British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

How to Find the Sweet Spot

Synopsis
A "sweet spot" is that unique place on a bat or racquet where you can hit a ball without jarring yourself. It’s also the perfect tuning point of a musical instrument, the point of balance in a circus act, and the singular set of circumstances which produces one solitary gigantic ocean wave. In these five programmes, physicist Len Fisher, with the help of fellow physicist Jeff Odell, as well as athletes, musicians and engineers, explores a different sweet spot in each programme, discovering how science can let us produce sweet spots, use them, and sometimes avoid them. Fisher discovers the secret of Johnny Wilkinson’s famous kick, how to balance a chain on its end, and why all pianos are out of tune. He surfs the Severn bore and investigates the wave that could have sunk the QE2.
Language
English
Country
Great Britain
Year of release
2005
Year of production
2004
Notes
Broadcast in 5 daily on Radio 4 from 6 - 10 December 2004
Subjects
Physics
Keywords
acoustics; balance; engineering design; pianos; sound; sports coaching; surfing; sweet spots

Online availability

URI
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/sweetspot.shtml
Price
free
Delivery
Streamed

Sections

Title
Sport
Synopsis
Len Fisher gets into shape with the help of tennis coach Peter Bendell, England rugby coach Dave Aldred and scientist Jeff Odell. He tries his hand at tennis and finds that a vigorous swing with a modern tennis racquet produces a "plop" rather than "ping" when he hits the ball. This is because the racquets have an enlarged "sweet spot", produced by having floppier strings near the frame and springier strings near the middle. Switching to rugby, he investigates the physics behind Johnny Wilkinson’s famous kick in the 2003 World Cup final, and discovers that all was not as it seemed.
Duration
15 mins

Title
Great Waves
Synopsis
Singular waves, or solitons, are natural "sweet spots". Len Fisher is joined by fellow physicist Jeff Odell and Ron Warwick to examine two spectacular examples: Giant ocean waves and the Severn Bore. As a former captain of the QE2, Ron Warwick describes how the ship was hit in mid-ocean by a ninety-foot rogue wave, while Len and Jeff reveal how such waves come about. They also join people who surf the Severn bore, a natural soliton that regularly roars down the Severn estuary near Bristol.
Duration
15 mins

Title
Buildings and Bridges
Synopsis
When buildings and bridges "give" they often do so in a catastrophic manner. An earthquake machine at Bristol University is used to investigate how catastrophic vibrations arise in buildings, bridges, and even sports bars. Engineer Adam Crewe talks about what designers can do to avoid catastrophe.
Duration
15 mins

Title
Balancing Trick, The
Synopsis
Tricks such as balancing a long thin object like a pencil on your chin, or spinning a ball on the tip of your finger are difficult to get right. Circus performer Rod Laver talks about how science lets him perform a modern version of the apparently impossible Indian Rope Trick, where a chain of connected links is balanced on its end.
Duration
15 mins

Title
Making Music
Synopsis
Piano tuner David Widdicombe and Australian physicist/musicians John Smith and Joe Wolfe talk about the science of producing the optimum "sweet spot" for a piano and for a soprano’s voice. We learn that all pianos are out of tune, an effect known as the "Pythagorean comma", and how professional piano tuners conceal the effect by the way they tune the piano. At the University of New South Wales, physicists John Smith and Joe Wolfe have designed a gadget that allows a soprano to view her output electronically and use biofeedback to improve her technique.
Duration
15 mins

Production Company

Name

BBC Radio 4

Web
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4 External site opens in new window

Record Stats

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