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Bat Man Returns

Searching for a suitable physics experiment that his students could perform led Dr. Daniel Russell ’88 into an untapped research field. “I got into baseball bat research by accident. I was looking for a lab experiment with something we could do a vibration test on,” he explained, noting that he chose baseball bats because the results wouldn’t mirror the textbook examples. 

Now a professor in the graduate program in acoustics at Penn State University and the program’s director of distance education, Dan returned to campus for an April 5 presentation on the physics of baseball and softball bats. He taught physics for 16 years at Kettering University in Michigan. Dan earned his master’s degree at Northern Illinois and his doctorate at Penn State, which has the nation’s only graduate program in acoustics. 

At Bradley, he earned degrees in both physics and music (piano performance).

“A lot of people get into acoustics from a music background,” Dan said. “I wasn’t good enough to perform for a living, and I didn’t want to give piano lessons my whole life. Music and physics got me into acoustics.” 

His physics classes with the late Dr. John Freim spurred Dan to consider teaching. “I said ‘I want to do what that guy does,’” he recalled.

Dan has worked with major bat manufacturers such as Easton and Louisville Slugger. His research has focused mostly on aluminum or composite-material bats used in college and high school sports. He also has studied similar sports gear including ice and field hockey sticks. 

“You can do physics with some really cool stuff,” he told students at his presentation, mentioning guitars as another research area.

His latest research helped Marucci Sports, a Louisiana-based manufacturer, develop a vibration absorber to reduce the “sting” felt from hitting a ball away from the so-called “sweet spot.” 

“I helped them figure out why the bat hurt when you hit it a certain way and how to tune their absorber to minimize the unwanted vibration.” 

His Penn State lab has about 100 bats for comparison and study, and Dan’s research has been featured on the Discovery Channel and British television.

Dan jokes that his church league softball team now lets him play “because I can bring the bats.” But his knowledge of bats and their characteristics has affected the way he watches games. “I’m always frustrated that the camera doesn’t stay on the bat long enough,” he explained. “I know the bats they’re using and what they’re trying to do.” 

Dan lives in State College, Pa., with his wife, Heather, and their two children. 

— B.G.

 


 

Music City Risk Taker

Executive producer Jim Aylward ’85 (right) visits with Kix Brooks on the set of the western film Dark Canyon. Jim also developed music publishing and producing companies and is CEO of a healthcare software firm in Nashville.

October 2012 was a busy month for Jim Aylward ’85. In the space of one week, his healthcare software business was sold and two movies he was involved with opened at major U.S. film festivals. 

After graduating with a degree in marketing, the native Peorian moved to the growing healthcare hub of Nashville, where he lives with his wife, Terri.

“I met some people in the healthcare community and got involved in the HMO business, which was just starting up in Nashville and the Southeast,” he said. 

Jim joined Sy.Med in 1997 and saw the firm listed among the fastest-growing companies by Inc. magazine. He also oversaw two different acquisitions of the company. He continues to serve as Sy.Med’s CEO. 

Living in the self-proclaimed “Music City,” Jim has been writing and producing songs and developing Cool Vibe Publishing and Cool Vibe Records, a music publisher and record label. He owns copyrights on several country songs that have hit the charts for the group Trailer Choir. One of these, Off The Hillbilly Hook, was featured in a movie and soundtrack with musician Toby Keith. Cool Vibe Publishing released its first book, Gypsy Dreamers in the Alley, by songwriter Chris Gantry. 

“I’ve always been a believer in taking risks and learning a new industry,” he explained.  

He had a chance to learn another new industry when a friend involved him in the movie business. “I made a small investment in a movie called The Gundown,” Jim said. He spent time on the set of the western and met the actors, crew and director. That experience led him to co-produce another film by the same director, Thriftstore Cowboy

“Instead of sticking my toe in the water, I got in maybe knee-deep,” Jim commented, adding that a producer’s job is to finance a film. He also worked as an executive producer for another western, Dark Canyon

According to Jim, the logistics of making a western are daunting, even compared to other films. Suitable locations must be obtained, along with horses and cattle, period clothing, gear and authentic weapons. “A western is very hard and expensive to make,” he said. “That’s why you don’t see a lot of them anymore.” 

A day after his healthcare company sold, Thriftstore Cowboy debuted at the Hollywood Film Festival. Three days later, Dark Canyon premiered at the Austin Film Festival. 

“To think I had a movie in the Austin Film Festival as well as the Hollywood festival, it was kind of surreal,” Jim marveled. “To see them come to life gives you a real sense of accomplishment.” 

His movie experiences included rubbing shoulders with actors Barry Corbin and Ernie Hudson, and musician-actor Kix Brooks. 

Jim said he is stepping back from the movie business and focusing his creative talents on music for a while. He continues his songwriting and producing, currently working with singer-guitarist Phoenix Mendoza. 

— B.G.

 


 

Planning for the Future 

When Dr. Dawn Jourdan ’96 arrived at Bradley, her goal was to be in Congress. Today, she helps craft regional and city planning policies for lawmakers as a director and associate professor in the University of Oklahoma’s College of Architecture. 

“I’m in the perfect place where law and planning come together,” said Dawn, who holds juris doctorate and master’s degrees from the University of Kansas. She earned her doctorate from Florida State University. Dawn also taught at the University of Florida and Texas A&M University. She now teaches mainly master’s degree classes. “I love to teach college students,” she remarked.  

She visited Bradley in February to speak about careers for women in law and public service. Mentioning the gender disparity she has faced, Dawn emphasized the importance of mentors and mentoring. She also touted the advantage of having expertise in varied areas with a joint degree. Her focus has been on housing policy in various cities, but she sees climate change issues growing in importance. 

“I am now working on ways to make cities more sustainable,” Dawn explained. “Climate change is going to be frontline of policy in the future.”

Dawn, who lives with her husband, Thomas Muhn, and their son in Norman, Okla., was a member of national champion Bradley speech teams in the 1990s. She recalled her time on campus for students: “I learned at Bradley that you have to be passionate about what you do.”

— B.G.