Prize winning ponytails

Child with a ponytailMy Friday was made when I learnt that a good friend, Patrick Warren, had shared the 2012 IgNobel Prize in Physics. A few years ago, we did some work together on the surfaces of protein crystals. Patrick, together with three other scientists won the prize for work on ponytails. I wrote a blog post on this in February, when the work that won them the prize was published.

I think the IgNobel prizes are just great – other winners this year includes neuroscientists looking at the brain activity of dead salmon. Also that in this case it couldn’t have gone to a nicer guy. Science should be fun, and science should try and understand all aspects of the natural world. The Higgs boson? Certainly. But also ponytails. Both are parts of the natural world. Both obey the laws of physics and so we should be able to understand both.

I guess when non-scientists think of what physicists do, they tend to think we work on the Higgs boson. Not that we sit around thinking: What really determines the diameter at the bottom of a ponytail? What if the length of a ponytail is doubled? Does it get twice as wide, more, less? But not only is it a perfectly reasonable scientific question to ask what determines the spread of hair in a ponytail, but there is money and jobs in this.

More, perhaps than are in the Higgs boson. Patrick Warren works for Unilever, who make VO5, TRESemmé, Brylcream, Timotei, TIGI, etc shampoos. It is big business,with serious R&D science, employing many scientists making ponytails shinier, more manageable, and so on. They don’t do anything on Impulse – although that is another of Unilever’s brands.