Feline acoustics, the smell of fear, and more receive 2021 Ig Nobel Prizes

Watch the 2021 Ig Nobel Prizes virtual ceremony, honoring “achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.”

Scientists are nothing if not endlessly curious, and sometimes that trait can lead them into unusual research directions. Maybe they find themselves exploring whether sex could be a natural alternative to nasal sprays for relieving nasal congestion or taking the vitals of a rhinoceros while the animal is sedated and suspended from its feet for helicopter transport. Perhaps they might find surprising insights into how cats communicate, or into the bacteriomes of discarded wads of chewing gum from different parts of the world. These and other unusual research topics were honored tonight in a virtual ceremony to announce the 2021 recipients of the annual Ig Nobel Prizes. You can watch the livestream of the awards ceremony above.

Established in 1991, the Ig Nobels are a good-natured parody of the Nobel Prizes that honors “achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” The unapologetically campy award ceremony usually features mini-operas, scientific demos, and the 24/7 lectures whereby experts must explain their work twice: once in 24 seconds, and the second in just seven words. Acceptance speeches are limited to 60 seconds. And as the motto implies, the research being honored might seem ridiculous at first glance, but that doesn’t mean it is devoid of scientific merit.

Viewers can tune in for the usual 24/7 lectures, as well as the premiere of a mini-opera, “A Bridge Between People,” in which children try to mediate between argumentative adults by building actual tiny suspension bridges between them—in keeping with the evening’s theme of engineering. Traditionally, the winners also give public talks in Boston the day after the awards ceremony, although the pandemic put a kibosh on that for the second year in a row. Instead, the winners’ talks will once again be given as webcasts a few weeks from now.

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