Over 1000 young people take part in ‘ribbon curling’ experiment


A team of mathematicians from The University of Manchester has undertaken a huge experiment at Birmingham’s Big Bang Fair, to get people thinking about the science behind ‘ribbon curling’. Over 1000 young people from primary and secondary schools around the country took part in the test, which encouraged participants to try using different techniques and methods to achieve the best curl.

Anyone experienced in the art of gift wrapping will know that when a sharp blade is run down the side of a ribbon, it curls upwards - however, until recently, there has been very little scientific understanding of this process. The University of Manchester’s Professor Anne Juel and her fellow researchers presented a study on the subject at the March Meeting of the American Physical Society in Baltimore, which demonstrated that a slower blade movement produces tighter curls, because the ribbon needs time to relax for the deformation to take place. More information about this study can be seen on the BBC website.

Inspired by the research, a team of mathematicians decided to test out the theory on as many people as possible at the 2016 Big Bang Fair. Attendees were asked what speed they thought would achieve the tightest curl, before being asked to use a variety of implements including scissors and plastic rulers to attempt to curl the ribbons. The initial results indicated that:

- Metal scissors produced tighter curls than plastic scissors and the plastic ruler
- Participants who pressed hardest had the tightest curls
- Participants who moved more slowly had tighter curls
- Women produced tighter curls than men


Parmesh Gajjar, final year PhD student
“Through this experiment, we hope that we have demonstrated the wide public appeal of maths - this is the same ribbon curling technique that people use on their Christmas gifts! This is a cool project which demonstrates our great research at Manchester, as well as our wider engagement with the public.”
Parmesh Gajjar, final year PhD student

The team are undertaking the experiment again at The Trafford Centre on the weekend of April 23/24, and everyone is invited to go along and take part – the team are hoping to get even more people involved.

Share this release

Latest news