Liquid Cats and Crocodile Gambling

SCIENCE

Are cats liquid or solid? That’s the kind of question that could win a scientist an Ig Nobel Prize, a parody of the Nobel Prize that honors research that “makes people laugh, then think.” (Smithsonian and Science)

Make no mistake: This is not Bad Science.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

Don’t worry, he’s not melting. This young tiger is just cooling off in Bandhavgarh National Park, India.
Photograph by Steve Winter, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • The Ig Nobel Prizes, “arguably the highlight of the scientific calendar,” were just awarded. What re the Ig Nobels?
    • According to the Annals of Improbable Research, the organization that awards the Igs, “The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative—and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology. Every year, in a gala ceremony in Harvard’s Sanders Theatre, 1200 splendidly eccentric spectators watch the winners step forward to accept their Prizes. These are physically handed out by genuinely bemused genuine Nobel laureates.”
    • The Igs are, of course, a parody of the Nobel Prizes. “Ignoble” is an adjective that means “inferior or of low quality.”

 

  • How are the Ig Nobels similar to the Nobels?
    • Both awards honor genuine scientific achievement and research. The Igs recognize that “[g]ood achievements can also be odd, funny, and even absurd; So can bad achievements. A lot of good science gets attacked because of its absurdity.”
    • Both awards honor a long-lasting achievement, not restricted to the year in which the award was granted.
    • Both awards recognize the categories of physics, peace, medicine, chemistry, and sometimes literature. The associated Nobel Prize for economics is also recognized by the Igs.

 

  • How are the Ig Nobels different from the Nobels?
    • The Igs are funny. (This is an organization that also features a Luxuriant Hair Clubs for Scientists.) They are a parody of the Nobels, probably the most serious and sought-after scientific recognition in the world.
    • The Igs include categories not recognized by the Nobels. This year’s awards included an Obstetrics Prize, a Cognition Prize, and a Nutrition Prize. Previous years included a Psychology Prize, Mathematics Prize, and Perception Prize.
    • The Igs are young, and so are their winners. The first awards were presented in 1991, and early-career scientists are often recognized. The Nobels, first awarded in 1901, are generally a sort-of lifetime achievement award for scientific rock stars.
    • The Igs are short. Winners are given 60 seconds to explain themselves during the prize ceremony, although Ig Informal Lectures give them more time to explain their research more fully. Nobel lectures, on the other hand, are often an hour long. (Listen to Bob Dylan’s terrific half-hour Nobel Lecture, recorded earlier this year.)

 

 

  • “The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” Can you think of questions raised by these Ig Nobel research subjects?
    • Ig Nobel for Physics: On the rheology of cats. In other words, “Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid?”
      • Easy question: What is rheology?
        • Rheology is the science of the flow and shape of matter.
      • Harder question: What does it mean to be a liquid?
        • Read the study. “Cats are proving to be a rich model system for rheological research (the study of the flow of matter),” says the Ig recipient. “[It] raised some interesting questions about what it means to be a fluid.”
    • Ig Nobel for Peace: Didgeridoo playing as alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome: randomised controlled trial.
      • Easy question: What is sleep apnoea?
        • Spelled “sleep apnea” in the U.S., it’s a disorder in which a sleeping person’s breathing is disrupted. People with sleep apnea stop breathing, sometimes resulting in snoring, and sometimes requiring medical attention.
      • Harder question: Why does playing didgeridoo help treat sleep apnea?
    • Ig Nobel for Economics: Never Smile at a Crocodile: Betting on Electronic Gaming Machines is Intensified by Reptile-Induced Arousal.
      • Easy question: What exactly was this study?
        • Participants were asked to play a slot machine game—and were then given a live 1-meter (3.3-foot) crocodile to hold just before playing. The researchers found that problem gamblers were more likely to place higher bets.
      • Harder question: Why were problem gamblers more likely to risk money after holding the croc?
        • Researchers think the adrenaline rush from holding the reptiles tricked their brains into believing they were on a winning streak.
      • ProTip: Don’t try this at home!

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Smithsonian: Liquid Cats, Didgeridoo Research and More From the 2017 Ig Nobel Prizes

Science: Ig Nobel prize 2017: Cats are liquid, Didgeridoos for snoring & gender-bending insects

Nat Geo: Science Lies! study guide

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