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It's Not Just A Formula Anymore: Sailing Brings Physics To Life
Sailing Brings Physics To Life
There is nothing like gazing up at a 28-foot sail catching the wind and experiencing the full force of nature propelling you forward. The sun warms your skin, the cool breeze tousles your hair, and the playful air currents tip the watercraft dangerously close to the rippling water, daring you to harness their power again. Like most people, Collin College student Bruno Veiga loves to go sailing, but his bliss is not derived solely from the physical experience. Rather, it is the physics and mathematical concepts catapulting to life as wind, water, keel and sail come into contact that captivate all of his senses.

Veiga's sailing experience was the culmination of a Center for the Advanced Studies in Mathematics and Natural Sciences (CASMNS) undergraduate research project with physics professors Dr. Mike Broyles and Meade Brooks. Veiga and fellow students Mehdi Ahmadi and Nancy Karanja researched how to determine the optimal sail angle using a velocity prediction program.

“I learned sail boats go the fastest when the sail is 90 degrees from the direction the wind is blowing. I enjoyed seeing how it all came together and how what I researched compared to what I saw happening on the water. Sailing is exciting because the wind makes the boat shift and you can come really close to the water. You won't fall in - well probably not,” Veiga said laughing.

Professor Brooks says it is always possible to share a physics concept that is relevant and sparks interest.

“Research experience, such as that offered by CASMNS, provides students the opportunity to explore concepts and make applications beyond the classroom. That also makes for a rewarding and engaging instructional experience. Students who voluntarily participate in research are typically very motivated and interested in what they are learning.”

Dr. Broyles has been sailing for close to 15 years and enjoys teaching physics because it is the study of the natural laws around us.

“Sailing illustrates how physics can be used to analyze how various forces act on a sailboat to allow it to move through the water. The wind provides a force; the water through which the sailboat moves acts as a resistive force; the sailboat keel provides a stabilizing force.  To understand how these and other forces act requires knowledge of vectors which we study in physics.”

Veiga plans to transfer to The University of Texas at Austin , earn a computer science degree and ultimately become a software engineer or programmer. Physics formulas are no longer flat, two-dimensional groupings of symbols and numbers for Viega. Now, he visualizes physics in nature.

“My physics class was challenging, but I liked it. The project really connected the lessons in my physics class. Opposite forces reacting create a net force somewhere in the middle. I saw that with the sail and keel. It is easy to remember because I experienced it.”


Reprinted with permission by Allen Image