LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) – You probably don’t think much about the strands of hair that end up on the floor or in the trash after your haircut, but a team of engineering students at the University of Kentucky is using those forgotten pieces of hair in their latest project, turning it into material that could help repair and build bridges and buildings across the state.

According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, 7% of the state’s bridges are classified as structurally deficient and 1100 bridges across Kentucky are in poor condition. A statistic the team of engineers is hoping to change by using hair.

“It’s extremely out of the box. I wouldn’t have thought of hair as being a civil engineering material. It’s cool to be on the cutting edge because no one else has done it before,” said Eric Williams, civil engineering senior, University of Kentucky.

How UK students are trying to use hair to repair bridges

  • UK engineering students researching if hair can help repair bridges. (Emani Payne | FOX 56 News)
  • UK engineering students researching if hair can help repair bridges. (Emani Payne | FOX 56 News)
  • UK engineering students researching if hair can help repair bridges. (Emani Payne | FOX 56 News)

So how does it work? It’s an intricate multi-step process. The team takes clumps of old hair from barbershops, mix it with different concoctions, cook it and spread it out on a pan like a baking mix and turn it into something useful for the community.

The engineering team called Cat Strong, works under the guidance of Professor Issam Harrik. They research fiber reinforcements in bridges and buildings, already successfully restoring more than 40 Kentucky bridges using carbon fiber fabrics, panels, and wraps.

“They will develop yarn out of the human hair just like you develop yarn out of the wool from an animal. Then we will produce a fabric out of it just like you’d produce a sweater with wool yarn and now with that fabric, we can form it in any shape that we want and when you put the binder around it it will harden. Once you remove the form it can be recycled easily and it’s biodegradable because all of the materials are natural,” said Issam Harrik, UK Department of Civil Engineering professor.

The team said they know using old hair as a tool in these projects is an unusual choice but said that it’s an effective one. One that will pay off for the community in the long run.

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    “The sustainability is the main thing about it because concrete and steel while they’re excellent at what they do they’re not the best thing for the environment so if we can limit the use of those as much as possible then the community will see a healthier environment, better infrastructure and overall, just a better quality of life,” said Williams.

    If you’re wondering how hair is strong enough to help hold up a bridge or building, Professor Harrik says the average strength of human hair is 30 thousand pounds per square inch!

    If you’d like to read more about the team’s research visit the University of Kentucky website.