Awarded on Thursday night at Harvard University in the US, the Ig Nobel is a light-hearted alternative to the famous Nobel prize that recognizes “achievements that first make people laugh, then make them think”, according to the prize’s website.
Marisa López-Teijón, Álex García-Faura, Alberto Prats-Galino, and Luis Pallarés Aniorte, from the Institut Marqués jointly won this year’s Obstetrics prize for showing that a developing human fetus responds more strongly to music that is played electromechanically inside the mother's vagina than to music that is played electromechanically on the mother's belly.
The research proves that unborn babies can hear and respond to music at just 16 weeks, ten weeks earlier than previously thought, but only if played through the vagina.
The 2015 study provided incredible 3D images that show the foetuses opening their mouths and sticking out their tongues in response to music emitted via the vagina.
“The foetuses responded to the music by moving their mouths and their tongues as if they wanted to speak or sing,” said the Instituto Marqués, which unveiled the results of the tests – announcing its findings back in 2015.
Previous research had concluded that the auditory system does not start working until the 26th week of pregnancy.
The study shows that a foetus only hears music “like we do” when it is emitted via the vagina: “if we play the music externally, next to the abdomen, the foetus does not perceive it in the same way.”
The foetus can hear their mother chatting, her heartbeat and even her heels clicking on the floor, but all those external sounds are perceived as more of a murmur, unlike the music that was played via the vagina.
Diagram showing the “vaginal speaker”: Instituto Marqués
The music was transmitted using a Babypod a “musical tampon”; a speaker specially designed to emit music via the vagina.
Babypods retail for around €150 ($170) and expectant mothers are advised to use them for only around 20 minutes a day to expose their babies to music in the womb.
And what musical masterpiece did researchers choose to beam through to the foetuses? Maybe some classic Julio Iglesias or one hit wonder La Macarena?
They went a little more high-brow and played Bach’s Partita in A minor for solo flute.
The Ig Nobel peace prize was awarded to a team of Swiss scientists who discovered that playing the didgeridoo can help people stop snoring.
Other recipients of prizes included a scientist who created a bra that can quickly turn into a pair of protective face masks, a British researcher who analyzed the question ‘Why do old men have big ears?’ and a team who used brain-scanning technology to measure the extent to which some people are disgusted by cheese.
For the full list, visit improbable.com/ig
The real Nobel prizes will be announced from October 2nd.