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The Ig Nobel Prizes: Science's Silliest Research

Banana peels are commonly depicted in cartoons as hazardously slippery—but just how slippery are they? According to scientific research honored at the 2014 Ig Nobel Prizes, banana peels are indeed pretty slippery, comparable to ice or Teflon.

The Ig Nobels are famous for recognizing the most unusual and silly-sounding scientific research. The Japanese research team that conducted the banana peel study, for instance, also tested the slipperiness (in scientific terms, the coefficient of friction) of apple and tangerine peels, but found them far less slippery than banana peels.

Another research team was honored with a Public Health Ig Nobel "for investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat." The Arctic Science Ig Nobel was awarded to a team for "testing how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears."

But these seemingly lighthearted studies can have broader applications: For example, discovering what makes banana peels so slippery could contribute to materials science knowledge that might improve artificial joints. Artificial joints require lubrication around the joint for them to work successfully.

In the same vein, the prize awarded for studying the link between mental health and cat ownership actually explores a potentially serious disease called toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease (caused by protozoa Toxoplasma gondii) that humans are often exposed to by cats, which themselves can carry the parasite. Surprisingly, it is estimated that up to one-third of the world's population could be infected with toxoplasmosis, and pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems are at an increased risk for the disease. New research has found correlations between toxoplasmosis infections and negative behavioral health changes, such as depression, attention deficit order, and schizophrenia. While the concept of the research may sound funny, its findings could have widespread ramifications for public health.

To learn more about 2014's Ig Nobel Prize winners and their research, check out their website.