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'Easily Excited' Utah professor unlocks the secrets of skipping stones

By Ashley Kewish | Posted - Feb. 14, 2016 at 10:20 p.m.

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LOGAN — His name's Tadd Truscott — the kind of name a superhero would use for a secret identity.

"I don't think I'm as excited/exciting as Tadd Truscott," said Randy Hurd, Truscott's Ph.D. student.

Truscott's superpower? Science.

"He gets pretty jazzed about things," said Hurd.

Or maybe he's got the power of excitability.

"I'm a super curious person," Truscott said with a laugh.

He's had a lifelong fascination with water — a passion that sprang from the sea.

"I was really interested in sailboats," Truscott said. "I loved to sail. I planned to go to school to study how sailboats sail, and how to make faster boats."

So maybe you can call him Aquaman. Truscott and Hurd, his grad student/sidekick, work in their own Fortress of Solitude, called the "Splash Lab."

They combined their powers and built an oversized potato cannon, running off of pressurized air, which helps them study how objects interact with water.

"It's really fun for me to be able to dive deep into something and explore it," Truscott said.

These experiments started with wondering how stones skip on water.

"My son and nephew and I were out skipping stones on the beach," Truscott said. "We ended up going to a sports store and we saw a ball … my nephew and my son were like, 'Hey, let's get some of these, they're really cool, they're supposed to bounce on the water.'"

Truscott learned that flexible objects work a lot better than rocks when it comes to skipping. He performed a few tests, and discovered that by using the superpower of controlling time by using high-speed cameras, he's able to examine their results in detail.

"By taking more and more pictures per second, we're able to just play those back at a slower rate and be able to witness what happens," Truscott said.

But a question he often hears is "Who cares?"

"The research has been funded by the Navy the whole time, so the past five years has been funded by them," Truscott said.

That's the U.S. Navy. They don't share many details with Truscott, but he sees applications in creating smoother rides for boats.

"I could see it using something squishy to perhaps allow it to bounce on the surface and allow it to be out of the water maybe more often than it is in the water," Truscott said.

Of course, many superheroes travel to other worlds — Truscott says he can see his work helping us on voyages to the final frontier.

"The Apollo missions, about half of them flipped over," Truscott said, referring to when the capsules landed in the ocean on Earth after trips to the moon. "We're returning to that kind of re-entry in the space program."

Truscott even sees applications on flights to new worlds, like NASA's planned mission to Titan, the mysterious moon of Saturn, which could boast seas of liquid methane.

"Currently we use airbags to help keep them upright afterwards," Truscott said. "There's an interest in having these things not flip over."

Truscott and his Splash Lab superheroes recently published a paper on their findings, which even garnered attention on websites like Gizmodo.

He's a master of science, has the ability to control time, and his eyes are set on outer space. But for now, Truscott's focusing on his original superpower: excitability.

"I love it," he said. "I mean, I have the best job. I'm extremely satisfied with my work."

Ashley Kewish


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