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May 19, 2007

'A penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building could kill a pedestrian below' — True or false?

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It's been an urban myth since long before I was a boy and I'd never seen any proof it's not a fact.

Until I read an article in the May 10, 2007 issue of The Hook that described recent experiments by University of Virginia physics professor Louis Bloomfield which pretty much debunk the contention.

Here's the story.

    Deadly pennies?

    In 2001, UVA physics professor Louis Bloomfield made national headlines for catching cheaters. Six years later, Bloomfield is making headlines for catching something else: pennies.

    Bloomfield, author of the 2006 book "How Everything Works," will be featured on the ABC news show 20/20 this week [May 11, 2007] to debunk the widespread myth that a penny falling from a skyscraper could kill a pedestrian below. At ABC’s request, Bloomfield designed an experiment — a weather balloon that spits out pennies. He sent it to several hundred feet and stood below, trying to catch the coins. According to an article published on abcnews.com, he missed, but several hit him, including one that smacked him on the chin. Rather than sustaining a fatal injury from the plummeting cent, Bloomfield calls the sensation “like getting hit by a bug.” Pennies, according to the professor, are affected by air resistance, and so no matter what height you drop them from, they don’t reach a high enough velocity to cause harm.

    Not so for other objects. “Even if they’re relatively small, if they’re aerodynamically streamlined — like a ball point pen — they’ll reach the point at which they’re going a couple of hundred miles an hour,” Bloomfield says, “and that’s dangerous.”

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Here's a link to the abcnews.com article.

May 19, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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