When you think of science as an institution, you probably imagine white lab coats, goggles, and intent stares into beakers filled with liquids of different colors. You probably don’t think of a guy letting a honey bee sting his penis in the name of knowledge.
The Ig Nobel Prizes, a play on the term “ignobel” and a parody of the Nobel Prizes, honor “achievements that first make people laugh then make them think.” Yesterday, the 25th annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded to odd and oddly fascinating feats in chemistry, literature, physics and more. The highlights include, besides the penis-stinging bees of course, urinating elephants, the ubiquity of the word “huh,” and how to make chickens walk like dinosaurs.
How bad does an insect’s sting hurt? The only real way to find out is to get stung by a bunch of them, or so the creator of the famous Schmidt Sting Pain Index, Justin Schmidt, thought when he stung himself with 78 different species of ants, wasps, and bees in the 80s and 90s. (The tarantula hawk wasp — what Fallout‘s cazadores are based on — has the highest rated sting.) But because it matters where you get stung in addition to by what, Physiology and Entomology Ig Nobel winner Michael L. Smith decided to update the index with a consistent stimulus: the honey bee. Rated at a “2” in Schmidt’s pain index, Smith chose the honey bee because they exist around the world and are easily coaxed into stinging. Then Smith chose a test subject (himself) and stung himself in 25 different locations.
Surprisingly, a sting on the male genitalia wasn’t the most painful — you do not want a bee sting in the nostril. “Stings to the nostril were especially violent, immediately inducing sneezing, tears and a copious flow of mucus,” writes Smith. “The copious mucus flow, however, may help prevent subsequent stings to the area during a natural attack.” Thanks Mike.
The dinosaurs that fill our museums might be dead and gone, but we still have the birds — avian dinosaurs that sing in our trees and soar through our skies. Birds today retain many of their relatives’ traits, and today scientists can infer much about a T. rex from a chicken. However, though evolution connects them, birds just don’t sport the same physiology when it comes to walking. That’s why Bruno Grossi, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals, and Rodrigo A. Vásquez put a weighted stick on the end of a chicken to make it move like dinosaurs are thought to have moved.
This dinosaur cosplay won Grossi and the team the Ig Nobel Prize in biology, but come on, that GIF should win an award on its own.
“We have shown that the addition of an artificial tail during ontogeny can produce postural and locomotory changes in chickens, consistent with the posture and kinematics inferred for non-avian dinosaur,” the team writes. Yeah, chickenosaurus, you nailed it.
Other Ig Nobel winners included a team who discovered that “huh” is a near universal term among humans, another that tested the idea that almost all mammals pee for the same amount of time, and some chemists who were able to partially reverse the boiling of an egg.
For all the winners of the 2015 Ig Nobel prizes, click through here.