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Weber-Bargioni Shares Love of Bike Racing with Local Community

If you've ever tried to take a sharp turn at high speed on a bicycle, you may have wished you knew more about bicycle physics. And while the basic movement feels simple, riding a bike is in fact quite complex. "It turns out the physics of riding a bike are really, really hard," confessed Alex Weber-Bargioni, a Berkeley Lab materials scientist. Weber-Bargioni was addressing a standing-room-only crowd at the Actual Café in North Oakland recently, in the first of a new series called "Actual Science" Sponsored by Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division. A nanoscientist by day, Weber-Bargioni helps pioneer new approaches to studying the way light interacts with matter, a crucial aspect of today's burgeoning solar-energy industry. But host Alice Muller didn't have to work hard to draw Weber-Bargioni out of his usual comfort zone and he happily recalled his days racing bicycles in his native Italy and later in the Pacific North-West. Despite the complexity of the topic, Weber-Bargioni illuminated a few key concepts for the crowd at the café, covering topics such as steering (why you push handlebars left to turn right); balance (why you might fall over if you go too slow); friction (why racers use disc brakes instead of v-brakes); and air resistance (why you save energy by riding in a pack). "Science is for everyone," said Muller after the show. "It's just a matter of finding that bridge between the science being done at Berkeley Lab and a general audience. Actual Science gives researchers an opportunity to share their love of science with a broad audience." And the high spirits of the crowd leaving the café suggested that some of Weber-Bargioni's enthusiasm had indeed rubbed off.