Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Episode 61: Ponytail Science

In a Physical Review Letters scientific journal article, physicists claim to be able to predict the shape of a ponytail. I can do that too. It will look like a ponytail.  Does anyone not know what I mean by that? I can predict the shape of a square too. It will be a square.  Maybe I just don’t understand physics as well as the group of physicists sitting in a room somewhere drinking strong coffee and musing over ponytail shapes. 

The new equation they developed accounts for hair stiffness, random curliness or waviness, and gravity.  (One factor it does not consider is the activity level of the 6-year-old girl whose hair is trying valiantly to stay in a ponytail. Try predicting what that will look like at the end of the day when her dad is the one who tried to install the ponytail.)  According to one of the British scientists involved, ponytail dynamics have baffled scientists and artists for some 500 years.  The Ponytail Shape Equation uses all kinds of scientific-sounding jargon, like the Rapunzel Number, and it is this new equation that enables esteemed physicists to predict the shape of any ponytail.  In their defense (the physicists…ponytails need no defense because they are cute and fun and all that…unless they are weird and stringy and attached to middle-aged male physicists), this new equation will also help those same esteemed physicists understand the workings of random fibers in materials made up of random fibers, whatever those might be. 

I think they should have a contest with hair dressers to see who can predict ponytail shapes in the real world.  Maybe next they can predict what a pile of spaghetti noodles will look like.  That would be very useful to fancy chefs and such.  Is it just me, or does science seem to be taking itself a bit less seriously these days?  Back in the glory days when physics was first invented, physicists studied neurons, protons, electrons, photons, and a bunch more ‘ons. If they want to study ponytails the least they could do is come up with a more scientific-sounding name…like Fiberous Sliatynop.  That sounds way more baffling and serious.  I would say this is what happens when a bunch of hippies who became physicists hit midlife crises, but these guys are British, and I don’t think there were hippies in Britain.  In any case, none of this scientific research is any help to me in getting my daughter’s hair into a ponytail that looks like a ponytail done by someone who knows what a ponytail is supposed to look like, which makes me wonder if that equation would work for one of my Fiberous Sliatynops. I predict another victory for random ineptitude over scientific prediction.

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