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'Science Of Winter Olympics' Videos Will Change The Way You Look At Your Favorite Sport

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What makes figure skaters so graceful on the ice? It's a question many will be asking during the upcoming winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia.

Sure, figure skating is all about skill and practice -- lots of practice. But ultimately it's about science. Just check out the video above from the National Science Foundation and NBC Learn that spotlights the fascinating physics behind figure skating.

As the video explains, skating is all about the skater's center of gravity -- which for optimal balance during a spin, must stay directly above the so-called "point of support," where the skates touch the ice.


Credit: NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation (NSF)

The video also shows how skating showcases the physics principle that an object's vertical and horizontal velocities operate independently from each other. You see this principle play out best when a skater launches into a salchow or axel, or when a pair skater tosses up and then catches his partner.

"The vertical velocity will be affected by gravity, whereas horizontal velocity will be constant. And so those two velocities, that which moves me horizontally and that which moves me vertically, are independent of one another," Dr. Brad Orr, head of the physics department at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says in the video.

Is figure skating not your cup of tea? Keep reading for fascinating ways sports and science will come together at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games in these three other videos released by the NSF and NBC (all segments can be viewed on the NSF website):


Credit: NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation (NSF)

What's up with the way snowboarders defy gravity? Engineers have figured out a way to hone the half-pipe so snowboarders can get even more air time. The half-pipe for the Sochi games is a massive 22 feet high, 65 feet wide, and 557 feet long. As they ride up the curve of a half-pipe and then change direction, snowboarders can experience up to two G's of force due to a phenomenon called centripetal acceleration.


Credit: NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation (NSF)

Physics can reveal the secret behind nailing high-soaring tricks on the slopes. Just two words: Angular momentum. Many athletes will be taking advantage of this physics principle when the slopestyle skiing event makes its debut at this year's winter games.


Credit: NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation (NSF)

Meanwhile, the secret to becoming a speed skating success is pretty simple -- it's about aerodynamics as well as technique and raw power. After all, "drag" is the component of friction that occurs when a solid body moves through a fluid, like air or water -- and so, the resistance of the air moving across a speedskater's body is a huge impediment. Makes sense!

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