And by finding an explanation for the remarkable fact that people hardly collide even in crowded places.

The presentation of the Ig Nobel Prizes is an annual event that many scientists eagerly await. During the award ceremony, many playful and funny studies are reviewed. “The Ig Nobel Prizes are arguably the pinnacle of the scientific calendar,” according to the prestigious journal Nature. And this year, Dutch scientists also won prizes.

More about the Ig Nobel Prize
The Ig Nobel Prize is actually a parody of the well-known Nobel Prize and was created to show that science is anything but dull and boring. The playful research questions often conceal serious issues that are approached by the researchers in a different way and are therefore somewhat comical at first sight. And if you do that cleverly, you can win an Ig Nobel Prize. Every year the prizes go to studies that initially make you laugh, but later make you think. The prize has been awarded since 1991 and now has a cult following among scientists. In the past, the Dutch-British physicist Andre Geim even first won an Ig Nobel Prize, only to receive a real Nobel Prize in Physics ten years later.

Dutch scientists Alessandro Corbetta and Federico Toschi have won an Ig for research into movement in crowds. They analyzed the pedestrian movements of five million travelers in the Eindhoven train station and found that people keep an average distance of at least 75 centimeters to avoid collisions. “We are very proud of this award, the recognition is great,” says Corbetta.

The study

For the study, Corbetta and Toschi installed four sensors under the platforms of Eindhoven station. For six months, they observed how five million pedestrians walked into the 27 square meter measuring area. And it seems that pedestrians are unconsciously constantly trying to avoid collisions with oncoming traffic. If a collision is imminent, they adjust their walking path meters in advance. About 18,000 pedestrians eventually turned out to be exactly opposite each other; a potential collision hazard. “About 80 pedestrians of these were actually found to collide with each other,” Corbetta said. “The other pedestrians adjusted their walkway until they were at least 140 centimeters apart and thus managed to avoid a collision.”

dangling rhinoceros

Another interesting winner is research into how best to transport bulky animals, such as rhinoceroses. You may have already seen the photo of a dangling rhinoceros on Remarkably, this method, in which a stunned animal is tied around its ankles with ropes and then dangles upside down from a helicopter, turns out to be the best and safest way to move it from A to B.

Other winners

Have you ever wondered why men have beards? American researchers think they have found an explanation for this. For example, they claim that people grew beards to protect themselves from punches in the face. It also appears that sex can be particularly effective in clearing your stuffy nose and the obesity of politicians could tell you how corrupt the country in question is. The scientists behind these three studies all took home an Ig Nobel Prize.

Future research

With the Ibel Prizes, scientists look back on completed studies. But the Dutch scientists are also looking ahead. “My dream is to eventually understand the dynamics of dense crowds,” said Toschi. Recognizing patterns may be essential in the future in predicting and ultimately managing pedestrians’ natural movement routes. “In this way we can make places where many pedestrians come together safer and more efficient, based on the natural walking behavior of people,” Toschi continues. “Think of museums, but also festivals. How do we prevent congestion? How can we spread crowds of people over an area as much as possible? We are trying to manipulate the social system, as it were, but with good intentions.”

In that respect, the research fits perfectly into Ig Nobel’s picture. “At first it’s a study that might surprise people, but they soon see that we can start important changes with it,” said Toschi. Curious about all the winners of the Ig Nobel Prizes 2021? you find them here!