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Once a physicist: Crispin Duenas

Crispin Duenas is a member of Canada's Olympic archery team.

Crispin Duenas

What sparked your interest in physics?
I had always been interested in science as a child – reading books about astronomy, trying my own chemistry experiments, and so on – and I had a high interest in mathematics as well, so finding a science that could be explained using mathematics was the real hook for me. When I actually started studying physics in high school, I was like most teenagers: I didn't really understand it. But I still had a desire to try to conquer it, as opposed to my peers who just neglected it, so that set me apart.

Did you enjoy studying it at the University of Toronto?
Yes, I did. The programme was very well designed, covering everything from classical mechanics to the latest studies in quantum mechanics, relativity and string theory. The professors were also experts in their fields, which made lectures extremely educational more often than not. However, early in my university life I was not great at managing my time between studying, training and competitions. I went through some rough times where I had to focus only on studying or run the risk of getting removed from my programme, but I learned my lessons and taught myself how to study and live the "elite athlete" life at the same time. It helped that my professors and the science faculty became very lenient with things like granting me permission to write my exams off-campus while I was away at a tournament or training – in fact, I wrote my final three exams in Florida while I was at a training camp. I hold the University of Toronto in the highest of regards in terms of their dedication and support to all of their elite-level athletes.

How did you get interested in archery?
My interest in archery can be dated back to when I was a child and watched Robin Hood on TV. Obviously, I didn't view it as a sport back then, but the act of shooting an arrow was very appealing to me and it was high on my "things to do in life" list. Fortunately, I had a teacher in elementary school who gave me a pamphlet about his archery club when I mentioned a desire to try archery, and that's how my career began. I started with Saturday morning lessons, moved on to competing at the local level, and one thing led to another until now, when I am going to my second Olympic Games.

What has been the highlight of your archery career so far?
The real highlight for me did not actually take place on an archery range. Instead, it came when I marched into the Olympic stadium in Beijing in 2008 at my first Games. That's when it hit me that I am one of the best archers in the world and I am now able to compete at the highest level and do what others can only dream of doing.

How – if at all – has your background in physics helped you?
My background in physics has been crucial in my understanding of how my equipment works. Every bow has to be tuned to the archer using it, and without tuning knowledge this task can seem impossible to most. Knowing classical mechanics has helped me devise alternative methods of helping me tune my bow that other archers would not have thought about. My physics background has also helped me to understand why certain things happen to my arrow while it is in flight and how to detect whether any deviations were equipment-related or caused by environment changes such as humidity or air pressure.

You list The Big Bang Theory as one of your favourite TV shows. Why?
It's a great show for unwinding. One thing that I really admire about the show is the fact that they use real equations on the whiteboards and chalkboards that are seen in the background. A great example of this came when I was taking an optics course in my fourth year at university, and several equations that I had used in problem sets and tests appeared on the whiteboards in the show at the same time I was studying them. It just shows that the writers are vigilant about these minor details.

Any plans for a future career outside archery?
Eventually I would like to become a high-school physics teacher, and I have already taken steps towards applying to teachers' college. However, I have put this on hold until 2013.

This article appears in the July 2012 issue of Physics World

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