Scientists licking stones, counting nose hairs and methodically examining boredom: scientific studies that are intended to “first make you laugh and then make you think” have been awarded “Ig Nobel Prizes” in the USA (pronounced “ignoble”, which translates as dishonorable ). The traditionally bizarre gala was held on Friday night for the fourth time in a row as part of an online event. According to the organizers, the undoped fun prizes, presented for the 33rd time, are intended to “celebrate the unusual and honor the imaginative.”

For example, researchers from Poland and the USA received the prize in the “Chemistry and Geology” category for their research into the question of why many scientists like to lick stones. Researcher Jan Zalasiewicz said it gave him great pleasure to receive the prize for such a “fundamental thing”. “Geologists do this all the time because something that isn’t entirely clear becomes significantly clearer when the surface is wet.”

Scientists from the USA, Canada, Iran and Vietnam received one of ten awards for using cadavers to research whether a person has the same number of hairs in both nostrils. The researchers said in their acceptance speech that they conducted research on around 20 corpses and found around 110 to 120 hairs per nostril.

Researchers from China, Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Ireland, the USA and Japan received a prize in the “Education” category for their methodical study of boredom among teachers and students. Among other things, it is more likely that students will be bored in class if they expect it in advance, said the research team in its acceptance speech. In addition, students are more likely to be bored in class if they have the impression that the teacher is bored.

Colleagues from France, Great Britain, Malaysia and Finland received an award for their study of how people feel when they repeat a word many times. Researchers from the United States received a prize for conducting experiments on city streets to find out how many pedestrians stop and look up when they see strangers looking up.

A South Korean-American researcher invented the so-called Stanford toilet – a toilet that uses various tools to analyze the substances excreted by people. “Don’t waste your excrement,” said researcher Seung Min Park during his short acceptance speech for the award. Scientists from India, China, Malaysia and the USA revived dead spiders to use them as mechanical grasping tools – and also received awards for this.

A team of researchers from Argentina, Spain, Colombia, Chile, China and the USA was honored for researching the brain activity of people who are experts in speaking backwards. “Thank you for this fun prize, we are happy to accept it,” said scientist María José Torres-Prioris and her colleague Adolfo García – forwards and backwards.

A male and female researcher from Japan were also honored for their experiments on the question of whether electric chopsticks and straws can change the taste of food. A prize also went to scientists from Spain, Switzerland, France and Great Britain for research into the extent to which the sexual activity of anchovies is reflected in sea water.

Before the corona pandemic, the gala – which was also attended by real Nobel Prize winners, including this year the German physicist Wolfgang Ketterle – was watched every year by more than 1,000 spectators in a theater at the elite Harvard University. But the online awards ceremony, which lasted around an hour and a half and this time had the overall theme of “water”, also featured paper airplanes flying, there were sketches, bizarre short pieces of music and a lot more bizarre nonsense. The gala ended with the traditional closing words of moderator Marc Abrahams, editor of a scientific journal on curious research: “If you didn’t win an Ig Nobel Prize this year, and especially if you did win one: better luck next year!”