Skip to main content
Email Print Share

Science of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games

NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, has teamed up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to produce Science of the Olympic Winter Games, a 16-part video series that explores the science behind individual Olympic events, including Downhill and Aerial Skiing, Speed Skating and Figure Skating, Curling and Hockey, and Ski Jumping, Bobsledding and Snowboarding.

This groundbreaking project between the NSF and NBC Learn uses the global spotlight of the Olympics to make science more accessible and more interesting to students by showing how science helps athletes fulfill the Olympic motto: Citius, Altius, Fortius--Swifter, Higher, Stronger.

Episode 1. Aerial Physics (Aerial Skiing)

In the sport of freestyle aerials, skiers are judged on their ability to perform complex jumps in the air. Emily Cook, a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Freestyle team, and Paul Doherty, a Senior Scientist at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, show how these jumps actually come from three basic twisting techniques.

 View video (4:00 min.)

Episode 2. Slapshot Physics (Hockey)

One of the most popular team sports in the Winter Olympics is hockey. More than just a physical game, for scientists, it's a showcase for physics on ice--especially when it comes to the slapshot. Three-time Olympian Julie Chu, Thomas Humphrey, a senior scientist at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and Katharine Flores, an associate professor in the department of materials science and engineering at Ohio State University, break down the science of hockey's hardest shot.

 View video (4:18 min.)

Episode 3. Internal Athlete (Cross-Country Skiing)

The United States hasn't won an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing since 1976, but in 2010, several skiers hope to change that. If they're successful, you can be certain it's due to their incredible endurance--cross-country skiers are among the fittest athletes in the world. Deborah King, an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences at Ithaca College and Joseph Francisco, president of the American Chemical Society, look at the biochemistry of human endurance.

 View video (5:06 min.)

Episode 4. Olympic Motion (Mixed Sports)

The Olympics are a unique chance to marvel at the physical abilities of these world-class athletes. But what makes them unique? After all, they're made of the same flesh and blood as the rest of us--how did they become Olympians? Dan Fletcher, an associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley has some answers.

 View video (5:39 min.)

Episode 5. Competition Suits (Mixed Sports)

Olympic athletes have long worn special competition clothing to gain an edge. Science and technology continue to improve on what they wear. Hear from Olympians Chad Hedrick, Steve Holcomb and Erin Hamlin, and Melissa Hines, the director of the Cornell University Center for Materials Research, about how the latest in competition suits will go to work for Team USA in Vancouver.

 View video (5:12 min.)

Episode 6. Mathletes (Mixed Sports)

It's been called "the Queen of Sciences"--mathematics. It might not be as obvious in Olympic sports as physics or materials-engineering, but math--from simple arithmetic to calculus--is part of every jump, every spin, every move the athletes make on snow or ice. Mathematician Edward Burger from Williams College explains why math counts.

 View video (5:15 min.)

Episode 7. The Science of Skis

In skiing events like the downhill, slalom or ski jump it's often the skis that are bound to an athlete's feet--and the materials used to make them--that give these athletes an edge over the competition. U.S. Ski Team members Julia Mancuso, Ted Ligety and Scott Macartney, and Katharine Flores, an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Ohio State University, explain how the materials used to make skis play a vital role in their performance on the mountain.

 View video (5:05 min.)

Episode 8. The Science of Skates

The ice skates worn by this year's hockey players, figure skaters and speed skaters are vastly different from what were once used. Melissa Hines, the Director of the Cornell University Center for Materials Research, and Sam Colbeck, a retired scientist from the U.S. Army Cold Regions Lab, explain how innovations in boot and blade design help skaters perform better than ever before.

 View video (5:54 min.)

Episode 9. Figuring Out Figure Skating

Every four years, we watch the stakes for Olympic figure skaters get higher, as they try to increase rotation in the air with their triple axels and quadruple toe loops. How do they do that? It's a scientific principle that we asked Olympic hopeful Rachael Flatt, and Deborah King, an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences at Ithaca College, to help explain.

 View video (5:37 min.)

Episode 10. Safety Gear (Mixed Sports)

As athletes push themselves to their limits and sometimes crash or collide, they rely on protective gear to keep them safe. NSF-funded scientists Katharine Flores, an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Ohio State University, and Melissa Hines, the director of the Cornell University Center for Materials Research, explain the physics of a collision and exactly how this gear, especially safety helmets, works to prevent injury.

 View video (5:36 min.)

Episode 11. Banking on Speed (Bobsled)

The winter games in Vancouver provide a chance for the United States' four-man bobsled team to win its first gold medal in more than 60 years. And with the help of Paul Doherty, senior scientist at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, Deborah King, associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences at Ithaca College, physicist George Tuthill of Plymouth State University, and bobsled designer Bob Cuneo, the team explains how they hope to accomplish this feat.

 View video (5:05 min.)

Episode 12. Downhill Science (Alpine Skiing)

In February, Olympic skiers such as Julia Mancuso, Ted Ligety, Marco Sullivan and Scott Macartney will race down Vancouver's Whistler Mountain at speeds of up to 90 miles an hour. Paul Doherty, senior scientist at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and Sam Colbeck, a retired scientist from the U.S. Army Cold Regions lab, explain the physics of this downhill thrill ride.

 View video (3:59 min.)

Episode 13. Air Lift (Ski Jump)

This year, the U.S. team is a serious medal contender in Nordic Combined, a sport that combines ski jumping with cross-country skiing. U.S. hopefuls Todd Lodwick and Bill Demong, along with NSF-funded scientists Paul Doherty, senior scientist at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and physicist George Tuthill of Plymouth State University explain the principles of physics that are used to get high scores in the long jumps.

 View video (4:19 min.)

Episode 14. Science of Snowboarding

The stakes are high for the snowboarders in Vancouver as they try to master new tricks to unseat the star of Torino, American Shaun White. But to get "max air" off the half-pipe without losing their balance, they might want to check out this experiment that Paul Doherty, a senior scientist at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, cooked up, using a skateboard and a glass of water.

 View video (4:07 min.)

Episode 15. Science Friction (Curling)

Curling has been in the Winter Olympics for four years now, but it still seems a little strange to most of us. John Shuster, the captain--or "skip"--of the U.S. Curling Team in Vancouver, explains this unusual sport, and NSF-funded scientists Sam Colbeck, a retired scientist from the U.S. Army Cold Regions Lab and physicist George Tuthill of Plymouth State University explain the friction that makes it all work.

 View video (4:59 min.)

Episode 16. Blade Runners (Short Track Speed Skating)

The U.S. speed skating team has two best hopes against a powerful South Korean team that took three- of-a-possible-four golds in Torino: Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski--an 18-year-old World Champion in his first Olympics. Speed skating is all about force and movement--what, in physics, are known as Newton's First Three Laws of Motion. Celski and physicist George Tuthill of Plymouth State University explain.

 View video (4:17 min.)