Students to take billiards classes at Czech university


The sound of billiard balls colliding is something you would normally associate with smoky bars and beer halls. Now, however, in the Moravian city of Olomouc, billiards are set to become a common feature in the more salubrious surroundings of Palacky University.

This is because the Department of Optics at the university's Faculty of Sciences intends to introduce billiards as a bona fide subject when term starts next year. Speaking on the phone from Olomouc, Department Head, Professor Zdenek Hradil, told me he thinks billiards is a good way of making physics a more attractive subject for students.

"It sounds like a joke but it's really true. The point is that in the next academic year we would like to start a new subject for our students on the physics of billiards. We've simply had this idea to introduce a new topic for our students because I must admit we have very few students. Students somehow seem to be discouraged from studying physics because they consider it too difficult and perhaps not interesting enough. So we are trying to make our field slightly more attractive to students. We are really looking forward to seeing what the reaction will be."

Although, the "billiards course" is primarily being introduced to make the science of light or "optics" seem more interesting to students, and the amount of credits one can get for taking the course is pretty small, Professor Hradil says that playing billiards can be a good introduction to the laws of physics:

"I must clearly state that we don't want to pretend we are doing any science, because we are doing science in optics. But nevertheless in physics you can find plenty of models that have something to do with billiards. By the way, there is a theoretical description of what light could be, which is also historically connected with balls - it's called Newton's Corpuscular Theory of Light. There are really some serious mathematical models, which are associated with this simple set-up. But in the first stage we really just want to illustrate physical laws and let the students play."

Although billiards can be used to help explain physical rules in a comprehensible way, the Department of Optics' main reason for introducing the course is to drum up interest among students. So how well does Professor Hradil think this unusual experiment is working?

"At the beginning we wanted to present it a pretty standard way. We were just going to mention it somewhere on the Web and to just wait for students. But now it has appeared in the newspapers, which is a kind of advertisement so now the students are really interested. But the results will be seen at the beginning of the next academic year, when the students enrol. It looks quite promising."