Proof that old men have big ears among winners of 2017 Ig Nobel prizes

15 Sep 2017

Image: edwardolive/Shutterstock

The Ig Nobel awards are a time to celebrate the sillier side of research, and this year’s winners have not disappointed.

In its 27th year, the Ig Nobel awards might share a name with the prestigious Nobel Prize, but they are a more lighthearted focus on research, with some scientific breakthroughs recorded along the way.

This year’s awards took place at Harvard University and there were 10 categories, including a prize for economics, anatomy and even obstetrics.

Among this year’s winners was Dr James Heathcote who, in 1995, published a paper explaining why exactly old men have big ears.

According to the paper, Heathcote studied the size of 200 men’s ears and came to the surprising conclusion that over the age of 30, they grow about 2mm every decade, but so do women’s ears.

The reason we likely notice a difference, Heathcote wrote, is because men tend to have shorter hair than women.

Speaking with AP (via, Heathcote said that there’s something “magical” about measuring ears, adding that he was thrilled by this “strange honour”.

For the physics prize, French scientist Marc-Antoine Fardin published a paper in 2014 that asked the question: can a cat be both a solid and a liquid?

From cheese disgust to gambling near crocodiles

Other award winners included a French and British team that used brain-scanning technology to figure out why some people are disgusted by cheese; a South Korean and US team that discovered what happens to fluid dynamics when you’re walking with coffee backwards; and an Australian-US team that looked into how a person’s willingness to gamble is affected by proximity to a crocodile.

The Spanish team of researchers who won the obstetrics prize have actually already taken their idea to market, that being a music speaker called Babypod, which is placed inside the womb to create a stronger woman-foetus response.

Matthew Rockloff, who led the crocodile and gambling study, said that while it might sound strange, it brought some real-world benefits.

“This was the first study to examine the emotional impact of excitement on gambling choices, which has obvious benefits toward addressing a very serious behavioural and mental health problem,” he said.

For their achievements, the 10 category winners were given a prize of $10trn in cash. The only problem is that it’s in Zimbabwe dollars, which are effectively worthless.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic