Ready for the big game this Sunday? Favorite snacks…plenty of drinks…team jerseys and funny hats…and the Ideal Gas Law.

Thomas Healy, a mechanical engineering graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, has just demonstrated that the under-inflated football controversy swirling around the New England Patriots’ AFC conference championship victory can be explained by proper and careful application of the Ideal Gas Law. You may recall that law from high school physics: PV=nRT. 

As reported in yesterday’s New York Times:

Those footballs, which the N.F.L. has said were deflated to pressures below league standards, have created a national meta-bowl whose outcome is seemingly as important as who wins on Sunday. The question driving the public dialogue is whether the Patriots tampered with the balls to make them easier to handle, or whether simply moving them from the warmth of a locker room to the chill and dampness of the field could account for the deflation.

The Patriots have absorbed a beating in that larger contest, with many scientists concluding that only the surreptitious hiss of air being released from the balls could explain the difference. But now the Patriots have started to rally, and in a big way. Healy, who provided The New York Times with an advance copy of his technical paper on the experiments, concluded that most or all of the deflation could be explained by those environmental effects.

Max Tegmark, an M.I.T. professor of physics, wrote out the equation, below, which was used in initial calculations in the New England case.

“This analysis looks solid to me,” said Max Tegmark, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who reviewed the paper at The Times’s request. “To me, their measurements mean that there’s no evidence of foul play.”

Other evidence is also turning the Patriots’ way. In a usually obscure profession that has received extraordinary attention during the controversy, some academic and research physicists now concede that they made a crucial error in their initial calculations, using an equation called the ideal gas law…

Read the complete article.

Brush up before the game with Prof. Moungi Bawendi’s lecture introducing the Ideal Gas Law, from 5.60 Thermodynamics and Kinetics on OCW.


And while the mass and velocity effects in this game will be strictly Newtonian, you can also stretch your physics knowledge with Prof. Tegmark’s OCW course 8.033 Relativity.

[Go Pats!]