Solved! The mysterious math of ponytails

String theory: Hair has vexed scientists and artists for centuries.

(Credit:
Tim Hornyak/CNET)

Does your coif suffer from orientational disorder? Have you checked the gravitational effects on your locks lately? Can you solve the differential equation in your beehive?

Well, scientists now can. Pioneering British researchers have succeeded in formulating an equation that unravels the deep physics mysteries of that great frontier of science, human ponytails.

In a study that screams Ig Nobel Prize, the researchers from the University of Cambridge, the University of Warwick, and Unilever published a hirsute equation that for the first time describes how hairs hang together and predicts the form of a ponytail.

“We identify the balance of forces in various regions of the ponytail, extract a remarkably simple equation of state from laboratory measurements of human ponytails, and relate the pressure to the measured random curvatures of individual hairs,” Raymond Goldstein, Robin Ball, and Patrick Warren write in Physical Review Letters.

You’d think these boffins went a-hunting for ponytails in the wild and examined specimens back in the lab. That was probably too hairy a prospect.

Instead, they obtained commercial human hairpie… [Read more]

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