London 2012: Badminton Physics

Unlike most racket sports, badminton uses a projectile that is nothing like a sphere. The unusual shape of the shuttlecock not only creates substantial drag in comparison to a ball but increases the complexity of its flight path. The heavy head of the shuttlecock creates a moment that stabilizes its flight, ensuring that the head always points in the direction of travel. The skirt, traditionally made of feathers though many today are plastic, is responsible for the aerodynamic forces that make the shuttlecock’s behavior so interesting.

Measuring the drag coefficient of the shuttlecock, modeling its trajectory and behavior in the four common badminton shots, and even attempting computational fluid dynamics of the shuttlecock are all on-going research problems in sports engineering. (Photo credit: Rob Bulmahn)

FYFD is celebrating the Olympics with the fluid dynamics of sports. Check out our previous posts on how the Olympic torch works, what makes a pool fast, and the aerodynamics of archery.

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