Edward Willett


The Rapunzel Number

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/02/The-Rapunzel-Number.mp3[/podcast] It’s said that fatherhood changes you. Take me, for instance. Until I had a daughter with long hair, I had absolutely no interest in ponytails. Now I find myself making one every morning (although, thankfully, she’s now able to do her own buns for ballet class—trying to achieve perfect bunhood...bunniness?...was way too stressful for me). I am glad, therefore, to see that science has finally tackled the important question of scientifically predicting the shape of a ponytail. That may sound facetious, but in fact it’s a problem that has perplexed people for at least five centuries: that’s how long ago it was that Leonardo da Vinci considered the question, remarking, in his ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 9:41, February 17th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »

The old gray hair, she ain’t what she used to be

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/gray-hair.mp3[/podcast] Look, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re growing older. Every second. Even worse, so am I. There are many manifestations of the aging process, most of which are far too depressing to go into, especially on a morning in late February. Still, we must all face facts sooner or later, and for many of us, the “sooner” arrives when we look in a mirror and notice...a gray hair. It’s the advance scout of an army of pale invaders to our scalp, and it’s been the focus of speculation and research for a long, long time. Now a new paper has been published that claims to have solved the mystery of why we go gray. The culprit, ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 14:54, February 23rd, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | 1 Comment »

Which gets tangled more: curly hair or straight hair?

Science at last has the answer: straight hair.To learn which kind of hair truly is the snarliest, biophysicist Jean-Baptiste Masson at the Ecole Polytechnique in France had hairdressers count tangles for a week in the hair of 212 people—123 with straight hair and 89 with curls. Counting was conducted between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., so that hair had a chance to snag during the day. Masson found straight hair got tangled nearly twice as much as curly hair—the average number of tangles was 5.3 per head of straight hair and 2.9 per head of curly hair.Now you know.

Posted by Edward Willett at 16:26, September 14th, 2007 under Blog | Comment now »

Hair loss

My two older brothers probably won't read this, so I can say this with impunity: they're losing their hair, and so far, I'm not. I'm not saying this to brag, merely to illustrate...oh, who am I fooling. Of course I'm saying it to brag! Holding on to one's hair, however, isn't really anything much to brag about. It all boils down to genetics: every hair follicle in your scalp is programmed for a certain lifespan, determined largely by the genes you inherited from your parents. And, yes, that's "parents," plural; the notion that baldness is passed down from the mother's side of the family only is a myth (one I admit I've been ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 17:31, November 25th, 1996 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »


Hair has been much on my mind recently, probably because it keeps getting in my eyes. I grow it thick, and I usually put off haircuts until the last minute, so I've had plenty of occasion to wonder just what this stuff is that sprouts from our bodies and we spend so much time cutting, conditioning, combing and cussing. "Hairs," says the encyclopedia, "are thin growths that protrude like filaments from the skin of mammals." Only mammals have hair, varying from thick, like sheep, to sparse, like elephants, to almost non-existent, like whales and Star Trek's Captain Picard. Hair performs many functions. Animals with lots of it usually need it for ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 17:30, May 21st, 1993 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns | Comment now »