From turning doorknobs to duck queues – that’s the Ig Nobel Prize!

Asian Scientist Magazine (September 21, 2022) —Science is not just about breakthrough discoveries. It’s also about tackling the weird and goofy questions like “What is the most efficient way to turn a doorknob?” and “How do ducklings swim in formation?“These and many more are this year’s winners Ig Nobel Prize.

A satirical version of award ceremonies and prizes, the Ig Nobel Prize was established in 1991 by the academic humor journal Annals of improbable research to celebrate wonderfully weird and imaginative research conducted in the name of science.

“The Ig Nobel Prizes recognize achievements that make people laugh and then think,” as stated on the official website. “The awards are meant to celebrate the unusual; honor the imaginative; and stimulate people’s interest in science, medicine and technology.

In previous years, ceremonies were held in person in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But this year’s ceremony took place fully online on September 15 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Two groups from Asia won this year’s prize for engineering and physics. Gen Matsuzaki, Kazuo Ohuchi, Masaru Uehara, Yoshiyuki Ueno and Goro Imura from Japan won the engineering award for attempting to discover the the most efficient way for people to use their fingers when turning a knob. While Frank Fish, Zhi-Ming Yuan, Minglu Chen, Laibing Jia, Chunyan Ji and Atilla Incecik – two groups from the United States and China – jointly won the physics prize for trying to understand how ducklings manage to swim in formation.

General Matsuzaki and his team at the Institute of Technology in Chiba, Japan, had published their research in 1991. It involved 32 college-age students tasked with holding doorknobs of varying widths and turning the doorknob clockwise. The team then looked at how the participants’ fingers were positioned on the doorknob. They found that the wider the doorknob, the more fingers it takes to grip it, and the two most commonly used fingers are the thumb and the index finger.

While you might wonder if figuring out the most efficient method of turning a doorknob is a bit silly, the research Matsuzaki and his team conducted has significant utility. As Japan’s aging population continues to grow, older people who have physical challenges may find it increasingly difficult to open doorknobs and doorknobs. The Matsuzaki team advocates the development of a good universal door handle design. Making door handles larger and easier to open can allow for easier access to bedrooms for older people.

Now on to the ducks – Mark Fish, an American biologist, first wondered in 1994 how formation movement in animals, such as the V-shaped formations that birds create during their migration path , reduced the energy expenditure of these animals. Fast forward to 2021, a research group from Jiangsu University of Science and Technology, China, decided to revisit Fish’s question. Minglu Chen and Chunyan Ji and collaborators from the UK conducted their study by observing how mallard ducklings swim in single file behind their mothers.

Twelve groups of seven day-old ducklings imprinted on a female mallard decoy were trained to swim in a pool with recirculating water. The researchers measured the ducklings’ metabolic expenditure as they swam. The researchers found that the ducklings “instinctively roll over the waves” created by their mother – or in this case the decoy duck – thereby reducing the amount of energy needed to paddle and swim to move forward.

Source: Ig Nobel Prize ; Image: Ajun Chuah

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