IRVINE, CALIFORNIA — Researchers have discovered the first new knot in more than a century. Using sophisticated new super-computing software derived from advanced string theory, scientists at the Lawrence Institute for Elementary Science have been able to mathematically synthesize the new knot and produce a 3-D image of its structure. Researchers caution that the new knot, known as FS1701A, is not yet fit to be tied since more work needs to be done in clarifying its dizzying internal structure. Practical applications may be years away.
The knot, seen here, contains more than thirty seven distinct loop structures and a staggering one hundred nineteen twists of varying degrees including an unprecedented duo-deca-twist (twenty complete turns). Previously, the greatest degree of twist seen in a knot was one comprising seventeen complete turns discovered by a Swiss team in 1902.
The work is the culmination of one man’s passion for knots and has spawned new interest in the field. Dr. Ty Roper, leader of the research team that discovered the knot—while enjoying his new-found notoriety—was not tongue-tied in praising his team of scientists and graduate students. Speaking from his well-appointed office replete with depictions of knots and knot-making throughout the ages, Dr. Roper spoke about the efforts of the many researchers involved.
“Obviously we are delighted with the result and I cannot praise enough, the work and dedication of my fine colleagues,” Roper said. “This is the result of nearly three years direct work on the project. That work, however, follows on decades of advanced research by many others in disparate fields including applied mathematics, software engineering, cosmology and basket weaving.”
There are, however, skeptics who argue that the new structure is not a knot at all, but is instead, a tangle. Dr. Roper vigorously refutes that assertion, “All of our simulations, modeling and analysis of the structure confirm that it is a true knot and not a tangle.”
The criticism was born out of concern over some of the methods used by the researchers in discovering the new knot. Specifically, the use of so-called pseudo-random numbers leads some to contend that the structure is a randomly-generated quasi-stable partially-involved filament structure, commonly known as a tangle. Dr. Roper responds, “It is a deterministic fully-stable fully-involved filament structure, that is: a knot. Our use of pseudo-random numbers has nothing to do with the actual structure of the knot. We merely used these as part of the computer algorithm to aid in our verification process and as part of the modeling.”
Whether or not the knot is a knot or not is not up to Dr. Roper but will be determined by the Society of International Nautical Knot-Makers. The prestigious body was founded more than two hundred fifty years ago in an effort to standardize, categorize and generally promote knots and to offer hope in the face of the tangled webs we weave. Prior to the formation of SINKM, sailors often found themselves amid chaotic spaghetti-like messes, and as a result, a great number of ships foundered while confused seamen struggled to untangle lines as ships collided or drove onto perilous shoals.
All new knots must be certified by SINKM, where officials are excitedly preparing to initiate a formal process that has lain dormant for nearly a hundred years. The process is shrouded in mystery and steeped in ritual. Delegates from all over the world will be gathering in Greenwich, England where they will meet in secret conclave. Assuming the knot passes through all the other hoops, the final, yet crucial formality is the vote. The announcement comes via smoke from the chimney of the old observatory building. If it is the acrid bite of burning twine, the knot is not a knot. If, on the other hand, the smoke is the sweet smell of burning hemp, it’s certain that the mood inside is jovial.
A key part of the certification process involves tying the knot. There are only a handful people able to tie all of the more than seventeen hundred known knots. One of these will likely be chosen as the first to attempt to tie the knot discovered by Dr. Roper and his team. This is where much work remains. Identifying the knot is not the same as being able to tie the knot. The simple square knot is not to be compared to the intricate complexities of the more advanced and esoteric knots. This new knot, however, exceeds them all and presents a unique challenge. Nevertheless, Bjorn Nermann, widely considered to be the best knotter in the world today, expresses confidence in his ability to tie the knot.
“I can tie the knot,” the burly Swede says flatly.
He has reason to be confident. He’s the winner of every major knot-making contest in the world and has naught but himself and the knot itself with which to compete. He’s also been in a few tangles and is thus, not a stranger to challenges.
Dr. Roper’s work was funded by a thirteen million dollar government grant. Some have challenged the wisdom of spending so much on knot research when practical applications are not often forthcoming. Dr. Roper counters that, “Every one of the more than seventeen hundred knots is in use somewhere in the world today. Why should 1701A be any different? Many thought that there were no practical applications for FS393C.”
FS393C, until recently known as Franklin’s Folly, is one of four distinct variations, of the FS393 knot, first identified by Benjamin Franklin. Dr. Roper explained how he defended Franklin’s honor in the case of FS393C.
“As part of an earlier project we found more than one hundred uses for FS393C,” Roper said. “For example, it exhibits approximately four percent more holding power in peanut-fiber rope than any other known knot. We verified this over several years of experimentation using a swing set purchased through our grant. I located the set in my own back-yard so that I could observe first-hand how the knots held up to the abuses of my own children.”
Dr. Roper cites many such examples of his personal and intimate involvement with anything having to do with knot working. Indeed, he directly took charge of many of the items acquired though various grants, ultimately leading him to build a larger home to house the great quantities of computers, video and exercise equipment required in advanced knot research. The new home, located on an expansive oceanfront lot allows Dr. Roper to study the complex fractal structures in nature. He credits this as the inspiration for his breakthrough.
Dr. Roper theorizes that, there may be an infinite number of knots. Perhaps he is right, but proving such a hypothesis would require an infinitely large ball of string. Nevertheless, he hopes that FS1701A will open a new age of discovery and is seeking funding for a new five year mission to seek out new knots and new filament structures.