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May 11, 2006


Physics Grad Student Wins World Frisbee Title

Tom Carroll

One might expect a physicist's understanding of aerodynamics to confer a competitive advantage in the sport of Ultimate frisbee, but Ph.D. candidate Tom Carroll says he hasn't noticed one. In fact, he's the only physicist on his team, the Horned Melons, which recently returned from Italy with its third title in the World Beach Ultimate Cup.

At any rate, aerodynamics isn't Carroll's specialty; the phenomena he studies operate on a considerably smaller scale. He has spent much of the last few years working with Assistant Professor of Physics Michael Noel to create magneto-optical traps that link together Rydberg atoms atoms in which one electron has been excited to a very high energy level. The exaggerated reactive properties of these atoms make interactions between them especially interesting to physicists. It's a demanding field, and Ultimate is a great way to shake off the stress of graduate-student life, Carroll says.

"It's ideal for people who are interested in doing something athletic but don't have the time to commit to traditional team sports," he says. "A disc and a pair of cleats is all the equipment you need, and there are plenty of opportunities to play. With a lot of team sports, you can't compete seriously after college, but with Ultimate, there's serious competition for as long as you want to play."

This year marked the Melons' sixth entry in the five-day Paganello Beach Ultimate competition, which has been held annually in Rimini, on Italy 's Adriatic coast, for 16 years. This year, 100 teams from 25 countries earned the hard-won privilege of competing at Paganello, which is widely considered the world's premier Beach Ultimate event. The Horned Melons compete in the mixed division, in which each team fields both male and female athletes.

Beach Ultimate is played on a smaller field than that of regular Ultimate, and each team fields five players rather than the seven of regular Ultimate, Carroll says. The object of the game is to pass the disc to a teammate in the 15-meter-wide end zone of a 75-meter-by-25-meter field. The Horned Melons play both Ultimate and Beach Ultimate.

Each year, the team eagerly awaits Paganello, which is a five-day festival that includes a freestyle frisbee competition, live music, great food, fireworks and parties as well as the World Beach Ultimate Cup.

"We love all of it the high level of competition, the beautiful setting, getting the chance to play and interact socially with people from all over the world," Carroll says.

After he is awarded his Ph.D. in physics at this year's commencement exercises, Carroll will spend the summer working in Noel's lab as a postdoctoral fellow. He has accepted a teaching appointment at Swarthmore College for the 2006-07 academic year, and he hopes to continue to work with Noel at Bryn Mawr. It will be a busy year but he'll find time to toss a few discs around.

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