Sports Science: Football

The fourth Thursday in November is the perfect time to spend time with family, eat some home-cooked comfort food, and watch grown men throw around an inflated pig bladder.

That’s right, folks; the world’s first American football was actually an inflated pig bladder, hence the nickname “pigskin.” Don’t worry, modern footballs are made of leather or vulcanized rubber, but the shape of a football remains the same as it’s ever been, lending itself to an interesting discussion of physics.

My sophomore year of college at Washington University in St. Louis, my physics professor’s lecture the week of Thanksgiving featured two balls, a red rubber kickball and an American football. She asked us to predict how the balls would bounce. The spherical kickball was easy; the American football was not.

Football shape

The ovoid shape combined with the two sharp points at each end mean that the ball can bounce in just about any direction at any angle depending on its orientation as it is falling and what part of the football makes contact with the ground. That’s why every football coach I ever had drilled us on just falling on the ball instead of trying to catch it or scoop it up; it is extraordinarily difficult to predict just which way the ball will bounce! These bounces often manifest on plays when a bouncing ball is live, like a fumble, an onside kick or following a punt.

As the game evolved, so did the football itself. As you can imagine, inflating animal bladders can be inconsistent; now, the NFL football is standardized at about 11 inches long from tip to tip and a circumference of about 28 inches around the center. Those bladders could also be difficult to grip, so the modern football has a coarse, pebbled texture as well as white laces in the center.

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Because of its shape, the football cuts through the air most easily when spinning around its longest axis, called a spiral. This spiral minimizes air resistance and allows the ball to move in a more predictable parabolic motion.

A common misconception is that the spiral motion allows the ball to travel farther, but this idea falls apart with basic physics. When a ball is initially thrown, there is a set quantity of total energy in the system. That set amount cannot be increased or decreased, just changed from one form to another according to the Law of Conservation of Energy. The spinning motion of a football in the air requires kinetic energy, so every Joule of kinetic energy required to keep the ball spinning is less energy dedicated to the football’s motion.

Instead, the spiral is important because of a concept called angular momentum. A spinning football behaves like a gyroscope; a ball will maintain roughly the same orientation while travelling. This makes the football’s movement from point to point easier to track and predict for a player.step0So when tossing around the ol’ pigskin Thanksgiving Day, make sure you grip the ball with the laces as you throw! What works best for me is to put my middle finger, ring finger and pinkie finger on alternating laces at the front of the ball (as pictured above).

When throwing a football, it is important to generate the force for the ball from your legs. If you are right-handed like me, stand sideways with your right leg behind you. Push off against the ground with your back leg and turn your body to throw as you do so. Bring the football backwards and then forwards over your shoulder, allowing the ball to roll off of your fingers straight. No need for any wrist twisting, as the ball should naturally move in a spiral. (See proper form below.)step1Step one: feet shoulder width apart, hands meet on the ball.step2Step two: weight on your back foot, bring the ball back, wrist out.step3

Step three: throw the ball, wrist in. Allow the ball to roll off of your fingers, but keep your wrist straight and stable. Release the ball over your shoulder. Remember, it’s not a baseball. step4Step four: follow through after the release.

Whether you’re facing the New Orleans Saints or the neighbors across the street, the principles of physics are crucial to your football team coming out on top. May the forces be with you! Happy Thanksgiving!

Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 9/7-9/13

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week! 

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BTS – Wiess Energy Hall
Tuesday, September 8
6:00 p.m.
The Wiess Energy Hall is the world’s most comprehensive and sophisticated energy exhibition. Tour this popular permanent exhibit with a Museum master docent and explore energy resources in this overview of the energy industry.

Class – Basic Organic Vegetable Gardening
Wednesday, September 9 at 10:00 a.m. & Saturday, September 12 at 9:00 a.m. 
Learn the rewards and challenges of growing vegetables in Houston’s climate. Discover the best site for the garden, how to build it, what and how to plant, and the best methods to maintain and sustain a vegetable garden using organic methods. This is an excellent class for beginners, those who wish to brush-up on their gardening skills, or gardeners new to the Houston area. This class is cosponsored by Urban Harvest conjunction with the International Year of Soils 2015. Angela Chandler of the popular blog thegardenacademy.com holds specialist certifications in plant propagation, entomology, rainwater harvesting and greenhouse management. Her one-acre garden outside of Houston includes vegetables, fruits, herbs, ornamentals and a small home nursery, along with chickens, goats and organically managed beehives.

Fan Faves for 30 Day Film Festival
September 1-30, 2015
Experience the 7 greatest adventures on Earth in a single day!
From the depths of the ocean to the top of the clouds, from ancient ages to modern marvels, now you can embark on seven astounding expeditions, and never leave your seat! The most popular movies return to the Houston Museum of Natural Science during the Fan Faves for 30 Days Film Festival. Relive these amazing 3-D adventures or catch them for the first time! But hurry, the fun ends Sept. 30.

April is here! Get Ready to Celebrate Earth Day all month long in Houston.

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Well it’s that time of year again. Happy April everyone! With the April flowers come Earth Day celebrations. While the official Earth Day is April 22, Houstonians like to celebrate Earth Day every weekend in April. Even better, all these Earth Day events are free!

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Start out the month by bringing your recyclables to Discovery Green. April 4th is a recycling Saturday. Spend the day downtown or around Hermann Park (maybe even at HMNS?) and end your day at the Miller Outdoor Theater watching Legally Blonde the Musical (not Earth Day centered but still fun and free).

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April 11th is the big event at Discovery GreenEarth Day Houston sponsored by Air Alliance Houston. It’s the big event because that’s where HMNS and I’ll be. Not only will we have info and a cool game about how you can conserve energy, but also have BUGS. While it may not sound exciting to have bugs when you’re outside, these are bugs you can (and will want to) interact with. Come by and pet a tarantula. Don’t worry, when you stop by you won’t be bugging us.

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The Houston Arboretum has a slew of free events on April 18. Everything from a self-guided scavenger hunt to guided hikes and face painting. They will also have a plant sale.

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Exploration Green will host its first Earth Day on April 25. They will have a trail run, arts and crafts, kite flying and much more.

So take advantage of one or more of the Earth Day events. Brush up on your energy conservation at the Energy Conservation Club. See y’all out at Discovery Green.

A Young Museum Fan Gives a Lecture on Energy

One of the hardest things in the world is trying to convince people that energy education and energy literacy is important. Energy and its use drive the global economy. There is a direct correlation between energy use and happiness. (And, quite frankly, I like having warm showers in the winter.)

When you approach people about energy education most of them say the subject is too complex. That it is too hard. Both of which are untrue and here’s why:

This is what happens when you have a passion about education. You make things happen. Thank you Olllie!