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July 13th, 2012

Ten videos by NSF-NBC explain ‘Science of the Summer Olympics’

Published on July 13th, 2012 | By: Eileen De Guire

The series of videos by NSF-NBC delves into the unique biomechanics of athletes, and how technology still has much to learn from human achievement. Credit: NBC Universal via NSF.

One of the most popular undergraduate courses in materials science and engineering at Case Western Reserve University is on sports and materials. The late professor and metallurgist, Gary Michal, created the course to hook students with the materials science behind objects he knew they were passionate about: baseball bats, tennis rackets, pole vault poles, etc.

An engineer’s engineer, Michal showed how each incremental innovation in the equipment correlates to a stepwise increment in athletic performance and the setting of new records.

The 2012 Summer Olympics in London opens on July 27 and runs through August 12. During those weeks we will be mesmerized by what extraordinary athletes are able to do. But, let us not forget that behind each athlete is a team of coaches, parents, officials, measurement experts and the engineers and scientists who design venues, gear and equipment for maximum performance.

The National Science Foundation in partnership with NBC Learn, the educational division of NBC News, has put together ten videos that showcase the engineering side of the Olympics. The series is titled, “Science of the Summer Olympics: Engineering in Sports.” The full series can be viewed on the NSF website and on NSF’s Science360 website.

NSF assistant director for Engineering, Thomas Peterson, said in a story on NSF’s website, “The work of engineers not only affects Olympic sports, it also helps us perform ordinary activities in better ways. This series will illustrate how engineers can impact both sports and society, and we hope it will inspire young people to pursue engineering.”

Some of the athletes featured include swimmer Missy Franklin; boxer Queen Underwood; weightlifter Sarah Robles; runners Jenny Simpson, Oscar Pistorius and Usain Bolt; and decathlete Bryan Clay. The segments delve into topics like the mechanics of weightlifting, designing a fast swimming pool, running biomechanics, swimming and fluid dynamics, safety helmets and carbon fiber prosthetic devices for runner, Oscar Pistorius.

Each segment also features engineers from universities and other institutions, like BMW and the US Olympic Committee. A partical list from the NSF website includes the following. Nikhil Gupta is a materials science professor, whom we have featured in this blog.

Timothy Wei, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Anette (Peko) Hosoi, MIT

Rory Cooper, University of Pittsburgh and 1988 Paralympics bronze medalist

Nikhil Gupta, NYU-Poly

Linda Milor, Georgia Tech

Brian Zenowich, Barrett Technologies

Samuel Hamner, Stanford University

Cris Pavloff, Advanced Technology Engineer for BMW

Melvin Rainey, University of California-Davis and Biomechanist for USA Track & Field

Phil Cheetham, Senior Sport Technologist for the US Olympic Committee

I plan to watch them all before the Games begin, and look forward to seeing which new Olympic records might be owing, at least in part, to the engineering teams behind the scenes.


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