Sweet skateboard tricks: kickflips, ollies and primo grinds.
Basic physics: friction, momentum and force. To a skateboarding physicist like Darryl Masson, such concepts are tattooed
in his brain.
A graduate student in Physics and Astronomy Professor
Rafael Lang’s lab, Masson began skating in his childhood home
city of Calgary, Canada. He yearned to perform tricks made
famous by the likes of Tony Hawk, Rob Dyrdek and Arto Saari.
But after a few injuries, he changed to a different type of board.
While attending Walla Walla University in Walla Walla,
Washington, Masson switched to longboards, a popular mode
of transportation for college students. At Purdue, dozens of
longboards can be seen cruising around campus when the
weather is good. The longboards are heavier and, yes, longer
than the more traditional, X-Games counterparts.
“The larger wheels make the cracks in the sidewalk a
little more comfortable to go over,” Masson says. “A longboard
is easier to control at higher speeds.”
These concepts and all manner of skateboards collide in
RadScience, a traveling, Tony Hawk-approved exhibit showing
now through Jan. 3 at the Indiana State Museum, 650 W.
Washington St., Indianapolis.
When the exhibit opened in September, Masson made the
media rounds, explaining the scientific side of skating. Here
is a taste:
“Whenever you go to turn a corner, there are a couple
things in play: Momentum is trying to keep you going in a
straight line; you’re acting against friction between the wheels
and the ground; you lean on one side of the board and it warps
the board a little. It changes the orientation of the axles. How
much you lean is dependent on how fast you are going and how
sharp of a corner you want to take.
“If you’re going too slow, friction wins the battle; if you’re
going too fast, momentum wins the battle.
“When you’re going very quickly and your board is very
light, the slightest bump can send your board in a direction
where the rest of you is not going. You will then have what I