The Hercules Number: How a Dimensionless Physical Parameter Got Its Name

I did not conceive or give birth to the Hercules Number. But I did name it. Here’s the story. In science and mathematics, we often get to name things. To help with exposition, sometimes we essentially have to name them, because it can help us do a better job of explaining things. In fact, we also enjoy […]

Which seals have the stiffest whiskers?

Pinnipeds (for example seals) tend to have vibrissae (i.e. whiskers) of varying flexurality (stiffness), arranged in a mystacial (moustache-like) format. Warranting an experimental investigation: “This is the first comparative study on the mechanical properties of pinniped mystacial vibrissae.” – explain a team of researchers from Texas A&M university and West Chester University, US. The investigators […]

New Mathematical Model Helps Explain the Strength of Interleaved Phonebooks

Phonebooks made of paper have been going out of style, but they are still of interest to physicists. A few years ago, an episode of Mythbusters explored the strength of interleaved phone books. (Also see the sequel in Mythbusters, or maybe even try it yourself.) First, some context, in case you are a child of the 21st century, and […]

How Do Bumps Form in Carpets?

We’ve all had this experience: we are walking on a carpet, and we suddenly trip over an annoying bump (or “ruck”) that we didn’t know was there. So how did it form? My colleagues Alpha Lee, Clément Le Goullec, and Dominic Vella from the Mathematical Institute at University of Oxford have just posted a new paper that endeavors to explain […]

Engineering frontiers: The untapped power of breast motion

Harnessing the untapped power of breast motion one day recently I had an idea. As I rode public transportation to the office, my messenger bag slung uncomfortably across my chest, I thought, “Why not put the girls to work?” Human-powered devices are showing up everywhere, from Rotterdam’s sustainable dance floor to human-powered gyms in Hong […]