Tag Archives: sports

Ooblek (non-Newtonian goo) and bras from Reebok

I have taken a liberty in the title for this piece, strictly speaking the non-Newtonian goo in the bra isn’t the stuff (ooblek) made of cornstarch and water from your childhood science experiments but it has many of the same qualities. The material in the Reebok bra, PureMove, is called Shear Thickening Fluid and was developed at the University of Delaware in 2005 and subsequently employed by NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) for use in the suits used by astronauts as noted in an August 6, 2018 article by Elizabeth Secgran for Fast Company who explains how it came be used for the latest sports bra,

While the activewear industry floods the market with hundreds of different sports bras every season, research shows that most female consumers are unsatisfied with their sports bra options, and 1 in 5 women avoid exercise altogether because they don’t have a sports bra that fits them properly.

Reebok wants to make that experience a thing of the past. Today, it launches a new bra, the PureMove, that adapts to your movements, tightening up when you’re moving fast and relaxing when you’re not. …

When I visited Reebok’s Boston headquarters, Witek [Danielle Witek, Reebok designer who spearheaded the R&D making the bra possible] handed me a jar of the fluid with a stick in it. When I moved the stick quickly, it seemed to turn into a solid, and when I moved it slowly, it had the texture of honey. Witek and the scientists have incorporated this fluid into a fabric that Reebok dubs “Motion Sense Technology.” The fluid is woven into the textile, so that on the surface, it looks and feels like the synthetic material you might find in any sports bra. But what you can’t see is that the fabric adapts to the body’s shape, the velocity of the breast tissue in motion, and the type and force of movement. It stretches less with high-impact movements and then stretches more during rest and lower intensity activities.

I tested an early version of the PureMove bra a few months ago, before it had even gone into production. I did a high-intensity workout that involved doing jumping jacks and sprints, followed by a cool-down session. The best thing about the bra was that I didn’t notice it at all. I didn’t feel stifled when I was just strolling around the gym, and I didn’t feel like I was unsupported when I was running around. Ultimately, the best bras are the ones that you don’t have to think about so you can focus on getting on with your life.

Since this technology is so new, Reebok had to do a lot of testing to make sure the bra would actually do what it advertised. The company set up a breast biomechanics testing center with the help of the University of Delaware, with 54 separate motion sensors tracking and measuring various parts of a tester’s chest area. This is a far more rigorous approach than most testing facilities in the industry that typically only use between two to four sensors. Over the course of a year, the facility gathered the data required for the scientists and Reebok product designers to develop the PureMove bra.

… If it’s well-received, the logical next step would be to incorporate the Motion Sense Technology into other products, like running tights or swimsuits, since transitioning between compression and looseness is something that we want in all of our sportswear. ..

According to the Reebok PureMove bra webpage, it was available from August 16, 2018,

Credit: Reebok

It’s $60 (I imagine those are US dollars).

For anyone interested in the science of non-Newtonian goo, shear thickening fluid, and NASA, there’s a November 24, 2015 article by Lydia Chain for Popular Science (Note: Links have been removed),

There’s an experiment you may have done in high school: When you mix cornstarch with water—a concoction colloquially called oobleck—and give it a stir, it acts like a liquid. But scrape it quickly or hit it hard, and it stiffens up into a solid. If you set the right pace, you can even run on top of a pool of the stuff. This phenomenon is called shear force thickening, and scientists have been trying to understand how it happens for decades.

There are two main theories, and figuring out which is right could affect the way we make things like cement, body armor, concussion preventing helmets, and even spacesuits.

The prevailing theory is that it’s all about the fluid dynamics (the nature of how fluids move) of the liquid and the particles in a solution. As the particles are pushed closer and closer together, it becomes harder to squeeze the liquid out from between them. Eventually, it’s too hard to squeeze out any more fluid and the particles lock up into hydrodynamic clusters, still separated by a thin film of fluid. They then move together, thickening the mixture and forming a solid.

The other idea is that contact forces like friction keep the particles locked together. Under this theory, when force is applied, the particles actually touch. The shearing force and friction keep them pressed together, which makes the solution more solid.

“The debate has been raging, and we’ve been wracking our brains to think of a method to conclusively go one way or the other,” says Itai Cohen, a physicist at Cornell University. He and his team recently ran a new experiment that seems to point to friction as the driving cause of shear thickening.

Norman Wagner, a chemical engineer at the University of Delaware, says that research into frictional interactions like this is important, but notes that he isn’t completely convinced as Cohen’s team didn’t measure friction directly (they inferred it was friction from their modeling however they didn’t find the exact measurement of the friction between the particles). He also says that there’s a lot of data in the field already that strongly indicates hydrodynamic clusters as the cause for shear thickening.

Wagner and his team are working on a NASA funded project to improve space suits so that micrometeorites or other debris can’t puncture them. They have also bent their technology to make padding for helmets and shin guards that would do a better job protecting athletes from harmful impacts. They are even making puncture resistant gloves that would give healthcare workers the same dexterity as current ones but with extra protection against accidental needle sticks.

“It’s a very exciting area,” says Wagner. He’s very interested in designing materials that automatically protect someone, without robotics or power. …

I guess that in 2015 Wagner didn’t realize his work would also end up in a 2018 sports bra.

Sonifying a swimmer’s performance to improve technique by listening)

I imagine since the 2016 Olympic Games are over that athletes and their coaches will soon start training for the 2020 Games. Researchers at Bielefeld University (Germany) have developed a new technique for helping swimmers improve their technique (Note: The following video is German language with English language subtitles),

An Aug. 4, 2016 Bielefeld University press release (also on EurekAlert), tells more,

Since 1896, swimming has been an event in the Olympic games. Back then it was the swimmer’s physical condition that was decisive in securing a win, but today it is mostly technique that determines who takes home the title of world champion. Researchers at Bielefeld University have developed a system that professional swimmers can use to optimize their swimming technique. The system expands the athlete’s perception and feel for the water by enabling them to hear, in real time, how the pressure of the water flows created by the swimmer changes with their movements. This gives the swimmer an advantage over his competitors because he can refine the execution of his technique. This “Swimming Sonification” system was developed at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) of Bielefeld University. In a video, Bielefeld University’s own “research_tv” reports on the new system.

“Swimmers see the movements of their hands. They also feel how the water glides over their hands, and they sense how quickly they are moving forwards. However, the majority of swimmers are not very aware of one significant factor: how the pressure exerted by the flow of the water on their bodies changes,” says Dr. Thomas Hermann of the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC). The sound researcher is working on converting data into sounds that can be used to benefit the listener. This is called sonification, a process in which measured data values are systematically turned into audible sounds and noises. “In this project, we are using the pressure from water flows as the data source,” says Hermann, who heads CITEC research group Ambient Intelligence. “We convert into sound how the pressure of water flows changes while swimming – in real time. We play the sounds to the swimmer over headphones so that they can then adjust their movements based on what they hear,” explains Hermann.

For this research project on swimming sonification, Dr. Hermann is working together with Dr. Bodo Ungerechts of the Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science. As a biomechanist, Dr. Ungerechts deals with how human beings control their movements, particularly with swimming. “If a swimmer registers how the flow pressure changes by hearing, he can better judge, for instance, how he can produce more thrust at similar energy costs. This give the swimmer a more encompassing perception for his movements in the water,” says Dr. Ungerechts. The researcher even tested the system out for himself. “I was surprised at just how well the sonification and the effects of the water flow, which I felt myself, corresponded with one another,” he says. The system is intuitive and easy to use. “You immediately starts playing with the sounds to hear, for example, what tonal effect spreading your fingers apart or changing the position of your hand has,” says Ungerechts. The new system should open up new training possibilities for athletes. “By using this system, swimmers develop a harmony – a kind of melody. If a swimmer very quickly masters a lap, they can use the recording of the melody to mentally re-imagine and retrace the successful execution of this lap. This mental training can also help athletes perform successfully in competitions.” To this, Thomas Hermann adds “the ear is great at perceiving rhythm and changes in rhythm. In this way, swimmers can find their own rhythm and use this to orient themselves in the water.”

This system includes two gloves with thin tube ends that serve as pressure sensors and are fixed between the fingers. The swimmer wears these gloves during practice. The tubes are linked to a measuring instrument, which is currently connected to the swimmer via a line while he or she is swimming. The measuring device transmits data about water flow pressure to a laptop. A custom-made software then sonifies the data, meaning that it turns the information into sound. “During repeated hand actions, for instance, the system can make rising and sinking flow pressure audible as increasing or decreasing tonal pitches,” says Thomas Hermann. Other settings that sonify features such as symmetry or steadiness can also be activated as needed.

The sounds are transmitted to the swimmer in real time over headphones. When the swimmer modifies a movement, he hears live how this also changes the sound. With the sonification of aquatic flow pressure, the swimmer can now practice the front crawl in way that, for instance, both hands displace the water masses with the same water flow form – to do this, the swimmer just has make sure that he generates the same sound pattern with each hand. Because the coach also hears the sounds over speakers, he can base the instructions he gives to the swimmer not only on the movements he observes, but also on the sounds generated by the swimmer and their rhythm (e.g. “Move your hands so that the tonal pitch increases faster”).

For this sonification project, Thomas Hermann and Bodo Ungerechts are working with Daniel Cesarini, Ph.D., a researcher from the Department of Information Engineering at the University of Pisa in Italy. Dr. Cesarini developed the measuring device that analyzes the aquatic flow pressure data.

In a practical workshop held in September 2015, professional swimmers tested the system out and confirmed that it indeed helped them to optimize their swimming technique. Of the 10 swimmers who participated, three of them qualify for international competitions, and one of the female swimmers is competing this year at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The workshop was funded by the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC). In addition to this, swim teams at the PSV Eindhoven (Philips Sports Union Eindhoven) in the Netherlands tested the new system out for two months, using it as part of their technique training sessions. The PSV swim club competes in the top swimming league in the Netherlands.

“It is advantageous for swimmers to receive immediate feedback on their swimming form,” says Thomas Hermann. “People learn more quickly when they get direct feedback because they can immediately test how the feedback – in this case, the sound – changes when they try out something new.”

The researchers want to continue developing their current prototype. “We are planning to develop a wearable system that can be used independently by the user, without the help of others,” says Thomas Hermann. In addition to this, the new sonification method is planned to be incorporated into long-term training programs in cooperation with swim clubs.

My first post about sonification was this February 7, 2014 post titled, Data sonification: listening to your data instead of visualizing it.

As for this swimmer’s version of data sonification, you can find out more about the project here and/or here.

Is chemistry at the nanoscale applicable to hockey?

If the Carolina Hurricanes, a national hockey league (NHL) team, are to be believed the answer is a qualified yes. The connection between chemistry at the nanoscale and hockey is in the person of Eric Tulsky. A Sept. 8, 2015 article by James Mirtle for the Globe and Mail spells out the details,

Tulsky, 40, is a Harvard- and Berkeley-educated chemist whose field up until two months ago was nanotechnology, which essentially means he’s an expert in the manipulation of matter on a molecular level. Now he’ll be trying to help an NHL team win hockey games.

“He’s an extremely bright guy,” Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said of his new hire, who is widely regarded as one of the top minds in hockey analytics. “We’re very excited that he decided to join us full-time and move to Raleigh.”

Tulsky spent the last few seasons working part-time for different NHL teams, including last year for Carolina. That the Hurricanes were able to woo him away from a high-paying tech job in the San Francisco Bay Area speaks to how far the league has come in terms of investment in data.

His promotion was one of nearly a dozen such personnel moves teams made over the off-season, building on what was an even busier hiring spree in 2014.

Canadian teams are also investing in data (from Mirtle’s article),

Last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs added Bruce Peter as a hockey research and development analyst, giving them four full-timers in a department that was created by assistant GM Kyle Dubas last season. Peter had been working for the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, and is expected to have a key role in improving the Toronto Marlies’ use of analytics in a league where few statistics are widely kept.

Mirtle provides further insight into why Tulsky was hired,

It’s a movement [hockey analytics] Francis – one of the highest-scoring players in NHL history – has embraced.

“There’s [sic] little, subtle things the analytics will tell you,” said Francis, who began studying advanced statistics after retiring in 2004. “There are certainly things in the analytics that go against the way that I was brought up to think the game at times, which is interesting. So you watch the games, you think you see things, and it’s another balance and check in the process.”

NHL teams are often secretive about these hires and the work these people do. But Tulsky wrote extensively in the public domain for a variety of publications prior to 2014, and the base principles he believes in are on record.

Much of his work concentrated on puck possession – through a statistic called Corsi – but he also made innovative gains in measuring the most effective way for teams to enter the offensive zone. That became part of a paper presented at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston that ultimately caught the attention of NHL players such as Zach Parise.

In short, Tulsky’s analysis quantified that dumping the puck into the opponent’s end was a much less effective way to generate scoring chances than attempting to retain possession.

In Carolina, he will be asked to push his work into uncharted territory, attempting to give the small-budget Hurricanes an advantage over other teams by dissecting the game in new ways. …

It’s an interesting story and while the nano connection is tangential at best, I’m Canadian and hockey season is almost with us. What more needs to be said?

Female triathlete from Iran and a nanotechnology solution to water repellent gear

The style is a bit breathless, i.e., a high level of hype with very little about the technology, but it features an interesting partnership in the world of sport and a nanotechnology-enabled product (from an Oct. 7, 2014 news item on Azonano; Note: A link has been removed),

Shirin Gerami’s story is one which will go down in history. Shirin is the first Iranian female to represent her country in a triathlon and is paving the way for setting gender equality both in Iran and across the world.

In order to race for Iran, it was essential that Shirin respected the rules of her country, and raced in clothes that covered her body and hair. It was necessary to design clothes those both adhered to these conditions, whilst ensuring her performance was not affected.

An Oct. 7, 2014 P2i press release, which originated the news item, goes on to describe it role in Shirin Gerami athletic career,

Previously, waterproof fabrics Shirin had tried were uncomfortable, lacked breathability and slowed down her performance. Shirin contacted P2i upon hearing of the liquid repellent qualities of our patented nano-technology. Our nano-technology, a thousand times thinner than a human hair, has no effect on the look or feel of a product. This means we can achieve the highest levels of water repellency without affecting the quality of a fabric. A P2i coating on the kit meant it was water repellent whilst remaining highly breathable and light – essential when trying to remain as streamlined as possible!

Here’s a picture of Gerami wearing her new gear at a recently held triathlete event held in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada,

[downloaded from http://www.p2i.com/news/articles/P2i_and_Shirin_Gerami_A_partnership_changing_history]

[downloaded from http://www.p2i.com/news/articles/P2i_and_Shirin_Gerami_A_partnership_changing_history]

The press release describes her first experience with her P2i-enabled running gear (Note: A link has been removed),

Shirin only received approval for her race kit from the Iranian government days before the race, so it was quite literally a race to the starting line. Consequently, Shirin did not have time to test the P2i coated kit before she began the World Triathlon Grand Final in Edmonton, Canada. Shirin explains, ‘I cannot tell you how relieved and happy I am that the coating worked exactly as I hoped it would. It was bone dry when I took my wetsuit off!’

I believe Gerami is using the term ‘wetsuit’ as a way of identifying the kit’s skintight properties similar to the ‘wetsuits’ that divers wear.

The press release concludes (Note: A link has been removed),

You can find out more about UK-based P2i on its website. I was not able to find more information about its products designed for use in sports gear but was able to find a May 11, 2012 press release about its partnership with UK Sport.

As for the Aug. 25 – Sept. 1, 2014 TransCanada Corp. World Triathlon Grand Final where Gerami tested her suit, you can find out more about the event here (scroll down).

Argento, nano, and PROOF

When the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) held its 2004 annual meeting in Seattle, I read the abstract for a presentation about making diagnoses from saliva. Although I never did make it to the presentation, I remained fascinated by the idea especially as it seemed to promise the end of blood tests and urine samples.  Well, the end is not quite in sight yet but a handheld diagnostic device that can make a diagnosis from a single sample of blood, urine, or saliva (!) is being made available to elite UK athletes. From the Dec. 9, 2010 news release,

A new hand-held medical device will help UK athletes reach the top of their game when preparing for upcoming sporting competitions. UK Sport, the UK’s high performance sports agency, has reached an agreement to become the first organisation to use cutting edge technology developed by Argento Diagnostics to improve training programmes for athletes.

Elite athletes will be able to monitor various proteins which reveal details about the condition of the body – known as biomarkers – before, during and after training sessions. These biomarkers can give a clear indication of their physical health and the effectiveness of a particular training programme. Everyone reacts differently to training, so understanding how activities affect the body helps ensure that athletes follow the best programmes for them and avoid injury. This is particularly important for elite level athletes, where small changes in fitness can mean the difference between success and failure.

I’m willing to bet that this initiative has something to do with the 2012 Olympic Summer Games being held in London. Still, I’m more interested in the device itself and how nanotechnology enables it (from the news release),

Argento’s portable device uses nanotechnology to analyse the sample. The sample is mixed with silver nanoparticles coated with a binding unit, an antibody, against a specific biological compound, the biomarker, which is indicative of the condition being tested for. If the biomarker is present the silver nanoparticles will stick to magnetic beads with the biomarkers sandwiched in-between.

Magnets pull these compounds into the measurement zone, where the silver nanoparticles are dislodged off, drawn down to the sensor and measured. The number of nanoparticles measured by the sensor will be directly proportional to the expressed amount of biomarker. The device can therefore quickly analyse the biomarker level and, using a computer programme, summarise it in a meaningful way on an on-screen readout.

I did manage to get some more information about the device from Argento’s company website,

For the first time ever, utilising the Argento technology we will be able to offer fully quantitative analysis of multiple analytes from a single sample in a truly portable handheld device which adds the benefits of modern mobile phone, WiFi and Bluetooth technology to store and communicate the results of the tests to maximise the impact and efficiency of testing.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any information about precisely how the samples are conveyed to the device for diagnostic purposes, i.e., do you spit on it, do you sprinkle it with urine, or do you stab yourself and dip the device into your blood? Yes, I suspect that medical professionals will be drawing blood or scraping your mouth with a Q-tip or getting you to donate a urine sample in the usual way and that somehow this sample  is conveyed to the device which will, an unspecified amount of time later, provide a readout. I just wish the people who put together the news release and information materials on the company’s website (BTW, the company is a spin-off from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory) had thought to add these details.

Closer to home, the PROOF (Prevention of Organ Failure) Centre of Excellence, located in Vancouver, Canada, is working on a type of test that could conceivably extend the use of devices such as Argento beyond elite athletes. The PROOF team is working on a test for individuals who have received a transplant.  If you get a new organ such as a kidney, a biopsy is required on a monthly basis for diagnostic purposes. The new PROOF test would be much less invasive, much faster and based on biomarkers, just like the tests that can be run on the Argento device. As far as I understand, the team is currently searching for capital to further develop their biomarker tests.

Nanotechnology enables robots and human enhancement: part 4

In Tracy Picha’s Future of Your Body Flare magazine article (August 2009) , she finishes her anecdote about the paralympian, Aimee Mullins (mentioned in my posting of July24, 2009), with a discussion of her racing prosthetics which were designed to resemble a cheetah’s hind legs.

And they not only propelled sprinters like Mullins to smoke the competition but they began to make their wearers look like threats to other “able”-bodied athletes.

Picha goes on to mention the controversy over Oscar Pistorius another paralympian  who has recently been allowed to compete in the Olympics despite the debate over whether or not his carbon fibre cheetah-shaped racing prosthetics give him an advantage over athletes using their own human legs. If you’re interested in the controversy, you can check it out in this Wired article. Picha’s article is only available in the print version of Flare magazine’s August 2009 issue.

I think the distinctions in the  study I mentioned on Friday (July 24, 2009) between restorative/preventive but non-enhancing interventions, therapeutic enhancements, and non-therapeutic enhancements are very useful for understanding the issues. (Note: I mistakenly identified it as a UK study, in fact, it is a European Parliament study titled, Human Enhancement.) The study also makes distinctions between visions for the future and current scientific development, which given the hype surrounding human enhancement is important. The study also takes into account the political and social impacts of these developments. If you’re interested in the 200 page report, it can be downloaded from here. There’s a summary of the study by Michael Berger on Nanowerk Spotlight here.

So, are robots going to become more like people or are people going to fuse themselves with equipment and/or enhance themselves with chemicals (augmenting intelligence mentioned in my June 19, 2009 posting here) or ???  Actually, people have already started fusing themselves with equipment and enhancing their intelligence with chemicals. I guess the real question is: how far are we prepared to go not only with ourselves but with other species too?

You may want to check out Andy Miah’s (professor Andy Miah that is) website for some more thinking on this topic. He specializes in the topic of human enhancement and he follows the Olympics movement closely. His site is here and he has some slide presentations available at Slideshare and most relevant one to this series is: Bioethics and the Olympic Games: Human Enhancement here.

As for nanotechnology’s role in all of this. It is, as Victor Jones noted, an enabling technology. If those cheetah legs aren’t being made with carbon nanostructures of one type or another, they will be. There’s nanotechnology work being done on making the covering for an android more skinlike.

One last thing, I’ve concentrated on people but animals are also being augmented. There was an opinion piece by Geoff Olson (July 24, 2009) in the Vancouver Courier, a community paper, about robotic insects. According to Olson’s research (and I don’t doubt it), scientists are fusing insects with machines so they can be used to sniff out drugs, find survivors after disasters,  and perform surveillance.

That’s as much as I care to explore the topic for now. For tomorrow, I swing back to my usual beat.