August E-News: Mother Nature’s Olympians Crowned!

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games have officially begun and five days in, the athletes are well on their way to captivating the world with their super-human abilities. Watching these athletes in action, vying for gold can be mesmerizing to those of us sitting at home. The Olympics are a time to celebrate the world’s fastest and strongest humans in the world – the best of the best. But we wondered, how would record-breaking runners, such as the fastest man in the world Usain Bolt, fare against the wilder side of the animal kingdom?

These Olympians of the natural world could easily make humans look somewhat unimpressive when compared to their strength, speed, agility and endurance used daily as a matter of survival. In honor of the Summer Games, we thought we would shake things up a bit and highlight some spectacular “Animal Olympians” with gold medal-worthy abilities. 

Track & Field

High-Jump Stars

The High-Jump champion of the animal world may just be the spittle bug. This insect is only as long as a pencil eraser but it can jump 115 times higher than its body length, while the record for humans is just a little over 8 feet. That’s about 1.25 times the height of the record-holder,Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor.  In comparison, the spittle bugs jump would be the equivalent of a person leaping over a 70-story skyscraper!!

Long Jump


Tiny crustaceans called copepods were recently named the world’s best animal jumpers. They leap with greater muscle power than kangaroos, frogs and all other impressive animal jumpers. copepods can accelerate to 500 body lengths per second when they perform an escape jump away from countless underwater predators. VIDEO: See a copepod perform its medaling jumps!


Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is credited as the fastest human, with a top running speed of 27.79 mph. In the animal kingdom, the cheetah can bolt at speeds over 70 miles per hour or more for short bursts, making them the world’s fastest land animals. But even that doesn’t always ensure this big cat gets a meal. The gazelles and other small antelope that are the cheetah’s main prey are not as fast as the cat, but they have greater endurance and agility in a high-speed chase and often escape the spotted speedster.

Also on the podium would be the pronghorn antelope and the world’s fastest bird, the Ostrich. Both of these animals are strong medal contenders for any running events with the pronghorn pulling out at 55mph followed by the ostrich clocking in at an amazing 40mph.

In The Pool – Amazing Aquatics

400 Meter Freestyle


In the pool, both Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps may have some competition when it comes to the incredible sailfish. This fish shoots through the water reaching a swimming speed of 67mph! Their high speed would allow them to zip through any Olympics swimming event with ease!  

VIDEO: Watch Sailfish in Action in this LIFE clip.

Fish, sharks and marine mammals are such talented swimmers that Olympic athletes study their movements and wear swim suits modeled after their body structures. Dall porpoises can swim up to 35 miles per hour, making them the fastest water-dwelling mammals, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Russell Mark, USA Swimming’s director of biomechanics, stated that the dolphin/porpoise-style kick can make or break most human swimming races. “This is when swimmers push off walls and swim underwater without moving their arms,” he explained.

Relay Swimming


The killer whale or orca can swim up to 30 mph, however, it usually cruises at much slower speeds, between 2 to 6mph. The best contender for relay swimming would be the gentoo penguin. This bird may not be able to fly in the air like other birds, but it makes up for its flaws by flying through the water. With wings that work as paddles, this penguin is shaped for swimming reaching speeds up to 15mph – three times faster than humans!  



The beaked whale, actually more closely related to dolphins than whales, can dive deeper in the ocean than any other animal. Heading down to depths of 6,230 feet, that’s over a mile deep, it can then hold its breath for 85 minutes before resurfacing for air. Their breathing and blood-circulation systems are made for this, since they have much more oxygen in their muscles than we do and they can send more oxygen through their blood to their brains and hearts. 

Weight Lifting

Even Olympic weightlifters would have to contend with some fierce competition from the wild side.  The heaviest individual weight lifted by a human in an Olympic competition was 580.9 pounds, a record set by Iran’s Hossein Rezazadeh. Weighing in at 340 pounds, Rezazadeh falls short of lifting an object with a mass twice his own weight. It’s hard to believe that his efforts would fall short of a medal when up against a beetle. That’s right, an insect, could, pound for pound, blow away all other human and animal contenders.  The Rhinoceros Beetle can lift up to 850 times their own weight!  Battling it out for the Silver & Bronze would be the African Elephant and the African Gorilla.

VIDEO: Watch a Rhino Beetle Put to the Test


The African Bush Baby is a tiny primate and lives in the treetops. It has incredible gymnastic abilities. As it prowls the tropical forests at night looking for fruits and insects to devour, bush babies can make leaps of 20 feet or more, which is many times their own body length. They are great jumpers and acrobats too as they move in complete silence and can see in almost absolute darkness with the help of their huge eyes.

Animal Olympians are much like human Olympians – there is something about them that makes them stand out from the rest. Some of them run, swim or fly faster than other animals. Others can jump higher, dive deeper, or lift more. A few are Olympians because they live the longest, grow the tallest, weigh the most, or are simply the strongest. What animal would you nominate for an Olympic medal?

If you want to learn more and are ready for some Olympic sized fun, check out the full list of Animal Olympians here.

Discover more FUN about Animal Olympians with a few fun facts & try your hand at some Olympic Sized trivia!  

August E-News: The Science of Sports

The 2012 Olympic Games  are in full swing and for the next week, millions will be watching & cheering on athletes from around the world. This year’s Games include thirty-six large categories of sporting competition, ranging from gymnastics, cycling, swimming, and track and field to beach volleyball, archery, table tennis, Judo and more. And in every sport, athletes will have to overcome such physical properties as inertia, lift, drag, kinetic and potential energy, friction and even gravity. Join us as we celebrate the 2012 London Summer Olympics and the Science of Sports!  


When Pheidippides , the first known marathon runner, ran 26 miles (42.195 kilometers) from the Battle of Marathon with news of the Greeks’ victory over the Persians, he hadn’t consulted any of the era’s leading scientists on whether he should wear shoes, carbo-load, or do weeks of interval training. Given that he collapsed and died as soon as he delivered his news, maybe he should have. But modern athletes won’t make the same mistake.

Training for Olympic athletes has changed over the course of time from the classic belief-based coaching to a more modern evidence based coaching. Evidence based coaching determines an athletes training style based on whether their speed or strength is their greater asset.  Olympians of yesteryear shared the same goal, but they would hardly recognize today’s training techniques. To achieve the Olympian ideal of “faster, higher, stronger,” coaches now realize, it’s not about training harder it’s about training smarter. Behind every elite athlete is an army of scientists helping them achieve world records. As you watch the games—and observe the differences in times, routines, and results—you might wonder what factors make a difference in performance. Everyone is interested in knowing the secret to outstanding performance, and the secret is science! Biomechanical engineers, physiologists, psychologists, nutritionists, strength coaches, recovery experts and statistical analysts have turned the playing field into a science laboratory by allowing athletes and coaches to understand the science behind their sport, increasing their odds of standing on the podium and taking them one step closer to achieving their goal of Gold. Knowing the principles of a sport can empower both the athletes and the coaches, giving them a better understanding of how they should train and what techniques to use. 

Perhaps the most fundamental way science has advanced the world of sports is by empowering the athletes & coaches with knowledge of how the body responds to exercise & the reasoning behind it. This field is referred to as Sports Physiology. In some situations, physiologists use portable meters to measure sugar levels in the athlete’s blood, their heart rate, or the amount of lactate in their muscles, providing feedback data to coaches right there on the poolside or on the field. This data can help coaches devise training programs that have the greatest impact on performance. Rather than just eating their Wheaties, Olympians will guzzle beet juice before a workout, because their team of nutritionists has determined that the nitrates it contains can improve aerobic exercise performance by as much as 2 percent. They don’t just rub Bengay on tired muscles, they follow elaborate hydrotherapy regimens to limit muscle damage and reduce soreness by 16 percent. And instead of pounding out hour after hour of training, they sometimes do a targeted workout of insanely high intensity which can give them better results in as little as four minutes. Targeted physical conditioning and rehabilitation may represent the biggest improvements that science has had on sporting performance.

Back to the Basics of Biomechanics


Perhaps the most visibly high-tech field of sports science is biomechanics, the study of the body’s structure and function. For scientists focused on bodies, not gear, the work can range from analyzing the speed and strength components of the long jump to the most efficient execution of a back 2-1/2 somersault dive with two and a half twists off the 10-meter board. 

In recent years tools such as electronic pressure plates have been used to measure the force of athletes’ strides or jumps, and wind tunnels harnessed to explore how cyclists’ body positions affect their wind drag. Using computer software to analyze video footage of an athlete’s movement—called kinematics—has also become a vital part of the Olympic training routine. The data gathered by sports scientists has become a precious source of information for the coaches of top level athletes. Meanwhile coaches themselves are taking a more scientific approach to their work. Coaching science is a term that is becoming the norm in the world of sports. As coaches and scientists work together, they are finding ways to tailor the different tools of sports science and apply them in a unique way for each individual sport. 

Thousands of spectators will witness the results of science in action this summer in London, as competitors push ever closer to the ideal sprint, the flawless swim, the immaculate long jump along with many other sports. It took evolution millions of years to produce the modern human and centuries for coaches to improve athletic discipline and performance. Now scientists are taking the last step, helping athletes approach perfection.

The Biomechanics of Usain Bolt:

Discover the inner-working’s of the fastest man on earth alongside the scientists at MIT and see why he is considered a biomechanical marvel!  

The Impact of Jenny Simpson

See how Jenny Simpson regained her Olympic dream with the help of scientists and anti-gravity treadmill training.  

Maximizing the Long Jump of Bryan Clay

See how Bryan Clay is advancing the field of scientific research with the use of the BMW Velocity System, a new 3-D camera that could change the world of scientific measurement forever.

Science Technology Sets Sail 


Science technology secures a spot on the Olympic team in the games’ biggest crowd-pleaser, swimming.  The hydrodynamics wizards at Speedo, part of the Pentland Group, have jettisoned the “dermal denticles” used on swimsuits in 2000, with this year’s debut of the “Fastskin3” system: a combination of cap, goggles and suit that streamline swimmers into the closest thing to a barracuda this side of the ocean. And how better to break a world record than by swimming in pools designed by the engineers at Myrtha Pools, a division of A&T Europe S.p.a. with their new innovations that minimize waves at the water’s surface and currents below from increasing drag, which slows the swimmer’s speed. Seven Myrtha pools installed in the Aquatics Center promise the fastest water ever.

Catch the Olympic Spirit & Go for the Gold!

The Olympics can offer a unique opportunity to think about what makes a difference between those who medal and those who don’t. There may be displays of record-breaking talent in unexpected places, but there is plenty of science that underlies each sport. You and your family can turn the games into more than a spectator sport and have fun in between your favorite events! 

This month, take some time to explore the science of sports! These simple experiments & hands-on activities can spark family science explorations! As you watch the Games, have fun as you make your own real-world connections at home and uncover the science at work beneath the surface of your favorite sports or athletes’ medal-winning performances! Who knows, you might even find that the seed of a science project for the coming school year gets planted during your Olympic adventure!  Sport Science Experiments

Other Links & Resources:

NBC Learn and NBC Sports, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, explore the engineering and technology helping athletes maximize their performance at the 2012 London Games. 

Science Goes for Gold with New NBC Series: The Science of the Olympics!

science of olympics

Tomorrow the quest for Olympic Gold begins as the best athletes in the world gather in London to battle it out for their chance of athletic glory. If all goes well, the organization and technology that runs the event will be seamlessly invisible, allowing fans both at the event and at home to follow every step, every run and every jump.

But for those who like to know about the behind-the-scenes technology, NBC has posted a 10-part series that delves into the mechanics of London 2012. The National Science Foundation has collaborated with NBC for this incredible series ‘Science of the Summer Olympics’ which delves into a variety of different parts of the Olympics, from the biomechanics of the athletes, to the dedicated effort that goes into making the split-second timers.

The NSF’s assistant director for engineering Thomas Peterson said: ‘The work of engineers not only affects Olympic sports, it also helps us perform ordinary activities in better ways. ‘This series will illustrate how engineers can impact both sports and society, and we hope it will inspire young people to pursue engineering. Some of the questions explored in the series include:

  • How does swimmer Missy Franklin use the principles of fluid dynamics to move more quickly through water?
  • What are the unique biomechanics that have helped make sprinter Usain Bolt the world’s fastest human?
  • What does weightlifter Sarah Robles have in common with a high-tech robot?
  • How do engineers build faster pools, stronger safety helmets, and specialized wheelchairs for disabled athletes?

Each video segment will be available to NBC affiliate stations, and for free on the Web accompanied by an engineering-focused lesson plan for middle- and high-school teachers developed by the National Science Teachers Association.

‘The Olympic Games are a time when the world gathers to watch the best athletes compete for gold, and with this new video series, people can see and learn exactly what it takes to reach the top,’ said Soraya Gage, executive producer of NBC Learn. ‘We’re thrilled to continue this successful partnership with NSF and NBC Sports, to provide students and teachers with engaging content that makes learning about engineering both relevant and fun.’

The first episode is available below, and the rest of the five-minute films are available here.

Learn More About The Science of the Olympics at

Happy Birthday Amelia Earhart!

Amelia Earhart is honored by Google with a birthday Doodle.

One of the world’s most famous pilots, Amelia Earhart was one of the first female pilots who sought to break endurance records and prove women pilots were just as tough and capable as the men. In 1937 she took off from Papua New Guinea in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe by following the equator.  She disappeared then, and her body was never recovered. However, she was still an important figure in aviation, perhaps more so than any living pilot might have been. And now, Amelia Earhart has found herself on a Google Doodle.

Earhart was born July 24, 1897, in Kansas, but didn’t take her first flight until 1920 in Long Beach, California. Earhart was instantly smitten with flight and dedicated herself to her new career; within two years, she was breaking aviation records and by 1927, she flew across the Atlantic.

The Google Doodle shows Earhart climbing into a Lockheed Vega 5b, the plane that made her famous. She joins artistsauthorsmusicians, and scientists in the pantheon of people who have gotten their own Google tributes.

Pluto Gets A Fifth Moon!


Once upon a time, there were nine planets in the solar system.  Then astronomers decided to remove Pluto from the equation, describing the smallest and most distant planet in the solar system as something more like a moon and less like an actual planet.  Well, scientists are taking a second look at the lone planet, because Pluto seems to have more secrets than we’ve given it credit for.  The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a fifth moon orbiting around Pluto.

“The moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian dolls,” said Mark Showalter, the leader of the SETI Institute team that found the images of the fifth moon.  ”This is a very tidy system, and what that means is, it’s an orbitally evolved system.  Literally there are shells where the orbits are stable.”

The moon, which hasn’t been named yet, was given the provisional name S/2012 (134340) 1, which has been shortened to P5.  Pluto already has four moons:  Charon, Hydra, Nix, and the unnamed P4.  Scientists are holding off naming the fourth and fifth moons of Pluto due to the upcoming New Horizons space probe mission, which has the potential to discover even more moons for Pluto.  After all, while the Hubble can see far away, there’s no better vantage point than getting nice and close.

‘Keep32’ Molecule Leads to Cavity-Proof Teeth!

Scientists have discovered a new molecule that will make your teeth cavityproof and may change dental care forever. They have appropriately named it Keep 32—for your 32 teeth—and it can kill the bacteria that produces cavities in 60 seconds flat.

José Córdoba—a researcher at Yale University—and Erich Astudillo—from the Universidad de Santiago, Chile—claim that this molecule can be added to any dental care product, from toothpaste to mouthwash. In fact, they say it can be added to anything, even candies and chewing gum.

As long as the product stays in your mouth for 60 seconds, it will eliminate the dreadfulStreptococcus Mutans, making your teeth cavity proof for a number of hours.

They started the research in 2005 and now they are aiming to have this product in the market in 14 to 18 months. Once they go through human safety trials in the United States, they want to license the patent to dental care manufacturers like Colgate or Procter & Gamble, as well as companies like Hershey’s or Cadbury.

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