Laws of Tennis: Beautiful Evidence

Who better than a bonified Genius, to be the subject of the latest GRC post. Harold Edgerton, a brilliant MIT physicist, produced these strobe-frame photographs using his proprietary technique to flash light periodically in a dark room with long exposure times. He liked Tennis almost as much as he enjoyed being a genius, something inverse to our relationship in that we like being geniuses almost as much as we love tennis. In the pictures bellow, a light is flashing say every 1/80 of a second, hence multiple images within one frame that took a total of 1 second. No doubt these are beautiful images, but there are more than just aesthetics that make them look so; there is a universal pattern.

The photograph i schematically drew as existing in 4 places in time, A, B, C, D,
instead of 80 like in the photographs above. A is the beginning of a serve, B is the racket accelerating to the contact point, c is the contact point and D is the follow through

For all you non-Geniuses out there, I'd thought I'd further explain this form of strobe photography so every one is on the same page before we make leaps and bounds. I want to simply demonstrate the principle. Being thematically related, and of course being a genius, please note that I am wearing a MIT shirt in the following strobe-photographs made in MIT-Edgerton fashion

This photo on the left translates to the schematic drawing of the tennis serve. And as for the photo on the right, no i am not holding my own arm, this is a picture with three flashes in a dark room with an exposure of 2 seconds.
The study of time and space is not just limited to scientific Geniuses, but artistic geniuses as well. The painting below is a 1912 painting by Marcel Duchamp. The work is widely regarded as a Modernist classic and has become one of the most famous of its time. There is no tennis racket in the painting, but there is clearly a visual, and even scientific link in this abstract painting and our study of the most perfect tennis serve. The picture to the right of the painting represents the human motion that inspired Duchamp's pivotal work. Sadly, this photograph was not done in my studios, and i do not know if the model plays tennis.

Nevertheless, dissecting the brushstrokes and camera flashes can reduce the confusion above into for main points of changing speed, acceleration and energy of a person moving down the stairs.

What is the point of this madness. The best tennis serve, the most beautiful human motion, and even some of the most intriguing art is bound together in harmonics. When the tennis player at A1 and the Descending Nude is at A3, their bodies have the most potential energy stored and the slowest movement in their respective frames. At B1 and B3, both bodies are accelerating the fastest they can in their respective series. At C1 and C3, both movements have reached their maximum levels of speed and kinetic energy, while at the same time lowest level of acceleration. at D1 and D3, there is a return to equilibrium. THESE beautiful movements create a speed/ engergy/ acceleration sine curve. When you hit the ball the fastest, your racket is accelerating the slowest. When you move down the stairs the fastest, you accelerate the slowest. When you cock back your serve, you have the highest potential energy but the least kinetic energy. When you make contact with the ball you expend all your potential energy and have the highest level of kinetic engery.

The A2 B2 C2 D2 series below , represent the shared positions of the 1 and 3 schematic drawings. Its the Tennis Curve.

All this math is true, so are the pictures. Though Duchamp and tennis are respectively beautiful, please stay attuned to the discovery of the most mathematically and aesthetically beautiful photograph the GRC is working on, involving a descending nude serving a tennis ball.


  1. you might want to integrate some basic calculus (18.01-style) and mechanics 8.01-style) into your explanations (pun intended). also, is the y-axis the racquet position?

  2. y is the amplitude of movement, so yes, but it is also the amplitude of the nude's movement

  3. i wish i was a genius instead of a tennis genius!

  4. Amazing blog its urks me to see a blog such as urs, doesn't get as much buzz as it deserves cause u speak ur mind rather then da latest fashion trend or talk abt. whom cut Taylor swift off at an awards... anyways keep up da kick ass job!