For Immediate Release
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Billiards a Great Teaching Tool for Mechanical Engineering Students, Says Â??dr. Dave'
Note to Editors: Photos and more background information about Professor Dave Alciatore are available with the news release at http://www.newsinfo.colostate.edu/.
FORT COLLINS - Dave Alciatore has taught mechanical engineering at Colorado State University for 18 years, but students still don't call him professor.
To them, he's "Dr. Dave" - a billiards expert who uses the mechanics of pool to help his students learn mechanical engineering and physics principles.
"It's a passion and it's interesting work," said Alciatore, who taught himself pool during a sabbatical. "I tell my students that they'll be able to use anything they learn here in many, many fields."
Most recently, Alciatore and his students worked with a private cue manufacturer who expressed interest in reducing "squirt" - the angle that is produced in the initial cue ball's path by an off-center hit.
The students built a cue-testing machine from scratch to measure and compare different cue sticks by measuring the squirt. Next, they plan to add sensors to measure vibrations and speed of the cue. The grand plan? To design the ideal pool cue.
"We finally get to apply everything we learn on an actual project," said Chris Ward, one of Alciatore's senior mechanical engineering students. "Unfortunately, I'm still a pretty awful pool player."
Alciatore joined CSU's College of Engineering in 1990 as an expert in robotics and the motion of machines. His first major project involved writing 3-D software to recreate human anatomy as part of the National Institutes of Health Visible Human Project in Denver.
In 1998, he took a sabbatical in Washington, D.C., to work on a textbook and a government project. To fill up his down time, he joined a pool league in D.C. and read books on pool playing. He decided to write his own book after observing incorrect descriptions in other books of the physics behind billiards.
One of his heroes is French physicist Coriolis, who wrote a book on billiards in the 1800s that was recently translated into English. "I was inspired," Alciatore said. "It validated what I was doing."
Mike Palmquist, director of The Institute for Learning and Teaching at CSU, said Alciatore's work is particularly interesting because he connects important engineering concepts to what students already know.
"This is one of the keys to good teaching - helping students understand how they can make these connections," Palmquist said. "His use of high-speed video to help students understand physical principles, for example, is a method that's not only well-known across campus but also across the country and overseas. Personally, I think his illustrations of the concepts of spin, angle, velocity and momentum through billiards are brilliant. Students can view them and not only increase their understanding of engineering, but learn to impress their friends on Saturday nights."
Alciatore's own book, "The Illustrated Principles of Pool and Billiards," was published in 2004. Since then, he has written a monthly column for Billiards Digest. He has also created several popular academic websites. His billiards site, http://billiards.colostate.edu, contains a shot-by-shot anthology of pool and billiards techniques and principles including technical analysis and high-speed video clips. His super-slow-motion video website, http://high_speed_video.colostate.edu, received 29,000 hits in March alone.
"I do all the technical work behind the scenes and present the results in a form that helps people who play pool be better pool players," said Alciatore, adding, "I don't play as well as a pro, but I know a lot about the game."
Alciatore's academic approach has been a huge asset to Billiards Digest, said Mason King, managing editor.
"He's probably one of the most productive and interesting contributors to our Web forum," King said. "He certainly serves the purpose in our magazine of being the most technical and scientific of our instructional columnists, and we have a wide range of columnists. We couldn't ask for a better person with such a broad base of knowledge."
Alciatore also teaches a five-week course called "Pool & Billiards Fundamentals" every fall and spring for the city of Fort Collins recreation division. The course, taught with Dave Gross, a top regional player, includes individualized coaching with the help of video analysis and play in a non-competitive setting. Registration for the spring course, which starts Saturday, is limited. For further information, visit http://fcgov.com/recreator or call the Fort Collins Recreation Office at 221-6655.