2020 Ig Nobel prizes went to teams that proved knives made of faeces fail, vibrating worms are interesting and hating chewing noises is a disorder

A group of American researchers in Ohio has won this year’s Ig materials science prize for proving the uselessness of knives created from frozen human feces. The team, led by anthropologist Metin Eren at Kent State University, evaluated the validity of a well-known ethnographic account of an Inuit man who fashioned a knife from his own frozen faeces to butcher and disarticulate a dog. The researchers manufactured ‘knives’ out of frozen human excrement, tested them, and found that they couldn’t even cut through hide.

The annual Ig Nobel prizes are given out each year shortly before the Nobel awards, by genuine Nobel laureates, to recognise ‘achievements that make people laugh, then think’. Due to the pandemic, the 30th annual Ig Nobels were awarded on 18 September in a prerecorded and virtual ceremony, instead of at the usual live event at Harvard University.

Many foul puns were thrown around as the Ohio team received the materials science award during the cyber-ceremony, including the winners being asked if the project was considered ‘a waste of their talents,’ and Eren proclaiming that the work would ‘go down in the “anals” of science’. Co-authors on the paper, some of which contributed their own waste to the study, accepted their awards from bathrooms in their homes.

Among the other nine 2020 Ig Nobels awarded, the physics prize went to researchers at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia for determining what happens to the shape of a living earthworm when it is vibrated at high frequency while lying horizontally on a flat solid surface. Specifically, they demonstrated the excitation of subharmonic Faraday-like waves in those invertebrates.

Meanwhile, a team from the Netherlands and Belgium won the Ig Nobel prize in medicine for diagnosing the long-unrecognised medical condition of misophonia, which is marked by significant distress at hearing other people make noises like chewing sounds. While accepting the award virtually, one of the researchers being honoured was eating an apple loudly, and another was unabashedly sipping what appeared to be ice coffee through a straw. Unfortunately, there was no Ig chemistry prize awarded this year.