Chris Neu / Physics

Physics is everywhere around us – including the curve of a corner kick, the swing of a home run hitter, the impact of a charging linebacker and the arc of a 3-point attempt. For my Dream Idea I’d like to introduce a group of students to the physics of sports.

I envision a small group of undergraduate physics majors participating in a seminar series. Each seminar would focus on one of four major American sports: football, baseball, basketball and soccer. The seminars will be completely informal and will have two portions. In the first portion we will have an interactive group discussion on the physics of the sport being considered. These discussions will be catalyzed using selected readings from the books listed below. In the second portion of each seminar we will watch a game together and try to see some of the concepts from the discussion in action.

For football I would propose to host the seminar in my home on Super Bowl Sunday, discussion followed by a game-watch party for the students; for basketball the discussion would be held also in my home in the evening on the day of the NCAA Men’s Final Four championship, after which we would take in the game. In the cases of baseball and soccer the seminar discussions would be held on Grounds, followed by going together to a game here at UVA.

It is my hope that through participation in this program the students see some common examples of physics in their everyday lives and gain a deeper appreciation both for physics and sports.

Added benefits:

Student participants need not be experts in any of these sports. I can bring newcomers up to speed on the objectives and rules of each sport ahead of time if needed.

If the student participants are interested and willing we can supplement the seminars and game-watches with actual activities: Instead of just learning how to bend a corner kick in soccer and watching the UVA players attempt this in a match, we could go to a pitch before the game and try it out ourselves. Similarly with the rotation of a thrown football, throwing a curve ball, etc.

The trips to UVA sporting events would help instill in these students a sense of membership in the UVA community, something that I have found to be occasionally lacking in undergraduate students in the sciences.

Any opportunity one has to connect classroom material with real world applications should be seized upon. The physics of sports is particularly interesting because it bridges basic physics concepts to a topic very familiar to many young people.

Budget: $852

Books: $312

“Why a Curveball Curves: The Incredible Science of Sport,” F. Vizard, ed., 2009.  $13+shipping = $15 on, 8 copies = $120  “Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports,” J.E. Goff, 2009.
$22+shipping = $24 on, 8 copies = $192

Funding for four informal get-togethers: $540

UVA soccer match outing, 10/15 v. Virginia Tech: Total = $120

8 tickets = $72

food = $48

Super Bowl party, early Feb: Total = $150

food, drinks, snacks, supplies for 8 = $150

March Madness party, late March: Total = $150

food, drinks, snacks, supplies for 8 = $150

UVA baseball game outing, late April: Total = $120

8 tickets = $72

food = $48