How much thought have you given for how your ponytail hangs?  Not much?  Me neither.  Well Raymond E. Goldstein a professor of complex physical systems at the University of Cambridge in England has been giving it a lot of thought.  And, no, he doesn’t have a hair fetish, but he has been pondering the physics of this hairstyle for some time.


Well, according to the NY Times: “He and two other physicists have been trying to determine whether the shape of a ponytail can be deduced from the properties of a single hair. After all, a head with 100,000 strands is a complex physical system, as anyone with a copious coiffure can attest.”

Um, okay.

According to the professor and his colleagues, the characteristics of a ponytail are elasticity, density and curliness, plus the length of a ponytail  can tell you how springy a piece of hair is.

Well, isn’t that…interesting, I guess.

These professors even came up with a name for this formula: “The Rapunzel Factor.”  The NY Times explained, “A short ponytail of springy hair, characterized by a low Rapunzel number, fans outward. A long ponytail with a high Rapunzel number hangs down, as the pull of gravity overwhelms the springiness. “I think we were surprised about the simplicity of this,” Dr. Goldstein said.”

Really, surprised by the simplicity?  Even thought I’m not physicist, I’m not exactly surprised.   Yet, regardless of the simplicity, the research was submitted to the journal of Physical Review Letters.  Hmm, sounds important.  I guess it must be if these findings were added to long scientific history that already existed on hair, including notes by DaVinci and and, more recently, Stanford mathematician Joseph B. Keller who studied the movement of hair and figured out why the ponytails of joggers sway from side to side

Unilever, a multinational corporation, whose products include soaps, shampoos certainly thought it was important as they approached Dr. Goldstein to collaborate on the basic properties of hair, including tangling and the shapes of individual strands.  The goal for Unilever was to use this research to create better hair products.  Okay, now that is interesting.  Additionally, the research could also be used for animators to better create the hair movement of their characters as well as with bundles  of other long filaments, including fiberglass and wool.

Dr. Goldstein’s follow-up research will combine Dr. Keller’s findings to get a better understanding of ponytails.  Okay, maybe I was wrong, perhaps this guy really does have a hair fetish.

Regardless, the next time you grab an elastic band to arbitrarily throw your hair into a ponytail in order to get your unruly locks out of your way, realize that, somewhere, there are a bunch of nerdy physicists out there who think it is really important.

Source: New York Times