Batter up! STEM Café to explore physics of baseball

Jahred Adelman
Jahred Adelman

Take a closer look, and America’s favorite summer sport becomes a field of intriguing physics questions.

Can a rising fastball really rise? How much do curveballs actually curve? And do knuckleballs really flutter as they make their way toward the batter’s box?

Particle physicist, baseball fan and knuckleball enthusiast Jahred Adelman will explore these questions and more at Northern Illinois University’s upcoming STEM Café, “The Physics of Baseball.” The event will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 17, at Eduardo’s, 214 E. Lincoln Hwy.

“There’s a huge amount of interesting physics and science happening on the ball field every second that can be understood without using any complicated mathematics, and in many cases, without any math at all,” Adelman said. “The basic concepts of Newton’s Laws can be used to understand almost all of what happens on a baseball field … and studying baseball from a physics perspective can lead to surprising insight.”

In addition to a strong understanding of baseball strengthened while watching Cubs and White Sox games during his time earning a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, Adelman brings an impressive level of experience into the faculty position he started at NIU just last fall. He completed his graduate thesis research just down the road from NIU at Fermilab’s Tevatron, before moving into a postdoctoral research position with Yale University where he worked on the ATLAS experiment at CERN in Switzerland.

Adelman certainly has expert credentials, but there is no need to worry about a talk that will go over your head faster than a wild pitch. He will not be using any complicated math or equations at the STEM Café, and is much more interested in helping people to realize how much they already understand about the ways physics works in their lives.

“Knowing the physics that drives what happens on the field does not make the baseball any less magical, exciting or impressive,” he said. “Rather, the opposite is true. People may know not it, but they are already physicists! We all intuitively understand and use Newton’s Laws without even realizing it, to run from first to third as fast as possible or to successfully bunt the ball.”

baseballWhen it comes to baseball, the questions just keep coming: How does playing a mile high in Colorado affect both batted and pitched baseballs? Is sliding head first really the fastest way to get home? Join a group of intellectually curious sports fans at this month’s STEM Café and you will finally get some answers!

NIU’s STEM Cafés occur monthly, and are one of many programs offered through NIU STEM Outreach, part of the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement. The P-20 Center has developed the STEM Read, the Center for Economic Education, and SmartSpace@NIU programs, which all aim to engage the community in lifelong learning.

STEM Cafés are free and open to the public. Food and drinks are available for purchase from Eduardo’s. For more information, contact Judy Dymond at (815) 753-4751 or jdymond@niu.edu.

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