Whether your writing that difficult term paper or starting that new novel, think as you crumple up those sheets of paper and toss them around the room missing that wastepaper basket that your roommate has placed just out of reach. Even your cat has tired of chasing those golf ball sized hard spheres of paper.

But wait, all is not lost. Those little balls of paper are of great interest to those of the physics persuasion. Cambou and Menon of U Mass have published a study of the little paper balls on their office floor in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (1).

The observation was that they are crumpled up until they get hard to crumple up any more in spite of the frustration of the contents of the page being unsatisfactory. The actual amount of the volume of the spheres (physicists like spheres) that is paper is very small. So the BIG question is why are they so strong?

That big equipment grant can now be put to good use. The authors of the study X-rayed the paper balls, layer by layer so that they could describe the structure. Remember if you can describe it, then maybe you can explain it’s properties, if you can’t describe it, you’ve no chance in developing a theory and may as well go to the local hostelry.

The result of the structural study is that the compression has produced a somewhat even structure with many of the folds lining up parallel to each other in such a way as to resist further compression. So in essence it self-regulates in that the disorderly crumpling continues until it has enough internal supports to give a strong structure which your cat can then chase around the floor.

  1. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/08/15/1019192108.abstract

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