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Ig Nobel Prize for Skipton man’s ponytail research
8:00am Saturday 29th September 2012 in News
A Skipton man has picked up a top international award for his work on the “dynamics of ponytails”.
Dr Patrick Warren, 46, landed an Ig Nobel Prize, along with three colleagues, for creating what has become known as the “Ponytail Shape Equation”.
It takes into account the stiffness of the hair fibres on the head, the effects of gravity and the presence of the random curliness or waviness of human hair to model how a ponytail is likely to behave.
Together with a new quantity described as the Rapunzel Number, the equation can be used to predict the shape that hair will take when it is drawn behind the head and tied together.
The Ig Nobel Prizes are organised by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research with the stated aim to “first make people laugh and then make them think”.
Dr Warren, who works for Unilever, travelled to Harvard University, in Massachusetts, America, for the ceremony, which saw Nobel Laureates handing out the prizes.
He said: “It’s a great honour to have been recognised for this project. While the science might sound a little off-beat, it actually has important everyday consequences for Unilever which has a major haircare business. By improving our understanding of how individual hair fibres interact, this research could one day help us to develop new products which offer people even better volume control.”
Dr Warren also told BBC News: “My field, statistical physics, is not something that many will have heard of, so I’m really pleased we’ve done something that’s caught the imagination.
“At Unilever, as you can imagine, there is a lot of interest because we sell a lot of haircare products,” he added. “But there are wider applications where you have a lot of fibres coming together, such as in fabrics.
“I’ve also wondered if we can contribute something to the whole area of computer animation. Hair, for example, is something that is very hard to make look natural in animated movies.”
Dr Warren was born and bred in Skipton and educated at the Parish Church School and Ermysted’s, where he won an Open Scholarship to Christ’s College Cambridge in 1984. He gained a PhD in theoretical physics and went on to work as a statistical physicist at Unilever’s research and development centre at Port Sunlight on the Wirral.
Dr Warren shares the Ig Nobel Award for Physics with his co-authors Professor Raymond Goldstein from the University of Cambridge and Professor Robin Ball from the University of Warwick, and with Professor Joe Keller of Stanford University.