Category Archives: Science in Sports

One Big Hockey Puck Molecule

Today in “Huh, I had no idea” – ice hockey pucks are technically one single molecule. That molecule is called polyisoprene. Here’s a little history on how rubber was invented, and also how pucks (and car tires!) are each one single molecule:

Then there comes onto the scene a tinkerer named Charles Goodyear. In the winter of 1839 Goodyear was in Massachusetts trying to figure out how to make natural rubber more useful so that he could finally make a living at his until-now fruitless tinkering. He had mixed rubber latex and sulfur together when he had a little accident. He spilled the mixture on a hot stove top. When the mixture was through frying, Goodyear couldn’t believe what had happened.

Wouldn’t you know sulfur was just the extra ingredient he needed to make rubber work in cold weather. After mixing hot gooey rubber latex and sulfur and letting the mixture cool, he took the rubbery solid that resulted and tacked it to the outside of his door. The cold Massachusetts winter didn’t make it brittle. What’s more, it didn’t become gooey when heated anymore, either. Goodyear was onto something here. This process for making rubber more useable became known as vulcanization.

What Goodyear had done was this: he crosslinked the rubber. Let me explain. The sulfur molecules each contain eight sulfur atoms, arranged in a ring. When these sulfur molecules are heated with polyisoprene molecules, something nifty happens. The sulfur rings open, and fall apart. Fragments of the sulfur rings will join with the polyisoprene, joining the chains together.

Here’s the intriguing part. Once the rubber has been crosslinked, all the molecules have joined into one big molecules. Polyisoprene molecules are big as molecules go already, having molecular weights sometimes over one million. But now they have all joined into one molecule, one so big that a person can see it, feel it, and pick it up. A piece of crosslinked rubber contains one molecule. Amazing, isn’t it?

This crosslinking makes the rubber stronger. It also allows the rubber to keep its shape better when it is stretched over and over again. It keeps the rubber from getting gooey in hot climates because, think about it, a single molecule can’t flow like a substance made up of many molecule. Think of the way you can pour a bucket full of gravel, but you can’t really pour a boulder, and you’ll get the idea.

So this sounds pretty useful right? It sure does to hockey players, and arguably to anyone who owns and drives a car. However, there are some downsides:

Now there are some drawbacks to this crosslinking which makes natural rubber so useful. First of all, because it doesn’t get gooey and flow when it gets hot, one has to mold it into whatever shape one wants before crosslinking. But that isn’t a really big problem, just something for an engineer to keep in mind when making things out of natural rubber. But it’s related to a bigger problem. Because rubber doesn’t flow when hot after it has been crosslinked, it is very difficult to recycle. This is a big problem. Just think of how many tires are used up each year by all the cars in the world. That’s a lot of waste to dispose. Several experimental processes are being investigated for recycling crosslinked rubber.

I’ve kind of been on a hockey kick lately, so it was cool to actually find something sciencey to be able to post about it here.

How to get fit without any equipment (just patience and persistence)

This one comes from Lifehacker, “This Table of Exercises Shows You How to Get Fit Without Any Equipment“:

exercisesYou can get a complete workout with just your body. This “Periodic Table of Bodyweight Exercises” showcases dozens of moves—from easy to insane—you can do to build strength and/or reduce fat. The clickable infograph leads you to videos showing how to do each move.

The bodyweight exercises are from the Strength Stack 52 cards, which you can buy. You don’t have to, though, to use the graphic below to find inspiration for your next workout.

If you’re not sure what any of these moves are, head to the clickable graph at Stack 52 for video demonstrations.


The reason I put (just patience and persistence) in the title is because while I have seen people use exercises like these at the gym, people overwhelmingly seem to prefer using machines or free weights, so I could understand it being hard to stick with just these exercises. I guess it doesn’t quite feel like working out without some piece of equipment. I know I personally find treadmills and exercise bikes utterly boring compared to the real thing. Standing or sitting in place and walking/running/pedalling just feels… unproductive, vs doing the real thing and actually getting somewhere. But if you can’t afford a gym membership (I recommend The YMCA if there’s one near you, vs one of the corporatized gyms such as Goodlife) then this is better than nothing.

Snowboarding, Sex and Science

Despite my semi-cynical post about the olympics the other day, AsapScience is currently doing a series of videos specifically about the olympics, so hey – Science + Sports = interesting:

I find it amazing that there is a device that can so accurately read what a snowboarder does, that judges wouldn’t be necessary anymore. Kinda takes the fun out of it though, no?

This one is very interesting. Science seems to say sex + competition = good. I’m just glad to hear science has busted another myth!

UPDATE – here is another interesting one:

Twins try different diets to determine which is worse – fat or sugar?

Pretty interesting article (yes, I know I overuse that word, article) I’ve found (aka a friend posted it on facebook): “One twin gave up sugar, the other gave up fat. Their experiment could change YOUR life”.

The twins grew up in the United Kingdom, but a few years after one of them moved to the US, he had gained more weight than he would have liked. So they agreed to do an experiment, and since their genes were the same, they could truly test what type of food has the most effect on weight loss.

Essentially what they describe is that you will lose more weight by reducing carbohydrate intake in your diet, but in doing so you will also negatively impact your energy levels, both mental and physical. You’ll have a harder time focusing (since your brain can’t run on fat) and your body may even start to cannibalize its own muscle mass for energy. You’ll also be hungry more often. You need both fat and sugar. But not too much of either. Moderation!

They determine that it’s the combination of the two together that’s the real problem.

For any diet to work you have to be able to keep it up for the rest of your life [emphasis added]. I thought I would stick to low carbs after we finished, but having my first meal with carbs  – and the boost in energy and alertness it gave me – reminded me that for a month I had been under-performing in all areas of my life, and I’d felt dreadful.

So, what were our conclusions? If you want to lose weight it will be much easier if you avoid processed foods made with sugar and fat. These foods affect your brain in a completely different way from natural foods and it’s hard for anyone to resist eating too much.

And any diet that eliminates fat or sugar will be unpalatable, hard to sustain and probably be bad for your health, too.

So, there you have it. You need carbs for energy. You need fat for satiety and muscle mass. The key is avoiding processed foods and fat/sugar combo meals.

Everything you need to know about Performance Enhancing Drugs

Thinking about “doping”? Might want to reconsider. Hank tells you why:

Test your perception, learn a lesson

Here is a great post from The Daily Mail UK – “Can you guess the sport by the shape of the Olympian’s body? The incredible range of shapes and sizes as 125 of the world’s mostly finely-tuned athletes measure up against each other”.

The article has strips of 5 athletes (both men and women) standing side by side in kind of like a police suspect line, and below it says what sport they are competing in (if you don’t scroll too far, you can test yourself).

I got several right, but the further you scroll the harder they get. The point being that clearly, there is no “ideal” body type, every body serves a purpose, and it depends what purpose you are trying to serve as to what body type you would/should have for it.

See also: Form vs Function and Sports can be interesting too!

13 articles that I highly recommend

There is a reason that I cite on the resources page. Say what you will about some of their more frilly, fluffy content, they actually do a really good job of being like Jon Stewart, without the video component.

So, here are 13 articles from Cracked (in no particular order) that I have read and loved over the years, and I will include samples from most of them (in case you need convincing):

1. “5 Famous Actors Who Hate Their Most Iconic Roles

While you might be most interested to read the admittedly very amusing comments by Robert Pattinson about the Twilight film series, or Sean Connery’s comments about James Bond, this is the part of the article that got me: Continue reading

Form vs Function – True strength vs just a good looking body

form vs functionBack in the spring, I joined a local gym and decided I was going to end the days of “Adam the tall scrawny white guy”. I’ve always been very lean, and despite 5 straight months of dedication, I didn’t gain a ton of size (but enough that a few people commented, mainly on my arms).

One of my friends posted this on facebook not too long ago, and it surprised me, because it goes against what most people (including myself) tend to think.

I can’t post the full size image on here, so here’s what it says:

Consider the body type you see on a Mr. Universe contestant. These competitions stress definition more than usefulness. In fact, when you see these guys in competition, they’re at their weakest. That saran wrap skin look comes from starving and dehydrating themselves. This look stresses upper body bulk and a trim waist. In short, this is body sculpture for the sake of show, not real power.”

The bottom one:

Versus the body type you see at a strongman competition. These guys are legitimately strong. They are all about actual function and do not care about sculptured fat-free bodies. In fact, if a person puts on a lot of muscle bulk without fat in a short time, it suggests steroid use. They have very thick waists because all of the core muscles right through the torso are developed to prevent spinal damage and herniating organs during heavy lifting. This is the body of a guy who fights bears on a mountain“.

The “Mr. Universe” looking guy, as the graphic explains, is at his weakest because of the dietary and dehydration methods required to achieve that look (I had no idea!). The “true strength” guy actually looks kinda chunky. But that is how the guys who toss trees (cabers) look. Their core strength is insane. To quote the graphic “this is the body of a guy who fights bears on a mountain”.

I thought I would share this with you for interest sake. If you have a partner and they are coming home from the gym looking like the first form, they may want to modify their routine and not leave their core under-developed.

See the full-size image here.

Girls + Soccer = Science?

Interesting post from – “Want Your Daughter To Be A Science Whiz? Soccer Might Help”. Helps to highlight the important topic of the shortage of women in S.T.E.M. fields. Here’s an exerpt:

It has become pretty much a given that children do better academically when they get regular exercise, even though schools continue to cut or even eliminate recess time. But there’s surprisingly little to back that up.

The surprise was that physically active girls were much better at science than their peers. That held true for five years, when the children took other standardized tests at age 13 and 16.

The kicker is according to University of Dundee Lecturer Josie Booth “we don’t know why that would be. It could obviously be a chance finding. We’d like to have a chance to look further into it.”

This study doesn’t prove that the increased exercise was what improved the children’s test scores, but parents aren’t off base in thinking that it could help. Randomized controlled trials have shown that exercise improves brain function in older people, and a have shown that in children, too.

Maybe one of these up and coming soccer stars will crack the case one day!

Curiosity Recap (Week in Review Oct 18, 2013)

Here is everything posted up to Launch Day:

recapsmallFinding Meaning vs Creating Meaning – an OpEd post about just that – what is the difference and what they mean to me.
Taste in Space! – Can astronauts taste in space? if so, what? Also busting a myth about HOW humans taste.
Genderbread People are all equal – A post to try and simplify at least a little bit just how complicated gender can be.
Helpful Mnemonic Device – HALT – In trying times, try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Here’s why.
The Science of Heartbreak (Steering the Relation Ship) – A video post that explores addiction to love and healthy habits.
Different Strokes of Learning – a post about learning styles and why we need to me mindful of how we teach otherwise kids will not enjoy learning and that’s just a tragedy!
For the good of the whole? – a short article about why disabled the comments section on their website.
Confessions of a secret map lover (me) – a post featuring 2 videos and me telling you to go get your map on.
Making the most of a bad situation – a post about what one family did when a wedding was called off that ended up making a lot of people happy afterall.
Correcting a misconception and a mispronunciation – Pop culture strikes again, confuses everyone (re: Aspergers Syndrome). I clear up the confusion and provide some background.
A small loss, a larger observation – someone steals something relatively worthless from me, inspires a long post with 2 videos about how can we make everyone a little happier?
Unexpected Trends – Some women are taking additional risks in the bedroom.
Methinks thou doth misquote too much! – You’ve probably misquoted several people in your life, here’s proof.
Sports can be interesting too! – Hey nerds, you should read this. There is actual science behind sports you know. Not just physics either!
California Dreaming and Mind Reading – I talk about a dream I had and tell you that our thoughts can actually be recorded in video form, RIGHT NOW. Get your tinfoil hats!
(External Article) 20 Things I’ve learned by 25 – I share some solid life advice from
From the Reddit files – Mensa and Porn Stars – I talk about smarts, different kinds of smarts and assumptions about smarts, including my own assumptions.
From Medium – Crossfit’s Dirty Little Secret – I highlight an article (and follow up article) by Eric Robertson about Crossfit.
Want to learn another language? Particularly Spanish? – I recount my experience learning Spanish in late 2012/Early 2013, and review the free services that I used to do it.
Face a Fear Friday – I post about something new I tried this week and how it went.