Thursday, April 25, 2013

Physics and Heavy Metal

After yesterday's post exploring the connection between Shakespeare and Hip-Hop music, it only seem right to follow up with new research linking physics to heavy metal music--specifically, the physics underlying the contact between people in "mosh pits" at heavy metal concerts. If you are not familiar with mosh pits, they are places in punk or heavy metal concerts where people dance together in a way that largely consists of smashing into each other (for more information, see this WikiHow article on the rules and steps of moshing).

 But where most of us would see chaos, the Complex Matter Physics Group at Cornell University sees physics. One of their research projects is on human "flocking"--the collective movement of large numbers, or flocks, of people moving in an atypical situation (that is, not a normal or controlled situation, such as walking down a sidewalk). The point of their study is to better understanding human "herding" behavior in uncontrolled events in order to design buildings and public spaces to prevent stampedes and other injuries during emergencies or panicked evacuations.

 After recording and breaking down numerous videos of interactions in heavy metal mosh pits, the physicists found that there were underlying physical principles that seemed to control people's movements and collisions. In fact, they were surprised to find that a simulation of the typical interactions among mosh pit dancers resembled the classic movements of gas in a 2D space. (For more on their research, visit their website.)

 But you don't have to take my word for it. Below is the simulation they created of interactions in a typical mosh pit. To me, it does look like gas particles bumping into each other.

 If you want to play with the setting, go to the simulation website. There you can adjust sound levels, number of participant, or levels of "flocking" and see how it changes the motion of and between moshers.

 So....maybe if we keep looking, we can find ways to connect all our high school subjects to rhythms that appeal to our music-obsessed teenagers!

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