The University Record, April 1, 2002

Physicists and well-known auto racers will meet in Ann Arbor

By Judy Steeh
News and Information Services

Cars like this 2002 Jaguar racer will be on display in ‘The Physics and Technology of Motorsports’ event April 10. (Photo courtesy Robert Cianfione/ALLSPORT)
Robert Hubbard, Bobby Rahal, Jack Roush and Sir Jackie Stewart are among the speakers and attendees from racing, the auto industry and academe who will participate in the Neil Ressler Symposium, “The Physics and Technology of Motorsports” April 10. The free, public, daylong event, sponsored by the Department of Physics, is being organized to honor Ph.D. graduate and former Ford executive Neil Ressler. Cooperating organizations include the Ford Motor Company and the College of Engineering.

After finishing his doctoral research on atomic physics at U-M, Ressler joined Ford in 1967 as a senior scientist on its research staff. At the time of his retirement from Ford in 2001, Ressler held the position of vice president for research and vehicle technology, and chief technical officer of Ford Motor Company. He also was chairman and CEO of Jaguar Racing, Ltd., and chairman of Cosworth Racing, Ltd.

An important goal for this symposium, organized by Homer Neal, the Samuel A. Goudsmit Distinguished University Professor of Physics and U-M interim president emeritus, and Jens Zorn, professor of physics, is to let students know how training in physics can prepare them to work effectively in many fields. Ressler, as quoted by Neal, said learning how to analyze problems was one of the most important things he learned in physics at Michigan. Once you have that skill, says Ressler, it can be applied to almost any set of problems in the world.

John Valentine, chief engineer of racing at Ford, said that racing pushes cars to failure mode and thereby gives valuable information for improving mainstream products and processes. He also pointed out that racing is especially useful for the training of engineers in situations that demand both intuition and analytic skill.

Technical sessions are scheduled for the morning in 1500 EECS on North Campus and in 340 West Hall on Central Campus in the afternoon. At 4 p.m. in 1800 Chemistry there will be a panel discussion on “The Role of Science and Technology in Motorsports” featuring Rahal, Herb Fishel of General Motors, Roush, and Ressler. A complete schedule of events can be found at

A Ford Focus World Rally Car will be on display on North Campus, along with the U-M solar car, SAE Racer, and Baja Racer. At the same time, on Central Campus, Ford will display a Taurus NASCAR, an open-wheel Indy-style racer, and Henry Ford’s own 1901 racing vehicle.

For more information, contact Beth Dembrowski, (734) 764-4442.