CAMBRIDGE (Massachusetts) • Scientists taking on the deep questions of whether cats are liquid or solid, how holding a crocodile influences gambling and whether playing the didgeridoo can help cure snoring were honoured at the Ig Nobel Prize spoof awards.
The prizes handed out on Thursday are the brainchild of the Annals of Improbable Research editor Marc Abrahams and are intended not to honour the best or worst in science, but rather to highlight research that encourages people to think in unusual ways.
Some of those honoured tend towards the spurious: French researcher Marc-Antoine Fardin's 2014 study, Can A Cat Be Both A Solid And A Liquid?, was inspired by Internet photos of cats tucked into glasses, buckets and sinks. The winner of the Ig Nobel in physics used mathematical formulas to conclude that active young cats and kittens hold their physical shape longer than older, lazier felines.
Other research on the prize list has clearer potential for practical applications. Economics winners Matthew Rockloff and Nancy Greer conducted an experiment in which problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers handled 1m-long crocodiles before playing a simulated slot machine. The 2010 study, conducted on 103 people in Queensland, Australia, found that problem gamblers were likely to place higher bets after handling the reptiles, as their brains misinterpreted the excitement of holding a dangerous animal as a sign they were on a lucky streak.
Meanwhile, a multinational team of six researchers won the Peace Prize for the 2005 paper on the didgeridoo. The paper concluded that the Australian wind instrument may be of some benefit based not on its droning tone but rather that daily practice involved a lot of blowing and may strengthen the upper respiratory tract, making breathing easier.