UVA's Professor Lou and "How Things Work"

May 12, 2014

Hockey season is winding to a close, and that’s good news for Professor Lou Bloomfield, who will now have a little extra time in his busy schedule.  During the season, he produces a video segment - shown on cable TV and the stadium JumboTron, explaining the science of this sport.  

Credit www.phys.virginia.edu

Lou Bloomfield has been a professor of physics at the University of Virginia for nearly 30 years, He teaches a course called How Things Work.

“How does a violin work?  How does a microwave oven work?  What’s static electricity? Why do magnets stick to your refrigerator?”

He’s done lots of interviews with sports reporters, explaining various aspects of games, and one of them was hired to produce a show for the Washington Capitals.  He invited Bloomfield to do a segment each week called Forces of Hockey.

“Hi, I’m Professor Lou.  Welcome to my laboratory.  Today’s topic - the jersey.  Modern jersey materials carry moisture away from a player’s body by way of a wicking action.  The water molecules are chemically attracted to the surface of those fibers, and they follow the fibers their entire length, just like liquid wax follows the wick of a candle.”

He’s looked at why the hockey puck is frozen, why players need especially strong legs - even explained why the padding they wear stinks.  It’s all about bacteria, and Bloomfield is all about helping fans understand the science behind this sport.

“I don’t think that most people develop very much in terms of scientific understanding between elementary school and college.  A lot of the science that they learn is kind of formulaic and mindless.  They learn how to successfully negotiate the course, but they don’t really learn very much about the world around them.”

“The stick makes contact with the ice, a few inches behind the puck.  Competing forces between the ice and the player then cause the stick to bend, to flex, so the stick stores the player’s energy as elastic, potential energy.  It’s like stretching a sling shot.”

Sometimes fans recognize him in the stands.

“I wear a hockey jersey that has on the back ‘Prof Lou 101.’  That’s my number.”

And some students from the DC area take his course after first seeing him at hockey games.  But perhaps the biggest kick comes from his colleagues in broadcasting.  Professor Lou has won three regional Emmys for his show.