June 5, 2023
Could Usain Bolt outrun a 900-pound dinosaur? Physics professor poses the question

Could Usain Bolt outrun a 900-pound dinosaur? Physics professor poses the question

A new academic paper pits legendary sprinter Usain Bolt against a 900-pound dinosaur to see who could run a 100-metre distance the fastest.

The physics problem, as described in a paper published in the journal The Physics Teacher last month, was developed by University of Toledo physics professor Scot Lee as a way to get students interested in physics. It asks students to use physics concepts to calculate whether the fastest man in the world could outrun the dinosaur Dilophosaurus wetherilli.

“One big issue in physics education is to generate student enthusiasm for the course material,” Lee said in a news release. “These dinosaur problems really spark a lot of interest among the students.”

The Dilophosaurus wetherilli was a predatory dinosaur that lived in North America in the early Jurassic Period 193 million years ago. They stood about seven metres in length and were prominently featured in the film Jurassic Park.

Meanwhile, Bolt set the 100 metre world record at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he nailed that distance in 9.58 seconds. Both Bolt and the dinosaur would’ve had a top speed of around 10.5 metres per second.

“The maximum running speeds of the other dinosaurs were significantly different from Usain Bolt’s average speed and, therefore, would not make an interesting race,” he said. “Sadly, the more famous Tyrannosaurus rex is believed to have been slower than Usain Bolt.”

In the end, the Jamaican sprinter beats the dinosaur by two seconds. Lee says he hopes his paper will inspire other physics educators to get creative when coming up with problems.

“A number of physics majors have, over the years, taken this general education course just because they think dinosaurs are so cool,” he said. “I then realized that physics majors would be excited to work on dinosaur examples of physics principles.”

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