Do Science With Patrick!

Addendum* Lots of traffic to this post and lots of emailed questions. I’ve put up a website specifically for this project  at so check that out if you think you might be able to contribute some found hair to SCIENCE *end addendum

Help me Paleoposse, you’re my only hope.

I’m working on a project that will match changes in human hair chemistry to the region that the hair was grown in. I need to look at hair from lots of different regions in order to do this well. That’s where you come in.

If you want to help, it’s pretty easy…

1) Get a Ziplock bag (quart size or even smaller is fine).

2) Go to your local barbershop or hair salon.

3) Ask them if you can have some of the hair they swept up that day (tell them it’s for SCIENCE!).

4) Put the hair in the Ziplock bag (1/3 full is plenty).

5) Write down the date you did this and the address of the place you got the hair from.

6) Mail it to me…

Patrick Wheatley

Center for Isotope Geochemistry

Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

1 Cyclotron Rd. MS 70A-4418

Berkeley CA, 94720

6) Sit back and await your reward.

I’ll list you in the acknowledgements when I publish the work. I’ll also send you a Science… sort of prize or two (so make sure you give me your address when you send me the hair sample). If I get enough responses I’ll blog about some of the results before the paper comes out.

If you’ve got questions, email me patrick[at]

Thanks for being a soldier for Science… sort of,



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80 Responses to Do Science With Patrick!

  1. XerophytesNo Gravatar 26 January, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    I presume a ziplock bag is the same as a sandwich bag?

    I’ll visit the salon just beside our university. And see if I can ask some hair there.

    I presume that the hair sample doesn’t have to be from one source, right?

  2. XerophytesNo Gravatar 26 January, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    AND… also when is the deadline for this? If it is like an urgent sample, I don’t think it will reach US very quickly.

  3. PatrickNo Gravatar 26 January, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Thanks for helping!
    Ziplock = sandwich bag. One source for me equals one barbershop/salon. Does not all need to come from the same person. I’ll be collecting hair for a while so it isn’t urgent. I hope if I can get a few samples soon though, to motivate some other people to send hair.


  4. GabeNo Gravatar 26 January, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Fascinating idea… ;-) what will you measure?

  5. PatrickNo Gravatar 26 January, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Hi Gabe,
    Strontium isotope ratios are first on the list. Some mix of stable isotopes (carbon, nitrogen, maybe sulphur, oxygen, and hydrogen) will likely follow. Outside chance that I will take a look at calcium isotopes.
    Are you wanting to collaborate?


  6. HeatherNo Gravatar 26 January, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    I’m on it! Do you have any preferences for chemical treatments like perm or color? I go to a lady salon and the hair is probably super f-ed up.

  7. PatrickNo Gravatar 26 January, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    if you think you can separate out specific treatments (like a perm, or purple hair or something) then I’d like to analyze them separately, if not, just bag some hair.

  8. SeanNo Gravatar 26 January, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    I cut my own hair. Can I send it to you?

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 26 January, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

      email me and let’s talk. I want to know some specifics.

      • Raj-a-KiitNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 4:01 am #

        I, too, cut my own hair. As a matter of fact, I have been putting off needing to cut it for about a week now. Shall I email you to find out what specifics you need to know as well?

        • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:23 am #

          In general, hair from a specific individual is more valuable because there is the chance to know more about the sample. If you don’t mind answering some demographic questions please email me ( ). If you prefer to remain 100% anonymous (no demographic info with your hair) please send me just your hair and the location it was cut.

      • SeanNo Gravatar 29 January, 2011 at 9:34 am #

        Email sent.

  9. GabeNo Gravatar 26 January, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    We have a new set of Sr maps…would be fun to compare and see if they look like reality!

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 26 January, 2011 at 8:00 pm #


  10. XerophytesNo Gravatar 26 January, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    I’m guessing that this work is the same thing as what you mentioned in one of the podcasts?

    To check the diet using hair sample?

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 27 January, 2011 at 9:50 am #

      More about geographic location than diet, although diet may figure into the results of the measurements to some degree.

  11. DustNo Gravatar 27 January, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

    How much hair is needed? I trim the ends of my hair monthly, and get a fist-sized pile of little hair pieces about 1/2 a centimeter long.

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 6:59 am #

      That is plenty!

  12. KelliNo Gravatar 27 January, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    This sounds like an awesome project Patrick :) I’ll be sending in a bag from my latest haircut.

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:20 am #


  13. PentlandNo Gravatar 27 January, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    I cut my own hair and keep the trimmings in little ponytails to make my own cheapie paint brushes. Would you be interested in the most recent one (approx. 7 inches) from about three weeks ago? I usually go through them pretty quickly, so it’s just been sitting in an unsealed box since I cut it.

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:01 am #

      7 inches of hair!? or the whole brush is 7 inches? either way, yes. Thanks!

  14. LennonjonNo Gravatar 27 January, 2011 at 11:25 pm #

    Interesting idea, however there is a major confound. Have you developed a way to control for the following:

    You don’t actually know where the hair was “grown”. You only know where the hair was harvested. For example, suppose I grew-up in Cleveland, OH, and then go to graduate school in Tucson, AZ (true story). While I am in Tucson I go and get my hair cut, only to have it swept-up and put into a science project that labels my hair as having grown in Tucson. That data is wrong. This is going to be a problem with any sample, but most prevalent if the hair is from a college, college town, military base. People from all over the U.S. (or world) may be “participating” in that single sample.

    • RyanNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 6:50 am #

      We talk in a bit more depth in the upcoming episode of our podcast, #71, so if you check back with on Monday (or find us on iTunes) and you should hear your answer then. If you’re already a listener, great! But I’m still hesitant to spoil the surprise. ;-)

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:04 am #

      It’s true. I don’t have a way to control for it, I just hope that most of the noise shakes out in a large data set. Also, there are models that estimate what some of the things I’ll be measuring look like in different geographic regions, so if I get some wacky value for the area the hair came from, I’ll try to get another sample later to double check things.

  15. Patrick ThomsonNo Gravatar 27 January, 2011 at 11:33 pm #


    Are you looking to cover a specific geographic subset of the planet? I’m guessing you’re aiming at the USA. I was born and raised in Scotland and I’m about to get my hair cut – I could save you a sample if it wouldn’t just be some crazy outlier you’d need to ignore.

    For even more “eerily similar”, I too am a scientist.

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:06 am #

      I expect the most samples from the US but I’d love to have some Scottish hair! I’ve been told that if it’s not Scottish it’s crap…

  16. Willy GalletaNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 12:20 am #

    When you say “lots of different region” you mean regions of USA or worldwide?
    Sounds like a nice project, but overseas sending of samples is dangerous (for the sample) and expensive. Better to know if you really need it. =)

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:12 am #

      I am not limiting the sampling to the US. I assume you think that sending it would be ‘dangerous’ because customs might be curious about it? I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble but I suppose it’s a possibility.
      It’s true it might be a little on the expensive side to send me something overseas. Seal the hair and a note in an envelope (skip the sandwich bag) if it makes things cheaper for you. thanks!

  17. elementzNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 12:34 am #

    I can provide you with my own hair (not all of it!), so would you like any other details apart from geographical? Knowing the donor so well, it shouldn’t be too difficult. Also, would you prefer the hair to be very long (i.e. growing for a long time, ergo growing in a lot of different places) or relatively new growth? I only ask because I have a large sample which was grown in 3 different countries for considerable amounts of time, or I can get you a much more local one. Or both?

    ~ ele

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:15 am #

      The sort of thing you are talking about would be really, really valuable for this study! I’m really interested in getting the other details you are talking about (countries visited etc). If you could send me an email, we could talk further and do some awesome science!

  18. HeleneNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    How can you be certain that the hair laying around at a local barbershop is from people who actually have spent a while in that environment? Not knowing where the hair actually has spent its last growing time could contaminate your results.

  19. Pedro HomeroNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 2:37 am #

    Care for some hair from Portugal, Europe?

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:15 am #

      Yes, yes, yes!

      • Pedro HomeroNo Gravatar 4 February, 2011 at 10:43 am #

        will do, then.

  20. Oher patrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 4:42 am #

    I’m hip to interpretation of the major biological elements, but what do Sr stable isotopes tell you? Is this to establish a hair strontium isoscape or is there more to it? I keep my hair short but since it’s non-urgent I’ll save it and send what I can.

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:17 am #

      Sr is good because it doesn’t fractionate biologically, therefore it is tracing pure inputs (and hopefully, pure geography) rather than any physiology of the person. It is basically a Sr isoscape. Thanks for your hair!

  21. maggieNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 6:10 am #


    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:41 am #

      and you have my address…
      perhaps we could split the hair?

  22. MelodieNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 6:16 am #

    Hey, do you also want hair not from the US ? I’m french and i live in UK, would that suit your experiment ?

    I love science :)

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:19 am #

      Thanks for being a lover of SCIENCE! Yes, I’m thrilled about all the non-US hair responses I’m getting. Please send me hair from France or the UK. I’ll analyze it so good…

  23. DenverNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    I’m considering buzzing my head, and shaving my face…for science!

    Would you prefer I place these samples in separate bags? :O

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 7:43 am #

      that could be interesting, split them up. And thanks for changing you appearance for SCIENCE!

  24. Tim McCormackNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    I can send you a small pile of beard hair, if it’s enough to be used. (I assume the type of hair won’t matter, since it sounds like you’re doing strontium isotope ratios.) What is the approximate minimum quantity (in weight or volume) that you’d find useful?

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 8:15 am #

      I get this offer a lot. The project is about scalp hair but if you want to send me some beard hair and label it as such, I won’t turn it away. 10 mg should be enough.


  25. MNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    Just got linked to this off of smbc, I’ll try and remember to bag my hair up next time I’m at the barber.
    Just out of curiosity, have you tried emailing some hair-cutting schools? I’m sure a lot of people would give up their hair for science if they were asked while they were there (the schools often cut hair for free). You could probably email questionnaires to the schools to get more background info for the hair too. This being the internet I’m sure there’s a grand listing of all applicable schools in the US somewhere, and probably a lot of other countries too.

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 8:33 am #

      I haven’t tried that, but it isn’t a bad idea.

  26. MaryNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Man, just a few weeks ago I cut off at least 8 inches of hair. Wish I had known about this then! But I’ll get you next time.

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 9:31 am #

      bummer, yes, next time!

  27. latsotNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    I assume you know about this genuinely terrifying thing?

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 9:44 am #

      No… I can’t really express my feelings about it because I don’t fully understand my feelings. I’m in awe and and a little queasy. I doubt they would be interested in contributing but it can’t hurt to ask right? I’ll try it. Thanks for your weird internet knowledge!

  28. FizzNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    I was going to do this, and then noticed that your mailing address is in the town I live in. I’m guessing you won’t have any trouble getting samples from Berkeley. ;)

  29. gcbNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    Just wondering how much of the Sr isotope ratio in hair is influenced by diet. If there’s a large influence, then what you’re really measuring is where the subjects’ food came from. That could get messy. How can you control for that without knowing what kind of diet the subjects ate? Just a thought, not trying to rain on your parade or anything!

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 11:03 am #

      Great question! We don’t know how much of the Sr isotope ratio is due to diet. This is part of the question we are asking. If Sr isotope values corresponds well to local geology, that’s handy info, if everyone looks the same (because we all kind of eat the same stuff) we want to know that too. Water supplies are still pretty local, so if water is influencing our Sr isotope ratios a lot there should be a nice regional signal.

      • evmNo Gravatar 30 January, 2011 at 7:06 am #

        If diet can influence the Sr isotope, I guess it would be nice to ask participants whether they are vegetarians. If you get a significant correlation between meat consumption and isotope value that would be awesome!

  30. EricNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Is there a minimum length? I normally shave my head, but could let it grow out for a few days then use clippers to get most of it off, and send the result in.

  31. PatrickNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    Not really a minimum length. Just a total amount of hair minimum. I’m guessing you’ll meet it, a couple of days is probably enough growth to participate.

  32. MeganNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    If you don’t mind waiting a month, I’m going to be buzzing my head soon and will have plenty of hair to bag for you! I might even be doing it with a few friends and could ask them if I could send theirs to you as well. I’ll need to know what info you need from us because we all go to school here in VA but we might not all be from Virginia, and none of us is from this region of the state.

    Let me know if you’re interested!

  33. LasseNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    SMBC linked this so had to check it out! Sounds interesting but not sure if it’s doable to send some of my hair since I’m living in Sweden (born and raised) but I guess you want some Swedish hair as well? Going to check what it’ll cost anyway, best of luck!

  34. Erin-JoiNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    I used to donate to locks for love, but my last braid was rejected because my hair is too fine. I kept the braid out of sentimentality. Does this need to me a recent sample? If not I have a braid to send you.

    Atlanta, GA

  35. Robert S.No Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    Any limits on geographical location? Sitting here in Sweden I’m wondering if that’s an interesting source or not. Also, if I cut my own hair, how much would you need, because I don’t really fancy losing all my hair, but a lock or two would be fine.

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 2 February, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

      I can’t remember if I responded to you by email or not. Yes I would like your hair. Please visit if you think you can cut a lock of your hair for science.

  36. mandydaxNo Gravatar 28 January, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    Ryan North just linked to this at Dinosaur Comics, and we as a distributed computing team are bigger than the nation of France, so you’ll probably get inundated with hair for SCIENCE!

    Also, I assume you only want human hair, but there is a lot of cat hair about that I could collect, too. ;)

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 29 January, 2011 at 8:36 am #

      I await your SCIENCE hair. Yes, I think I’ll stick to humans this time around :D

  37. Chris VonnegutNo Gravatar 29 January, 2011 at 4:11 am #

    Would beard hair be okay? I’m definitely due for a cutting as far as that goes. It should yield a decent mass of hair.

  38. JadeNo Gravatar 30 January, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    How do Australian pubes currently partying in Germany sound?

  39. DannyNo Gravatar 30 January, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    Hey, this project sounds fascinating. I’m a schoolteacher in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and I’m sure I could rally interest in this in a few of my science classes. Ulaanbaatar should be interesting for you because we have a municipal water supply that contains higher-than-normal levels of certain minerals and heavy metals (not sure about Sr, though); the students generally are on high-protein, high-fat diets (in a meat-eating culture); and although all the students have similar lifestyles today, several have lived abroad for several years. Will we have trouble with legal consent for a Type 2 collection using minors? Could you post online a picture of what a proper Type 2 collection looks like?

    Posting, rather than emailing, because you’ll probably get related interest from the SMBC and Dino crowds.

  40. adrianNo Gravatar 1 February, 2011 at 12:19 am #

    You are are looking at a lot of work. I would be happy to send you a sample of my (head and other regions) hair with all the data you might require about it. I suggest you send me an e-mail and let me know exactly what you need to know. I could re-send the a sample few months later, you might need it. Also, I can help with the statistics once you have enough data. I do statistics daily…

  41. JosephNo Gravatar 3 February, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    How many samples have you received so far?

    • PatrickNo Gravatar 8 February, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

      I’ve received about 10 samples thus far and they seem to be trickling in at a rate of 2 or 3 a day. Several states in the US are represented as well as Canada, England, and New Zealand.
      Thanks everyone, keep the hair coming…

  42. Clinton PetersonNo Gravatar 13 February, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    Hi! A friend gave me this link thinking you might want my hair. I’m currently in Afghanistan (Army) and have actually been growing my hair out a bit and was about to buzz it again. I started out here with a buzz so this is all freshly grown in the Farah Province of Afghanistan. Will this data work for your study?


    • PatrickNo Gravatar 13 February, 2011 at 7:11 am #

      Sounds perfect!

      agreed, Science!

  43. LucasNo Gravatar 6 May, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    Do you still need hair? It’s been a while, I know, but there’s a salon in front of my house, so I could get lots of it if you want…
    Also, I’m from Brazil, wouldn’t that be nice for sampling?

    Cheers for science.

  44. AdrienneNo Gravatar 2 September, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    Stumbled across this while reading back episodes of SMBC and was actually about to cut my hair (prolly 3-4 inches) and wondered if you still needed samples.


  1. Tweets that mention Do Science With Patrick! | Paleocave Blog -- - 26 January, 2011

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Delia Santiago, Delia Santiago, Ryan James Haupt, Patrick Wheatley, Science… sort of and others. Science… sort of said: Hey Paleoposse, do some SCIENCE with Patrick! [...]

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