Making Sport of Physics

Fun Time Chatting Sabbatical Research!

I thoroughly enjoyed giving the first Science Gang talk at my college yesterday.  Speaking about my research is a lot of fun for me.  My talk’s theme was friction, a topic that included not only my sabbatical research, but elements of friction existing between people and places.  For example, political divisions are so wide these days.  It seems as if some of the friction between people on different sides of the political spectrum could be alleviated by getting together and engaging in civil conversations.  Instead so many of us have ensconced ourselves with people who agree with us, websites that share our opinions, and even online searches that filter based on our preferences.  It wasn’t hard during our travels abroad to notice lots of different types of friction between people, both in today’s world and in the past.

Moving from friction between people to my friction research was a welcome transition.  Many in my audience had not been exposed to much physics, so I kept the friction science light.  The photo below shows me discussing some friction basics (click on the image for a larger view).

The room was a dark and a colleague was kind enough to grab a photo with a cell phone.  I was happy to receive a photo.  I got some great questions after I finished, giving me more to ponder.  There is always more to learn!

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Talk on Monday the 19th

I will give a public lecture on Monday, 19 September at 4:30 pm here at Lynchburg College.  My talk will be the first Science Gang lecture of the current academic year.  It will be held in Hopwood Auditorium.  A flyer for my talk appears below (click on the image for a larger view).

I will discuss the research work I did at the University of Sheffield in England during my sabbatical.  Topics include friction between tennis shoe and hard court, soccer aerodynamics, and Tour de France modeling.  Because friction was such an important part of my research, I’ll make connections to other types of frictions seen during our travels throughout Europe.  Check out my talk if you find yourself in the Lynchburg area on Monday the 19th.

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How fast could YOU swim Burj Khalifa?

Getting my family moved back to the US from England and preparing for a new semester at Lynchburg College have greatly reduced the amount of time that I’ve had available for watching the Rio Olympics.  I certainly won’t be able to write blog posts at the rate I did during the 2012 Olympics in London (click here for a summary of what I wrote back then).  Despite how busy life for me is right now, I’ve been thrilled and moved watching the majesty of Simone Biles (born on Pi Day in 1997!) and the rest of the US women’s gymnastics team, the continued dominance of athletes like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, and the emotional win for Thiago Braz da Silva in the pole vault.  But one event really took my breath away, and that was the women’s 800-m freestyle.

Katie Ledecky (born on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1997, just three days after Simone Biles!) so dominated that event that I wondered if she would finish, hop out of the pool, and then enjoy a cool drink while watching the rest of the field finish.  She shattered the world record, setting the new standard for excellence at 8:04.79, which was more than 11 s quicker than silver medalist Jazmin Carlin of Great Britain.  Ledecky’s average speed was 1.65 m/s or 5.94 kph or 3.69 mph.  Consider that a typical walking speed is about 5 kph (3 mph), which means that Ledecky swam faster than someone walking over a distance of 0.8 km (0.5 mi).  I’m not in terrible shape, but swimming a half mile is a fairly daunting thought for me.  Doing so in anything close to eight minutes would be impossible for me!

How about more perspective on what Ledecky did?  The tallest building in the world is Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.  From ground to tip, the building stands 829.8 m (2722 ft) tall.  Elevators in that building are incredibly fast, with speeds of 10 m/s (36 kph or 22 mph).  That’s Usain Bolt speed, but Bolt can only sustain that average speed for 100 m or so.  I’m impressed that Bolt could keep up with Burj Khalifa’s elevators for about 20 floors.  But I’m equally impressed that Ledecky could swim the entire length of Burj Khalifa in about 8.5 minutes.  Thinking “outside the pool” sometimes helps me gain better perspective.

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Back in the US!

I suppose this is the last of my sabbatical journal entries on this blog.  We are back in the US after my wonderful sabbatical year at the University of Sheffield.  The last week in Sheffield was a lot of fun.  My daughters were out of school and got to spend time with their friends.  Both my girls made me proud, not only with their schoolwork, but with their ability to acclimate themselves to living in Europe for a year.  They missed their Virginia friends and will be glad to see them in a few days, but they made good friends in Sheffield that they’ll surely miss in the coming weeks.

My research work advanced significantly during my sabbatical.  I learned a great deal about friction, especially the interaction between rubber treads and hard courts.  Teaming up with colleagues in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Sheffield gave me the opportunity to further my understanding of friction and publish our novel studies.  We still have more work to do!  Working with Matt Carré during my two sabbatical years has been a joy.  I can’t recommend highly enough collaborating with someone outside your area of expertise.  My approach is that of a physicist; Matt’s is that of an engineer.  Our different ways of seeing problems and tackling solutions led to very fruitful research efforts.  Working with his students and postdocs was rewarding, too.  Young and fresh eyes view problems in interesting ways, and I don’t mind learning from someone half my age.  Advancing scientific understanding isn’t about ego; it’s about pursuing what is true about the universe.

I also enjoyed new collaborations with a couple of engineers at Sheffield Hallam University.  Simon Choppin and John Kelley gave me new ways of looking at trajectory analysis when studying the flight of soccer balls.  I again benefited from engineering eyes looking at a problem I was used to seeing with a physicist’s eyes.  And of course I continued working with my Japanese colleagues, Takeshi Asai and Sungchan Hong, at the University of Tsukuba.  We continued to combine my trajectory analysis and computational skills with their engineering and wind-tunnel skills to further what we know about soccer ball aerodynamics.  Working with engineers has helped my career more than I can describe here.

Equally important to me are my collaborations with Lynchburg College physics students.  Chad Hobson has made significant contributions to my soccer aerodynamics and Tour de France research.  Chad and I presented some of our work at ISEA 2016 in Delft, the Netherlands.  I am always looking for good physics students to research with me.  If you are a prospective student looking to contribute to sports physics, come to Lynchburg College and work with me!

There are many things I will miss about living in Sheffield.  I’ll miss not having a car and using public transportation to get everywhere.  I’ll miss my gym at Ponds Forge, which I hit six days in a row before we left Sheffield.  My family will miss the cute neighborhood we lived in where every kind of shop one could want was in short walking distance.  We’ll all miss Endcliffe Park and the walking trails, playground, and ducks there.  I’ll miss the chance to walk across the street to the Lescar for a pint.  I’ll miss living in a place where guns aren’t allowed — for sure.  And of course I’ll miss the Peak District, which is one of my favorite places on Earth.  We made one last visit to the Peak District the day before we left England and had to stop at the Fox House, one of our favorite Peak District pubs.

Before touching down in the US, we stopped for a few days in Iceland.  We stayed in Keflavík, which is a lovely little town on the water in the southwestern part of the country.  Visiting the Blue Lagoon was a must, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves there.  I had never been to a geothermal spa before and that one will be tough to beat!  The day after we were at the Blue Lagoon, we rented a car and explored the southwestern part of Iceland.  It was like driving on the set of a science fiction movie.  That is one interesting country to look at!  We stopped first at Gullfoss, a truly beautiful waterfall (click on the image for a larger view).

I took that photo on Wednesday, 27 July 2016.  Was that just two days ago?!?  Our second stop was to see Strokkur.  I shot a movie of the geyser doing a double belch (as I called it!).

Our third and final stop was Þingvellir, a meeting place for the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.  Two plates are separating, but I thought I would help (click on the image for a larger view).

My arms might need to be a little longer!  We certainly enjoyed ourselves in Iceland and we want to go back so that we can explore some more.  But when?

As I wrote to start this post, my sabbatical journal writing ends now with the end of my sabbatical.  I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important it is to interact with people from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds.  My wonderful wife introduced me to that concept on a trip to Japan we took in the summer of 2001.  She has been helping me appreciate that concept ever since.  And she makes all of our travel seem effortless and smooth.  I’ll be back at work in my Lynchburg College office on Monday, 1 August 2016.  Waiting for me is research work from Sheffield and a pile of work related to the upcoming fall semester.  But I’ve got another year of wonderful memories dancing around in my head!

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Greipel gets us under 1%!

André Greipel took the last stage of this year’s Tour de France.  His time and a comparison with our prediction are given below.

  • Stage 21:  2h 43′ 08″ (actual), 2h 41′ 38″ (prediction), 01′ 30″ fast (-0.92% error)

We’ll definitely take that error to finish off this year’s race!  Greipel’s average speed is given below.

  • Stage 21:  11.54 m/s (41.56 kph or 25.82 mph)

The big prize, of course, goes to Chris Froome who makes it three out of four.  Froome is now in the upper echelon of Tour de France cyclists.  I was wrong to pick against the defending champion!  Froome’s average speed is given below.

  • Chris Froome:  11.00 m/s (39.60 kph or 24.61 mph)

Not bad for 3528.5 km (2192.5 mi)!  Congratulations to Froome and all the cyclists for a great Tour de France.  I wish I could have seen more of the race, but my family will soon be moving across the pond.  And we’ve got packing to do!

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Izagirre gets penultimate stage!

Jon Izagirre of Spain won this year’s final mountain stage.  Spain can celebrate its first Tour de France stage win this year!  Izagirre’s winning time and a comparison with our prediction is given below.

  • Stage 20:  4h 06′ 45″ (actual), 4h 01′ 44″ (prediction), 05′ 01″ fast (-2.03% error)

I’ll definitely take a 2% error on today’s stage!  Izagirre’s average speed is below.

  • Stage 20:  9.895 m/s (35.62 kph or 22.14 mph)

Chris Froome will win this year’s Tour de France tomorrow in Paris.  He has just over a four-minute lead on second place.  Our prediction for the lovely ride into the French capital is given below.

  • Stage 21:  2h 41′ 38″ (prediction)

I hope it doesn’t rain like it did last year!

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Bardet makes France proud!

Romain Bardet gave France its first stage win of this year’s Tour de France.  Below is Bardet’s time and a comparison with our prediction.

  • Stage 19:  4h 14′ 08″ (actual), 4h 04′ 57″ (prediction), 09′ 11″ fast (-3.61% error)

I’ll take that error on such an arduous mountain stage.  Bardet’s average speed is given below.

  • Stage 19:  9.575 m/s (34.47 kph or 21.42 mph)

Froome still has the yellow jersey, and he widened his lead over second place.  Nairo Quintana could only cut ten seconds off of Froome’s lead over him.  Tomorrow is the last shot climbers will have to take down Froome, but his lead looks mighty impressive for the final mountain stage.  A category-2 climb, two category-1 climbs, and an HC climb will have cyclists excited about the big downhill finish.  Our prediction is given below.

  • Stage 20:  4h 01′ 44″ (prediction)

Will Froome hold the yellow jersey?  Hard to imagine losing it the way he’s cycled this year.

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Has Froome locked it up?!?

Chris Froome showed why he’s a multiple Tour de France champion today.  He dominated the mountain time trial and makes me wonder if the Tour de France is over.  His winning time and a comparison with our prediction appear below.

  • Stage 18:  30′ 43″ (actual), 29′ 27″ (prediction), 01′ 16″ fast (-4.12% error)

I was hoping the winner would come in under half an hour, but Froome was impressive nonetheless.  His average speed is below.

  • Stage 18:  9.224 m/s (33.21 kph or 20.63 mph)

Froome won the first mountain stage and he dominated the mountain time trial.  I picked Nairo Quintana in my TOUR magazine interview.  Froome has a 04′ 37″ on Qunitana, and a nearly four-minute lead on second place.  There are two more mountain stages to go.  Time is running out!  Our prediction for Stage 19 is below.

  • Stage 19:  4h 04′ 57″ (prediction)

Besides an HC-climb in the middle, a category-1 climb finishes the stage.  Another uphill finish!

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Zakarin dominates the Alps!

Russian Ilnur Zakarin won today’s arduous mountain stage with a time nearly a minute faster than anyone else.  This is Zakarin’s first Tour de France stage win.  Below is Zakarin’s winning time and a comparison with our prediction.

  • Stage 17:  4h 36′ 33″ (actual), 5h 00′ 10″ (prediction), 23′ 37″ slow (8.54% error)

What’s funny for me watching a stage is that I don’t root for our prediction unless at the end I think we are really close.  I wanted to see the elite tackle today’s mountains and come in under five hours.  And did they ever!  Check out Zakarin’s average speed below.

  • Stage 17:  11.12 m/s (40.03 kph or 24.87 mph)

That speed is 2 kph faster than what race organisers had as their upper limit on the time schedule.  Incredible to average 40 kph today!  We aren’t happy to be more than 8% off today, but we’ll have plenty to study when the race is over.  Several determined cyclists clearly outputted more power today than we had in our model.  We’ll have a clearer picture of elite cyclist power output after this Tour de France is over.

Tomorrow’s Stage 18 is a 17-km (11-mi) mountain individual time trial.  Cyclists will be back in France for the uphill time trial.  They’ll get a chance to sprint on the downhill finish, though.  Our prediction is given below.

  • Stage 18:  29′ 27″ (prediction)

I definitely want to see cyclists coming in under half an hour tomorrow.

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Stage 17 Prediction

I’m busily getting items packed for our big move across the pond next week.  It hit me this afternoon that I’d not put our Stage 17 prediction online.  Well here it is:

  • Stage 17:  5h 00′ 10″ (prediction)

Cyclists will compete in the Swiss Alps tomorrow.  A great category-1 climb to the 1527-m (5010-ft) peak at Col de la Forclaz will tire cyclists.  But they’ll have to rejuvenate on the descent because the HC-climb to Finhaut-Emosson at elevation 1960 m (6430 ft) will challenge even the most elite cyclist.

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