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Philosophy, sociology and religion

Philosophy, sociology and religion

The physics of sport – readers’ pictures

09 Nov 2012 Tushna Commissariat

Sport can produce some stunning photos, capturing the drama and the triumph that come with the pursuit of sporting success. In today's world, sport lovers are increasingly looking to science and technology for ways to enable and enhance performance

In an exciting year for sport we asked readers to submit images to our Flickr group that encompass the physics and technology of sport, for the latest Physics World photo challenge.

Readers were encouraged to look through the July issue of Physics World, which looked at some of the challenges in the “physics of sport”, including the physics of the prosthetic devices that are leading disabled athletes to success, and how gymnasts, divers and long jumpers are all unconscious masters of manipulating the law of conservation of angular momentum. Thank you to everybody who took part and here is a selection of the images we received.

This image, showing the path of a ball on a pool table, is almost a pictorial representation of classical physics in action. Various forces and vectors, Newton’s laws of motion, the transfer of energy – all of these concepts come into play in each pool game. FuzzyKryton, who took this image of himself playing pool, used a remote to trigger a timer so that he didn’t have to run around the table. “I had to time the blinking of the timer light to when I needed to shoot the ball,” he told us.

Coming over the top

Taken at the 2007 World Cup of Track Cycling in Los Angeles, US, this picture shows a match sprint, an event that usually involves two to four riders competing. As photographer .s.e.a.n. writes, “Match sprinting is all about physics and tactics. This French rider is about to teach her Russian counterpart a lesson in how to translate the potential energy of her higher position on the banking into kinetic energy, as she accelerates past her towards victory.”


In this exciting image, taken by sebgutkopf, a race-car driver is doing his best not to flip the car over, conserving its angular momentum, at a turn. While your everyday drive to work may not be half as exciting, most people experience many fundamentals laws of mechanics each time they climb into the driver’s seat – from conservation of momentum and velocity, to experiencing g-force and even friction as tyres adhere to the road, physics plays an important role.


Photographer Phil Peterson has captured these roller derby skaters as they fight to achieve speed and momentum, while not letting centripetal force skew them off their course.

Dana, Hop Bars

Captured in the middle of a BMX stunt by photographer RV Henretty-Jornales, this urban athlete seems quite at ease as he levitates several feet off the ground. But behind that impressive stunt lies some complex physics. Apart from knowing when to accelerate and how to move relative to their centre of mass, the cyclists also rotate their bikes around multiple axes and know how to land from a free-fall so that they do not injure themselves as a result of the gravitational force acting on them.

174/365 [Running with only myself for company]

Photographer The Hamster Factor took this picture showing the motion of running using the self-timer function on his Nikon D90 camera. He took multiple shots and then cloned them together using Photoshop Elements. You can take a look at this Physics World video to learn all about the physics of running.

Ski jump by DualD FlipFlop

As this skier sails through the air, he is calculating the many forces bearing down on him, including the frictional drag in conjunction to his mass, the radius of a curve at which he may turn and the speed at which he won’t topple over. The picture was taken by DualD FlipFlop in California, US, in January.

Paragliders by mars73

The physics of flight has intrigued humans since Leonardo Da Vinci studied the flight of birds and tried to explain the mechanics behind it to build his own flying apparatus. Many fundamental physics forces come into play in all forms of flight, including drag, lift, thrust and gravity. The paragliders in this image, taken by mars73, seem to have found the perfect combination of all of these.

Wind and water

The man in this image is not quite flying himself, but using a sail to drag him along the water. Photographer DocJ96 writes, “The horizontal rate of change of momentum of air on the sail is matched by drag in the water and momentum change, as spray is ejected from the board under his feet,” referring to the opposing forces exerted by the wind and the water.

Run on the Crack of the Bat

It seems that San Francisco Giants player Buster Posey may have underestimated the force of his swing, as his baseball bat splintered upon impact with the ball. Photographer Phil McGrew captured this image at a game in San Fransisco, US, in May.

Thank you to everyone who submitted photographs and you can see all the images in our Flickr group, Physics World photo challenge.

The November issue of Physics World reveals the extraordinary physics of animals from the everyday – such as how cats and dogs drink – to the otherworldly, such as the super shrimp that can fracture aquarium glass with its clubs. So, the theme for our next photo challenge is “animal physics”. As always, we encourage you to be creative in the way you interpret the theme. But if you are looking for inspiration you might want to think about some of the animal behaviour that has dazzled and intrigued scientists over the years. For instance, how the peacock’s feathers have structures that produce beautiful shimmering colours to attract female mates, or how pond skaters can skip so effortlessly across water.

To take part please upload your images to our Flickr group by 1 December, and after this date we will showcase a selection of the best animal physics photos on Happy snapping!

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