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Physics Risks Death by Wrecking Ball for Science

Norwegian physicist Andreas Wahl is like a science teacher who takes classroom demonstrations way too far. Forget desktop magnets and laser pointers, Wahl showcases the immutable laws of physics by putting his own life on the line. He’s so daring, one could say that his stunts… come in like a wrecking ball.


Wahl’s audacity comes from his complete faith in science. He has shot himself with a rifle in a pool to showcase the density of water relative to air, and even plunged 45 feet to his doom to demonstrate the conservation of angular momentum. And now, to prove that the law of conservation of energy is as reliable, he has wedged himself and his pretty Norwegian face between a massive wrecking ball and a cement pillar.

The law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of a closed system remains constant — energy in the closed system can neither be created nor destroyed, and can only change form. In this case, the wrecking ball, which behaves like a pendulum, is pulled up from its resting point (simply hanging dead center), up to within a few inches in front of Wahl’s face. It is then released, and allowed to swing away from his face as far as it can go, before swinging back toward him.


Because the wrecking ball has its maximum potential energy at the point where it was released, inches in front of Wahl’s face, he can be certain that (barring interference from outside the system, i.e. nobody gives the wrecking ball any extra push), it will not be able to go further back up than the point from where it was dropped. While the energy of the wrecking ball changes from maximum gravitational potential energy (the highest point it swings to away from the ground), to maximum kinetic energy (the mid point, where it’s moving at maximum velocity), its total energy never changes, and is conserved. And bingo bango, you have a demonstration of the law of conservation of energy and no Norwegian pancake face.

Now if Homer could only learn the same lesson…


What do you think about Wahl and his use of death-defying stunts to demonstrate the laws of physics? Should he and Neil deGrasse Tyson get together for some kind of super-group science show? Or is this totally irresponsible? Let us know in the comments section below!

Images: NRK Viten, 20th Century Fox

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