Sunday, September 4, 2011

Top Gear Physics

So my example of physics in everyday life comes from one of my favorite television shows, Top Gear from the BBC. Basically the show follows the antics of three British car lovers who test and review cars ranging from economical family vehicles all the way up to the ultimate in super cars. Now any car could be used as a physics example for a number of concepts such as momentum, acceleration, different forces and so on.

However, a notable example of how different forces can affect the car comes from when the Top Gear team tested the Swedish Koenigsegg super car. When these amazing machines are engineered they have to contend with a variety of challenges including how they handle sources of friction, the mass of the car, and the power the car produces. In the case of the Koenigsegg, the engineers created a machine with a massive amount of horsepower and a top speed above 200mph. However, when Top Gear tested the car they noted that its light weight, massive horsepower, and lack of a rear spoil created a car that was immensely difficult to handle and which struggled to apply all of that power to the road effectively. In fact, during one of their attempts to test the car it resulted in a wreck.

After seeing the results of that test and given the cars potential, the Swedish designer took back the car and made some critical changes, including the addition of a rear spoiler. The goal of this addition was to increase friction between the car and the air which would result in increased grip between the car and the road surface. The Top Gear crew's second attempt at testing this car resulted in the show's best test track time up to that point. It has since been passed by other cars but it is very cool how applying certain ideas, which we are going to learn about in this course, resulted in such an amazing machine.

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