Bored or High? #1: string theory

A great number of published papers seems to evidence boredom and/or illicit substance use in the academe.1 This should come as no surprise. Academia can be tedious: hours spent in front of a computer screen/in the lab, endless bureaucracy, and a never-ending teaching schedule could all contribute to a general sense of boredom and/or a drive to beat it with mind-altering chemicals beyond the standard caffeine and alcohol. Indeed, the famous Penguin diagrams in physics resulted from a combination of beer, bravado and recreational drugs.

So, are these academics bored or high? You decide! 

#1: String theory

No no, not the string theory, but a theory, about string. Actual string. A couple of academics put some string in a box and shook it up to see how it knots. Why, exactly? Well, because while

it is well known that a jostled string tends to become knotted… the factors governing the “spontaneous” formation of various knots are unclear.

They found that “complex knots often form within seconds”. Like this:

String, before and after tumbling

String, getting knotted

The researchers then analyzed the knots using mathematical knot theory.


Mathematical Knot Theory

The full paper, ‘Spontaneous knotting of an agitated string’ can be downloaded here.


  1. Nothing here should be taken as implying that I accuse particular academics of using drugs. Please don’t sue me, I have no money.
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6 thoughts on “Bored or High? #1: string theory

  1. Stupid people tend to think that because they read the word “knot” and this is “familiar”, they know everything about it and hence, “doing studies with knots” must be made by someone who’s “bored” or “high”. They don’t know that names do not matter in mathematics, definitions are the things that matter. The name is arbitrary, instead of “knot”, it could be “little doggies”, “bananas”, etc. It is funny because they read these words with a profound confidence that they know the meaning (definitions) of these terms.

    • Knot theory is about a mathematical abstraction of knots. Instead of “a piece of string” a mathematical knot is an embedding of the unit circle in 3-d Euclidean space. Well known string knots, like the reef knot (trefoil knot), have mathematical counterparts that are analysed in string theory.

  2. OMGodzilla, effing relax. I think the main idea here is that it is often obscure what we scientists do. It is a legitimate concern for people. We should constantly ask ourselves about the relationship of our -usually- too specific work with the rest of the people.

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