knot theory

If someone asked you what the strongest knot is, you might say the bowline or square knot. You probably know that a reef knot is stronger than a granny knot even though they’re very similar. But do you know why? If you could see inside a knot and know the forces it’s under, you could more accurately predict how well it would hold.

Mathematicians use knot theory models to try to explain the stresses a knot is subject to. Recently, MIT researchers developed a new model that looks at things like how the fibers twist when under load and how often the line crosses itself. But the computer model couldn’t take into consideration things like how soft the line is and how that changes its stability. So when other researchers developed stretchable fibers that change color depending on how much they’re strained, a new way to look at knot strength was born. Read on.