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Can Physics un-tangle Christmas lights?

Posted on | October 3, 2007 | No Comments

Physorg (my favorite site to eat Physics) is running an article about some research going into finding out why things like Christmas tree lights delight in becoming tangled and knotty. The research is quite interesting, it deals with why some knots form one way, while others form another way all surrounding the knot theory (which I don’t quite fully understand).

We all know that our strands of tree lights magically come alive and knot themselves shortly after we put them away in a storage box, but Physicists want to make sure. Unfortunately, no method of making strings of any kind that are inherently resistant to knotting is in danger of being discovered.

This research is neat stuff, especially to educators who can (very easily) reproduce some of these experiments (Science and Math teachers might really like this article). This is (as the article says) research that is really geared for young Science fans. For the average geek dad, this means interesting things :

  • Every time something gets tangled, you must go preform experiments. After all, its for the good of Science!
  • Anything stringy is going to knot. We should not buy expensive cord winders anymore, we’re interfering with the natural potential of the cord. Just chuck it in a box, its bound to knot anyway. Then, you can disappear to the garage and drink egg nog while avoiding your in-laws during the holiday season all in the name of Science.
  • You can carry a length of string in your pocket and do Physics experiments anywhere.

The researchers doing the experiments are using computer programs to analyze the knots, I hope that these programs are released under an OSI approved license so schools can use them too.


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