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Science in sports

University Pay Rates

academic salary chart

Interesting chart from “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham showing median salaries for various university employees: grad students $17,784; Tenured professors ~$90,000; Football coaches: $1,057,305.

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The Glove – Engineering Coolness

photo of The Glove - core control

Cool invention helps tired players bounce back

The device, called the Glove and invented by two Stanford biologists, is used by the Niners during games and at practice for players’ health. But its applications are far broader: from treating stroke and heart attack victims to allowing soldiers to remain in the field longer under intense heat.

It’s also a proven athletic performance enhancer – billed as better than steroids without any ill effects.

“We use the Glove primarily for health reasons,” said Dan Garza, the 49ers’ medical director. “But outside of sports, it has potential for a lot of exciting things. This technology is a much more effective way of cooling the core temperature than what we would typically do – misting, fanning, cold towels, fluids.”

The Glove works by cooling the body from inside out, rather than conventional approaches that cool from outside in. The device creates an airtight seal around the wrist, pulls blood into the palm of the hand and cools it before returning it to the heart and to overheated muscles and organs. The palm is the ideal place for rapid cooling because blood flow increases to the hands (and feet and face) as body temperature rises.

“These are natural mammalian radiators,” said Dennis Grahn, who invented the device with Stanford colleague Craig Heller.

Cool, you can buy your own for only $2,000 🙂 (The Glove used to be called Core Control) High resolution image. Related: Research on Reducing Hamstring InjuriesThe Science of the Football SwerveRandomization in Sportsposts on science and athletics

Engineer Uses Gravity

Now Diving: Sir Isaac Newton

On TV, a diver walks out onto a platform. The camera fixes on him. He waits. He leaps. And then — somehow — the camera stays with him as he plunges. In the instant it takes him to break the water’s surface, the picture suddenly cuts to an underwater shot — and we watch in disbelief as the dive culminates in a burst of bubbles.

How do they do it?

Well, there’s a rope. There’s a pulley. And the rope and the pulley work a contraption made out of a pipe. The whole gizmo is based on the brilliant insight that objects fall at the same rate regardless of mass. A Tuscan by the name of Galileo came up with it about 400 years ago; if he were alive, he’d call it cutting edge. And there’s the beauty of it: It’s sophisticated, yes, but only because it’s simple.

Garrett Brown revolutionized the movie business 38 years ago when he invented the Steadicam, a mechanical arm for cameramen that smooths away the jerkiness of hand-held shots. Much later, he came up with the Skycam, which rides a web of wires above the heads of football players. In between, Mr. Brown, 66 years old, got his one-line brief from NBC: “They wanted a camera,” he says, “that stayed with divers, including going underwater with them.”

The falling camera rides a rail on the inside of the pipe. A glass strip runs along the pipe’s full length; the camera takes its picture through the glass. From the diving platform to the water line, the glass is smoky. Below the line, it’s clear, so the camera need not adjust its exposure as it streaks into underwater darkness.

The pipe is caulked. The camera drops through air. “It doesn’t splash into the water,” Mr. Brown said. “That would look horrible.”

The appropriate use of technology is great to see. Applying knowledge well is a key to good engineering.

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Dolphin Kick Gives Swimmers Edge

photo of Michael Phelps diving

Dolphin Kick Gives Swimmers Edge

Rajat Mittal, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the George Washington University, was studying dolphins for the U.S. Navy five years ago. “We were asked to understand how fish swim so efficiently,” Mittal says, “and it seemed like a natural extension to apply this to human swimming.”

They decided to “essentially compare these swimmers to the dolphin, assuming that the dolphin is the ultimate swimmer,” Mittal says. “And the thing that we found is that Michael [Phelps] is able to use his body in a way that is very, very different from the other athletes, and also seems to be much closer to dolphins than we have seen for any other swimmer.”

The dolphin kick first hit Olympic swimming big-time 20 years ago, after Harvard backstroker David Berkoff figured out something fundamental. “It seemed pretty obvious to me that kicking underwater seemed to be a lot faster than swimming on the surface,” Berkoff says.

That’s because there’s turbulence and air on the surface of the water, and they create resistance. The “Berkoff Blastoff,” as it was called, was used at the start and after turns, with long stretches of that underwater undulating kick.

Follow the link for a video of Michael Phelps demonstrating the technique and more interesting details. Photo by A. Dawson shows Michael Phelps diving into the water at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials.

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Science Based Triathlete

The Making of a Olympian by Arianne Cohen

In a break with training orthodoxy, Potts and his coach have created a regimen called feedback training in which the training plan is reassessed every 24 hours based on the constant monitoring of three variables: wattage (the power Potts’s body produces), cadence (the tempo of his arm and leg movements) and heart rate. No lap times. No mileage. No grand training schedules planned months in advance. Only raw biological data. “My coach and I talk a lot about engines,” Potts says. “In auto racing, you want to put out the highest amount of power with the least amount of fuel. We do the same thing. My heart and lungs are my engine. The goal is to always increase the efficiency of the engine.”

Every night, Doane analyzes his athlete’s response to the day’s training. He’s looking for the best way to expand Potts’s aerobic capacity, power output and lactate threshold, without overtraining. If Doane sees that Potts’s heartbeat has been sluggish—say, beating 140 times per minute while Potts is trying to produce 410 watts—that means his body is struggling to recover from earlier training, so he’ll dial back the intensity of his workouts. If, on the other hand, his heart rate stays in the sweet spot around 165 while he churns through a series of 360- to 400-watt intervals, that means he’s fully recovered and ready to be pushed again. “We’ve created a feedback loop,” Doane says. In other words, Doane subjects Potts to a careful dose of punishment, and Potts’s body tells Doane, through empirical data, what he needs to do next.

Nice article. As it mentions really almost all Olympic athletes today use a great deal of science in their training.

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Physicist Swimming Revolution

A Revolution That Began With a Kick by Amy Shipley:

The answer, they say, cannot lie solely in the latest high-tech swimsuits introduced amid a swirl of controversy this winter, because the world-record smashing began at last year’s world championships — long before the newest of the newfangled apparel came out.

Swimmers, coaches and scientists say it is impossible to pinpoint one explanation. They cite many contributing factors, ranging from professional training groups that have sprouted across the United States to greater access to underwater cameras and other advanced technology.

But some say the most significant breakthrough has been a revival of a swimming maneuver developed more than 70 years ago by one of the physicists who worked on the atomic bomb.

Though utilized for decades, the underwater dolphin kick had not been fully exploited by the swimming mainstream until Olympic megastar Michael Phelps and a few other stars began polishing it — and crushing other swimmers with it — in recent years.

Very interesting and another example of how good ideas are often ignored for a long time.

The underwater dolphin kick attracted the interest of swimming innovators as early as the 1930s. The late Volney C. Wilson explored its possibilities before diving into later work on nuclear fission and the atomic bomb, according to David Schrader, a research professor at Marquette University who is Wilson’s biographer.

Schrader said Wilson, an alternate on the 1932 Olympic water polo team who studied fish propulsion at a Chicago aquarium, claimed to have shown the kick to Johnny Weissmuller, a training mate at the Illinois Athletic Club. “Weissmuller reproduced it perfectly, but was not impressed by it,” said Schrader in a phone interview, recalling a conversation with Wilson.

One of the first swimmers to turn heads with the underwater dolphin kick was David Berkoff, a Harvard graduate who became known for the “Berkoff Blastoff.” In 1988, Berkoff set several world records in the 100 backstroke by dolphin-kicking for 35 meters underwater at the start of the race.

Which goes to show you that you can gain advantages just by using the information that is available – your own innovation is not the only way to get ahead. Just doing a better job of adapting what others learn to your challenges can be very rewarding.

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RoboCup German Open 2008

Video of humanoid robot football (soccer) competition in German, April 2008. They are a bit slow but it sure looks like this is a fun area to watch the improvement of robot engineering.

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Engineering Sports at MIT

Making sports an exact science by Shira Springer

“It’s all about finding your passion,” said Vasquez, the group leader and a Material Science and Engineering major. “All the guys on the [project] team love sports. It’s more fun than what you typically think of with an MIT research project.

“There are very few sports companies that put value in good engineering, in terms of projects that make engineering sense rather than just marketing sense. When you get to see how your research can actually be used, it’s pretty cool.”

The MIT Sports Innovation program, though, was designed to give undergraduates hands-on research experience away from textbooks and classrooms. Working in a Building 17 laboratory cluttered with experiments, where the hum of the wind tunnel can make conversation difficult, the undergraduates brainstorm and build different components of the test setup.

Inside the laboratory and Aero/Astro hangar, the MIT baseball research project looks like a combination of shop class and horror flick: Power tools, quick-drying cement, PVC pipe, handsaws, and mannequin parts are scattered around.

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Scientific American Frontiers Webcasts

All shows of the PBS TV show, Scientific American Frontiers are available online. The shows feature Alan Alda exploring a wide range of scientific ideas. Specific information for teachers if provided for each show. Shows include:

  • Going Deep – “In 1977, scientists aboard Alvin were exploring the Galapagos Rift in the Pacific Ocean when they made one of the most important discoveries in modern biology. Hydrothermal vents are underwater volcanoes erupting magma-heated, mineral-rich water out of cracks on the seafloor thousands of feet beneath the surface. Despite the enormous pressure and total darkness, the vents were found to support an astonishing array of animal life.”
  • The Dark Side of the Universe – Dark matter, dark energy and the universe.
  • Natural Born Robots – “The next generation of robots swim like fish, play soccer and even experience emotions.”
  • Science and Sports – “Science enables people to run quicker, climb higher, hit farther, and sail faster in this sports special.”

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NCAA Basketball Challenge 2008

Once again I have created a group on the ESPN NCAA Basketball Tournament Challenge for curiouscat college basketball fans. To participate, go to the curiouscat ESPN group and make your picks.

This year we also have a second challenge, using sportsline, that rewards picking upsets. So those that enjoy the tournament please join the fun. The password for this one is cat

Go Badgers and Go Davidson,

Exercise to Reduce Fatigue

Low-Intensity Exercise Edges Out Fatigue — Without Requiring Lots of Sweat

If fatigue hounds your days, a little exercise may shoo it away without leaving you drenched with sweat. So say University of Georgia researchers. In a new study, they report that healthy young adults who say they’re tired all the time got an energy boost from a low-intensity workout plan.

Here’s all it took: three sessions per week of pedaling a stationary bicycle at a mild pace. They didn’t need to train every day, and they didn’t push themselves too far — just far enough to shake their fatigue

As I have said before, I have found exercise reduces fatigue myself.

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