Science finds a way to stop your headphones -- and your DNA -- getting tangled

There are few things more annoying than having to unpick a tangled knot of headphones or cables, but scientists say they've found the answer.

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We all know the pain: in the mood for some tunes, you delve into your bag -- only to pull out your headphones twisted into more knots than Rapunzel's hairbrush. Fortunately, British scientists have come up with a simple way to stop headphones, string and even DNA from twisting itself into troublesome tangles.

Not only does the new research confirm that string really does have "a perverse tendency to knot spontaneously," but also found that the longer the string is, the more likely it is to tangle.

But there's good news: the study found that joining the ends of the string together dramatically reduces the probability of the string knotting. With the ends joined, the string can't manoeuvre itself into a tangle.

This has been dubbed "the Loop Conjecture."

The study was led by Robert Matthews, a physicist at the Department of Engineering and Applied Science at Aston University in Birmingham, UK. Scientists tackled the knotty problem by jumbling various lengths of ordinary parcel string 20 times to give a reasonable number of data-points by which to gauge the proportion of knot-free jumblings. This allowed the scientists to come up with an estimate of the probability of a specific length of string remaining in a knot-free state.

Researchers then tried it again with each piece of string having its ends joined, forming a loop, which cut down on the number of messy balls of knots. They subsequently tested the Loop Conjecture by bringing schools into the loop, with kids in one Coventry school performing 12,000 individual knotting tests.

On the face of it this may sound like another discovery by the University of the Blinkin' Obvious, but the implications go beyond unknotting headphones. The scientists say their research has attracted interest from biochemists concerned with the tendency of thread-like DNA to get itself tangled. The new study suggests nature may form loops in DNA to prevent this happening.

The full paper has been accepted for publication in the scientific journal School Science Review, wherein it will be scrutinised via peer review.

 

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