Physics of Baseball

C2ST PRESENTS: “The Physics of Baseball: You Can Observe A Lot By Watching”

When we think of the marriage of science and sports, most often the association conjures thoughts of sports psychology. Recently, the potent cocktail of science and baseball in the news has been negative—referring mostly to illegal pharmaceuticals. We at the Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST) are bringing the study of physics to America’s pastime, for a doubleheader of sorts at US Cellular Field.

Yogi Berra famously said “You Can Observe A Lot By Watching”. Never was this statement truer than with America’s pastime. Following Yogi’s advice, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Illinois Alan Nathan will use high-speed video clips to highlight some of the interesting physics underlying the game of baseball, and unravel some of the seeming mysteries of the game, all based on science.

Dr. Alan Nathan spent his long career as an experimental nuclear physicist; he now spends his time researching the physics of baseball, and has served on panels advising organizations such as MLB, the NCAA, and USA Baseball on issues related to bat performance.  He has written numerous papers on the subject for everything from peer-reviewed scientific journals to publications including Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Analysis. While his research has focused primarily on the physics of the ball-bat collision and the flight of a baseball, his topics of study have included the home run and humidor connection, using PITCH f/x to determine perception from reality in unraveling the knuckleball mystique, and the effect of spin on the flight of a baseball.

The talk will focus on the subtleties of the baseball-bat collision, the intricacies of the flight of a baseball, and many other things. He will investigate some very practical questions and show how a physicist goes about trying to answer these questions. Some examples include: What is the “sweet spot” of a bat?  How does the batter’s grip affect the batted ball?  Why does aluminum outperform wood?  What determines how far a fly ball travels?  How much does a curve ball break?  What’s the deal with the knuckleball?

Nathan has lectured on the subject to both scientific and popular audiences and maintains a frequently visited “Physics of Baseball” website, He sits by his phone each day hoping for a call from the Boston Red Sox. On August 1 and 2, he will share with us some of his expertise and forever change how we watch the game of baseball.

Not only will this program include a great physics talk, but program attendees will have a chance to visit the dugouts and the warning track, eat a hot dog and some chips, and mingle with other science and baseball buffs. It’s a great way to enjoy the Dog Days of summer, and learn a little bit more about America’s classic game.

Details: Thursday, August 1st, 2013 and Friday, August 2nd, 2013

4PM to 7:30PM at U.S. Cellular Field, 333 West 35th Street    4:00pm to 4:30pm: Field visit – dugouts and warning track     4:30pm to 6:00pm: Magellan Scout Lounge reception   6:00pm to 7:30pm: The Physics of Baseball presentation, press lounge


For more information, please contact Andrea Poet, C2ST 312/567-5795 or cell 773/505-6007

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