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Are cats solid or liquid? 13 of the best winners of the Ig Nobel prize

This satirical awards ceremony has celebrated unusual contributions to science for 27 years. 

Every year, the Ig Nobel Prize Committee hands out ten awards. A parody of the Nobel Prize, it recognises some of the most whimsical contributions to science. 

Categories include psychology, fluid dynamics and chemical engineering, much like the real Nobel Prizes, but change year to year. Its name is a pun on the word ignoble.

Studies that won prizes this year include a paper which discovered which part of the brain creates repulsion to cheese, a report on the effects of human blood in the diet of hairy-legged vampire bats, and research explaining why old men have big ears (gravity). The winners are just the latest in 27 years of the award. Here are 13 of the most head-scratching and unique winners:

1. Original conspiracy theories

Erich Von Daniken won the Literature Prize in 1991, the first year of the Ig Nobel awards, for his book Chariots of the Godswhich suggested human life takes its origins from ancient aliens that came to earth. Originally published in 1968, the book imagines that many ancient civilisations demonstrated higher scientific abilities than was possible given the limitations of their time, so aliens must have come to Earth and transmitted the knowledge to make human progress possible. 

2. The Antichrist from the East

Robert Faid, a mathematician, invested a huge amount of time in calculating the exact odds of whether Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, is the Antichrist. (The exact odds are 710,609,175,188,282,000 to 1, if you’re curious).

3. Refined pigeons 

Shigeru Watanabe, Junko Sakamoto and Masumi Wakita successfully trained several pigeons to discriminate between Picasso’s paintings and Monet’s paintings, a skill that some humans might still be struggling with. 

4. Lovesick

Four scientists at the University of Pisa discovered that the biochemical basis of romantic love might not be all that different from the biochemical basis of neuroticism and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as they observed the multiple ways that platelet serotonin was transported around various sections of the brain. 

5. Hell is closer than we think 

Dr. Jack Van Impe and Rexella Van Impe carried out research which demonstrated that one of the universe’s great mysteries, black holes, fulfil the theological and technical requirements to be the location of hell itself.

6. Feathery feelings 

Stefano Ghirlanda, Liselotte Jansson, and Magnus Enquist of Stockholm University demonstrated that our flightless friends may be no different to us – in that chickens prefer beautiful humans. Chickens were more likely to react to pictures of faces that were deemed more conventionally attractive.

7. Creative (non) fiction

This went to a whole group of people in Nigeria, the internet entrepreneurs who used e-mail to introduce many innocent fraud victims around the world to “a cast of rich characters – General Sani Abacha, Barriste Jon A Mbeki Esq”, who find themselves in need of a loan and rely on the generosity of strangers to access their own immense fortunes. 

8. Say Cheese 

Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes of the Australian Commenwealth Scientific and Research Organisation did all the legwork and found the exact number of photographs that you have to take in order to ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed. 

9. A girl's best friends 

Three scientists at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México were able to create a girl’s best friend, diamonds, from her other best friend, tequila. They did this by heating tequila at very high temperatures to turn it into a gas. They then heated the gas further to break it into solid crystals that had the same composition as pure diamonds. 

10. Swearing is good for you 

Richard Stephens, John Atkins and Andrew Kingston of Keele University finally proved that there’s a scientific basis for the belief that swearing relieves pain. It may have something to do with how swearing can nullify the typical fight-or-flight response to pain, among other reasons.

11. Beer goggles

Five scientists, Laurent Begue, Brad Bushman, Oulman Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra and Medhi Ourabah, confirmed that “beauty is in the eye of the beer holder” ie that if you’re drunk, you’re more likely to think you’re attractive.

12. More than a pet rock 

Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes and Shelagh Fergon were able to use a sales and marketing perspective to ascertain the potential personalities of various kinds of rocks, by interviewing focus groups who said what they believed the rocks could be like. Some rocks (particularly the more fetching ones) were described as "classy, feminine", while others were seen more as "a hippy, someone who believes in star signs and whatnot". 

13. The internet's favorite animal 

Marc-Antoine Fardin sought to answer the age old question: cats – liquid or solid? Apparently, they're both. (Fardin admits there’s much more research to be done). 

A full list of every year's winners can be found here

Screenshots of Toffee/Salonee Gadgil
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What I learned from Toffee – the elitist dating app

I tried out the new dating app for posh people.

A while ago, I was on a first date, via Tinder. Let’s call the fella Joe. He knew I’d grown up in India and had only been living in London a few months. I’m sure before we met he’d made a few assumptions about what that might mean.

Joe and I got on – easy chat, arm touching, the lot. A few drinks in, Joe relaxed and revealed I wasn’t as he’d expected; my English far too good and my pop culture references too familiar for someone who’d grown up so far away.

I did a big ol’ eye roll in my head, while politely explaining that English is my first language and I grew up watching Crystal Maze just like he did.

“But the way you talk,” he said. “I can hardly hear your accent. If anything, you sound posh. Posh, with a hint of curry!”

I stared at him in silence, confused about whether to be amused or offended. Of all the things I wanted to say, this slipped out: “But brown people can’t be posh!”

“Sure you can,” he explained. “You use words like ‘thrice’ and ‘hence forth’, those are things only posh people do.”

I sort of understood his confusion. The outcome of a colonial education was being interpreted as a marker of upper-class status. “Oh, dear Joe,” I thought to myself. “I speak the way posh white folk taught my people to speak. This is imitation Burberry, not the real stuff.”

I never saw Joe again. But he left me curious about the concept of poshness. There are the usual tropes: privately educated, preppy dressing, polo playing types called things like Arabella or Bertram.

But the word posh gets thrown around lot. For someone who hasn’t grown up in England, it’s a bit difficult to understand.


To sign up to Toffee you have to link up your Facebook profile. The author goes by "Bombom" on Facebook. Photo: Salonee Gadgil

The recently launched dating app called Toffee is exclusively for posh people, according to its founder Lydia Davis. Predictably, reactions to the app have been those of ridicule and outrage, with woke Twitter warriors saying it’s another way of reinforcing archaic social stratification most of us want to move away from.

In reaction, some posh people sulked about being the subject of ridicule; they didn’t choose to be called Bertram.

Part of me sympathises.

Curious, I downloaded Toffee. But for Toffee, the fact that I use the word “thrice” isn’t quite posh enough. To be able to use the app you have to have gone to a private school, either in the UK or US.

There are schools in India that may be considered posh, like the Doon School. It’s where the Indian one per cent goes – your Nehrus and Gandhis. There’s a large population of Doon School alumni in England, but I couldn’t find reference to it on the app.

Toffee isn’t for all upper-class people, then; it seems it’s an app for upper-class white English people. This reaffirms what I said to Joe: “Brown people can’t be posh.”


A referral incentive includes a ticket and drink at a polo event. Photo: Salonee Gadgil

Having been single for two years, and done a deep dive into the world of dating apps, I’ve discovered as many types of men in this country as there are varieties of cheese. Sure, the Europeans do cheese better – and perhaps they do men better too – but we’re on the subject of variety not quality.

Personally, I believe one of the joys of using dating apps is the sheer variety of people they introduce you to. You have the chance, if you have an open mind, to extend the limits of your social circle. I should know, I’ve dated an underwater mechanic, the owner of a tech company, a string theorist, a poet, a cop and a trapeze artist. And my life has been richer for it.

I despair at the idea that people are choosing to find love based on how much money their potential partner’s parents spent on their education. But equally, I like the idea that Arabella and Bertram can have their own fenced-off manicured field to play equestrian games in. I imagine they discuss that enlightening gap year they had in India, where they took yoga lessons – the instructions were in impeccable English, would you believe it?!

Me personally, I’d rather run free among those who believe they could find love anywhere, even the circus.

Salonee Gadgil is on the editorial team at Creative Review magazine. She co-hosts a talk series called The Swipe Hype: a modern-day salon held once every quarter in London to discuss the dilemmas of dating in the digital age.

This article was amended on 16 April 2018 to clarify details about the Toffee app.