HotAIR - The Hair Recorder


Technology Update: THE HAIR RECORDER

An inside glimpse at what's new in emerging technologies

by Stephen Drew

It has long been known that a strand of hair can incorporate information about the environment in which it is growing. Researchers at Elbot Laboratory are developing a way to retrieve the audio information that is sometimes encoded in a strand of human hair.

Sound patterns can strongly influence the protein structure of the hair during stressful periods of hair growth (see Rebecca Sage's seminal article, "A Stress Analysis of a Bouffant"). The "recording" is actually a chemical process that occurs in the hair follacle. An individual hair can be used to "replay" many of the sounds that impinged upon the follacle while the hair was growing.

Potential uses include memory aides, historical research, and firsthand -- or, more accurately, "firsthair" -- evidence in legal proceedings.

Human hair has been shown to record better in young people than in their elders. Youngsters' thicker hair (often 80 microns or more in diameter, as compared to a typical diameter of 60 microns in older people) has the capacity to encode copious amounts of information. This abundance of data, though, presents numerous difficulties in retrieving and decoding the sound information.

Most shampoos, pomades and unguents degrade the quality of the recording. A few, however -- especially shampoos containing fish oil or kerosene -- seem to enhance hair's ability to capture and store detailed sound records.

The technology has "yielded some impressive results," according to Noah Morgan, Elbot Laboratory's Director of Research & Development.

Morgan acknowledged that political pressures are affecting the laboratory's Aural History Research Project. The project involves hair samples from Abraham Lincoln, Confucious, Isaac Newton, Brigham Young, Aristotle, Moses, Cleopatra, Genghis Khan, Enrico Caruso, Napolean, John Keats, Lady Godiva, L. Ron Hubbard, and other important personages.

Many of the objections come from religious authorities. "There is concern," says Elbot, "about the hair recorder being used to play back sounds from the tonsorial remains of early religious figures. This conceivably could reveal truths that might not square with the expectations of modern believers. It could be, pardon the expression, a hair-raising experience."

This is a HotAIR classical feature. For a complete listing of AIR features, see What's New.