The Ig Nobel Prizes, an annual event celebrating quirky, comical discoveries, carried on despite the pandemic in a virtual ceremony riddled with bugs—and bug jokes. The Annals of Improbable Research, the science humor magazine that hosts the event, selected bugs as the theme for the 30th annual event, although the winning studies spanned an array of icky, wondrous, and unconventional research. The ceremony took place entirely online for the first time with a series of prerecorded speeches, musical numbers, and lightning-speed lectures.
This year’s prize in entomology went to an investigation of why so many insect researchers are themselves fearful of spiders. The survey of arachnophobic entomologists, published in 2013 in American Entomologist, explored why people who devoted their careers to critters such as cockroaches and maggots still found spiders unnerving. Among spiders’ most disliked traits were their fast, unpredictable movements and their many legs.
The acoustics prize went to researchers who recreated in reptiles the party trick of inhaling helium from balloons. To study crocodilian vocalizations, the team placed alligators in an airtight, helium-filled chamber and found that the high-energy frequency bands of their bellows got even higher. The results, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology in 2015, are the first evidence that nonavian reptiles produce sound from vibrations in the vocal tract, known as formants.