U physics professor explains slopestyle skiing

N-Ski Colby Patterson

As the sport of freestyle skiing makes its 2014 Olympic debut in Sochi, NBC Learn talked to Jordan Gerton, U physics professor, to explain the science behind the gravity-defying sport.

NBC’s film crew came to the Department of Physics to meet with Gerton for their video segment, which features Olympic athlete Nick Goepper. They filmed at the U and at Snowbird Ski Resort.

“Conservation of angular momentum was one of the big concepts which we discussed in the video,” Gerton said, who has been a professor of physics for 10 years.

A demonstration in the video took place in the physics building where NBC’s camera crew filmed undergraduate student Laurel Hales spinning on a piece of equipment to show the science of momentum and inertia in the Olympic games.

“We used that in the context of their tricks and how they can control how fast they’re rotating by changing their body shape while in the air so they spin faster or when they want to slow down before they land,” Gerton said.

He also discussed the idea of energy in speed, friction and the used ski equipment in the video.

Kathrine Skollingsberg, a public relations associate in the Physics Department, said the reaction from students has been impressive.

“Since the video came out, we’ve had a lot more comments from students interested in our department,” she said. “We’re finding that more students are engaged. The video really caught their eye.”

Professor Gerton teaches about 380 students this semester, many of which are outdoor enthusiasts.

He said he showed the video to his introductory physics class and said he is happy it provided some relevance to his lectures.

“I think they can appreciate when we talk about something, which for some students is kind of mundane. I like physics, but not everybody likes physics,” Gerton said. “To connect [physics] to something they’re doing in their everyday life makes it more likely that they’ll think about it in a more deep way. It’s more engaging.”

Gerton said NBC Learn probably found him through his connections with the National Science Foundation, where he has submitted reports that promote physics through other outdoor recreational activities.

He will further participate in the discussion of physics in sports during an upcoming panel including Olympic athletes, engineers and other scientists in Park City, called, “The Physics of Freestyle.” The panel is sponsored by the U’s College of Science and the Park City Education Foundation. It will take place March 27.

“I’m really happy they did those videos and that I got to be a part of it,” Gerton said.

m.mckenna@chronicle.utah.edu