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Professor of Speed

Dr. Diandra Leslie-Pelecky takes NASCAR off the track and into the lab.
I WANNA GO FAST: Dr. Leslie-Pelecky explains the science behind stock cars.

Professor of Speed

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Nascar isn’t all beer bellies and mullets. Just ask University of Texas at Dallas’ Dr. Diandra Leslie-Pelecky. Her first book, The Physics of NASCAR (released in February), educates Talladega Nights fans on the highly sophisticated world of stock car racing, a sport she says many people underestimate in its complexity.

“The guy who won this year’s Daytona 500 has a bachelor’s in engineering,” she says. “He’s no Ricky Bobby, I can assure you of that.”

Leslie-Pelecky is the newest addition to UTD’s physics department. The school offered her a job after she gave a guest lecture not on race cars, but rather nanomaterials. “The university wasn’t aware of the NASCAR connection when they made the offer to hire me,” she says. “In fact, I made a point of mentioning it to the dean to make sure that they knew what they were getting into.”

NASCAR is a tiny portion of her work. Leslie-Pelecky keeps busy with a project involving nanomedicine. The technology brings to mind children’s toys like Wooly Willy, in which you drag little magnetic particles to style a follicular creation. She uses a similar method in her chemotherapy research, trying to cluster harsh drugs around cancerous tumors, bypassing the good cells that are usually damaged during treatment, leaving patients sick and bald.

“It’s a fascinating field because we’re able to work with material that’s roughly 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a single human hair,” she says. About the size most thought NASCAR drivers’ brains were before Leslie-Pelecky.

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