For nearly two weeks, physics news has found a new home in sports pages around the country as researchers have inflated, deflated, refrigerated, and heated footballs. This detour from the scientists’ usual research was triggered by the New England Patriots’ AFC championship win—which secured their spot in tomorrow’s Super Bowl, but also sparked controversial rumors that footballs used during the game may have been deflated to levels below NFL standards.
MIT physics professor Max Tegmark reviewed a new technical paper prepared by Carnegie Mellon University, detailing how atmospheric conditions could have reduced air pressure in the footballs used by the Patriots.
“This analysis looks solid to me,” Tegmark told the New York Times after reviewing the data. “To me, their measurements mean that there’s no evidence of foul play.”
In the Carnegie Mellon experiment, researchers measured the pressure difference in footballs when they were moved from a 75 degree environment to one at 50 degrees. As expected based on an equation called the ideal gas law, the footballs deflated—and deflated even further when moisture was added, to mimic the effects of rainy weather.
MIT professor of planetary sciences Richard Binzel agrees that deflation upon transferring a ball from warm temperatures to cool temperatures is consistent with the basic laws of nature. “This is true not just at Foxborough but at every playing field, whether here on earth or all the way out to Pluto,” he told the Boston Globe.
Although physics experts agreed on the equations, they declined to speculate on the outcome of Sunday’s game.
“The laws of physics know no fandom. The laws of physics play no favorites,” noted Binzel.
Besides, it’s not every day that science receives such widespread attention. Mused Tegmark, “It’s pretty funny that the ideal gas law is making headlines.”
Previously in the news: The strange history of MIT Football.