Mass experiment with 'the wave' at Feyenoord Stadium. Feyenoord celebrates anniversary by hosting Royal Academy experiment

29 January 2011

Science and football make strange bedfellows, but on 19 July they will meet at Feyenoord Stadium in Rotterdam, where FC Feyenoord will be celebrating its 100th anniversary along with approximately 50,000 fans.

As part of the 200th anniversary of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Academy Fellow GertJan van Heijst, professor of transport physics at Eindhoven University of Technology, will be investigating whether a human wave in a stadium exhibits the same behaviour as a 'soliton', a type of wave known in physics. It is unusual for so many people to participate in a scientific experiment at one time.

The anniversaries of the Royal Academy and FC Feyenoord this year have inspired a friendly match between science and football on Saturday 19 July 2008. During Feyenoord's special anniversary event, Feyenoord Stadium in Rotterdam will be the scene of a mass experiment involving 'the wave'.

The experiment will investigate whether a human wave behaves the way a soliton does. A soliton is a solitary wave that maintains its shape while travelling at a constant speed. When two solitons collide, they emerge from the collision unchanged and each continues on its merry way. The first mathematical description of a soliton was produced by the Amsterdam mathematician and Academy Fellow Diederik Korteweg (1848-1941) and his student Gustav de Vries.

Professor GertJan van Heijst will have the wave performed three times at the stadium, with football commentator Koert Westerman issuing a different set of instructions to the crowd each time. Cameras will be set up to record the movement of the wave from various angles so that it can be analysed. Van Heijst will explain the results of the experiment on 3 October 2008 during a seminar organised by the Virtual Knowledge Studio (VKS-KNAW) in Rotterdam. Quite apart from any results, the experimental design is unique: it is the first time that so many people have been involved in an experiment all at the same time.

The Feyenoord anniversary event begins at 10.30 a.m., and the Academy's mass experiment at around 1.15 p.m. Entry is free of charge; visitors do not need to apply in advance.

Note for editors

For information about the experiment and the Academy's anniversary year (KNAW 200), please contact:

  • Marja van der Putten, KNAW Communication Department, tel. +31 (0)20 551 0858, 
  • Gertske Kuiper, KNAW Communication Department, tel. +31 (0)20 551 0863.
  • For information about the Feyenoord anniversary event, please contact Gido Vader, press information officer, tel. +31 (0)10 292 6874.

For more information see also: website Feyenoord.