UNL Physics Professor Tim Gay will give a football lecture on April 5.
By Randy York
Nebraska football’s Spring Game is Saturday, April 6, and fans seeking a one-day jump on all the hoopla should consider attending a free Friday, April 5 noon-hour lecture in Memorial Stadium’s West Stadium Club. The title in this Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture Series is Football: Its Physics and Future. The man who will be giving it, in his uniquely entertaining/educational style, will be Dr. Timothy Gay, a physics professor in UNL’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Rarely does the N-Sider guarantee a public lecture, but this is an exception for two reasons: 1) Most astute Nebraska football fans are already Tim Gay fans because he narrated a series of quick-hitting videos produced by HuskerVision beginning in 1999, and those one-minute lessons became one of the most popular big-screen features inside the stadium; and 2) Don’t let Dr. Gay’s bow tie, button-down shirt and sport jacket fool you. He’s a master at making dramatic points that teach valuable lessons. He’s so good you can’t help but shake your head and wonder why your high school physics teacher couldn’t cut to the quick like he does.
Actually, there’s more to my endorsement of this unusual opportunity the day before we check out Bo Pelini’s revamped defense designed to complement one of college football’s most explosive offenses this fall. Gay knows how to entice a general audience just as well as speak to one. Free pizza will be served to those who attend the 11:45 a.m. reception while supplies last (the lecture begins at 12:15 p.m.). Here’s the real kicker – this may be one of the few physics professors anywhere that actually played college football, let alone competed for a team once featured in a national publication.
There’s a bit of jest there, but it’s true. A Wall Street Journal reporter wrote a story contrasting the difference between high-end football recruiting at Ohio State to low-end walk-ons who participated at Caltech, Gay’s alma mater and one of the nation’s top 10 colleges and universities. The Wall Street Journal compared Caltech – which no longer has a football program – to intramurals on most major campuses. “Not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, I signed to play for Tech,” Gay said, “and surprisingly, I had a great time playing, even though we lost almost all our games. It was a great experience.”
Colleagues Agreed: Tim Gay is Your Man!
And “it” became the touch point for HuskerVision recruiting a physics professor to shed some academic light on Nebraska’s most physical sport. Gay will never forget how an athletic department director came to his department one day asking a simple question: Is there any professor who loves football and can be a shameless self-promoter, so he can help Husker fans learn something on game day? “I think everyone in our office stood up and said: ‘Tim Gay is your man!’”
As a teacher, Gay engaged his students to make sure they could relate his best points to something they were already interested in. At Nebraska, football seemed to fit the bill. That’s why Gay’s lecture will discuss the history of American football and the physics of the large forces that occur on the field and the inherent dangers. He will talk about attempts to ban football as early as 1900 and how the sport’s current climate could lead to changes in the game.
That takes us to the timely role Nebraska will play in possible changes in football and how such modifications might relate to UNL’s national research efforts to understand and mitigate injuries. “Nebraska is unique in forward-thinking research in this area,” Gay said. “Exciting times are happening here that will make an impact on the future of the sport.”
Gay has asked HuskerVision for two videos to use in his April 5 lecture – Kenny Bell’s big hit block on Wisconsin defensive back Devin Smith in the 2012 Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis and John Ruud’s layout hit of Oklahoma’s Kelly Phelps on the second-half kickoff return in NU’s 1978 17-14 upset of the No. 1 Sooners in Lincoln. Bell received a penalty flag that did not meet the requirements of an illegal hit, and Phelps’ fumble on Ruud’s smash-mouth hit was incorrectly ruled dead instead of a Nebraska recovery.
Upbeat Style Made Science Understandable
Someone once told Gay that colleagues would take him less seriously as a researcher if he popularized the science of football. “I strongly disagree with that viewpoint,” Gay said, and his career reinforces that point. He is, by all accounts, an excellent researcher and teacher. He is also well-positioned to explain the physics of football to a broader audience than just Big Red fans, who relish his upbeat presentations because they make science understandable to a lay audience.
Make sure you park early and check into the West Stadium by 11:45 a.m. on April 5. Pizza’s the perfect food for a football-related physics lecture, and here’s the best news of all: If you can’t make the lecture live, you are not out of luck. A live webcast (12:15 p.m. CDT) is available at go.unl.edu/nl-timgay. An archived video will be available for viewing within a week after the event. GBR!
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