The newspaper of Imperial College London
 Issue 148, 19 January 2005
Taking Imperial from strength to strength«
UK-Thai scientific collaboration boosted by new agreement«
Cirque du Soleil in the main entrance«
A nose job«
Frizzy hair today, gone tomorrow«
New microscope gives boost to UK nanotechnology«
Lord Sainsbury visits Imperial«
Imperial leads the way in surgical training and innovation«
New programme will train next generation of health leaders«
Tea off to good health«
Success halts trial«
The perfect Formula«
Spotlight on new R&D solutions«
Imperial students are best trainees«
Cash boost for Wye’s top new scholars«
In Brief«
Media mentions«
What’s on«

Frizzy hair today, gone tomorrow

by Laura Gallagher

No matter how long you spend styling your hair or how expensive your shampoo is, a great hairdo can be ruined the moment you step outside the front door.

As you try to brush your hair back to its former glory, engineering research might not be at the forefront of your mind, but a new method for calculating the conditions under which hair physically changes state may one day save your locks.

Chemical engineering PhD student Aikaterini Mavraki, pictured, has devised a new method which captures the exact environmental conditions when hair goes from ‘smooth and glassy’ to ‘rubbery’.

Typically due to changes in temperature and humidity in the outside air, scientists call the temperature at which this occurs the glass transition temperature (Tg). Calculating it accurately has been the focus of Aikaterini’s EPSRC-funded doctoral research, sponsored by Unilever and supervised by Professor Daryl Williams.

Aikaterini explains the phenomenon: “When you first open a packet of crisps, they have been protected inside the packet, and so the crisps will be dry, brittle and crispy. If you leave the packet open for a while, they will become rubbery, because they are plasticised by water from the atmosphere, and that is the glass transition phenomenon”.

For her efforts she won Best Paper Award and a $3,000 prize at the TRI Princeton First International Conference on Applied Hair Science last summer.

Aikaterini uses the dynamic vapour sorption technique (DVS), a well-known approach for determining the moisture content in solids. The state of the hair can accurately be monitored whilst the relative humidity is gradually increased from 0 to 95 per cent. The DVS method enables continuous alterations and continuous monitoring, giving much more accurate results than previous techniques which relied on stepwise changes in conditions.

Hair is not the only material that undergoes glass transition and Aikaterini’s technique could be applied to other materials. Factories already use information about the Tg to calculate the optimum temperature and humidity for packaging goods such as cereals.

Back in the land of frizzy hair, Aikaterini is very hopeful that the results of her research will help cosmetic chemists to develop more effective frizz-fighting products. “I hope they can make my hair straight!” she jokes.

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