The Wave

Posted October 19, 1998 at 9:00 am 1 Comment

Yesterday we were discussing the homecoming football game against the University of Chicago when Adam had a great idea.   At football games, it’s common for fans to do the “wave”, right?   Well, what do you do if the fans who are cheering for the other team start doing the wave?  Simple.  You and your friends start another wave of the same amplitude and period, but out of phase by one half cycle.  This results in maximum destructive interference between the two waves, and the opposing fans’ wave is rapidly nullified.

That started us thinking a bit more about the wave.  Have you ever noticed that the wave always has only one pulse?  Fans start the wave and then wait for it to come all of the way around the stadium before standing up again.  Why don’t they ever create a series of pulses, so that two or three waves are traveling around the stadium at the same time?  If the pulses were timed correctly, the fans could even create a standing wave, so that everyone stood in place and moved up and down constantly.   Although I suppose that it wouldn’t technically fit the definition of a standing wave, since no reflection or interference would be occurring.  The distance between the nodes would depend on how fast the fans could stand up and sit down.

Brendan’s theory is that the wave can be compared to a damped linear oscillator.   It’s strong at first, but then dies out gradually as the fans lose their enthusiasm.  Since the enthusiasm of the fans is more or less proportional to the amount of beer they’ve consumed, it’s actually possible to calculate the coefficient or damping given the price of beer.  Once you’ve figured out the relation between beer prices and the damping coefficient, just solve the system of simultaneous differential equations and you can predict approximately how long the wave will last.  Next time you go to a football game, don’t forget your scientific calculator.

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  1. […] This spectator phenomenon has created much interest in different circles over the years, from the scientific, to the unnecessarily scientific.  There are those who are excited about trying to start one at a game, while others feel that The Wave is a harbringer of the home team’s downfall (as described here), or that it is a complete affront to all sports altogether (see the strongly-worded hyperbolic argument here). […]

    Pingback by Firlapalooza » Blog Archive » The Wave — August 21, 2007 #

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