Science of the Olympic Games
Champion athletes know their science!
The best athletes at the Winter Olympic games are scientists in disguise, says Dr. Thomas Humphrey, a senior scientist at San Francisco's Exploratorium Museum. Athletes use physics to help pick equipment and learn how to move their bodies to cause the least friction and gain the most speed.
"Plenty of athletes take the recommendations of scientists to help them in their sport," Humphrey told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps in a recent interview.
A series of videos on the science behind the Olympics can be seen on the web sites for both NBC and Scholastic. The 16-part video series, called Science of the Winter Olympic Games, is the brainchild of NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation.
The online series explores the science behind individual Olympic events, including downhill and aerial skiing, speed skating, figure skating, curling, hockey, ski jumping, bobsledding, and snowboarding.
Scientific Athlete/Athletic Scientist
Humphrey is a great example of a scientist who loves to study sports. Humphrey grew up in Minnesota where he played hockey as a high school student.
"Later, when I became a physicist, it became the combination of science and sport that I really enjoy," he says.
In hockey, many different shots can be used to get the puck (a frozen rubber disk) into the goal.
The slapshot—known as the "hardest shot" in hockey—has a lot to do with the transfer of momentum. That's when the energy moves from the player's body and hockey stick into the puck, making the puck travel very, very fast. It is much quicker than a wrist shot, which is easier to control and can have "contact with the puck about 10 times longer," Humphrey said.
Hockey isn't the only sport that uses momentum. Ever seen a skater twirl around and around faster and faster on the ice? It's all about the arms.
"[The skater] will start with her arms away from her body, which will make her slower," Humphrey said. "As she brings her arms closer and hugs them to her body, she will rotate much faster."
Called angular momentum, this theory is used in figure skating and aerial skiing.
Narrated by NBC News anchor Lester Holt, the video series explains how the laws of physics and principles of chemistry, biomechanics, and physiology play a role in gold medal performances at the Winter Olympic games.
The science is broken down by capturing the athletes' movements with a state-of-the-art, high-speed camera called the Phantom Cam. The camera captures the movement of athletes at rates of up to 1,500 frames per second. This allows frame-by-frame illustrations of Newton's Three Laws of Motion, the Law of Conservation of Angular Momentum, friction, drag, speed, velocity, and other scientific concepts.
Check out the excitement of the Winter Olympic Games and learn a little science at the same time! You can find the videos on Scholastic.com and NBC Learn.
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