Three bats, a piece of cheese, a cup of coffee and the words The 2017 Ig Nobel Prize Part 2

The 2017 Ig Nobel Prize Part 2

Since last week’s post was already pushing a thousand words with only the first five Ig Nobel prizes, today we’re picking up where we left out. Everyone else may be speculating about the actual Nobel Prize, but here at Science Shenanigans, we’re much too silly. Here are five more strange scientific studies that were recently recognized.

Three bats, a piece of cheese, a cup of coffee and the words The 2017 Ig Nobel Prize Part 2

Bats, cheese and coffee: More strange science.

Fluid Dynamics

This is technically the second prize this year to touch on fluid dynamics. A lot of Ig Nobels are awarded for looking at questions we all really do want answered. And this is definitely one of them. Specifically: Why is it so freaking hard to walk with a cup of coffee without it splashing all over the place? This is a topic near and dear to my heart because I am an incredible klutz. Yes, they let me do a PhD in chemistry. Figure that one out.

Coffee cup with a leaf in the foam

That pretty latte art will last about five seconds in my hand

Jiwon Han, who was a high school student at the time, actually opted to apply science to coffee spilling. And there actually are some interesting phenomena going on here. For instance, you don’t run into the same sloshy problem with a glass of wine. Han’s not even the first person to look at the fluid dynamics of coffee in a mug.  But Han actually looked to solve the problem of coffee spilling.

He proposed several intriguing solutions. One is gripping the cup from above, which may cause a new issue with temperature. Another is keeping the coffee in a bunch of individual tubes within the cup. Finally, walking backwards alters the resonance pattern considerably to avoid the sloshing. Though it raises its… own unique issues.

Perhaps at some point someone will gun for the sociology Ig Nobel by investigating why everyone uses “Jenkins” as the generic coworker even outside of America.


Studying what animals eat is of course an important part of biology. Fernanda Ito and coworkers were looking at the diet of vampire bats in Brazil. And from DNA analysis they determined that the bats actually do vant to suck your bloooooood!

Vampire bats

They’re a fascinating niche. And kinda adorable. Photo by Oasalehm

Well, they vant to lap it.

And they probably don’t entirely vant to, but human activity has impacted their habitat to the point that their usual food sources were unavailable. The majority of the bats’ diet was found to be human and chicken blood rather than any of the local wild birds, suggesting there is an availability problem with their more customary food sources.

This is a case where they didn’t set out to study the weird thing, but they came across the weird thing as part of important general investigation.


It’s hard to investigate food aversions. Ethics boards have this thing about deliberately giving people food poisoning in an attempt to induce an aversion to a food. So Jean-Pierre Royet and coworkers had to find a category that disgusted a large enough sample already in order to study their reactions.

Yep. We’re talking about cheese again.

Wheels of cheese on a wooden shelf

I should have realized I’d be blogging about cheesy science a lot.

After surveying participants to determine whether they were pro or anti cheese (the actual names of the cohorts), they used advanced MRI techniques to determine what was happening in the subjects’ brains when they smelled several different foods including cheese. And they made sure the subjects were hungry too.

And good news picky eaters! They did find very different brain activity patterns when people were disgusted by cheese. So while it’s all in your head, it’s still very much a real reaction. Maybe an MRI will convince people I really do hate tomatoes. I am, however, firmly pro-cheese.


Twin studies are a common area of research. Facial recognition is currently a hot topic thanks to an upcoming iPhone. And yet there have been very few studies that involve both of these. So again, we can learn a lot of useful things from this area. Matteo Martini and coworkers seized a unique opportunity to really delve into the processes behind facial recognition and how it plays with identity.

And yet even then “identical twins often can’t tell themselves apart” just sounds like such a weird conclusion to end up at. Even more interesting is the fact that the more they say they look alike, the more likely they are to struggle to distinguish the images. It actually opens up a lot of avenues to explore about how emotional factors play in to our ability to recognize ourselves.


I do not have a baby. However, since Facebook does not seem to be able to get it through its skull that a married woman in her thirties could possibly not have a baby, I get a lot of ads for pregnancy products. At least I do if I’m browsing on mobile without sweet merciful ad block. So I know there are a lot of strange pregnancy and baby products out there (and that the ad algorithm’s not very smart).

Marisa Lopez-Teijón and coworkers looked at the most effective way to get a fetus to respond to music.  The image of putting headphones on a pregnant belly so the fetus hears Mozart and is born some sort of genius is quite familiar. And while that did get a definite response, inserting a speaker into the mother’s vagina proved to get a stronger response.

Pregnant belly with headphones

This was a remarkably simple stock photo to find

The paper mentions possible applications in pre-natal hearing testing. So far what it has actually been used for is a product called Babypod. Which yes, is in fact a product that can be inserted into the vagina so the baby hears Mozart even better and is born… some sort of super genius?

There is really nowhere I can go after a paragraph like that. Next week we’re talking about Star Trek again.