Physics students study how large crowds behave at mosh pits.
Large groups of humans emulate natural phenomena in surprising ways, especially when faced with extreme conditions such as riots, rock concerts, or earthquakes.
They may behave like molecules in a gas or in solid material, schools of fish, or flocks of birds, all without thinking or direction, researchers have found. And sometimes, conditions that look chaotic are not.
While group behavior is more likely to be a topic in a conference of sociologists or psychologists, several groups of physicists at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Baltimore, reported using some techniques of physics to describe and maybe predict human behavior in times of crisis.
Take, for instance, a heavy metal concert, where crowds informally create mosh pits, mobs of people moving randomly to cacophonous and throbbing, rhythmic music, bouncing off each other, sometimes transporting each other over the mob by hand.
A group of physics students at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., have recreated the activity in a computer, and the result may lead to better-designed concert halls and arenas and help protect against people being trampled to death at soccer stadium stampedes and concerts. Research like it could save lives.