The Ig Nobel Prize and the quirky side of research

The Ig Nobel Prize for Science and Research amuses us with their outlandish assumptions, but they also have a serious side.

Photo: 123rf

Last weekend, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to scientists Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal and Barry Sharpless, for discovering reactions that allow molecules to come together to create new compounds.

It’s a discovery to be proud of, that’s for sure. But you know what those researchers didn’t do? Win a prize for your research into the mating habits of constipated scorpions.

That honor went to Solimary García-Hernández and Glauco Machado from the University of São Paulo in Brazil. And it’s not a Nobel Prize – it’s an Ig Nobel Prize.

These awards, which were announced in mid-September, may not be held in the same academic esteem as the Nobels.

Created in 1991 by Marc Abrahams, editor and co-founder of the academic journal Annals of Improbable Research, these awards celebrate the more eccentric side of science.

In the Class of 2022, the Medicine Prize went to a team from the University of Warsaw who demonstrated that painful mouth sores caused by the cancer drug melphalan could be relieved by patients eating ice cream or popsicles .

The physics prize was awarded to Frank E. Fish of the University of West Chester and a team from the University of Strathclyde and Jiangsu University of Science and Technology for trying to understand how ducklings manage to swim in formation.

And the art history prize went to two researchers who used a multidisciplinary approach to analyze ritual washing scenes in ancient Maya pottery.

Past winners include New Zealander James Watson, for his paper exploring the great exploding pants controversy of the 1930s and Justin O. Schmidt, an entomologist who was bitten by dozens of insects and assessed and described the level of pain on a scale of one to four (the sting of a yellow jacket wasp – pain level 2 – was described as “hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine WC Fields putting out a cigar on your tongue.” ball, which had the highest rating of 4, was “pure, intense pain and shining…like walking on flaming charcoal with a three-inch fingernail pressed into your heel.”)

But what good is this research, which some might ruthlessly call useless or useless?

Allan Blackman, professor of chemistry at AUT, says that while these studies and experiments may seem silly at first glance, some of them have practical applications later on.

“The 2000 Physics Prize [was] all about levitating frogs with magnets.

“One of the guys on this paper was a guy named André Geim…he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010, which makes him the only winner of an Ig Nobel Prize and a Nobel prize.

“His work has [led to practical advancements]: apparently the Chinese are very interested in magnetic levitation by creating a space that would approach the lunar gravity. And so they do it now with magnets. This follows on from Geim’s work – so it’s not just stupidity.

“It’s not just for fun. The majority of them are real scientific studies, done by people usually in institutions around the world…and published in scientific journals.”

Blackman says another serious undercurrent to awards demonstrates the creativity and joy that can come from research for the sake of research.

“To get a little political, funding agencies today almost require you to present the results of your proposal before doing the work. That’s what I’m going to achieve in the next five years, boom boom boom.

“You can’t know. And it seems to be very short-sighted: everything has to have an application, you can’t do research for research’s sake anymore, you’re not going to be funded to do it, you I have to promise to change the world.”

Blackman says that while some people might balk at the idea of ​​academics — often taxpayer-funded — researching the decongestant properties of orgasms, most academic advances are quiet and incremental.

“The purpose of academia is to teach. Without students, we wouldn’t have universities.

“Teaching is absolutely vital. Research, I believe, comes after that. And what do you do with research? You try to advance knowledge, to look at things that haven’t been done before.

“.0001% of all the research done in all the universities in the world could change the world, but everything else is an advance in human knowledge. Thanks to this work, we know things that we did not know yesterday. And I think it’s important.”

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