THE Ig Nobel Prize is like the zany cousin of the famous Nobel Prize, celebrating peculiar and often hilarious scientific achievements. These awards are all about making us chuckle at the absurdity of science before we pause to ponder its true brilliance.
Consider the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics, where scientists defied gravity, levitating a live frog with magnets! And who could forget the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics awarded for investigating the aerodynamics of cockroaches. Turns out, these critters are surprisingly skilled aviators.
But science goes beyond frogs and insects.
One study found that we’re more likely to believe untruths if they’re delivered with a British accent, a testament to our trust in that dulcet tone. Another study revealed that we’re more inclined to devour unhealthy food if it’s served in a fancy restaurant. Go figure!
Now, what’s intriguing, given my Japanese academic background, is the recent Ig Nobel win by Japanese researchers Hiromi Nakamura and Homei Miyashita. They won the Ig Nobel in Nutrition for their electrifying research on how electricity can alter food’s taste.
Let’s explore the details.
Back in 2011, when Nakamura was a graduate student under Miyashita’s guidance, they embarked on a curious culinary experiment. Nakamura placed a piece of agar (a jelly-like substance) on her tongue and, with a small jolt of electricity, changed its taste instantaneously by flicking the switch on and off. Yes, you read that right! They discovered that the sensation of taste can be altered significantly by the application of electricity.
To make this discovery practical, Nakamura’s team electrified chopsticks and straws. Their vision? Enhancing dining experiences.
Cheese with electrified chopsticks and sports drinks through an electrified straw confirmed it – taste could be manipulated. By adjusting the electrode layout and electrical flow, they could make food tangier or more bitter at will.
But their journey didn’t stop there. Teaming up with Kirin Holdings Co, Nakamura and Miyashita developed utensils like spoons and bowls to enhance food’s saltiness through electricity. These Electric Salt eating utensils aimed to assist those on low-sodium diets, especially those managing high blood pressure.
In the Ig Nobel universe, even boredom research gets a laugh. The award ceremony, held online due to the pandemic, gifted winners with image data of 10 trillion Zimbabwe dollars, nearly worthless currency.
As for me, this story holds a special place because I pursued my PhD in Japan, where innovative scientific thinking often takes the form of unconventional ideas, like electrified chopsticks that tickle our taste buds and our imagination.
It’s a quirky reminder that the world of science is vast and full of surprises, even electrifying ones.
The author is a postdoctoral researcher at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. ([email protected])