Magazine article Newsweek

Soccer Players or Turbulent Particles? Physics Say They Act Alike; Soccer (or Do You Say Football?) Players Move about the Field like Churned-Up Particles

Magazine article Newsweek

Soccer Players or Turbulent Particles? Physics Say They Act Alike; Soccer (or Do You Say Football?) Players Move about the Field like Churned-Up Particles

Article excerpt

Byline: Douglas Main

New research shows the way soccer players move about the field bears similarities to the manner in which particles behave under the chaotic conditions of turbulence.

This discovery is one of the many made in an effort to better understand turbulence, which is a surprisingly active and pressing field. More than half a millennium after Leonardo Da Vinci first coined the term, in 1507, physicists still don't have a complete understanding of what goes on under conditions of turbulence, and no equation exists to accurately describe the phenomenon. That matters greatly, because turbulence is one of the primary enemies of efficiency. If the behavior of particles in turbulent conditions was better understood, it could probably save billions of dollars by allowing for more efficient vehicles, aircraft and ships, and even spare lives. Indeed, turbulence routinely causes injuries and deaths. Just this week, on June 20, a United Airlines flight encountered turbulent conditions between Panama City and Houston, which led to the injuries of at least nine passengers and one crew member.

For a study published in the journal Physical Review Fluids, Wouter Bos, a Dutch researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, and colleagues searched for real-life examples of phenomena that could help them model turbulence and happened upon soccer -- or, as most of the world calls it, football. These athletes zip about the pitch somewhat like particles churned up by turbulent flow constrained within a rectangle.

In the paper, co-authored by researchers Kai Schneider and Benjamin Kadoch, the scientists "demonstrate that football players change direction, on average, like fluid particles. …

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