I was always a fan of Robert Munsch’s kids books, but I think my all-time favorite was Stephanie’s Ponytail (from which I have adopted the title of this blog, and am proud to quote often its mantra of self-confidence).
Ponytails are awesome. They’re easy. They’re cute. They’re safe.
But have you ever thought of the physics of ponytails?
That’s right. The “balance of forces that shape and move the hair in a human ponytail” has been calculated by a US/UK team of four dear gentlemen who have probably had much more opportunity to observe ponytails than wear them.
Their curiosity was piqued by the way a jogger’s ponytail swings from side to side, even while her head is moving only up and down. The equation they came up with has far greater implications than just satisfying that tidbit of curiosity, however.
Enter, the 2012 Physics Ig Nobel Prize-winning “Ponytail Shape Equation.”
You can read up on the details in the research paper “Shape of a Ponytail and the Statistical Physics of Hair Fiber Bundles,” (download here!), by Patrick Warren, Raymond Goldstein, and Robin Ball. For further reading, check out Joe Keller’s paper entitled “Ponytail Motion.”
Here’s what really excites me about this equation. To quote their paper:
How cool would it be to use physics to calculate the ideal length for your hair to produce the perfect ponytail ? ? ? With this knowledge in a Nerd Girl’s arsenal, many a botched ‘do could be avoided.
To pull that off, you’re going to need to take into account a new quantity they have appropriately coined as the Rapunzel Number: the ratio , a “dimensionless measure of the ponytail’s length.”
And in all seriousness, there are plenty of real-world applications for this knowledge that have nothing to do with vanity, too. But I’ll leave it up to you Nerd Girls to open up that discussion, because you’ll have to excuse me while I go rent Tangled.