Head of physics leaving at the end of the month - Purdue Exponent: Campus

Head of physics leaving at the end of the month

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Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 10:00 am

Some may associate physics with numbers, formulas and endless theories, but the outgoing physics department head has applied the science to baseball and music.

Nicholas Giordano, the Hubert James distinguished professor of physics and physics department head, will be leaving Purdue to accept the position of dean of Auburn University’s College of Sciences and Mathematics.

Giordano has been involved in many unorthodox projects while at Purdue, many of which came about because of his involvement with students.

“I like what I do because I like working with students,” Giordano said. “I know it sounds corny, but it’s true.”

One project Giordano created with undergraduates was studying how a piano works in terms of physics. Andrew Hirsch, a professor of physics, recalled the inception of the project, which spawned a published book and similar projects with other instruments.

“He had an undergraduate who was interested in music and that launched a whole area of mathematical modeling for him on the piano,” Hirsch said. “In fact, he has purchased old pianos and restored them.”

Giordano has 19 pianos and has continued to combine his interests in music and physics. He has gone beyond the piano and has also studied the physics of the guitar and the violin. Some of his studies have resulted in published papers and some have been projects designed for undergraduate students.

In other cases, projects like these have helped students obtain jobs. In addition to work on instruments, Giordano, who is a baseball fan, conducted a study revolving around how a baseball player catches a fly ball.

A paper was published the Journal of Science that provided an algorithm calculating how an outfielder judges the ball, which Giordano thought was inaccurate.

“I realized that it was completely wrong in the sense that this is not how baseball players catch real fly balls,” Giordano said. “It would work, but it’s not what (the players) do.”

Giordano then went to the local baseball field, filmed a baseball player fielding fly balls and then analyzed the data. Giordano and his team then wrote a paper showing how the data from the previous paper was wrong and published it in the Journal of Science. Unexpectedly, that project helped a graduate student involved in the project to get a job after graduation.

“One of the graduate students went to interview for a job at a company ... (that) does a lot of high-tech things in the aerospace industry,” Giordano said. “He came back from the interview and he said that most of the people he talked to there asked him about the baseball paper ... we talked about it a while and we realized that what these interviewers wanted to know was ‘how did this student work in a team?’”

Giordano hopes to take the same approach to working with students to Auburn, where he will start on Aug. 5. Hirsch will serve as interim department head until a new head is found.

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