Drag’n Thrust

Some people wonder how frisbees fly. Aden Stinebrickner-Kauffman is not one of these people. He could tell you about the disk’s aerodynamics. He could tell you about distorted air flow, the Bernoulli Principle, and the lift component of force vectors. He could also tell you about what it’s like to play on a professional frisbee team.

Indeed, the renowned physics teacher was a professional athlete. Inspired by his sister’s success on Duke University’s frisbee team, he picked up the sport during his freshman year of college. Not too long after, the Australian (yes, he was born Down Under) started to realize his frisbee potential. Because he initially was only good at catching, the running joke on his team was that “if you didn’t toss it to Aden in the end zone, it was going to be a turnover.” If you’ve seen Aden, you’d know why. He is a behemoth: tall, long, and athletic. By his own admission, Stinebrickner-Kauffman “knew very early on that [he] was going to be good.” He was right. A few years later, he was spinning the disk for a professional club. Even though he played for only one season, he had his fair share of highlights.

What Stinebrickner-Kauffman won’t admit is that being a physicist gives him an advantage at the sport. Although it’s easy to imagine him calculating speeds and angles on the spot, Stinebrickner-Kauffman claims that he naturally judges how to throw and jump. Even more interesting is the fact that there are many other physicists that play frisbee: “there’s a team in Minnesota that’s won three of the last five national championships, and their team name is Drag’n Thrust. That’s because when a frisbee is in the air, there are four forces that affect it: gravity, lift, drag, and thrust. No one but a physicist would have come up with that.” Stinebrickner-Kauffman still plays the game today, and he loves to toss with students. Just make sure you don’t have to guard him.
By Will Klein’19