Sixteen-year-old Hans Buder isn't the Island's most enthusiastic baseball player, but he certainly is an authority on the physics of the sport. Mr. Buder won last weekend's regional high school science fair by putting a lot of balls on a single bat.
Mr. Buder, a junior at the high school, took top honors with his research project entitled, How Sweet Is It? Mr. Buder's project was to find the best place to put the ball when bunting. By firing baseballs at a stationary bat and by measuring the speed of the ball as it bounced off the bat, Mr. Buder was able to determine the preferred spot on a bat to hit the ball.
His project started out three months ago as on an entirely different tack. "Originally I wanted to investigate the juiced ball conspiracy theory," Mr. Buder told the Gazette. "The theory is that major league baseball were intentionally fixed to produce more home runs."
To prove that balls are being made differently Mr. Buder first sought old baseballs. "I wanted to compare balls that were made 60 years ago with balls that are made today. But I couldn't find anyone who would let me use their 60-year-old ball. Most old balls are extremely pricey and probably have a signature on them."
Mr. Buder spent a lot of time on the initial project, researching baseball statistics on the Internet. "I went online and looked up the physics of baseball," he said. "The sweet spot on the baseball bat interested me." So he shifted his project to measuring the speed with which a ball will bounce off a stationary bat.
"I built a mechanism that used compressed air, to shoot the balls to a fixed bat. It used 35 pounds per square inch of pressure," Mr. Buder said. When he went to the local plumbing supply store to buy PVC pipe to build his cannon, he got weird looks from the salesmen. "They thought I was building a gigantic potato cannon, like a Howitzer," he said. He spent over $75 in supplies and borrowed two photo gates from the school. The devices, placed five centimeters apart, could measure the speed of the ball by the time it took to trip the two switches.
His family members inadvertently became a part of the project, for they had to accommodate a lifestyle change while the research was under way. Mr. Buder set up his cannon in the family basement. The sound of the cannon firing could not be missed anywhere in the house. "I needed a space that was 10 feet long and a couple feet wide," he said. The only place fitting this specific need was near the clothes drier. His 18-year-old brother Alex joined in the project by surrendering access to the drier.
His parents, Karl and Lynn, put up with the sound upstairs during dinner. "I think what made the loudest noise was the compressor. I borrowed that from Harold Chapdelaine's construction company," Mr. Buder said.
"My biggest problem was getting it to work. Originally the ball wouldn't go down the tube. A ball doesn't fit exactly into a PVC pipe. It is a little smaller than the PVC. I had to try and build up the size of the ball. To catch the air I found that a 20-ounce Adirondack seltzer bottle fit," he said. With a little bit of cutting, he said: "It kind of acted like a parachute and caught the air and propelled the ball."
Mr. Buder said: "I think I got the ball relatively close to the speed of a pitched ball."
With his parents eating dinner upstairs, his brother holding off on using the drier, Mr. Buder shot the balls across the basement and started collecting data. At the sweet spot, the ball would ricochet off the bat at 196 centimeters per second, while the worst spot, the end of the bat, the ball flew at only 70 centimeters per second.
Mr. Buder doesn't expect this insight to advance his baseball career. "I did seven years of baseball. I went seven years from T-ball to the Babe Ruth League. I played shortstop. Now, I'm into track," Mr. Buder said.
From his study, Mr. Buder concurs that the best place to bunt a ball is near where you hit the ball with your right hand. "Assuming you are a right-handed person. That is the point where the vibrations in the bat will be at the least. The energy will be transferred into propelling the baseball rather than into making vibrations," he said.
"Let us say you want to hit it softly down the line. Hit it at the far end of the bat where there are more vibrations created. When the energy is passed into making vibration, the ball doesn't travel as quickly," he said.
If Mr. Buder is to continue with his research, he'd like to know where to hit the ball when the bat is being swung, but that involves a different kind of effort. Different parts of a bat are moving at different speeds when it is being swung.
What does Mr. Buder want to do when he grows up? "I'd like to be a sports writer," he said.
As the Vineyard science fair winner, Mr. Buder will go to MIT in Boston to compete in the state science fair competition. He won $200 in the high school fair, which more than covers his expenses.
As a result of his study, Mr. Buder found another bit of information to share with his colleagues. Wooden bats sent the ball back faster than a metal bat.
The grand winners of the contest are as follows: First, Hans Buder, How Sweet Is It?; second, Sean Nash, Finding the Best Whitening Toothpaste; third, Emma Young, Finding the Perfect Paper Towel.
Honorable Mention for Best Mathematical Analysis: Linda Cheng, Refraction of Light in Liquids. Honorable Mention for Most Artistic Display: Rodrigo Santos, Don't Heat That Baby Up Great Pond.
Science Fair Award for an ecology/water quality project: Ashleigh Poirier, Plants on Acid. Friends of Sengekontacket Award for an ecology/water quality project: Stuart Bangs, What Is in Your Tap Water.
Underclassmen/team competition winners: First, Audrey Furlong and Emily Freeman Miller, Flammability of Matches Under Certain Conditions. Second, Meredith Curtis and Shannon Lobdell, What Substance Melts Ice Most Efficiently. Third, Mitchell Benway and Russell Schubert, King Size Newton's Cradle.
Honorable mention: Antonia Hickey and Whit Hyde, Calculator Coolness.
Biology: First, Michelle Holmberg, Reach for the Sky. Second, Zachary Gerson-Nieder, Cuff 'Em. Third, Kevin Hopkins, Mold Growth. Honorable mention: Jesse Sylvia, The Effect of Different Liquids on the Growth Rate of Spider Plants.
Chemistry: First, Sean Nash, Finding the Best Whitening Toothpaste. Second, Emma Young, Finding the Perfect Paper Towel; Third, Lizzie Edwards, Is the Nail Polish Worth Its Price. Honorable mention: Endurance of Milk.
Physics: First, Hans Buder, How Sweet Is It; Second, Rodrigo Santos, Don't Heat That Baby Up. Third, Taryn Cummens, Trajectory Analysis, Water Rockets. Honorable mention: Grant Joiner, Liquid Drag Forces.
Earth/Environmental Science: First, Ashleigh Poirier, Plants on Acid. Second, Morgan Ibarrondo, Tropisms: Geotropism, Hydrotropism, Phototropism. Third, Stuart Bangs, What's in Your Tap Water.
Engineering/Computers/Mathematics: First, Alyssa Fitzpatrick, The Design and Works of the Solar Oven. Second, Jessie Wiener, Machine to Measure the Tensile Strength of Fishing Line. Third: Caitlyn Parry, Running: Racing Flats vs. Running Shoes.