Personal tools
You are here: Home Administration Physics Department Events 2021 Spring February 2021 Physics Colloquium: Timothy Gay, "The Physics of Football"

Physics Colloquium: Timothy Gay, "The Physics of Football"

Filed under:
When Feb 03, 2021
from 04:00 PM to 05:00 PM
Contact Name
Add event to calendar vCal

Timothy Gay
Willa Cather Professor of Physics
AMOP Physics & Astronomy
University of Nebraska Lincoln


The Physics of Football


This talk is based on a series of one-minute physics lectures given to the ~ 9 x 104 fans that attend the University of Nebraska home football games.  Lecture topics have included Newton’s Laws of Motion (blocking and tackling), the Ideal Gas Law (why not fill the football with helium to get better hangtime?), and projectile motion (kicking , punting, and passing).  Particular attention will be paid to the problem of the tight spiral pass: why does the axis of the ball in this case maintain tangency with its line of trajectory? If time permits, I will also discuss questions related to the tactical advantages of football deflation, and the recent discovery by the American Public and Press that football is a violent game.

Superbowl LV will take place Sunday night, February 7 at 6:30 pm EST between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If you want impress your friends and family with your real knowledge of the game, watch Professor Timothy Gay's lecture on the "Physics of Football" on Wednesday, February 3 at 4 p.m. EST. He will make you standout in the crowd of viewers.

Short Bio: Professor Gay is regarded as one of the world's leading experts on the science of sports. His book, "The Physics of Football" contains a forward by his Andover classmate, Bill Belichick, the renowned Head Coach and General Manager of the New England Patriots and is a compelling read for anyone who has a science bent. Last year, Gay and two of his collaborators cracked the mystery of how a football spirals, earning him recognition by both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The late Harry Soodak, a long-time member of the CCNY Physics Department, first raised the question three decades ago, but the answer remained unclear until last year.



We are interested in polarized electron physics. Our work involves studies of polarized electron scattering from atoms and molecules, the understanding of chiral and dichroic effects in such targets, the development of novel sources of polarized electrons and electron polarimeters, and investigations of the fundamental nature of the electron. Our group collaborates with scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Thomas Jefferson National Laboratory. We are funded by the Experimental Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics Program and the Accelerator Science Program in the Physics Division of the National Science Foundation.


Timothy Gay was born in Ashtabula, Ohio on 23 March, 1953. He was raised in Pleasant Hill, Ohio, a farming community of 1000 people in western Ohio. An only child, his parents (both now deceased) were William Gay, a pastor in the United Church of Christ, and Annabeth McClelland Gay, a church musician. Gay attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachussets, graduating in 1971. At Andover, he was the manager of the varsity football team his senior year. Players on that team included Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots, Ernie Adams, Director of Research for the New England Patriots, and Milt Holt, a former State Senator from Hawaii and the starting quarterback for Harvard for four years.

Gay got a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California in 1975. While at Caltech he played tackle for its football team, a squad so notoriously inept that it was profiled by the Wall Street Journal in the fall of 1974. (A typical Caltech season record was 1-7, against such football powerhouses as LaVerne College, Harvey Mudd College, and the University of California - Riverside (freshmen).)

Upon graduating from Caltech, Gay matriculated at the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. in Experimental Atomic Physics in 1980. He then worked as a Research Physicist and Lecturer at Yale University until 1983, when he joined the faculty of the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Since 1993, he has been on the faculty of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, where he is now the Willa Cather Professor of Physics.

Gay's research interests center on the scattering of electrons by atomic and molecular targets and elementary particle physics. His research group, comprising two postdoctoral fellows, three graduate students, and four undergraduate students, is funded by the National Science Foundation. During his career, Gay has been the principle investigator on more than $7 million of grants, and has published more than 100 articles in the refereed scientific literature, including two books. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and served as its Speaker of the Council in 2018.