Hidden Science archive

Hidden Science was a mobile phone action – found within the Orange ‘Do Some Good’ app between April 2011-July 2012. Users were asked to submit their burning science questions via the app to have them answered directly by scientists, with all answers posted onto the Future Morph website.

Submitted questions had to related to one of the 16 different themes which included Space, Food, Sport, Medical Science, Earth Science, Computers & IT, Fashion & Textiles, and more!

A selection of the questions submitted to the Sport theme are shown below. Athletics, Badminton, Cycling, Diving……Volleyball, Weightlifting – there is a huge list of sports from A to Z that we can all list and some of us may even have tried our hand at them at some point, but do you know of all the people behind the scenes who help to develop sport science and the medical support required by athletes to get to and then stay at the top? There are so many career routes that you could take within the sport and leisure industry. You could be a sports coach or performance analyst, a physiotherapist or a clinical exercise consultant, but before you make your choice, why not have a look through some of the questions below to find out what motivates you. There are so many scientists answering questions in this section so have a look at their job titles and do some of your own research to find out which route is the right one for you. See you at the finish line…

Examine the questions below and find out where your interests lie. Your chosen career could not be too far away…

1. Is there such a thing as a natural athlete?

There may no longer be people who are born and can, without any coaching, become world class athletes, but there are some people who are more capable in certain sports than others. If you have a low heart rate, and your lungs are more efficient at getting oxygenated blood around your body, and if your muscle fibres are more efficient, then you are more likely to be successful as an athlete. However, there is one of the top free divers, who I think had asthma, and overcame this to compete at the highest levels, in a sport not associated with asthmatics! These days, to be a top athlete, requires a genetic “benefit”, as well as coaching. If you look at top athletes, they will appear to have some benefit for their sport – you don’t seem to find one person looking different – in terms of their physique at top sporting events (unless you consider something like American Football and rugby where you have different physiques for different positions).

2. What does a sport scientist do?

A Sports Scientist is someone who has a well-founded background across a large number of subjects to do with sports performance. These areas include sports biomechanics, sports nutrition, physiology, anatomy, psychology, and prevention of sports injuries. The knowledge gained from these subjects enables a sport scientist to work with athletes to understand the physical, psychological and physiological demands of sport and exercise and thus use this knowledge to enhance sports performance and prevent injury.

3. How much energy is burned by a cyclist on an average tour de France?

The amount of calories burnt by one cyclist over the full Tour De France has been claimed to be around 118,000. This is equivalent to eating 26 Mars Bars each day of the race!

4. Why is a rugy ball oval shaped?

The first rugby balls were made of pig’s bladder – so the balls were not perfectly round, but more like a plum shape. Nowadays pig’s bladders are no longer used but the shape has become a tradition in the sport.

5. Why can some people run faster than others even if they train for the same amount of time?

Everybody is slightly different, from our height, our lung capacity etc., so assuming that two people train for the same amount of time with the same trainer, and are at a similar fitness level, then there can be a difference in resting heart rate, efficiency of getting oxygen to the blood, and the blood around the body, and different leg lengths, heart and lung capacity … Any of these will make a difference to an athlete’s performance, but someone with very short legs is unlikely to be able to run as fast as someone with longer legs, as the latter can cover more ground for the same pace!

6. What is the fastest speed a football can be kicked at?

Ronny Heberson Furtado de Araújo (who plays for Sporting Lisbon) hit a free kick at 131mph, which I believe is the world record.

7. How does muscle memory work?

Muscle memory is the ability to carry out or “remember” complex activities which involve your muscles without conscious thought. It is achieved through repetition of a particular activity over and over again and also, to some extent by observation of a given activity. The areas of the brain that are involved in “muscle memory” are mainly the cerebellum but also the motor pathways inlcuding the pre-motor cortex, the motor cortex (both in the frontal lobes of the brain) and the basal ganglia which is the part of the brain that chooses which motor programs to use at any particular point in time.

8. How much gold in grams will be given out in London 2012?

I understand there will be 26 sports, 36 disciplines and 302 events. Therefore I am assuming 302 gold medals (however, since there are team sports – such as relay races, and team events, this will be an underestimate, but, courtesy of “The Times” today, it mentions 2100 medals being awarded – so one could assume one third will be gold medals – i.e. 700. Each medal is 85mm diameter, and 7mm deep weighing 375-400g. In a gold medal there will be 92.6% silver, 6.16% copper and 1.34% gold – but this is not cited as being by volume or by weight. Therefore assuming that we can say c. 1.34% of a gold medal’s weight is gold, then we will be looking at between 375-400g*700*1.34%=>c.3.5Kg-3.75Kg! With gold at roughly £31.84 per gram, this works out at nearly £120,000 worth of gold!

9. Why are golf balls dimpled?

The reason for the dimples is that the dimples allow the ball to travel further due to the airflow around the ball. Originally, I believe that golf balls were smooth, until it was found old balls flew further than new balls. There are a couple of effects that help – one is that a dimpled ball has the air remain in contact with the ball for longer before breaking into the turbulent flow, and the other is that a dimpled ball with backspin creates more lift than a smooth ball. These help the ball fly further for the same stroke!

10. Why do we sweat when doing sport!?

People perspire to keep cool. When we perspire/sweat the liquid sits on the skin, where it is evaporated, and this helps cool us down. Men have more sweat glands than women, and apparently, that is why male athletes can wear full vests – whereas women, to keep cool, need to expose more of their skin.