Toilet bowls with touch controls and Using biometric data.

10 of the Funniest Scientific Achievements This Past Year

We like to think of scientific research as the pursuit of serious questions, leading humanity closer to finding important answers. Still, sometimes, the path to knowledge is a seriously goofy one. Everyone knows that Nobel Prizes are handed out to those whose noble work benefits mankind, but have you heard of the Ig Nobel Prizes?

Since 1991, scientists have gathered each year to, in their own words, “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” The most recent Ig Nobels were awarded in September 2023. Here is a selection of the winners.

Needs More Salt… or Maybe Iron

Geologist in helmet looks at rock hand smiling.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Geologists like to taste rocks, apparently. But there’s a really good reason for it! (Probably.)

CHEMISTRY and GEOLOGY PRIZE – for explaining why so many scientists use their tongues as an investigative tool. Awarded to Jan Zalasiewicz.

Say “Peculiar” Until It Starts to Feel Peculiar

Surreal pattern of the word awesome over and over.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos

Have you ever repeated a word until it stops sounding like a word at all? Apparently, there’s a word for that: “jamais vu.” That’s French, meaning “never seen,” because it’s basically the opposite of “deja vu.”

LITERATURE PRIZE – for studying how it feels to say a word over and over again, again, again, again, again. Awarded to Chris Moulin, Nicole Bell, Merita Turunen, Arina Baharin, and Akira O’Connor.

Creepy, but Convenient?

Dead spider.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos

Have you ever tried to pick something up, and wished you could get a dead spider to do it for you? (No, neither have we.)

MECHANICAL ENGINEERING PRIZE – for turning dead spiders into “necrobiotic” grippers. Much to our distress. Awarded to Te Faye Yap, Zhen Liu, Anoop Rajappan, Trevor Shimokusu, and Daniel Preston.

A Toilet That Knows Too Much

closeup of a young caucasian man using his smartphone in the toilet while sitting in the bowl
Photo Credit: Depositphotos

Some types of medical testing can be awkward, sure, but would a smart-toilet make them better or much, much worse?

PUBLIC HEALTH PRIZE – for inventing a toilet that can not only scan your posterior to record a “print” but also can perform urine and stool sample testing (and it has wifi!) Awarded to Seung-min Park.

How Do You Say “Genius” Backwards?

A group of CAT scans of the human brain closeup
Photo Credit: Depositphotos

There’s a little town in Spain where some of the inhabitants can speak (and understand) words in reverse. So naturally, scientists want to study their brains.

COMMUNICATION PRIZE – for inviting people who can speak backwards to have their dennacs sniarb, I mean, brains scanned. Awarded to María José Torres-Prioris, Diana López-Barroso, Estela Càmara, Sol Fittipaldi, Lucas Sedeño, Agustín Ibáñez, Marcelo Berthier, and Adolfo García.

Only the Handkerchief Knows for Sure

scientist examining dead body in morgue.
Photo Credit: Elnur/Shutterstock.

It’s hard to count the nasal hairs of a living person, especially if they keep sneezing or trying to walk away. So naturally, these scientists decided to count the nasal hairs of a cadaver.

MEDICINE PRIZE – for counting the hairs inside a dead person’s nose. You know, for science. Awarded to Christine Pham, Bobak Hedayati, Kiana Hashemi, Ella Csuka, Tiana Mamaghani, Margit Juhasz, Jamie Wikenheiser, and Natasha Mesinkovska.

It Tastes Kind of… Buzzy?

red electrical apple whith electrical cord over white background
Photo Credit: Depositphotos

Apparently, food tastes different when it is electrified, and these researchers wanted to find out exactly how.

NUTRITION PRIZE – for electrifying straws and chopsticks in pursuit of culinary discovery. Awarded to Homei Miyashita and Hiromi Nakamura.

These Poor, Poor Students.

Bored and sleeping students at university
Photo Credit: Depositphotos

Scientists told them they were about to listen to a boring lecture and then checked to see how boring it was.

EDUCATION PRIZE – for testing how expectations changed the boredom levels of university lectures. Awarded to Katy Tam, Cyanea Poon, Victoria Hui, Wijnand van Tilburg, Christy Wong, Vivian Kwong, Gigi Yuen, and Christian Chan.

It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… No, It’s a Research Paper!

Crowd in street looking up.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos

If a group of busy New York pedestrians stood on a sidewalk and looked up at a tall building, would you look up too?

PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE – for checking to see how many people would stand around and look up if they saw someone else doing it too. Awarded to Stanley Milgram (yes, that Stanley Milgram), Leonard Bickman, and Lawrence Berkowitz.

If the Ocean Is A-Rockin’… (It Might Be Anchovies)

Inside a giant school of fish in the blue sea.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos

Thanks to this research, we now know more about little fish making waves with their love lives.

PHYSICS PRIZE – for measuring the ocean waves created by frisky anchovies. Awarded to Bieito Fernández Castro, Marian Peña, Enrique Nogueira, Miguel Gilcoto, Esperanza Broullón, Antonio Comesaña, Damien Bouffard, Alberto C. Naveira Garabato, and Beatriz Mouriño-Carballido.

Source.

Scientific Research Can Be Pretty Funny

Portrait of millennial man making video call on laptop sitting on couch at home.
Photo Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock.

For instance – in a study about what your brain does during a zoom call, scientists asked participants to talk face to face, but try and sit like they would if they were on a video call.

It Can Also Challenge Our Assumptions

Minimalist stile illustration of robot releasing a red paper bird.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Science shows us that ‘bird-brained' pigeons solve complex visual problems using the same principles as AI.

Author: Amelia Bowler

Amelia Bowler is a writer, behavior consultant, illustrator, parent, and logic puzzle enthusiast. She's always been happiest in the company of odd ducks, rule-breakers, and scatterbrains. A bit of an odd duck herself, Amelia took a teaching degree in the hopes that she'd be able to create learning environments where kids like her could thrive.

Amelia has a Master's Degree in Applied Disability Studies and has worked in clinics supporting children with developmental disabilities, specializing in teens with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.