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National Science Foundation

"Science of the Summer Olympics," the fourth and latest installment in the "Science of Sports" franchise, explores the science, engineering and technology that are helping athletes maximize their performance at the 2012 London Games.

How does swimmer Missy Franklin use the principles of fluid dynamics to move more quickly through water? What are the unique biomechanics that have helped make sprinter Usain Bolt the world’s fastest human? What does weightlifter Sarah Robles have in common with a high-tech robot? How do engineers build faster pools, stronger safety helmets, and specialized wheelchairs for disabled athletes? Explore these and many other engineering and technology concepts in this free 10-part educational video series.

"Science of the Summer Olympics: Engineering in Sports" is a partnership with NBC Learn, NBC Sports and NSF's Directorate for Engineering. The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) will provide free lesson plans for each video.

Episodes

Swimmer Missy Franklin in the water

U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin is one of the top medal contenders at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Just as engineers design planes and boats to be more aerodynamic, Franklin will need to master the basic principles of fluid dynamics in order to be the fastest swimmer in the pool.

Video View video (4:59)

Jenny Simpson running on special treadmill

Many runners suffer injuries to their joints due to the repeated impact of their feet hitting the ground. U.S. runner Jenny Simpson relies on new treadmill technology to help rehabilitate from a stress fracture as she trains for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Video  View video (4:17)

Boxers wearing safety helmets

For many athletes at the 2012 Summer Olympics, safety helmets will be an essential part of their athletic gear. Nikhil Gupta, a mechanical engineer at New York University's Polytechnic Institute, explains how safety helmets are designed, constructed and tested.

Video  View video (5:35)

Wheelchair athlete

At the 2012 Summer Paralympics, elite athletes with disabilities will rely on strength, speed and skill as they go for the gold in 21 different sporting events. Rory Cooper, a biomechanical engineer at the University of Pittsburgh, demonstrates how engineering can help wheelchair athletes maximize their performance in such diverse sports as wheelchair rugby, basketball and racing.

Video  View video (5:16)

Empty swimming pool

Along with hosting the top swimmers from around the world, the London Aquatics Center at the 2012 Summer Olympics will feature one of the most technologically advanced pools ever built. Through advances in pool design, engineers are helping swimmers reach their maximum speed with technology designed to minimize waves.

Video  View video (4:43)

Usain Bolt running on track

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt holds the World and Olympic records for the fastest time in the 100-meter sprint. Bolt's stride, strength, and muscle coordination make him not just a biomechanical marvel, but also a gold medal favorite at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Video  View video (5:23)

Sarah Robles lifting weights

U.S. weightlifter Sarah Robles will rely on an athletic mix of strength, speed and timing to help create explosive power when she competes at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Robotics engineer Brian Zenowich compares Robles’ movements to those made by the WAM Arm, one of the world’s most advanced robotic arms.

Video  View video (5:34)

Bryan Clay in the air during long jump

The long jump is one of the most technically challenging events in the decathlon, a track and field competition consisting of 10 events held over two days. In order to maximize his performance, 2008 Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay teamed up with engineers from BMW to improve measurement of the horizontal and vertical velocities of his long jumps.

Video  View video (5:37)

Screen showing race finish

Timing is everything, especially at the 2012 Summer Olympics where even a millisecond could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Linda Milor, an electrical engineer at Georgia Institute of Technology, explains why Olympic timekeeping technology must be able to measure an athlete's performance with both accuracy and precision.

Video  View video (5:34)

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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