LOWELL - When Alan Alda explains to television viewers this week how technology is helping make baseball safer, he'll be talking about research being done at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
Mechanical Engineering Prof. James Sherwood, head of the University's Baseball Research Laboratory and a resident of Barrington, N.H., will be featured on "Scientific American Frontiers" "On the Ball" segment which premiers nationally this week. The PBS show will demonstrate how science and technology are coming into play for athletes in many sports, from baseball and tennis to golf and darts.
"In one segment, Scientific American Frontiers is going to go behind the scenes and show what different kinds of technology can be used to evaluate baseballs and baseball bats' performance," Sherwood said.
Since 1998, Sherwood's "bat lab" has been the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) official testing site to ensure that aluminum bats meet standards for safety, since non-wooden bats hit the ball harder and faster - putting players at risk for injury. Sherwood has been analyzing different kinds of woods to determine whether individual characteristics can have an effect on hitting performance.
The UMass Lowell lab also was commissioned in 2000 by Major League Baseball to determine whether today's balls are more reactive and lively, resulting in more home runs than their predecessors. His study determined that balls have not changed in recent years. Grant funding has come from Major League Baseball, governing bodies of college and high school athletics and major bat manufacturers.
"This kind of research is fun because you can talk to anybody about it," Sherwood explained.
Sherwood is disappointed that his interview was not done by Alda, "Scientific American Frontier's" affable host best known for his work on the long-running television series MASH. But he is interested to see how the final cut is put together.
"Even though I didn't get to meet Alan Alda and he didn't come on campus, it may seem like he was here to viewers," Sherwood noted.
Although "On the Ball" premiers nationally this week, it will be first broadcast in the area on Monday, March 25 at 9 p.m. and Monday, April 1 at 11 p.m. on NHPTV (Durham, N.H.'s Channel 11), which can be picked up in northern Massachusetts as well as New Hampshire. It is not scheduled to be broadcast in Boston until next month on WGBH (Channel 44) on Tuesday, April 23 at 8 p.m.; Friday, April 26, 3 p.m.; Sunday, April 28, 3 p.m.; and Tuesday, April 30, 5 p.m. For night owls, it also is scheduled for WGBH (Channel 2) at 3 a.m. on Tuesday, April 30.
For updated schedules, viewers should check their local television listings.