19 September 2022

The Nobel Prizes of 2022

Maya enema, an algorithm for gossips and crash-moose

Mikhail Podrezov, N+1

On September 15, the first XXXII ceremony of awarding the Nobel Prize (Ig Nobel Prize) was held, which is awarded to studies that make "first laugh, and then think."


This year, the ceremony was again held online, and the winners received awards by mail: the winners became owners of paper containers for storing their good ideas and banknotes with a face value of ten trillion Zimbabwean dollars. We tell you about what such wonderful prizes were distributed for this year.


The winner of the Nobel Prize in the category "Literature" Eric Martinez with a Zimbabwean bill of ten trillion dollars.

Cardiology: Heartbeat of sympathy

Eliska Prochazkova from Leiden University, together with her colleagues, received her Schnobel for discovering an uncontrolled sign of falling in love — the synchronization of heartbeats.

In their experiment, the scientists created conditions that mimic blind dates. They invited 140 men and women from 18 to 38 years old who had never seen each other before to participate in the experiment. It turned out that smiles, laughter or gaze were not clearly associated with attraction. On the contrary, the synchronicity of the heart rate and the electrical conductivity of the skin gave out mutual sympathy, since these signals were present in people who wanted to continue communication and even go on a second date. They published the results of their work in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

The prize was presented by the 2007 Nobel Laureate in Economics Eric Maskin. He asked what happens to the biorhythms of partners who already know each other. Prokhazkova replied that there are already such studies: they show the synchronization of biorhythms in people who are married.

Literature: the nature of complexity of legal texts

The winner in this nomination was Eric Martinez from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who, together with colleagues, found out why it is very difficult for ordinary people to understand legal texts.

They conducted a corpus analysis and two experiments in which participants were asked to read the same legal text, but written with different complexity of presentation (for example, with cumbersome and obscure phrases and without them). And we found out that the reason lies not in the abundance of legal terms, but in the poor style of presentation of the texts themselves. This means that most legal texts do not need specially trained readers, but an editor.

The prize was presented by the Nobel laureate in Physiology and Medicine for 1993, Richard Roberts, who noted that he fully believes in the veracity of the conclusions of Martinez and his colleagues. The host of the ceremony, pointing out that this is a literary prize, invited the three laureates to say their last word. Among them were: redundant (superfluous), gratuitous (gratuitous) and understandable only to initiates (esoteric).

Biology: the effect of constipation on the sexual life of scorpions

Here the award was received by Solimary Garcia-Hernandez and Glauco Machado from University of Sao Paulo for the study of how constipation in scorpions affects their sexual relations.

In a dangerous situation for themselves, some scorpions, like lizards, discard the end of their abdomen (this is called autotomy). So they not only lose their poisonous weapons, but also parts of the digestive tract, including the anus. This, in turn, makes it difficult to defecate and leads to constipation in animals. The researchers wondered whether the motor activity of such animals also changes, choosing the South American scorpions Ananteris balzanii as the object of research.

They found out that in the short term, the loss of the end (autotomy) does not interfere with animals in any way: for example, their maximum running speed did not change immediately after the loss. But after their motor activity decreased. And this, the researchers noted, may reduce the chances of males without a tail to find a partner. Although they also added that the imminent death from constipation occurs only after a few months, so they have enough time to still find a female.

The prize was presented by the 1990 Nobel laureate in Physics Jerome Friedman, who acknowledged that it was a great honor for him to award the prize for such fundamental work and asked the laureates several clarifying questions. So we learned that the absence of the end of the abdomen has little effect on courtship itself, and females after autotomy are quite capable of producing offspring — albeit in a slightly smaller amount.

Medicine: ice cream for cancer patients

The winner was the Marcin Jasiński group from Warsaw Medical University. Their study showed that patients after some forms of chemotherapy suffer from fewer side effects if they are offered to eat ice cream.

The fact is that when transplanting hematopoietic stem cells, one of the most frequent side effects is the defeat of the mucous membranes of the mouth (mucositis). As a rule, to prevent it, patients are offered to hold ice cubes in their mouth. Yasinsky and his colleagues checked how well ice cream is suitable for the same purposes. And we conducted an experiment on a sample of 74 people: mucositis developed in 28.84 percent of patients in the test group and in 59.09 percent of people in the group without cryotherapy.

The prize was presented by 2001 Nobel laureate in Chemistry Barry Sharpless, who highly appreciated the humanitarian value of the discovery of the Yasinsky group. And one of the laureates, receiving the award, thanked the owner of the hospital cafeteria, who provided ice cream for free for research. Yasinsky himself stressed that ice cream really helps — and they were not joking when conducting their experiment, but were engaged in evidence-based medicine.

Industrial design: how many fingers do you need to open the door

This award was received by Japanese Professor Gen Matsuzaki from the Chiba Institute of Technology, who, together with colleagues, investigated how many fingers a person needs to effectively turn a cylindrical door handle of a particular diameter.

After a series of laboratory tests, scientists came to the conclusion that the larger the handle, the more fingers are needed to turn it. In total, the researchers recruited 23 men and nine women aged 19-20 years for their experiments — they were forced to rotate cylinders with a diameter of 7 to 130 millimeters. It turned out that a person uses two fingers when he takes a pen with a diameter of up to ten millimeters, and three when its diameter increases to 23-26 millimeters.

The award was again presented by Barry Sharpless. The laureate asked Sharpless to take hold of his nose, and then turn it. Sharpless obeyed—and did it with two fingers. After this demonstration, the designer said that in his opinion, there are some unconscious mechanisms behind the choice of the number of fingers for the grip, which is why he personally is so much interested in this issue.

Art History: Mayan Enema

The Nobel Prize in the Art History category was awarded to pharmacologist Peter de Smet and anthropologist Nicholas Hellmuth from the Netherlands for their research of scenes on ancient Maya ceramics.

The results of this work were published back in 1986 in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Scientists have not only found evidence that the Maya used an enema, but also figured out why these peoples needed such procedures at all. They concluded that the ancient Indians practiced rectal administration of alcohol to increase intoxication and simultaneously reduce the risks due to excessive intoxication - because it helps to avoid vomiting (which is sometimes fatal). However, the Maya could use not only alcohol for this, but also, for example, tobacco.

The prize was presented to the laureates by the Nobel Laureate in Economics Esther Duflo. She praised the groundbreaking research, which, according to her, breaks down the boundaries between different scientific fields. The laureates themselves showed the audience replicas of Maya enemas and explained how they were used. In response, the presenter asked if they had tried to do it themselves. De Smet answered the question in the affirmative, but stressed the need to be careful in this — alcohol should not be stronger than ten degrees, "otherwise you can also get into the scientific literature."

Physics: features of ducklings and goslings swimming technique

This year, two scientific papers were awarded in the physics nomination at once, which are devoted to the study of the question of why ducklings and goslings swim in a certain formation.

The winners were Frank Fish (Frank Fish) for his 1994 study on energy conservation in ducklings swimming after a mother duck. The second winner was Zhi Ming Yuan (Zhi-Ming Yuan) from The University of Strathclyde, which together with colleagues from the UK and China found out that chicks swim after each other in order not to experience resistance from oncoming waves. He also showed that in formation the waves push the duckling, making it easier for him to swim. Scientists believe that the same principles can be used in the design of modern cargo ships, as this will reduce fuel costs.

The prize was presented by the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry laureate Martin Chalfie, who proposed to rename it in honor of Robert McCloskey, who wrote the book "Make Way for Ducklings!" He also suggested that the next scientific article by these scientists (probably joint) should be devoted to analyzing why ducklings are built in a column when they move on the ground.

Peace Prize: Modeling Gossip

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a team of researchers from the UK, Hungary, Canada and the Netherlands led by Jun Hui Wu (Junhui Wu) from the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences for developing an algorithm followed by gossips.

To do this, they modeled several situations where the spread of gossip was unprofitable to anyone, mutually beneficial, or only one party turned out to be the beneficiary. So, it turned out that if gossip is useful for the whole community, then it is more likely to be true. And, accordingly, gossip destructive to cooperation, both true and false, is more likely to be spread by those who oppose themselves to the community.

The award was presented by the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry laureate Frances Arnold, who noted that it was a great honor for her to present the award for her work shedding light on the crucial role of gossip in maintaining world peace. Because gossip plays an important role in people's interaction, and the authors' research allows them to be used in such a way as to strengthen cooperation.

Economics: luck > personal qualities

The prize in the Economics category was awarded to Italian researchers led by Alessandro Pluchino from the University of Catania, who mathematically explained why success is achieved not by the most talented people, but by the most successful.

In their work, they noted that in the highly competitive Western environment, beliefs prevail that success depends primarily on personal qualities: talent, intelligence, skills or willingness to take risks. And only to some extent are people willing to admit that there may be a share of luck. They analyzed the distribution of wealth among the population and came to the conclusion that the most talented people almost do not reach the heights of success, yielding to more mediocre, but lucky people.

The award was presented by Donna Strickland, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics, who announced at the beginning of the ceremony that she was sick with covid. She noted that she achieved success in her career because she was born under a lucky star, and she is glad that now scientists from Italy have explained it mathematically. In addition, she joked that today she was unlucky and she was sick, but the Italian laureates were lucky because she could not be near them and infect them. The host of the ceremony also stressed that two of the three laureates are awarded the Nobel Prize for the second time.

Engineering: Moose dummy for crash tests

The last winner of 2022 was Swedish engineer Magnus Gens (Magnus Gens) for the development of a dummy moose for crash tests - this was the subject of his master's thesis in 2001. The dummy was constructed after careful research and then took part in a number of experiments.

The problem of cars colliding with moose is very relevant for Scandinavia, where a large population of these wild animals lives and fatal accidents are not uncommon. Magnus Gens' dummy was made of rubber and steel parts: the resulting design withstood many crash tests, in which two Saab cars and one old Volvo took part.

The award was also presented by Martin Chalfrey. After a short story about the danger of meeting motorists and moose, the laureate showed the audience a road sign with an image of an elk. It was given to an engineer when he was working on his project at the Swedish Institute of Road Safety.

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