Experiments suitable for classroom projects or demonstrations are described concerning the aerodynamics of polystyrene balls. A light ball with sufficient backspin can curve vertically upward through the air, defying gravity and providing a dramatic visual demonstration of the Magnus effect. A ball projected with backspin can also curve downward with a vertical acceleration greater than that due to gravity if the Magnus force is negative. These effects were investigated by filming the flight of balls projected in an approximately horizontal direction so that the lift and drag forces could be easily measured. The balls were also fitted with artificial raised seams and projected with backspin toward a vertical target in order to measure the sideways deflection over a known horizontal distance. It was found that (a) a ball with a seam on one side can deflect either left or right depending on its launch speed and (b) a ball with a baseball seam can also deflect sideways even when there is no sideways component of the drag or lift forces acting on the ball. Depending on the orientations of the seam and the spin axis, a sideways force on a baseball can arise either if there is rough patch on one side of the ball or if there is a smooth patch. A scuff ball with a rough patch on one side is illegal in baseball. The effect of a smooth patch is a surprising new observation.
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PAPERS| April 01 2012
Aerodynamics in the classroom and at the ball park
Rod Cross; Aerodynamics in the classroom and at the ball park. Am. J. Phys. 1 April 2012; 80 (4): 289–297. https://doi.org/10.1119/1.3680609
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