By:
21-10-2015

How An Unusual Scientific Effect May Revolutionise Transport

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An intriguing YouTube video shows a group of friends conducting an experiment with basketballs on the Gordon Dam in Tasmania. Standing on top of this 1226m, 415 ft high dam, they drop two regular basketballs, one after the other. The first ball is simply allowed to drop from their hands and, despite being pushed around by the breeze as it falls through the air, lands nearly straight below them at the foot of the dam. The second ball is given a little spin to make it rotate as it leaves their hands and after falling a short distance, suddenly takes off and moves forward as if by magic for a surprisingly long distance. It finally lands a long way from the foot of the dam after bouncing across the lake below.
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The strange behaviour of the second ball is caused by the Magnus effect, which was named after German scientist Heinrich Gustav Magnus. He described the phenomenon in 1852 while he was investigating how cannonballs move through the air. The effect had previously been noticed two hundred years before this by Isaac Newton, while he was observing the movement of tennis balls at Cambridge University. The Magnus effect operates on rotating balls or cylinders. As they pick up speed, air on the front side of the ball gets dragged along and deflected back. At the same time, air on the opposite side is moving, causing the flow to separate instead of being deflected and creating an area of low pressure. The air on the ball or cylinder pushes one way with equal force pushing the other way, causing the spinning ball or cylinder to curve away from its original path.
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