comScore Why Does YOur Skin Get So Pruney In The Tub? | The Mary Sue
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Why Does Your Skin Get So Pruney In The Tub?

Impress your wet friends with the answer to this age-old mystery!

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Have you ever emerged from a soak and worried that you’re stuck with the pruney fingers of an old hag for all eternity? Some German physicists were concerned about that too, so they investigated how our fingers get so wrinkly in the first place-and why they don’t stay that way.

Over the years scientists have had a lot of theories for the inexplicable drastic wrinkling that happens to our skin after being in the water for long periods of time, everything from the expansion of blood vessels to wrinkled fingers giving us a better grip on wet objects.

In a study published recently in Physical Review, researchers Myfawny Evans and Rollin Roth write that it all comes down to the  “interplay of mesoscale geometry and thermodynamics.”

To put it into slightly more understandable terms, keratin protein filaments on the top layer of our skin want to rapidly absorb water when submerged, which Evans and Roth say accounts for the swift development of wrinkles. And obviously, if nothing happened to counteract that absorption, we would indeed be permanently pruney.

As proof of this theory, Evans and Roth compared a woven synthetic material of their own creation with the topmost layer of skin, and found that the two mesh designs were geometrically identical.

Evans and Roth’s synthetic material also wrinkled upon absorbing water, and eventually bounced back to its original form.

The physicists’ paper in Physical Review seems to be saying that because the weave of fibers in their synthetic material is identical to the mesh of human skin, and skin and synthetic materials both wrinkle upon absorbing water, pruning fingers must be just the result of water absorption.

I’m not sure I entirely follow their logic, although the idea that our skin’s miraculous transformation from wrinkled to smooth is an energetic balancing sounds like a good explanation.

However, if Evans and Roth’s  theory is correct, it could give us a new understanding of how human skin can help in the design of synthetic materials with greater flexibility and durability, as well as leading to improved skin grafts.

Also, it’s 2014 already, and in terms of scientific mysteries that have yet to be solved, this one might be the least impressive.

(via Gizmodo, images via Ian Turk)

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