Spring is a great time to get outside and get moving. What better way to do that than to encourage your child to gather a group of friends and play a game of baseball, or to go out and cheer on your local team as a family? Just by doing so, you will witness awesome STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) connections! As they dust off their bat and grab their catcher’s mitt, talk to your child about the science and innovation that go on at the plate.
Hall of Fame Connection
If you’re heading to the stadium this season, you are likely going to see some cleats, uniforms and even equipment made by Nike, the official outfitter of Major League Baseball. But did you know that Nike was co-founded by National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee William Bowerman?
While Bowerman was the head track coach at the University of Oregon for 24 years, he made great strides in improving procedures and equipment. One of his top priorities was making shoes that were lighter and faster for athletes, and he holds multiple patents related to athletic shoe design. In 1964, Bowerman partnered with one of his former athletes, Phil Knight, to form Blue Ribbon Sports, which later became Nike.
Physics in Action
In a baseball game, players must make split-second decisions and apply strategy to boost their stats and help their team claim victory. From throwing a pitch that will strike a batter out to hitting grand slams, players are constantly bringing physics to life. Keep reading to get a glimpse into some of the science behind one of America’s favorite pastimes and keep an eye out for STEM in action at your next game!
Selecting a Home Run-Hitting Bat
While Major League Baseball requires players to use wooden bats only, at the college level and below, players are often allowed to use aluminum bats. Why is the material of the bat important? In this article from West Virginia University Magazine, D.J. Pisano, interim chair and associate professor of physics and astronomy, explains that given a wooden bat and aluminum bat of the same size and weight, a hollow aluminum bat will have a larger compression when coming in contact with the baseball before springing back into shape. This is called the trampoline effect and can send the ball flying at a higher exit velocity – the speed of the baseball after coming off the bat.
The weight and speed of the bat can impact how fast and far the ball travels. This means that the skill level of professional baseball players, and how fast they can swing a bat, would make using an aluminum bat less safe for both the other players on the field and fans in the stands!
The Recipe for a Wicked Curveball
Imagine you’re at the game and you see the pitcher wind up and throw the ball, but instead of going straight, the ball changes direction as it goes across home plate. What makes the ball curve? Ohio State News explains in this article by Jim Gregory, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, that to throw a curveball, a pitcher puts added spin to the ball when they release their throw, creating air pressure differences on the ball.
To get the correct spin on the ball, a pitcher must snap their wrist as they release the ball. When the ball spins, friction causes air to pass faster on one side of the baseball than the other. The ball then stops moving in a straight line and rather forms a curved trajectory in the direction of the side of the ball with lower pressure – often down or to the side. If done correctly, a curveball can throw the batter off balance and cause them to mistime their swing.
Learn More About STEM in Sports
Keep an eye on our blog for other relatable ways to bring STEM learning to life for your child. To continue exploring the science of sports, check out STEM at The Big Game and complete this Paper Football STEM Activity!