Pizza against cancer, dirty Romanian money and other scientific discoveries of Ig Nobel Prize 2019

The authors of the 10 strangest scientific papers in 2019 have received 10 trillion dollars. However, Zimbabwean ones

The Ig Nobel Prize is awarded every year by Annals of Improbable Research magazine for the strangest published scientific works, the practical value of which is not obvious. Realnoe Vremya tells about the “ignobilities” of this year. We asked Arkady Kuramshin, a popularizer of science, Associate Professor at the Institute of Chemistry at the Kazan Federal University (KFU), to comment on some of these achievements of the scientists.

Funny can be important

It’s not quite that simple: the winners only at first glance seem to be freak from science. In fact, most of the Ig Nobel Prize scientific work carry important information that can be useful in other more serious in the classic sense, research. The meaning of the Ig Nobel Prize is precisely this: to show all the diversity of science and make it pay attention to.

At least the fact that the prizes are awarded by real Nobel laureates tells about the seriousness of the event. For example, this year's Ig Nobelists have been awarded by Eric Maskin (Economics, 2007), Rich Roberts (Medicine and Physiology, 1993) and Jerome Friedman (Physics, 1990). The winners of the Ig Nobel Prize receive honourary prizes, world fame and a trillion Zimbabwean dollars (about 40 US cents).

The authors of the study attribute this to the fact that tomato paste, without which no pizza can do, contains the antioxidant lycopene. Photo: twitter.com/improbresearch

Pizza protects against cancer, and dead cockroaches demagnetize slower than living ones

Italian Silvano Gallus has won in the category Medicine. Based on data collected from 8,000 Italians, he proved that one pizza a week reduces the likelihood of developing cancer of the esophagus by 59%, throat — 34%, colon — 26%.

The authors of the study attribute this to the fact that tomato paste, without which no pizza can do, contains the antioxidant lycopene. We are waiting for sensational research on gazpacho and sandwiches with tomatoes: the field for research is very extensive, as well as the book of recipes of Italian cuisine.

Arkady Kuramshin, Candidate of Chemistry, Associate Professor at the KFU:

“I can definitely say that pizza can really save lives — in particular, to save a person from starvation. As for cancer, the antioxidant properties of lycopene have been studied for a long time, it is proven, so there really may be some preventive effect of this Italian pizza.”

The biology prize has been awarded to the scientists who found that it takes much longer to demagnetize a dead cockroach than a living one. The apparent difference in the weakening of the magnetic field is due to Brownian rotation under different viscosity conditions, they wrote. All the world's press has already giggled over magnetized cockroaches, but in reality the magnetic properties of living (and dead) matter — this is a very promising area of research, which affects primarily the issues of modern medical equipment.

Arkady Kuramshin immediately found a practical application for this discovery:

“First, cockroaches skillfully are at pretending to be the dead. If you measure their magnetization, you can easily distinguish them from the living (though I do not know why this may be useful). And second, on the basis of the information received, it is possible to develop magnetic traps or, conversely, repellers against our six-legged pets.”

Training of medical students and wombat cubes

In the category Medical Education, the winners are scientists from the Medical College of Albert Einstein, who “trained” their students with a clicker (the device used for training dogs). When the task was completed correctly, the student received not only praise but also a sound signal from the clicker — and his results continued to improve! We are waiting for further research, and then — on their basis — and new initiatives from the ministry of education.

The Ig Nobel Prize in Physics this year has been awarded to the authors of the acclaimed study on wombats: finally, the world science knows why the excrement of these animals have a cubic shape. Already last autumn, everyone wrote about it with laughter. But Kuramshin draws our attention to the fact that the results of this study can be used in the development of devices designed to generate cubes of different sizes. Surely the entire world of bionics — the science of how technology uses the “invention” of the mother-nature — enthusiastically howled at the sight of this study.

Dirty Romanian money and the happiness to scratch where it itches

Perhaps, the most “non-Ig Nobel Prize” nomination has turned out to be Economy. The prize has been awarded to Dutch scientists who studied currencies around the world in the attempt to find out which banknotes are the most “disease-causing”. They checked euros, US and Canadian dollars, Croatian kuna, Indian rupees and Romanian leu for how long bacteria — Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) — lived on them. Our advice: never lick them. They have turned out to be the most “dirty”.

Arkady Kuramshin comments:

“It's a very useful work. The thing is that money is really one of the most dangerous items in the epidemiological sense. On banknotes and coins, the particles of human saliva and the smallest elements of mucous membranes get trapped, and together with them, we transfer bacteria and viruses each other. Therefore, the study of the surface properties of banknotes for retention and reproduction of microorganisms can greatly help epidemiological services.

Ig Nobel Prize winners are traditionally wished good luck next year: such success is considered not to fall into the Ig list. Photo: twitter.com/improbresearch

The peace prize has been awarded to scientists from Britain and Singapore: they measured how much pleasure a person gets when scratching an itchy place. The researchers have made a sensational discovery: scratching the ankle and especially the back is much nicer than the arm. The more it itches, the nicer it is to scratch (in case you didn't know).

Ig Nobel Prize winners are traditionally wished good luck next year: such success is considered not to fall into the Ig list. We join the wishes and look forward to the Nobel week: everything is going to be serious there.

By Lyudmila Gubaeva