Why Do Old Men Have Big Ears?


Have you ever asked yourself why some old man have enormously huge ears? Yes, you did? Then you are in good company. Having a scientific view on this question can even make you win a Nobel prize. Not a real one of course, but an Ig Nobel Prize.


Image source: aga7ta/shutterstock.com

Special prize for unconventional research

Since 1991, this satirical science prize is awarded every year to scientists who impress by extraordinary ignoble scientific work. It is conferred by official Nobel Price laureates in a special, shrilly ceremony at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. This year for the 27th time.

The Ig Nobel Prize has nothing to do with the official Swedish Nobel Prize, which is the most important science award in the world. Instead, it is organized by the magazine “Annals of Improbable Research“ and the motto of the committee is to honor “research that makes people laugh and then think”. 

However, even Ig Nobel Prize winners can count themselves lucky: Beside a little fame they also win a unique trophy, a sheet of handwritten paper that announce them to be winner of an Ig Nobel Price as well as a ridiculous prize money of 10 trillion Dollars - Zimbabwean Dollars…

The lucky ones

One of the glad laureates is the British Scientist James Heathcote, who was honored for his unique research on the correlation of age and ear size in man, mentioned in the beginning. He and his team could prove that male ears grow in average, at about 2mm per decade. For this work, he received the Ig Anatomy Prize.

Ten Ig Nobel Prizes have been awarded in total. Scientists from Australia and the USA investigated how contact with a live crocodile can influence a person’s willingness to gamble. A team from Switzerland, Canada, The Netherlands and the USA found out, that regular playing Digeridoo can prevent snoring and sleep apnoea. Marc-Antoine Fardin used fluid dynamics to probe the question “Can a cat be both a solid and a liquid?” Another scientist searched for the best way to prevent spilling, when walking around with a cup of coffee in the hand. The Ig biology prize received a team from Japan, Brazil and Switzerland for their finding of a female penis and male vagina in a cave insect. French and UK scientists used brain scanning technologies to measure the extent to which some people are disgusted by cheese. The Ig nutrition prize went to a team of researchers who first reported about human blood in the diet of vampire bats. A Spanish team around Marisa Lopez-Teijon investigated how human fetus respond to electromagnetically played music in the mother’s vagina compared to the belly. And finally, scientists from Italy, Spain and the UK demonstrated that many identical twins cannot tell themselves apart visually.

It’s established fun

Most Ig Nobel price laureates accept the price. Probably, but not only because the ceremony is so much fun. When the winners receive their trophy, certificate and Zimbabwean dollar note, they have the chance for a speech to thanks – for exactly 60 seconds. If they exceed their time-limit, “Miss Sweetie Poo” gets active. The little eight-year old girl continuously interrupts them loudly till they stop. Another unique tradition is to throw hundreds of paper airplanes onto the stage. There are so much that a special stage cleaner must sweep them off. In the end, it is always the same goodbye slogan: “If you didn’t win a Ig Nobel Prize and especially if you did – better luck for next year.

You want to have more?

All people who are around in Boston are invited to visit the “Ig Informal Lectures” tomorrow at 1:00 pm at the MIT, building 10, room 250. There, the Ig Nobel Prize laureates will “explain what they did, if they can…”

See also a webcast recording of the 27th Ig Nobel Price Ceremony 2017.