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Science and Sports

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Can scientists make you a faster runner? Can engineers make playing football safer? Can mathematicians help rank your favorite team more fairly? While they'll never change the importance of solid fundamentals and lots of skill and practice, the answer to all these questions is yes.

Scientists and engineers work on enhancing athlete performance and safety on a daily basis. They're looking at bighorn sheep to see if biomimicry holds answers to building better helmets and cutting down on concussions and other traumatic brain injuries.

They are assessing whether a bathing suit or the pool itself make it more likely for a swimmer to set a new record, have proven that the sprinter closest to the start gun gets a slight advantage, and have found popular doping drugs may not help improve performance for cyclists. They can explain how to throw a spiralling football, put topspin on your tennis return, build the best boat, and hit a fastball. They can build a speedy wheelchair or optimize prostheses for athletes competing in various sports. They also can show why a referee on the field and systems for automatic replays disagree on calls and why knee injuries often don't heal.

Sometimes they even find things that surprise them, such as how running shoes change your feet and that football coaches can be too conservative in certain situations that could give them the win.

Scientists and engineers work on extending human ability and safety on a daily basis at all levels of competition, but the conversation about what exactly they're doing comes to the forefront of the discussion every couple years as the Olympics and Paralympics are held to celebrate some of the best athletes in the world. 2016 is no different. Sports scientists look at athletes' physiology (how their bodies work) and psychology (how their minds work) and figure out how to tweak their conditioning and training regimens, nutrition levels, medical treatments, and the technology they're using to maximize results during competition. 

Whether it's been accusations of past doping by Russian competitors, questions about whether transgender and intersex athletes should be allowed to compete, investigations into the pools' green color, or concerns about the effects of pollutants and mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus on competitors and spectators, science has been a part of daily conversations surrounding the competition going on in Brazil this summer.

The headlines may fade as this year's results are entered into the record books, but scientists, engineers, and statisticians will continue to research innovations in sport science to bring changes to gyms, pools, and fields near you.


This post originally appeared on Science NetLinks.