Certified_Wombat_Faeces By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen - Own work by uploader CC BY-SA 3.0

Cubed wombat poo claims physics gong in 2019's Ig Nobel Prizes

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The 2019 Ig Nobels - the satirical take on the Nobel Prizes - have been announced, and a University of Tasmania study of wombasses and their cubic poo is among the winners. The Tassie scientists are in illustrious company - other award winners include the discovery that men's left testicles run hotter than the right, research that showed pizza protects against illness, but only in Italy, an estimate of the amount of saliva produced by a typical five-year-old, and the use of dog training techniques to improve surgeons' performance, among some other doozies. The Ig Nobels award prizes for studies "that first make people laugh, and then make them think". You can check out the full list of winners here

Organisation/s: University of Tasmania

Media Release

From: University of Tasmania

Kudos for cracking cubed poo code

A cubed conundrum has for decades baffled bushwalkers and biological scientists alike.

New research from the University of Tasmania’s Dr Scott Carver, Dr Ashley Edwards and Dr Alynn Martin – together with Georgia Tech’s Professor David Hu – set out to crack the secret of the unique cubed poo of wombats.

The study has today earned the team a satirical Ig Nobel Prize, awarded by Improbable Research, for making people laugh and then think at a ceremony at Harvard University in the US.

Dr Carver said that how and why wombats produce cubed faeces has been a fascination to many people for a long time.

“There are many colourful hypotheses to explain the phenomenon, but nobody had ever investigated it. This research has been a fun effort to answer the questions of how and why,” Dr Carver said.

When Dr Carver first sliced open a wombat cadaver, he was surprised by their extraordinarily long intestines, about 10 metres long. In contrast, human intestines are only 7 metres long.

Partially because of wombats’ long colons, Carver says “wombat scat is dry. Human colons are not that long; we don’t pull as much water from faeces.”

The dissections revealed something else.

“My lab discovered that the cubes formed in the intestine,” Carver said, dismissing the idea that the cubes were formed at the point of exit from the wombat.

The fact that the wombat intestine is not uniformly flexible, with some parts rigid while other parts are soft, forms the basis of the current hypothesis about the formation of cubed poo.

The Ig Nobel prizes recognise research based on these criteria: research that makes you laugh, and then makes you think. From approximately 9000 nominations each year, a total of 10 prizes are awarded.

Dr Carver said the study was an example of how scientific discoveries can begin when you are not specifically looking for them.

“It is a genuine honour to have our research recognised through this award, and of course, a lot of fun."

The Ig Nobel Prize has been awarded annually since 1991 to celebrate unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research.

Attachments:

  • Improbable Research
    Web page
    The Improbable Research website listing the 2019 winners

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  • Wombat pair
    Wombat pair

    Wombat pair.

    File size: 4.4 MB

    Attribution: University of Tasmania

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    Last modified: 13 Sep 2019 3:49pm

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  • Wombat poo
    Wombat poo

    Wombat poo.

    File size: 4.1 MB

    Attribution: University of Tasmania

    Permission category: © - Only use with this story

    Last modified: 13 Sep 2019 3:49pm

    NOTE: High resolution files can only be downloaded here by registered journalists who are logged in.

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