O'Really?

July 27, 2012

Olympic Science: The Long Jump to Conclusions

Snohomish Long Jumper by Philo Nordlund

Long jumper for Snohomish. Creative Commons licensed picture by by Philo Nordlund on Flickr

If Science were an Olympic sport, which events would scientists excel at?

During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, I wondered what Olympic activities scientists would be good at, with a list of events. This satirical post was kindly re-published [1] by the learned American Physical Society (thanks guys!) in their newsletter, though some of the proposed events look a little dated now.

Doesn’t time fly? Here we are four years later and London 2012 is already upon us. The Boris Johnson Olympic Stadium is finally complete. Oscar winner Danny Boyle has the eagerly anticipated opening ceremony all planned out. Sculptor Anish Kapoor’s spectacular Orbit Olympic observation tower looks out over the Olympic Park. Teams of athletes from all over the world have gathered in the capital to see how years of training will pay off.

Meanwhile Team Science [2] also play their part in supporting the Olympics, through sports science, drug testing and other services. Some are sparring for their bouts of impact factor boxing but may need a soothing ego massage afterwards to recover from the particularly painful peer-reviewed punches. Others are limbering up for the long jump to conclusions an event at which some scientists (and many policitians) are strong medal contenders. There are lots of other events proposed for the future too, some of them quite controversial [3,4,5], they might need genetically enhanced security guards, with superhuman abilities (sponsored by G4S)?

Readers of this blog will probably have much better ideas than the rather ropey suggestions I cobbled together. If that’s you, please post them below in the comments section or tweet them with the hashtag #OlympicScience.

Scientists and athletes have much in common, many are naturally obsessed [6] with their eyes firmly fixed on the prize and will often bend the rules to win Gold [7]. So wherever you are, whichever prizes you admire, enjoy the superb sporting spectacle that is the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

References

  1. Yours Truly (2008). If Science Were an Olympic Sport Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science, American Physical Society (APS) Physics
  2. Daniel Cressey & Ewen Callaway (2012). Science at the Olympics: Team Science, Nature, 487 (7407) 292. DOI: 10.1038/487290a
  3. Helen Thompson (2012). Performance enhancement: Superhuman athletes, Nature, 487 (7407) 289. DOI: 10.1038/487287a
  4. Timothy Noakes & Michael Spedding (2012). Olympics: Run for your life, Nature, 487 (7407) 296. DOI: 10.1038/487295a
  5. Juan Enriquez & Steve Gullans (2012). Olympics: Genetically enhanced Olympics are coming, Nature, 487 (7407) 297. DOI: 10.1038/487297a
  6. Mariano Loza-Coll (2012). Piled too high, Nature, 486 (7403) 431. DOI: 10.1038/nj7403-431a
  7. Michael Brooks (2011). Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science ISBN:1846684056

Update: The real games started on a scientific and technical note with help from Tim Berners-Lee

#OlympicScience didn’t really take off, but #Nerdlympics (Olympics for Nerds) did much better – a selection below. 

August 22, 2008

If Science was an Olympic Sport…

Olympic Rings by JL08A fictional scene from the future: The Olympic games, London 2012. A new candidate sport is on trial, joining skateboarding, rugby and golf at their debut Olympic games. It is challenging discipline called Science, a sport more ancient than Olympia itself. The crowd awaits eagerly in the all new Boris Johnson Olympic stadium. It has taken more than 2000 years just to convince the International Olympic Committee that Science is worthy of being an Olympic sport. The big day has finally arrived but the judges are still arguing about how to award the medals to scientists. Despite all the metrics involved, it’s all very very subjective. The games go ahead anyway, and there are lots of exciting new events: (more…)

June 12, 2006

Bend it like Bezier?

Football informatics, theory and practice: Germany 2006

Bayern BallThe frenchman Pierre Bézier knew a thing or two about curves. But as World Cup fever tightens its grip around the globe, it is the footballers in Germany who are showing us just how much they know about the practical science of curving and bending the ball into the goal. Is there any essential curve-theory for World Cup stars like Beckham, Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry to read and brush-up on in their German hotels this summer?

Sports scientist Dr Ken Bray from the University of Bath in the UK hopes that sportsmen and spectators alike will be reading his new book How to Score – Science and the Beautiful Game. This is another popular science book that tries to make fluid dynamics accessible to the layman. In publicising his new book, Ken points out that the new Adidas Teamgeist™ football will unsettle goalkeepers at the World Cup, because the balls move more in the air than traditional ones. This smells of marketing-hype, both for the ball and the book, but it is interesting and topical nonetheless.

Mathematicians and numerical analysts have known for years, the really essential reading for footballers this summer is the famous curves index. These wonderful web pages, free online and completely devoid of hype, describe all the equations for putting the ball in the back of the net in great style. After reading these pages, perhaps World Cup footballers will be able to curve the unpredictable Teamgeist™ ball even more lavishly than before. Just imagine the confusion of a goalkeeper facing a free-kick, when the ball follows a right strophoid curve: y2 = x2(a – x)/(a + x)! This would certainly be more entertaining than the all too predictable and common straight line: y = mx + c that soars over the bar and into row Z of the spectators behind the goal…

Whether scientists, footballers or spectators, we can all enjoy the science of curving at the World Cup in Germany this summer. Bis Bald Berlin!

References

  1. Bend it Like Beckham: The curve ball free-kick (France 1998)
  2. Bénd it Like Bézier: The Bézier Curve
  3. Bend it like Brazil: A perfect example of a free-kick by Roberto Carlos
  4. Bend it like Euclid: Is a straight line a curve?
  5. Computer Graphics: Curves and Surfaces, Bézier representations
  6. From the beautiful game to the computiful game: Nature catches football fever
  7. Goal fever at the World Cup: Why the first strike counts
  8. This post was originally published on nodalpoint with comments

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