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From dead spider robots to licking rocks: Ig Nobel Prize 2023 celebrates the quirky side of science

The 33rd annual prize ceremony was a prerecorded online event, as it has been since the coronavirus pandemic, instead of the past live ceremonies at Harvard University.
The 33rd annual prize ceremony was a prerecorded online event, as it has been since the coronavirus pandemic, instead of the past live ceremonies at Harvard University. Copyright Screenshot of the online ceremony.
Copyright Screenshot of the online ceremony.
By Oceane Duboust with AP
Published on Updated
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The 33rd Ig Nobel Prize awarded the most bizarre scientific achievements of this year, from dead spider robots to licking rocks.

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You’ve heard of the Nobel Prize but what about its sister award, the Ig Nobel Prize?

A parody of the very serious prizes named in honour of scientist and engineer Alfred Nobel, 10 spoof gongs are awarded to the teams and individuals around the globe behind the quirkiest, most bizarre achievements in scientific research.

Every winner "has done something that first makes people laugh, then makes them think," according to the event.

More than 9,000 nominations are received every year, according to the IG Nobel Prize event, which is sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association and the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students.

Between 10 and 20 per cent are people nominating themselves though they “seldom” win.

Necrobotics: using dead spiders as robots

The winners in the mechanical engineering category were Te Faye Yap, Zhen Liu, Anoop Rajappan, Trevor Shimokusu, and Daniel Preston, a team of scientists from India, China, Malaysia and the United States.

In 2022, they turned dead spiders into robotic grippers.

Spiders move their limbs using hydraulics mechanics. A chamber near their heads contracts to send blood to their limbs, forcing them to extend. When the pressure is relieved, the legs contract.

During the tests, researchers noted that the spider-robots (or is it robot-spiders?) were able to lift more than 130 per cent of their own body weight, and sometimes much more.

“This area of soft robotics is a lot of fun because we get to use previously untapped types of actuation and materials,” Daniel Preston of the University of Rice’s School of Engineering said last year in a statement.

Counting cadaver nose hairs for the medicine prize

Exploring dead bodies seemed to have been in fashion this year. The team that won the medicine prize used cadavers to assess if there was an equal number of hairs in each of a person’s nostrils.

In the chemistry and geology category, Jan Zalasiewicz of Poland won the prize for explaining why many scientists like to lick rocks.

"Licking the rock, of course, is part of the geologist’s and palaeontologist’s armoury of tried-and-much-tested techniques used to help survive in the field," Zalasiewicz wrote in The Palaeontological Association newsletter in 2017.

"Wetting the surface allows fossil and mineral textures to stand out sharply, rather than being lost in the blur of intersecting micro-reflections and micro-refractions that come out of a dry surface".

Other winning teams were lauded for studying the impact of teacher boredom on student boredom, the affect of anchovies' sexual activity on ocean water mixing; and how electrified chopsticks and drinking straws can change how food tastes, according to the prize judges.

The awards are "intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative, and spur people’s interest in science," according to the Annals of Improbable Research, the magazine producing the event.

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