Chucking your cell phone as far as it will go

23 January 2012

Many of North America's favorite trends and wacky obsessions are ripped off from Scandinavia. For example, Survivor was lifted from the Swedish show "Expedition Robinson".

The latest oddity to capture Canada's attention, hailing from Finland, is the Mobile Phone Throwing Contest. This competition started in 2000 in Finland and has been running annually ever since.

Did You Know? The general consensus from a number of studies indicates that the number of cell phone users globally has exceeded 2 billion and is expected to double in about 5 years.

A Canadian team will participate in the eighth annual championship in Savonlinna, Finland on August 27th. The Original Toss is a simple test of throwing distance, while the FreeStyle Toss awards points for the aesthetic and creativity of the tossing technique and presentation.

One can't help but wonder what could motivate the organization of such an event. Certainly all cell phone users have endured dropped calls or dead batteries at the worst possible moment. And we've all witnessed the fools who haven't learned to turn their ringers off during class. Some even fear they'll develop cancer from the thousands of electrical devices that are increasingly hovering around our heads.

Cell phones emit electromagnetic fields in the microwave range. This type of radiation is non-ionizing, which means it generally cannot damage your DNA or other molecules of your body. However, at high levels, microwave radiation can cause damage to tissue by heating. So with all these irritations, hurling these often aggravating devices is perhaps somewhat therapeutic.

Did you know? After dropping her cell phone in a lake and contemplating the environmental damage caused by leakage of toxic chemicals in the phone's battery, Christine Lund of Finland devised the first Mobile Phone Throwing Competition as a means to promote the recycling of discarded cell phones.

In Canada, The Charitable Recycling Program collects used cell phones for proper disposal and will provide a monetary contribution to charity for each cell phone donated, regardless of age or condition. Although scientific principles aren't likely to help you much with the FreeStyle competition, you can use physics and math to get an edge on the competition in the distance toss.

The competition usually takes place on a race track so you can assume you'll be throwing along a flat plane. There are horizontal and vertical forces acting against your toss. The horizontal force results from the friction of your phone whizzing through the molecules of the open air, and the vertical force is applied by gravity, pulling your phone towards the earth.

The force of gravity far outweighs the friction of the air, which causes the arcing parabolic trajectory of projectile motion. To maximize your distance, you need to both optimize the amount of horizontal force to get the longest throw possible, and also the vertical force in order to counteract gravity and keep your phone from prematurely crashing to the ground. Don't be surprised if you come across a combined max/min and trigonometry problem of this nature in a calculus exam some day!

The weight of the cell phone used is another important factor. A heavier phone will have greater horizontal momentum but requires more energy to get it moving through the air.

Gravity is not an issue for the weight factor. You might be tempted to think that a massive 1980's cell phone will crash to the earth faster than a super thin Motorola Razor, but you'd be wrong! Try dropping a rock and a small, crunched-up piece of paper at the same time.

Since there is negligible friction from the air acting on the crunched-up paper, it will hit the ground at the same time as the rock. Gravity accelerates both objects at approximately 9.8 m/s2.

The world record for the Original Toss, at 89 m, is posted alongside other 'official' scores at the Savonlinna Festivals page. Prizes for the Original and FreeStyle Toss are typically state-of-the-art mobile phones. For tips from the pros, you can check out video highlights from the 2005 competition at YouTube.

Learn More!

World record and official scores for the Original Toss

YouTube's tips from the Pros

WHO on the health effects from electromagnetic fields

Health Canada on the health effects from electromagnetic fields

US FDA on the health effects from electromagnetic fields

Charitable Recycling

Geoff is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto in the Department of Cell and Systems Biology. He is working on protein and metabolic engineering in photosynthetic organisms towards the production of alternative energies. He also thinks that the best science is in cooking.


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