Friday, September 18, 2009

Shatner's toupee and the laws of physics.

Shatner's toupees can be used as a focal point for all knowledge in the universe. Let's take basic physics - in this case, the principle of reflection. We'll demonstrate the concept by taking a few stills from the Star Trek episode "Operation -- Annihilate!" that reveal the thin transparent "skin" that extended to the forehead, which helped to hold Bill Shatner's lace in place.

Now, the makeup person would have tried very hard to make sure that the lace "skin" as well as Shats' forehead were both in perfect synch and demonstrating diffuse reflection - which means light not reflected directly (as shine), but rather scattered (by millions of fragments of "pancake" makeup) in order to amplify the luminance of the skin tone.

If both the real forehead and the forehead covered in the "skin" were out of synch, then one would exhibit diffuse reflection (luminance on skin tone) while the other would display specular reflection (the mirror principle - returning light back to its source).

The barrier between these two different surfaces would then become visible as a border or line between two areas with different reflective properties.

Now, imagine clenching your fist and rubbing a little glue on the taut top of your hand. If you waited for the glue to dry and then unclenched your fist, the glued area would crunch up in a different way from the rest of your skin because the skin would have different tensile properties or "elastic modulus".

That, added to the above principles serves as a kind of magnified example of diffuse reflection in that an uneven but reflective surface (the crunched up lace "skin") sends light in multiple directions. And now to be even more mind-bending: because the lace "skin" is transparent, it can also demonstrate refractive properties, acting like a contact lens and deforming the perception of Shats' forehead underneath by an infinitesimle amount. And there are probably principles of polarization at play somewhere in all of this too but that is a little too complicated to deal with.

We thought physics was boring too until Shatner's toupee came to the rescue! Next time, with the help of the William Shatner School of Toupological Studies, we will look into the laws of...we'll think of something...

The full report "William Shatner's Toupee - A Study in Reflection" will be published in next month's edition of the journal Science.

Disclaimer: we're not sure any or all of the above makes sense.


  1. Check out the Trek episode "This Side of Paradise." There's a scene in the episode (about 1/3 through) where McCoy is explaining his findings to Kirk. There are several closeups of Shatner where the "skin" is highly visible and even has bubbles!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I'm not sure it makes complete sense myself, and I took Physics in college!

    Still, your photographic evidence shows the skin/lace line very clearly. I have to say, his toupee looks good in both shots. I thought he had his best look in TOS Season 1.

  4. What if it is just his sweat?

  5. Wow. That was some mind-blowing science! I never really appreciated the laws of physics up until now.