The science of sport in Schools Lecture 2012

29 June 2012

With 2012 a big year for sport, the Institute of Physics (IOP) schools lecturer, David James, will explain the physics behind the action to more than 10 000 students in 35 schools across the UK.

David James

His talk on Physics and the Games: A Winning Formula was brought to the Royal Institution on 28 June with sessions in the morning and the afternoon. The team use hands-on demonstrations, live experiments and multimedia to show how physicists and engineers can help boost athletes’ performances and the ethics of using science in sport to students aged 14–16.

James, a senior lecturer in sports engineering at Sheffield Hallam University, was recently awarded a public engagement fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering and has in the past spoken at the Cheltenham Science Festival, the BA Festival of Science, as well as having made a previous appearance at the Royal Institution.

He says: “I’ve always been fascinated by physics – I consider it the base science. Its very fundamental nature really explains things. I’ve always had a passion for sport, and I was in the right place at the right time – I was given the opportunity to combine the two of them.”

James will use the lecture to explain the physics behind basic athletic techniques such as running and jumping. “It’s all Newtonian mechanics basically,” he says. “We start off by looking at the long jump. We frame it by asking how far Usain Bolt could jump.”

Also covered is the mechanics of cushioning and the use of prosthetic limbs. “We frame that around the debate about running shoes – should we be running barefoot?” James says, “Then we explain the basic physics happening.”

The Institute’s head of education pre-19, Charles Tracy, adds: “The schools lecture is one of many initiatives IOP undertakes to engage young people in physics; this year’s talk will give young students a sense of the wide-reaching, and sometimes unexpected, areas in which physics can help answer questions.”

James has extensively published scientific papers on sports engineering and his current research is on the historical impact of technology in track and field events and the ethical considerations of an increasingly scientific sporting arena. For his PhD thesis he modelled the complex bounce of a cricket ball.

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