For decades punk rockers and metal heads have found meaning in slamming their bodies together in furious passion. Now academic gentlemen from the higher learning environment are taking a fresh look at this activity. The mosh pit is about the last place you would expect to find scientists in lab coats, taking measurements and calculating rates of acceleration. But it’s now 2016 and if we can study Beyonce at our local university, then we should certainly be able to simulate a mosh pit and calculate the flocking force and velocities. With a mosh pit physics simulation that is exactly what some grad students at Cornell University are doing — discussing flocking force and velocities in a mosh pit.

Sound complicated, I know.

Jesse L. Silverberg, Matthew Bierbaum, James P. Sethna, and Itai Cohen have recently published a paper that details their study of the “collective motion of moshers at heavy metal concerts.” According to the paper, the phenomenon of moshers resemble “the kinetics of gaseous particles, even though moshers are self-propelled agents that experience dissipative collisions.” And we thought that a mosh pit was just a bunch of angry long-haired dudes releasing their aggression.

What did the study find?

The study revealed no groundbreaking results about why people would willingly smash their sweaty smelly bodies into each other for fun. But they did find that in real life (not in their simulations) mosh pits, if they are the circular kind, move in a counter-clockwise direction 95% of the time. They speculated that this was related to the dominant handedness found in most people. They also found that “both collisions and noise tend to randomize motion, whereas flocking and self-propulsion tend to homogenize motion.” Flocking is when moshers join forces with one or two other people, creating small or sometimes larger units.

What is the value of these findings?

Where is all of this going? The grad students hope to use their findings to gain understanding of “collective motion in riots, protests, and panicked crowds, leading to new architectural safety design principals that limit the risk of injury at extreme social gatherings.” Yes, maybe mosh pits hold some of the keys to building a better, safer world.

What the hell are we talking about again?

If you read the paper, there is a lot of jargon being thrown around. If you feel like your head is spinning and has been stomped all over by combat boots, take a look at this video of Bierbaum’s presentation:

 

If you’re still confused, just look at this cool simulation of a mosh pit and we’ll call it a day.