STUDY: The ponytail is a wonder of science

The ponytail -- one of science's greatest mysteries.

So, you know the ponytail? Yes, the classic up-do popular among long-haired people who have less than five minutes to get ready in the morning. Well, a group of scientists actually spent time researching the statistical physics behind the ponytail.

Apparently, this is a matter that has baffled scientists for ages. The study takes a closer look at natural materials — specifically the distribution of hairs in a ponytail, according to the BBC. Researchers came up with The Ponytail Shape Equation, which is — if you can believe it — the first real scientific understanding about the mind boggling wonder that is the ponytail.

Professor Raymond Goldstein, one of the lead researchers from Cambridge University, called the equation “remarkably simple” and said it’s an example of how physics can “solve a problem that has puzzled scientists and artists ever since Leonardo da Vinci remarked on the fluid-like streamlines of hair in his notebooks 500 years ago”.

The equation, plus a new mathematical quantity known as the Rapunzel Number, can actually be used to predict the shape of any ponytail. That’s right, people — any ponytail.

According to researchers:

Applying this formalism to the iconic problem of the ponytail, the combined effects of bending elasticity, gravity, and orientational disorder are recast as a differential equation for the envelope of the bundle, in which the compressibility enters through an `equation of state’. From this, 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.

First of all, what iconic problem of the ponytail?! Secondly, ok, scientists — whatever you say.

We may not be able to appreciate why this study is important to science, but we can appreciate a killer ponytail. Here’s a round-up of some of the greats.



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