Department of Mathematics

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The Wonderful World of Hagfish Slime

Hundreds of meters deep in the dark of the ocean, a shark glides toward what seems like a meal. It’s kind of ugly, eel-like and not particularly meaty, but still probably food. So the shark strikes.

This is where the interaction of biology and physics gets mysterious — just as the shark finds its dinner interrupted by a cloud of protective slime that appeared out of nowhere around an otherwise placid hagfish.

Jean-Luc Thiffeault, a University of Wisconsin–Madison math professor, and collaborators Randy Ewoldt and Gaurav Chaudhary of the University of Illinois have modeled the hagfish’s gag-inducing defense mechanism mathematically, publishing their work today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

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