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Spring 2004

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Who, What, When

Centennial spotlight

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Physics with a twist

I’ve always been acrobatic,” says Ian Duffy ’05. “I’ve done a lot of sports that involve hurling yourself into the air.” So perhaps his pole vaulting and freestyle skiing account for his ability to show up at Skidmore’s pool this fall as a novice diver and start breaking records.

But a full accounting would include his take on the physics of pike, tuck, flip, and twist.

“It’s a great example of transferof energy,” says Duffy, a physics and math double-major. Take the twist: “You throw your arms around, creating angular momentum,” he explains. “When you stop the arm movement, the entire body rotates to conserve that momentum.” To add in a flip, he says, “you have to throw your body harder” to change the angular momentum.

Duffy took three weeks of captain’s practice with the team before the varsity season began, learning through drills and observation. He’d jumped off springboards before, but soon realized that he’d never done it right. “You jump up, not out,” he notes. “And first you jump off of one foot. That ‘hurdle’ increases your gravitational potential energy, which translates to kinetic energy as you fall back to the board, causing it to bend down. The more the board bends and springs back, the more energy it puts into launching you high into the air.” The key to success, he says, is “topping the dive” before starting to bend or turn: “You have to wait, reach your highest point, and then throw yourself into the flip.”

In competition, judges watch everything from how a diver leaves the board to the moment he or she enters the water. Duffy has already broken Skidmore men’s scoring records for both a six-dive and an eleven-dive series off the one-meter board, and for an eleven-dive total off the three-meter board. “It’s not tiring as much as mentally stressful,” he says. Especially with back-entry dives: “When you can’t see the surface, you have to know when to open out of the tuck or pike and just be confident enough to stretch out and go straight in.”

Confidence and stretch don’t seem like a problem for Duffy, currently planning his third summer research internship to pave the way to grad school. Whether cramped in a computer lab or soaring high over the water, he never forgets the quote from Stephen Hawking (by way of Hamlet) that’s tatooed in a parabola on his left side: “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space…” —KG, SR


© 2004 Skidmore College