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The Physics of Football Comes to TLU

October 13, 2011

Do you cringe when a linebacker flattens a quarterback? Hold your breath when a field goal sails toward the goal post? Watch in amazement as a touchdown pass spirals down the field? Behind those big hits, long kicks, and sensational throws is a science that will give you a whole new perspective on the game of football. Tim Gay, professor of physics at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, brings his “Physics of Football” lecture series to Texas Lutheran University (TLU) on November 10, 2011, from 7:30 to 8:30 pm in the Moody Science Auditorium on the TLU campus. Details about the event, which is free and open to the public, can be found at www.tlu.edu/physicsoffootball.

From 1999 until 2004, Gay taught the largest physics class in the world – the 78,000 fans that attend the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers home football games in Memorial Stadium. During a pause in the action, Gay’s lessons were shown on the giant television screens at either end of the field. They ranged in length from 45 seconds to two minutes, and 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 hang time?). Laboratory demonstrations featured Professor Gay being tackled by 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. The Nebraska segments can be viewed on the Web: http://physics.unl.edu/outreach/football.html.

In 2001, Gay was hired by NFL Films to write and appear in a series of five-minute television segments for their show NFL Blast! Blast! is a half-hour program shown in 190 foreign countries to familiarize its audience with the game of American football. The Football Physics segments feature lectures and demonstrations by Gay and interviews with current NFL players. These segments aired starting in 2002, and ran through 2004.

Gay has also written a book, Football Physics, published by Rodale. It recently came out in a second edition re-titled The Physics of Football published by Harper-Collins Paperbacks. Its target audience is high school students and football fans of all ages.

Gay’s work has been featured on ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, ESPN’s Cold Pizza, and front-page stories in the Wall Street Journal and the Tuesday Science section of the New York Times, as well as in People Magazine, ESPN Magazine, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and a variety of other television and radio outlets.

About Tim Gay
Gay earned a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, in 1975. While at Caltech, he played tackle for its football team, a squad so notoriously inept that it was profiled by the Wall Street Journal in the fall of 1974. Upon graduating from Caltech, Gay matriculated at the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. in Experimental Atomic Physics in 1980. He then worked as a Research Physicist and Lecturer at Yale University until 1983, when he joined the faculty at the University of Missouri - Rolla. Since 1993, he has been a Professor of Physics at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.

Gay's research interests center on the scattering of electrons by atomic and molecular targets and elementary particle physics. His research group is funded by the National Science Foundation. During his career, Gay has been a principle investigator on more than $5 million of grants, and has published more than 80 articles in the refereed scientific literature. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and served as the Chair of its Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics.


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