Researchers have made great strides when it comes to figuring out how to stick things together. They’ve also figured out how things get tangled up when we don’t WANT them to.

Cellophane tape was invented in 1929 by engineer Richard G. Drew, who had already invented masking tape 4 years earlier. It took him 5 years to figure it out, but he finally succeeded. reports that the tape got its name when an auto painter complained that it wasn’t sticky enough and said, “Take this back to your stingy Scotch bosses and tell them to put more adhesive on it.” Now the amount of Scotch Tape sold every year could circle the earth 165 times.

There’s also a science of knots, but this is more mathematical. Electrical cables, garden hoses and strands of holiday lights seem to get themselves hopelessly tangled with no help at all. Researchers Dorian Raymer and Douglas Smith became interested in knot theory when they discovered that no one really knew how knots formed.

Their experiment was simple: a plastic box was spun by a computer-controlled motor. A piece of string was dropped into the box and tumbled around like clothes in a dryer. Knots formed very quickly, within 10 seconds. The researchers repeated the experiment more than 3,000 times varying the length and stiffness of string, box size and speed of rotation and classified the resulting knots.

Smith says, “Knot formation is important in many fields. For example, knots often form in DNA, which is a long string-like molecule. Cells have enzymes that undo the knots by cutting the DNA strands so that they can pass through each other. Certain anti-cancer drugs stop tumor cells from dividing by blocking the unknotting of DNA.”

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