Free videos explore the science behind the Olympics

The videos capitalize on students’ interest in the Winter Olympics to make science more accessible.
The videos capitalize on students’ interest in the Winter Olympics to make science more accessible.

Teachers looking for ways to incorporate the Olympic Winter Games into their instruction have a new resource they can use: NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, has teamed up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to produce a 16-part video series focusing on the science behind the games.

How does angular momentum help figure skater Rachael Flatt achieve the perfect triple toe loop? How does elastic collision allow three-time Olympic hockey player Julie Chu to convert a game-winning slapshot? How do Newton’s Three Laws of Motion propel short track speed skater J.R. Celski to the finish line?

These are just a few of the scientific principles explored in the new video series, called “The Science of the Olympic Winter Games.” (NBC is broadcasting the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver Feb. 12-28.)

The online videos capitalize on students’ interest in the Vancouver Olympics to make science more accessible to them by illustrating how scientific principles apply to competitive sports. Narrated by NBC News anchor Lester Holt, the series is available to educators free of charge on the NBC Learn web site as a timely way to incorporate the Olympics into their classroom teaching.

In each video segment, an NSF-supported scientist explains a particular scientific principle, while Olympic athletes describe how these principles apply to their respective sports.

The science is explained by capturing the athletes’ movements with a state-of-the-art, high-speed camera called the Phantom Cam, which has the ability to capture movement 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.

“Science touches every aspect of our nation’s popular pursuits, including its athletic events,” said Jeff Nesbit, director of NSF’s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs. “It’s exciting to partner with NBC Learn and NBC’s Emmy award-winning Olympic division to present the range and depth of that science to a huge American audience, while ultimately inspiring the passions of young people across the United States in all the things science can do.”

Rachael Flatt, a 17-year-old high school senior at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., qualified for the Vancouver Games by winning the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 23. She might understand the science behind her sport better than anyone else on the ice: The straight-A student’s father is a biochemical engineer, while her mother is a molecular biologist.

“I guess it’s definitely safe to say that science runs in my blood,” said Flatt. “I jumped at the chance to participate in this project, because my parents have passed along their love of science to me over the years—and I hope to one day pursue a career in the field.”

Besides Flatt, the video series features two-time Olympic medalist and Harvard graduate Julie Chu (hockey) from Fairfield, Conn.; 2006 Olympic bronze medalist John Shuster (curling) from Chisholm, Minn.; 2006 Olympian Emily Cook (freestyle skiing) from Belmont, Mass.; and 2010 Olympic hopefuls J.R. Celski (short track speed skating) from Federal Way, Wash., and Liz Stephens (cross-country skiing) from East Montpelier, Vt.


NBC Learn

2010 Winter Olympics

National Science Foundation

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