18 July 2016

Enjoyed a great time in Delft!

I'll be using this space as a sabbatical journal for another fortnight or so.  Nothing comes to a close faster than a fruitful, yearlong sabbatical in England!  But I've made the most of my time here, professionally and personally.  I've written a good bit about various trips my family has taken, but I've not written as much about my research.  There is a good reason for that.  I was waiting to publish and present significant pieces of research.  More research is set to be published, but I'll describe below some of the work that's kept me busy this past year.  My time in the Netherlands last week will be the perfect vehicle for that description.

I attended the 11th Conference of the International Sports Engineering Association in Delft (click here for the conference webpage).  I had never been to the Netherlands before.  It was fantastic!  I am both thoroughly impressed and incredibly jealous of the biking culture there.  Wide bike lanes sit adjacent to car lanes.  It was so easy getting around.  The neighbourhood where I live in Virginia doesn't even have sidewalks.  And biking is done at nontrivial risk because of speeding cars, a small fraction of which have drivers quite hostile to cyclists.  If my hometown had a biking setup like what I saw in Delft, I could easily see myself biking to work on a regular basis.  But riding on a 45-mph (72-kph) road, with some cars going well in excess of that speed limit, and no cycling lane make such an effort very unappealing.  Hopping back in my car when I return isn't exactly something I'm looking forward to.  But cycling in beautiful Delft was a lot of fun.  The photo below shows me on my rented bike in front of the conference centre (click on the image for a larger view).
I relish going to a research conference.  Meeting up with colleagues I've not seen in a year or more is just as great as meeting a slew of new people.  Besides four great keynote addresses, I attended 37 talks and gave two talks.  I couldn't see any more than that!  There were three parallel sessions, meaning lots of talks that interested me had to be missed.  As great as the talks were, the hallway discussions were even better.  Enthusiasm was contagious and it was easy getting excited about the smallest detail in another's work.  The organisers at Delft did a terrific job.  We enjoyed great food for lunches and snacks, and the final conference dinner was a blast.  I also loved getting to know people over beer and Dutch food in one of couple of lovely squares in town.  All of us had the common feeling of love for our work and passion to learn more.  I definitely left the conference with new ideas and novel ways to think about current research problems in my head.

My research efforts contributed three papers to the conference.  I like that conference papers weren't simply dumped without review into a "conference proceedings" book.  Papers for the Delft conference, like many other serious research conferences, were peer reviewed and allowed revision.  One of my papers benefited from a reviewer's insight.  Another reviewer gave good advice for the oral presentation I gave.  Peer review is an indispensable step in the advancement of good science.

Chad Hobson, my talented undergraduate physics student from Lynchburg College, joined me in Delft for the conference.  It is important to me that my research students publish and present their work.  Not all my students are able to achieve a publication, but that's a goal I've had since I began at Lynchburg College in 2002.  Chad presented our latest Tour de France work.  He is lead author on our paper (click here for that paper) and deservedly so.  His contributions to the work have advanced our Tour de France modelling in significant and critical ways.  Chad is in the middle of his talk in the photo below (click on the image for a larger view).
I've collaborated with colleagues at the University of Tsukuba on studies involving the aerodynamics of non-spinning soccer balls.  Previous work we published together showed why Brazuca was a better World Cup soccer ball than Jabulani.  I presented our current work that combined wind-tunnel experiments with trajectory analysis.  The latter approach is my speciality.  The photo below shows me in the midst of my soccer talk (click on the image for a larger view).
And, no, I'm not doing a Jedi mind trick!  The slide shows wind-tunnel force measurements, plotted in such a way as to illustrate stability, or lack thereof, in the five balls tested.  Click here for our paper.  We are getting a better understanding of knuckling effects.

My second presentation concerned part of the research I've done with my University of Sheffield colleagues.  We have investigated friction between various types of tennis shoe tread and a hard-court playing surface.  Sliding on hard courts isn't as prevalent as it is on clay courts, but it's becoming more popular.  I showed some of our treads in the slide below (click on the image for a larger view).
There are so many options for studying tread shapes and courts interacting with each other.  This research can certainly go on for years!  Our first paper on this topic is here.  We hope to have another one out soon.

Conference revelry was damped by the late-night news on Bastille Day that scores of people were killed in Nice.  And that news is on top of the seemingly continuous streams of bad news from my home country.  As I talked to people in Delft last week, I got such a strong sense of their hope and anticipation for future work.  I'm sure I exuded those desires as well.  Now think of all those killed in Nice and elsewhere.  Innocent people with hope and anticipation for their futures.  Gone.  Families ruined forever.  And for what purpose?  Making sense of the senseless is nearly impossible.  Maybe there will come a day when humans stop killing each other, but that day is a long, long way off.

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