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Speaker to reveal the science behind American football

Oct. 8, 2008

KALAMAZOO--Newton's Second Law of Physics proves that Dick Butkus, the famed Chicago Bears linebacker, hit running backs with the force of a small killer whale.

That's the assessment of physicist, author and football fan Dr. Timothy J. Gay, who will reveal the science behind the game of football during a free public talk called "Football Physics." The event will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, in 1104 Rood Hall on Western Michigan University's main campus in Kalamazoo.

Gay is a professor of physics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and has taught the largest physics class in the world--the 78,000 fans who attend the UN home football games. From 1999 to 2004, his lessons were shown during pauses in the action on giant television screens posted at either end of the university's Memorial Stadium field.

Those lessons covered such topics as Newton's Laws of Motion (blocking and tackling), projectile motion (kicking and punting), kinematics (open-field running), and the ideal gas law (why not fill the football with helium to get better hangtime?). In addition, the tutorials included such laboratory demonstrations as Gay being tackled by a 370 pound lineman, pummeled with a sledgehammer as he lay on a bed of nails, and learning the finer points of passing from Heisman trophy winner Eric Crouch.

Football physics
View Gay's University of Nebraska football physics lessons

Gay's work has been featured by a wide range of news outlets, including "ABC World News Tonight," ESPN's "Cold Pizza," People Magazine, and the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.

In 2001, he was hired by NFL Films to write and appear in a series of five-minute television segments for its "NFL Blast!" show, a half-hour program shown in 190 foreign countries that familiarizes viewers with the game of American football. The "Football Physics" segments, which aired starting in 2002 and ran through 2004, featured lectures and demonstrations by Gay as well as interviews with NFL players.

Gay wrote "Football Physics," a 300-page book published by Rodale in 2004 that was renamed "The Physics of Football" when Harper-Collins Paperbacks published its second edition in 2006.

The book breaks down the fundamental laws of physics that govern America's most exciting spectator sport. It features an introduction by Bill Belichick, who has coached the New England Patriots to three Super Bowl victories, and includes some of football's modern-day memorable moments, along with legendary feats from the likes of Franco Harris and Joe Montana.

Gay has been a UN faculty member since 1993. Previously, he was a University of Missouri-Rolla faculty member for 10 years and a research physicist and lecturer at Yale University for three years.

A Fellow of the American Physical Society, Gay served in 2007 as chair of this body's Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics. His research interests center on elementary particle physics, and the scattering of electrons by atomic and molecular targets.

Gay earned a doctoral degree in experimental atomic physics from the University of Chicago, and was a football tackle during his undergraduate years at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

"Football Physics" is being sponsored by WMU's physics department. For more information, call the department at (269) 387-4940.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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