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How to Make More Basketball Shots, According to Physics

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Want to improve your shooting average in basketball (or with wastepaper)? Shoot slower. That's the advice of scientists, based on new research published in the Royal Society Open Science and reported by The New York Times.

A physicist and a mechanical engineer from Harvard and Yale, respectively, used mathematical models of the arm and thrown projectiles to figure out the best strategy for basketball and other throwing sports, like darts. They then compared their results with real-life data from athletes to make sure it measured up.

They found that, like so many other things in life, there is a tradeoff between speed and accuracy in throwing: Throw faster, and you’re guaranteed to throw less accurately. Scientists have long observed this, but aren’t entirely clear on the reason why. This latest piece of research suggests that it’s not just that you aren’t releasing the ball at the right moment when you throw fast, but that the faster motion of the throw affects the curvature of the ball’s flight path.

They found that the most accurate throw is generally just a little faster than the minimum required speed to get your projectile (like a basketball) to the target. If you are going to throw something at a high speed, though, a shallow overhand throw is best—especially if the target you want to hit is below your shoulder. For darts, they found that the ideal shot is an overarm throw with a speed of between 11.4 and 12.3 miles per hour, about as slow as you can throw while still having the dart hit the board hard enough to stick.

Unfortunately, increased accuracy sometimes comes at a price that not all athletes are willing to pay. Data has shown that basketball players who shoot free throws underhanded (a.k.a. “granny style”) are more accurate—but very few players are willing to do it.

[h/t The New York Times]

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History
The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

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science
Why Are Glaciers Blue?
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The bright azure blue sported by many glaciers is one of nature's most stunning hues. But how does it happen, when the snow we see is usually white? As Joe Hanson of It's Okay to Be Smart explains in the video below, the snow and ice we see mostly looks white, cloudy, or clear because all of the visible light striking its surface is reflected back to us. But glaciers have a totally different structure—their many layers of tightly compressed snow means light has to travel much further, and is scattered many times throughout the depths. As the light bounces around, the light at the red and yellow end of the spectrum gets absorbed thanks to the vibrations of the water molecules inside the ice, leaving only blue and green light behind. For the details of exactly why that happens, check out Hanson's trip to Alaska's beautiful (and endangered) Mendenhall Glacier below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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