Friday, January 8, 2010

John Eric Goff's "Gold Medal Physics"

John Eric Goff is an associate professor of physics and chair of the physics department at Lynchburg College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports, and reported the following:
I only recently learned of Ford Madox Ford's page 99 test. My book, Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports (The Johns Hopkins University Press -- released December 2009), is my first book. After learning of Ford's test, I pulled my book off the shelf with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. For I had no idea what was on page 99. Would I find equations, graphs, unrelieved prose? A smile came to my face when my eyes hit upon page 99. Here is all the text contained on that page:

Figure 6.4. Katarina Witt personified grace at the 1994 Winter Olympics. Note how her arms and back leg are far from her vertical axis. (©Wally McNamee/CORBIS)

Above those words is a wonderful photograph of Witt on the ice in Lillehammer, Norway. The photo takes up nearly the entire page, and it represents what my book is all about. Sure, I have some equations and graphs in my book, but Witt's majesty on ice is part of what motivated me to write a book on sports physics.

My book is not about dehumanizing sports with a bunch of equations. My book is about taking the thrill many of us experience when awed by athletes performing at the pinnacle of their métier and adding to that thrill a modest understanding of how the universe works. The more we learn about the universe -- be it through science, music, art, literature, athletics, or any of the other joys of being human -- the richer our lives can be.

Returning to my page 99, what does one see? Witt's arms are outstretched gracefully from her body. Her left leg is thrust powerfully behind her. Her right skate -- the only one on the ice -- kicks up bits of ice. Her emotional face reveals a passion and commitment to her craft that would make the hardest of hearts skip a beat.

Those images came to my mind before anything connected to science. Later, I realized that Witt had her arms and leg stretched as far from her body for a good reason. The reason is connected to something called angular momentum conservation. The laws of physics constrain what we and everything else in the universe can do. But, those constraints liberate our minds because even a small understanding of how the universe works can enrich the way we experience the world around us.
Learn more about the book and author at John Eric Goff's website.

--Marshal Zeringue