Calculating just how fast Usain Bolt runs

With gold medals in three sprinting events at three Olympic Games, Usain Bolt has written himself into the record books as arguably the fastest human of all time. But just how fast is the Jamaican sprinter?

Three mathematicians, Sebastian Schreiber of UC Davis, Wayne Getz of UC Berkeley and Karl Smith of Santa Rosa Junior College, show how to calculate Bolt’s maximum velocity in the 100 meters at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in their 2014 textbook, “Calculus for the Life Sciences.”

This plot shows Usain Bolt's velocity measured at 10 meter intervals.

This plot shows Usain Bolt’s velocity measured at 10 meter intervals.

UC Davis/Chile research targets muscle disease

Keith Baar’s laboratory in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior is beginning a collaboration on inherited muscle disease with at team at the University of Finis Terrae in Santiago, Chile supported by an anonymous donation to the Chilean university.

The project will focus on disorders related to desmin, a protein within muscle that transmits force, said Baar, associate professor in the College of Biological Sciences.

Keith Baar studies how muscle and connective tissue grow and function.

Keith Baar studies how muscle and connective tissue grow and function.

Muscles that lack desmin due to a genetic defect are unable to transmit force and as a result get injured more easily and over time get more connective tissue, he said.

Upcoming: Friday talks on science of elite sports

If you’re interested in a scientific approach to athletic performance or coaching, an upcoming series of visiting lectures at UC Davis is for you. Beginning on April 4, the first three speakers are: Stuart Kim, Stanford University, on using genetics to improve performance of elite athletes; Asker Jeukendrup, global head of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, on fueling elite performance; and Chip Schaefer, director of athletic performance for the Sacramento Kings, on screening to decrease injury and improved performance.

A full program is available at https://www.dropbox.com/s/mjk3gz201h2jtk6/Syllabus.pdf

Expert on head injuries in youth football to speak on campus

Stefan Duma, a national expert on concussion, will talk about his work on head impacts in youth football at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 8, in room 1005 of the Genome and Biomedical Sciences Facility on the UC Davis campus.

Duma is professor and department head at the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences and Director of the Center for Injury Biomechanics.

Duma’s research on head impacts in second graders playing youth league football has received wide attention. His group found high-level impacts in both practices and games, and made recommendations to reduce serious head impacts in practices.

Bike controls and the pedal desk

Professors Mont Hubbard and Ron Hess in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering are running a project to study bicycle-human control systems. It turns out, says Hess, that this is a harder problem to study than his usual field: pilots flying airplanes.

“What makes riding a bicycle unique is that you have to use all the sensory information available,” Hess said. That includes not just vision and hearing, but motion, orientation, awareness of where your limbs are, and the movement of muscle groups.

Optical illusions and tennis

Disputed line calls are as much a part of the Wimbledon tennis tournament as rain and overpriced strawberries. Tuesday’s New York Times has a long article on research by David Whitney and his lab at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, which found that judges are far more likely to call a ball out when it was actually in, than the reverse.

Whitney’s team watched video of the 2007 Wimbledon tournament and identified 83 incorrect line calls. Of those, 70 (84 percent) were ruled out when they should have been in.

Tennis and visual perception

Disputing line calls has sometimes seemed like a second sport at tennis tournaments, especially Wimbledon. Now a detailed study by UC Davis psychologist David Whitney and colleagues at the Center for Mind and Brain shows that umpires are pretty good at getting those calls right — but when they do err, they are more likely to wrongly call an “out” when the ball is in, thanks to an optical illusion.

The researchers studied tapes from 57 matches from the Wimbledon tournaments in 2007 and 2008, more than 4,000 points in all. Of those, they found 83 incorrect rulings, 70 of which were balls called “out” when they were actually in play.

Alumnus is bowling engineer

Former UC Davis bowler Donald Benner, who graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering this year, has rolled his way into a dream job:  test engineer for the United States Bowling Congress.

Benner bowled for the UC Davis team that placed third in the collegiate national tournament in 2007.

“We’re very excited to bring in such a well-rounded individual,” USBC Technical Director Steve Kloempken said. “Donald is an accomplished bowler and a highly qualified engineer. His knowledge of the sport and expertise in research and testing will make him a very valuable asset to USBC.”

Beijing and California share the air

UC Davis atmospheric scientist Thomas Cahill and Steve Cliff, a former UC Davis researcher now with the California Air Resources Board, are closely following events in Beijing…air quality events, that is. Cahill’s DELTA group has been studying the long-distance transport of pollution across the Pacific for several years, and he’s monitoring air quality in Beijing. We’re basically breathing Beijing’s air, he tells KOVR-13.

Posted on Cahill’s website are some Powerpoint slides of data he’s been collecting on air pollution over Beijing, including weather data and readings from a BBC reporter in the city, as well as historic data from the ACE-Asia survey of 2001 and the IMPROVE survey of air quality in U.S. national parks.

Begley on baseball

Newsweek science columnist Sharon Begley takes on baseball in her latest column, describing how the effects of spin on a ball’s trajectory, first noted by Isaac Newton, are still perplexing physicists and engineers.

Begley notes that UC Davis engineering professor Mont Hubbard calculated that a hitter should be able to send a curveball flying further than a fastball, because the backspin on a curveball gives it more lift, even if it is moving more slowly. Hubbard published that result back in 2003, but it has by no means ended the controversy.