Here is what happens when your brain is shaken or stirred.


Taken from Newton’s Football:

What exactly is a concussion? Robert Cantu, co-director of Boston

University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy

and one of the world’s leading experts on head injuries, describes a

concussion as “an alteration in brain function induced by biomechanical

forces.” Those biomechanical forces include sudden acceleration

and then deceleration of the head, which can cause the brain

to crash into the inside of the skull or be twisted or strained in such

a way that certain symptoms result. Those symptoms may include,

but are not limited to, headache, nausea, sensitivity to light and

noise, dizziness, amnesia, drowsiness, the inability to concentrate,

and fatigue. Some minor concussions resolve within minutes, while

in severe cases a post-concussion syndrome can last for years.

In general, the skull does a good job of protecting the brain

against the dangers that an early human might have encountered,

like a fall onto soft ground or getting hit with a small stick. Of

course, the skull—and the brain it’s protecting—fares less well

against modern dangers like bullets and motorcycle crashes. Or a

270-pound middle linebacker running at full speed and driving the

point of his helmet into your chin.


Learn more about the science behind football here:


Newton's Football

There is lots of news about CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is a brain disease, a neurological degenerative disease that is caused by repetitive hits to the head. The symptoms include dementia, memory loss, and depression. In the early twentieth century, this condition was called “punch-drunk” and was found in a number of boxers who ultimately were found to suffer from dementia. No cure for CTE is currently known, and at present it can only be identified postmortem.

Here is an excerpt from Newtons Football (Affiliate Link), which describes where doctors are:

In the field of head injuries, scientists have a lot to try to understand as they parse the puzzle of concussions and the related long-term degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
Just how does a concussive impact impair the function of the brain?

“You’ve got this metabolic crisis going on within the cell,” posits Robert Cantu, a professor of neurology at Boston University, as potassium ions flood out of the nerve cell, replaced by calcium ions, which prevent the cell from passing on information.”

Is there a genetic component to concussions and CTE?

“No one knows yet, but studies are focused on a variant of a common lipid transport gene called ApoE-e4. This gene does good things making sure fat goes to the right place,” says Robert Stern, a professor of neurology at Boston University, “but if you have the wrong form it does something crazy in the brain.” He adds that “it is a susceptibility gene, as opposed to a deterministic gene. If you have the wrong form, it increases your risk of having the disease, but it does not mean you will get it,” Stern explains. “There is not going to be a CTE gene because it is such a multifaceted disease.”


Newtons Football (Affiliate Link)

NFL great Jerry Rice found the football flies in a way that perplexes rocket scientists.

A football has a shape that mathematicians call a prolate spheroid. While that sounds like a weird word, prolate spheroid shapes happen in your everyday life as grapes, lemons, and watermelons. They are all longer in one direction than the other. This weird shape of the football means that it cannot be thrown like a baseball. The only way for a football to stably travel long distances is if thrown with a spin.

When a quarterback throws a football, the football spins more than 600 times in a minute, which is as fast as a CD spinning in a CD player. This spin does a few things. First, it stabilizes the ball. Without the spin, the ball would flop over. The second thing that the spin does is it creates new complicated behaviors too.

The spin creates what scientists called gyroscopic torque. This sounds like a strange thing, but gyroscopic torque happens when you ride a bike. When the wheels spin, you keep upright. However, as soon as the wheels slow down, you lose your balance. The same happens with the football. The spin keeps the football’s nose from falling down just like the wheels of the bike.

However, the spin also allows footballs to do something a bit strange. It acts like a toy gyroscope. If you ever take a spinning gyroscope toy and push it, the toy will mysteriously move on its own in another direction. This same thing happens to a football. A football spins and points its nose up, but gravity pushes its nose down as the football comes back to earth. So the football moves on its own and points sideways. (Next time you are watching a game, notice that the football’s nose is a bit to the side. That’s gyroscopic torque in action!)

So why is this a big deal? If a football is pointing sideways, then this means that a ball can be off its target by a few yards. Quarterbacks must account for this shift when they throw. Many QBs know about this instinctively and do this automatically. But, new QBs have to learn this.

Interestingly, a football spins differently if a quarterback is right-handed or left- handed. When a right-handed quarterback throws the ball, the ball spins clockwise. This means that the ball shifts a bit to the right. A left-handed quarterback throws the ball with a counter-clockwise spin, so the ball veers to the left. A ball will look very different to a wide receiver depending if a quarterback is right handed or left-handed. In fact, Jerry Rice, the great NFL wide receiver, confirmed that the ball looks different. Rice saw something that perplexed professors for years.

As one can see, the football’s tight spiral is poetry in motion, but it is also science in action.


Next Generation Science Standard NGSS PS2.C

Reference books

The Physics of Football by Timothy Gay (Affiliate Link)

Newton’s Football by St. John and Ramirez (Affiliate Link)