Jan
09
2008

Knots to you

Tangled up in blue: A simple experiment shows why almost any long stringy thing will eventually tie itself into knots.
Tangled up in blue: A simple experiment shows why almost any long stringy thing will eventually tie itself into knots.Courtesy clickykbd

Telephone cords, power cords, proteins – anything long and thin, it seems, will eventually get tangled up in a knot. Two biophysicists think they know why.

Dorian Raymer and Douglas Smith of the University of California at San Diego built a knot-making machine – a simple container about the size of a box of tissues. They put string in the box, tumbled it ten times, and then checked to see if a knot had formed. They found that this very simple procedure produced spontaneous knotting about half the time.

Raymer and Smith say it all has to do with the way the free ends rotate relative to the rest of the string. This may help scientists understand biological molecules, like DNA, which are prone to tangling themselves up.

I will resist the urge to congratulate the scientists for solving this knotty problem.

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