What's the lubricant that makes the ice on a skating track slippery? How are they ever going to get enough snow for next month's Sochi Olympics? How can engineers make bobsledders and speedskaters go faster? Olympic sports stars have teamed up with scientists and NBC News to explain it all for you, in a series of videos exploring the science and engineering of this year's Winter Games.
The 10-part series builds on past collaborations between NBC News' educational arm, NBC Learn, and the National Science Foundation. The same partners have already looked into scientific angles for the 2010 Winter Games and the 2012 Summer Games, as well as NHL hockey and NFL football. As usual, there's an all-star team of athletes and academics — and this time around, they're getting a strong assist from the NBC Olympics team.
"These stories demonstrate the interplay between sports and engineering, in areas from robotics to medical treatments," Pramod Khargonekar, the National Science Foundation's assistant director for engineering, said in a news release. "We hope the impressive feats of athletes and engineering researchers will engage and inspire young people, as they see how engineering technologies can change many facets of our lives."
One video explains how salt molecules and a quasi-liquid form of ice known as "pre-melt" can make a skating surface virtually frictionless, with background from University of Utah mathematician Ken Golden and on-the-ice insights from U.S. skaters Brittany Bowe, J.R. Celski and Gracie Gold.
In another video, long-track speedskater Shani Davis teams up with engineers Kevin Haley and Sarah Morgan to show off the latest generation of aerodynamic competition suits. A video on the science of snowmaking pairs Sarah Konrad, a former Olympic skier who's now a glaciologist at the University of Wyoming, with Cort Anastasio, a chemistry professor at the University of California at Davis.
Check out those three videos, and then head on over to NBC Learn, NSF's Science360 video portal or NBCOlympics.com for the full set. Each episode is accompanied by lesson plans that have been developed by the National Science Teachers Association for middle-school and high-school teachers.