Everything You Need To Know About The Magnus Effect

The sporting world is an interesting landscape, with many physics theories affecting it. Even among ball games, though volleyball and basketball use similar-shaped balls, they cannot be used interchangeably. In today’s article, we will look into the world of football, in particular free kicks.

When we talk about free kicks, the first person most would think of primarily is David Beckham. His free kicks are legendary. First, he would make a considerable distance between the ball and himself. Once the whistle shrieks, he jogs forward and kicks the ball with his right foot. The ball would initially travel towards a direction that seems to go off-course. However, it suddenly curves inwards and into the goal. This curvilinear trajectory is caused by the Magnus Effect.

The Magnus Effect is a fascinating physics phenomenon, particularly fluid dynamics, which has profound implications in various engineering and sports disciplines. This effect explains why spinning objects move in a way that defies the laws of motion. In this article, we will explore deeper about the Magnus Effect and the principles behind it.

What is the Magnus Effect?

Named after the German physicist Heinrich Gustav Magnus in 1852, the Magnus Effect occurs when a spinning object cuts through a fluid, such as water or air, creating a whirlpool of fluids around itself. The resulting motion causes a pressure difference between the two sides of the object.

The side which spins against the direction of the object’s movement will experience higher pressure than the opposite side that is spinning with the direction of the object’s movement. The difference in pressure generates a lift force that is perpendicular to the direction of the object’s movement, resulting in it swerving or curving. This effect is common in various sports, such as the curving of free kicks in football, the sudden dip of the ball in cricket, or the swerve of the ball in tennis.

Magnus force

The Magnus force is the physical force that is responsible for the trajectory change in the objects going through the Magnus Effect. It can be quantitively described by the equation: F=S×(v×ω), where F represents the Magnus force, S represents the constant that depends on the size of the object and the properties of the fluid, v represents the velocity the object is travelling at, and w is the rate the object is spinning at or the angular velocity.

The results of v x w indicate that the Magnus force behaves perpendicular to the object’s axis of rotation and its path, causing the object to experience a curvilinear trajectory.

How knuckleball differs from the Magnus Effect

While the Magnus Effect is about the motion of spinning objects, the knuckleball, commonly found in baseball and football, presents a unique case where the ball travels with minimal spin. The lack of spin often results in the ball travelling in an unpredictable movement, which differs from the Magnus Effect’s predictable curvilinear trajectory.

This erratic and unpredictable trajectory is caused by the tiny imperfections on the surface of the ball interacting variably with the air as it cuts through, resulting in the air pressure around the ball fluctuating unpredictably.

Unlike the consistent curve that is produced due to the Magnus Effect, the knuckleball can travel erratically, changing directions multiple times, and making it difficult for batters or goalkeepers to hit or save the ball.


The Magnus Effect is a fundamental concept in studying fluid dynamics, offering significant insights into how spinning objects behave in fluid environments. Its application can extend beyond the realms of sporting techniques towards design of wind turbines and aerodynamic vehicles.

Having an in-depth understanding of this principle is not only vital for physics students but also anybody who is interested in the fundamental forces that shape our physical reality, making the study of physics ever more vital and fascinating.

Here at Physics Tuition, we ensure that our students develop that strong fundamental and interest in the subject, providing them the ability to go beyond just their classroom’s walls and succeed. Contact us today to find out more!