Understanding unknotting shoelaces could hold the secrets to the universe

There are thousands of mysteries that keep scientists awake at night. What really is out there in the inky blackness of space? Is a human head transplant really possible? And how can we tackle the ceaseless march of climate change? Rest easy, though, because the biggest mystery of all has finally been put to bed: we now know why shoelaces always end up becoming untied.

Understanding unknotting shoelaces could hold the secrets to the universe

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that the force of a foot striking the ground stretches and then relaxes your shoelace knot. The following upswing of your leg as you take the next step pulls down on the flapping lace ends to essentially slowly untie your shoe.

During their research it was discovered that, when running, your foot strikes the ground at around seven times the force of gravity  – enough to test any knot. The upswing of your leg then provides an internal force to the loose lace ends, rapidly unravelling them in as little as two strides.

If it helps put your mind at ease, the scientists conducted this research on a number of different lace types and knot types and discovered there’s no real way to stop this problem.

Co-author and graduate student Christine Gregg noted: “The interesting thing about this mechanism is that your laces can be fine for a really long time and it’s not until you get one little bit of motion to cause loosening that starts this avalanche effect leading to knot failure.”

Thankfully, this research project isn’t as pointless as you think. Lead researcher Christopher Daily-Diamond explained that “when you talk about knotted structures, if you can start to understand the shoelace, then you can apply it to other things, like DNA or microstructures, that fail under dynamic forces.

“This is the first step toward understanding why certain knots are better than others, which no one has really done.”

Still, if you’re going to take anything from this piece of news, make sure you tuck your laces into your shoes in future, as that might just save you from tying your shoelaces over and over again. Or maybe just go back to Velcro.

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