The Adidas Jabulani ball for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

NASA uses the World Cup ball to teach physics.

by Bob Page on 7 July 2010

“It’s quite obvious. You’re seeing a knuckle-ball effect.”

— Rabi Mehta, an aerospace engineer at NASA, on the official ball of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

FIFA announced the official ball of the 2010 World Cup — the Adidas Jabulani — in December 2009. Adidas called it the roundest and most accurate ball ever made, citing wind tunnel testing at Loughborough University in England and its own laboratory in Germany.

In June, NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, released analysis indicating the ball wobbles at speeds of 45-50 miles per hour. It doesn’t look like the Loughborough people were talking to the NASA people.

Two observations:

1. NASA’s timing and use of sports to teach concepts of physics is brilliant.

2. Experts in computational fluid dynamics, such as physicists at NASA and designers at Formula 1 racing teams, have an opportunity to collaborate on equipment for future sports events. The potential for co-branding, education, and credibility is substantial.

South Africa

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