Since 2006, Adidas has unveiled a new football design for each FIFA World Cup. This year’s ball, the Brazuca, is the first 6-panel ball and features glued panels instead of stitched ones. It also has a grippy surface covered in tiny nubs. Wind tunnel tests indicate the Brazuca experiences less drag than other recent low-panel-number footballs as well as less drag than a conventional 32-panel ball. Its stability and trajectory in flight are also more similar to a conventional ball than other recent World Cup balls, particularly the infamous Jabulani of the 2010 World Cup. The Brazuca’s similar flight performance relative to a conventional ball is likely due to its rough surface. Like the many stitched seams of a conventional football, the nubs on the Brazuca help trip flow around the ball to turbulence, much like dimples on a golf ball. Because the roughness is uniformly distributed, this transition is likely to happen simultaneously on all sides of the ball. Contrast this with a smooth, 8-panel football like the Jabulani; with fewer seams to trip flow on the ball, transition is uneven, causing a pressure imbalance across the ball that makes it change its trajectory. For more, be sure to check out the Brazuca articles at National Geographic and Popular Mechanics, as well as the original research article. (Photo credit: D. Karmann; research credit: S. Hong and T. Asai)

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