A lesson in angular momentum|
by John D. Hubbard
Cheryl Meltz '98 is starting a research project in nuclear physics with professor Charlie Holbrow that involves creating diagrams that will help them understand the behavior of gamma rays in high spin states.
Meltz, a championship diver as well as a physics major, knows something about high spin outside the laboratory, too.
Depending on the results, the physics work may lead to a paper, while the diving may lead to even more awards and recognition for Meltz, who was awarded the ECAC Merit Medal as a junior. She is a GTE/CoSIDA District I Academic All-America, earned bronze medals from the one- and three-meter boards at the Patriot League championships last year, then captured the ECAC silver medal at one meter and holds the Lineberry pool record in three-meter diving. Cheryl is also among the top ten students in her class and was awarded a fellowship to NASA last summer.
It would seem Meltz has little left to prove but she admits she has been driven to show everyone, from boys on the elementary playground to high school teachers, that girls have the right stuff. Whether it was the muscle to score the highest in strength tests or the gray matter to measure up in math and science classes, Cheryl has been motivated to excel.
"The idea that girls aren't as good has definitely pushed me in the direction I've gone," says Meltz, who was an 11-year-old gymnast when she discovered diving. She loved the more relaxed atmosphere of the pool and gymnastics had prepared her well for her new love. Within two years she was diving year-round and when it came time to make a college decision her sport figured prominently in the choice.
"I needed a school with a good diving program and a decent-sized team," says Meltz. The concept of team is all-important to the diver, who was troubled by the lack of cohesiveness she encountered as a first-year. She came back for her sophomore year as captain with a determination to rid the squad of its negativity. Cheryl worked to build a rapport among the divers and create a positive atmosphere, a mission she has maintained throughout her three-year captaincy.
"It's turned around. We have more fun and the positive attitude has stirred people to do better, too. Since diving is a very mental sport, every external factor matters."
Good times and success have come at a price. "It has been really difficult to balance physics and diving," says Meltz matter-of-factly. "Basically it's left me little free time. Every second has to be organized and I'm always running around. I've had a lot of fun diving and being on the team competing for Colgate but I haven't had time to do some things I enjoy - like relax or sleep."
Showing up for seminars with sopping wet hair is nothing new for Cheryl.
Physics, physics everywhere
The diving board is a lever with a fulcrum - "A simple machine, I think they call it in introductory physics," says Meltz, whose college essay was titled "The Physics of Diving."
"Yeah, everything in diving is physics. It's all about rotation and twisting and falling from a certain height." And somewhere there is a marriage of science and art with more than a dash of athletic courage strengthening the bond.
Meltz has paid a price. Her biggest problem is her back, which she injured last season on the way to winning a silver medal at the ECAC tournament. The injury slowed her progress this season, too, but is not her only concern. She has tendonitis in both knees, her ankles are unstable and she has subluxing shoulders - they pop out of the socket easily. It kind of makes the inflamed heel seem insignificant.
On the board it all becomes worthwhile, though. Not surprisingly, the greater the challenge, the better Cheryl does. "My strengths are the more powerful dives," she says. "I do the harder dives better - the spins where you need to be quick and strong. The easier dives sometimes give me a problem."
Cheryl is the only woman to do an inward one-and-one-half pike from one meter in her four seasons of competition, and she is the only female in the Patriot League doing an inward two-and-one-half from the tuck position off the three-meter board. "My best dive is a front one-and-one-half with two twists from three meters." Others agree. The Georgetown coach said Cheryl's was the best dive of its sort she'd seen and it earned an astronomical eight-and-a-half at Bucknell.
"It's amazing sometimes how much you can think of during that 1.5 seconds. I've had entire conversations with myself in the air. Sometimes your body takes over, but there is time to think."
And react. Conscious of speed, height and where the water is, Meltz is judging and correcting - "There's a whole lot of processing that goes on."
When it is right, when the jump is perfect and the spins high-speed, the water seems to rise up and slurp the diver in. The study in angular momentum disappears beneath the surface, then Cheryl Meltz emerges, ready to climb onto the simple machine again, to test the laws of physics and trace an arc of beauty.