Columbia Physicist Says The Weather Probably Didn't Make The Patriots' Game Balls Deflate

Ever since the NFL found that the footballs the New England Patriots used in the AFC title game were under-inflated, there has been vigorous debate about whether the balls could have deflated naturally because of the weather.

Some say it could have. Others say it couldn’t have. And a little of back of the napkin maths says that even if going from a warm environment to a cool environment could have deflated the balls, it couldn’t have deflated them that much.

Apparently, the NFL is just as interested in this topic as people on the internet are.

The New York Times reports that the law firm conducting the league’s investigation contacted the Columbia physics department to speak with someone about gas physics.

In the NYT article, Columbia physics professor William Zajc says that it’s “more likely than not” that the deflation was caused by tampering, not the weather:

William Zajc, another Columbia physicist who was aware of the request by Reisner, said that he was tempted to field the questions because of all the flawed physics discussions he had seen in news media reports.

“I’m amused,” Zajc said of the query. But in the end, he said, “I didn’t do it.”

Zajc said he believed there was little chance that atmospheric effects alone could account for the discrepancies in the football pressure.

“I think it’s more likely than not that they were manipulated,” Zajc said.

Zajc is a big deal in the physics world. From his Wikipedia page:

Since the 1980s, his research has focused on experiments performed at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) on Long Island, New York, first at the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS) and now at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). He was co-spokesperson of the AGS E859 experiment, which investigated strangeness production in heavy ion collisions, and later spokesperson of the PHENIX experiment at RHIC from 1997 to 2006. PHENIXis a multinational collaboration with over 500 scientists from more than a dozen countries and is one of the two large experiments at RHIC. PHENIX, along with three other RHIC experiments, determined that the relativistic heavy ion collisions at RHIC were successful in creating the quark — gluon plasma (QGP), a state of matter believed to have existed approximately 10 microseconds after the Big Bang. The RHIC experiments also discovered that this matter is in fact strongly interacting and nearly a perfect fluid. Since stepping down after nine years of dedicated service as spokesperson of PHENIX, he continues his research with the experiment, further characterising the hot, dense matter formed in the collisions.

The Patriots have been adamant that they have done nothing wrong. Coach Bill Belichick claims that the balls deflated by themselves due to the weather and the “rubbing process” that the team uses to get them ready for the game.

The league’s findings on the issue aren’t expected for several weeks.

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