A group of researchers led by grad student/metalhead Jesse Silverberg took it upon themselves to analyze the physics of mosh pits, pulling videos from YouTube and using software designed to look at particle physics. What they found was astounding–that the statistical distribution of speeds of various moshers matched that of particles moving freely in a gas. “This presented a bit of a mystery,” said Silverberg.

The team took their findings and created an awesome mosh simulator, available for free online, which allows users to manipulate parameters like “soft sphere,” “flock strength,” and random noise–“to mimic the effects of the inebriants that the participants typically use,” says researcher Matthew Bierbaum. And the simulation appears to be accurate: simply by manipulating parameters, the scientists are able to recreate both traditional and “circle”-style pits. When the system is taken to its extremes, the virtual moshers will engage in heretofore unseen behaviors like running freely through the crowd, which raises the question: is this some avant-garde form of moshing real metalheads just haven’t discovered yet?

Beyond sheer “wow” factor, the study may also help in researching how people behave when the chaos is less controlled. “When you have earthquakes or buildings on fire, people tend to panic when they escape. We don’t have a good way of experimentally seeing what’s going on,” said Silverberg. “By going to these heavy-metal concerts, we’re able to ethically and safely observe how humans behave in these unusual excited states.”

Co-author James Sethna agrees. “The fact that human beings are very complex creatures, and yet we can develop a lifeless computer simulation that mimics their behaviour, really tells us that we’re understanding something new about the behaviour of crowds that we didn’t understand before,” he said.

(Photo: Oxxte/Flickr)