Been there, dung that
Ever wonder how dung beetles navigate on nights when the new moon fails to appear in the sky? Me neither. But apparently researchers in Sweden and South Africa did. They put dung beetles inside a planetarium, removed the moon, and placed them under a simulated African sky where the Milky Way is clearly visible. Sure enough, the beetles rolled their dung in a straighter line when they had the stars to steer by.
But it gets better:
"We also put a cap on them, so they could not see the sky," said co-author Marcus Byrne, an entomologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. "They get lost until you take the hat off them, and then they find their way. A very simple experiment with very striking results."
I've heard of a dunce cap. But a dung's cap? That's a new one.
Please, no tipping
The Ig Nobel award for Probability was awarded to an animal scientist in Scotland, who recorded more than 10,000 bovine "lying episodes" in an effort to predict not only when cows would lie down, but also when they would get back up again. His stirring conclusion:
The longer a cow has been lying down, he found, the more likely it is that the cow will soon stand up. On the other hand, he found, once said cow stands up, you cannot easily predict just when it will lie down again.
Strangely, I'm the exact opposite. Once I lie down, there's no telling when I'll get up -- especially after intensive beer goggles research.
Other 2013 Ig Nobel winners developed an onion that won't make you cry when you slice it, discovered how to walk on water (if you happen to be on the moon), examined the best ways to reattach a severed penis (provided it has not already been eaten by a duck), and patented a method for trapping airplane hijackers (drop them through a trap door, snare them inside a bag attached to a parachute, and eject them into the arms of the police waiting on the ground below).
Funny, yes. But also in keeping with the AIR's larger mission:
We also hope to spur people's curiosity, and to raise the question: How do you decide what's important and what's not, and what's real and what's not -- in science and everywhere else?
If nothing else, it sounds like it was a heckuva party.
What ridiculous topic do you want to research? Submit your grant applications below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, "It's a science fact: Ig Nobels are the best awards on the planet," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.