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The Science Behind the Winter Olympics (page 2)

The Science Behind the Winter Olympics

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Updated on Feb 19, 2010

Overview: Science of the Olympic Winter Games

Figure Out Figure Skating

How do Olympic figure skaters do triple axels and quadruple toe loops? It's all about angular momentum, vertical velocity, and conservation of angular momentum. NSF-funded sports scientist Deborah King, from the Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences at Ithaca College explains, using high-speed, high-resolution video of Olympic hopeful Rachel Flatt.

Safety Gear

Most Winter Olympic sports are high-speed and dangerously high-impact, from ski-jumping to short track speed-skating to hockey. To protect their skulls and brains, athletes wear protective helmets. NSF-funded scientists Melissa Hines, Director of the Cornell University Center for Materials Research, and Kathy Flores from Ohio State University's Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering, explain how a helmet's hard outer shell works to dissipate energy, and foam linings work to absorb energy. Olympic athletes Julie Chu, a member of the U.S. Women's Hockey Team, and Scott Macartney, a U.S. Ski Team member who suffered a concussion in a 2008 fall, talk about the importance of helmets to Olympic competitors.

Slapshot Physics: Hockey

The slapshot is the fastest, hardest shot in ice hockey--and an excellent illustration of elastic collisions, energy transfer and momentum exchange. NSF-funded scientists Thomas Humphrey of The Exploratorium in San Francisco, and Kathy Flores, an Ohio State University materials scientist, explain, along with U.S. Olympic hockey players Julie Chu and Zach Parise.  

Aerial Physics: Aerial Skiing

Behind the breath-taking twists and turns of Olympic Freestyle Aerials is the science of angular momentum and moment of inertia. NSF-funded physicist Paul Doherty, Senior Scientist at The Exploratorium in San Francisco, and Olympic aerialist Emily Cook, explain and demonstrate 'cat twists' and 'contact twists.'

The Science of Snowboarding

The physics behind the awesome, gasp-worthy tricks snowboarders do in the half-pipe? Gravity, friction, and energy (potential and kinetic), as explained by NSF-funded scientists Paul Doherty at The Exploratorium in San Francisco and Deborah King, from the Dept. of Exercise and Sports Sciences at Ithaca College; with assistance from Kevin Pearce, a member of the U.S. Snowboarding Team.

The Internal Athlete: Cross Country Skiing

Cross-country skiers are among the fittest athletes in the world; they train to increase their ability to take up and use oxygen--a maximum aerobic capacity measured by a VO2 Max test. NSF-funded scientists Deborah King, from the Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences at Ithaca College, and Joseph Francisco, President of the American Chemical Society, explain the biomechanics, assisted by two members of the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team, Liz Stephen and Andy Newell, and Troy Flanagan, Director of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Center for Excellence.

Blade Runners: Short Track Speed Skating

Short track speed skating, the fastest self-propelled sport in the Winter Games, illustrates all of Newton's First Three Laws of Motion: (1) An object at rest will remain at rest unless an unbalanced force acts on it; (2) a force acting on a object produces an acceleration of that object; and (3) for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Using high-resolution Phantom Cam video of Olympic short track skater J.R. Celski, NSF-funded physicist George Tuthill explains.

Banking on Speed: Bobsled

NSF-funded scientists Paul Doherty, Deborah King, and George Tuthill, along with bobsled designer Bob Cuneo, use an Olympic bobsled run, from starting push to the finish line, to illustrate acceleration, velocity, gravity, and drag.

Mathletes

From the formula used to figure figure-skating scores to the calculus used to figure instantaneous velocities in a speed-skating race, arithmetic and math are part of every Winter Olympic event and every move Olympic athletes make on snow or ice. NSF-funded mathematician Edward Burger from Williams College explains some of the math you can see in Olympic sports, with assistance from figure-skating expert and sports scientist Deborah King of Ithaca College, and U.S. hockey player Ryan Miller.

Air Lift: Ski Jump

Ski-jumping--hurtling down a ramp at speeds of 60 mph, then soaring through the air--is an excellent illustration of the aerodynamic forces of lift and drag. NSF-funded scientists Paul Doherty, of The Exploratorium in San Francisco, and physicist George Tuthill of Plymouth State University, explain, along with U.S. ski team members Todd Lodwick and Bill Demong.

The Science of Skates

Skates used by Olympic speed skaters, figure skaters and hockey players are custom-engineered by materials scientists so that the boots and blades meet the demands for each sport. NSF-funded scientists Melissa Hines, Director of the Cornell University Center for Materials Research, and Sam Colbeck, formerly of the U.S. Army Cold Regions Lab, explain, along with U.S. Olympic hockey player Julie Chu, short track speed skater J.R. Celski, and figure-skater Rachel Flatt.

Competition Suits

The chemistry and materials science used to create aerodynamic competition suits is described by NSF-funded scientists Melissa Hines of Cornell, Troy Flanagan of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, and U.S. Olympic speed skaters Trevor Marsicano and Chad Hedrick; U.S. luge team members Erin Hamlin and Mark Grimmette; U.S. ski team members Scott Macartney and Anders Johnson; and U.S. bobsledder Steve Holcomb.

Downhill Science: Alpine Skiing

A downhill ski race is a tour de force--emphasis on force: from the forceful push-off that accelerates the alpine skier down the slope, to the forces of gravity, friction and wind or air resistance. NSF-funded scientists Paul Doherty of The Exploratorium in San Francisco, and Sam Colbeck, formerly of the U.S. Army Cold Regions Lab, explain the physics of alpine skiing, with help from four members of the U.S. Ski Team: Ted Ligety, Marco Sullivan, Scott Macartney and Julia Mancuso.

Science Friction: Curling

Sending the 42-lb. granite curling stone down a long sheet of ice toward the center of a bull's-eye target is all about friction and surface physics, as NSF-funded scientists Sam Colbeck, formerly from the U.S. Army Cold Regions Lab, and physicist George Tuthill from Plymouth State University explain, with help from Olympic hockey player John Shuster, and Iain Hueton, from the Ogden Curling Club in Ogden, Utah.

Science of Skis

Skis used by Olympic Alpine and Nordic skiers are made of fiberglass and polymers, engineered by materials scientists to give skis used in different events the flexibility, stability and torsional rigidity required. NSF-funded scientists Melissa Hines, Director of the Cornell University Center for Materials Research, and Kathy Flores, an Ohio State University materials scientist, explain how skis are made, from the core to the ski base, with help from three members of the U.S Olympic Ski Team: Julie Mancuso, Scott Macartney and Ted Ligety.

Olympic Motion

The Olympics are a chance to marvel at the physical abilities of the athletes. But what makes these athletes so unique from the rest of us? Dan Fletcher, an Associate Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at UC Berkeley, explores how the organization of human cells through training, exercise and "muscle memory" produce the fantastic range of Olympic motion.

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