I might have had a bit of a sarcastic tone in my last entry about kicking football penalties, but we shouldn’t jump to the idea that sport science isn’t proper science. After all, it’s what has given Australia three zillion more gold medals than is warranted by its population. Have a look at the Australian Institute of Sport website if you want evidence that properly targeted science research equals success. (Unfortunately, not the kind of success that necessarily brings great benefits to the world’s population, but let’s not get too choosy.)
One physicsy area is biomechanics – the study of how the body moves and the forces involved. This enables an athlete to be taught the optimum running action for him, or our footballer to consistently strike that ball with a velocity of 29 metres per second. It’s one reason why althletic world records are still being set – we are learning more about how our bodies move. And it’s not without application to the general public either – biomechanics is also about the way an artery deforms under high blood pressure, or how a bone fractures under excess stress. These things can involve some pretty advanced mathematical and physics techniques – tensor analysis, Lagrangian dynamics, fluid mechanics (they probably sound nasty to you anyway – though maybe I’ll have a go at explaining them in simple language later) and so many physicists find themselves working in this exciting area.
Biomechanics doesn’t just apply to people. There are several studies, for example, of the hydrodynamics of penguins. Those things may wobble about on land, but put them in water and they can manouvre exceptionally well. But why?