting hoverflies for seven years on the remote Swedish island where he lives, receive their awards at an eccentric ceremony that this year featured a paper airplane air raid and a tic-tac-toe contest with a brain surgeon and a rocket scientist.
The prizes are awarded by winners of the prestigious Nobel prizes and include $10 trillion in cash. Unfortunately for the winners, the generous cash prize comes in Zimbabwean currency, which is nearly worthless.
Dr. Sjoberg's books were a hit in Sweden, with the English translation, "The Fly Trap," having garnered acclaim in the United States as well.
"I had written books for 15 years (read by no one) when I finally understood it's a good thing to write about something you really know, no matter what that might be," Sjoberg said in an email to the Associated Press.
"The Ig Nobel Prize beats everything," he said. "At last I hope to become a rock star. Leather pants, dark sunglasses, groupies. All that."
Another winner this year was honored for living like animals in order to see the world through their eyes. Charles Foster, a fellow at the University of Oxford in England, spent months mimicking the behavior of badgers by living in a hole in a Welsh hillside. Dr. Foster also rummaged through London’s trash cans like a fox in search of food scraps, and was chased by bloodhounds through Scotland while learning what it's like to be a deer.
"I was hunted down quite quickly," said Foster, who wrote a book about his experiences, called "Being a Beast."
Other winners included Thomas Thwaites, a Brit who attached a set of prosthetics to his legs to try living like a goat in the Swiss Alps, and Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, from Japan, who studied how different objects look when viewed bent over and through the legs.
This report uses materials from the Associated Press and Reuters.