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Science and the Summer Olympics

By Staff | Aug 3, 2012

Shepherdstown resident Susan Kemnitzer hopes to help turn Olympic fever into a local learning opportunity with the development of a series of educational web videos featuring Team USA’s Olympic athletes.

Kemnitzer, who works for the National Science Foundation, explained that the organizations mission is to provide grants for universities to support basic science, research and science education.

This year the foundation, which is based in Arlington Va., has paired with NBC to produce a new educational tool.

Kemnitzer said the National Science Foundation is always hoping to show students and teachers how science, engineering and math impact lives.

“We’re always looking for teaching moments,” she said,

The 2012 summer Olympics provided the foundation with a unique opportunity.

Kemnitzer said that, for the first time, the foundation will attempt to foster the popularity of the Olympics and its athletes in order to promote the education of engineering principles.

“We wanted to use it as an occasion to take the storyline of the athletes and storyline of the engineering that relates to their sport,” she said,

NBC, who has the broadcasting rights to the Olympics, agreed to work with the foundation to produce 10 video packages of athletes working with a scientific expert to demonstrate the biomechanics of their athletic field.

Kemnitzer explained that her favorite video, which features, “the strongest woman in the world,” Olympic super heavyweight-lifter Sarah Robles, involved Robles demonstrating and describing the process her body undergoes to lift huge amounts.

An engineering expert, scouted by the National Science Foundation, then documents Robles lifting and uses what he’s observed to inform on development of robotic arms, all the while instructing the audience of the basic engineering principles involved in his and her work.

Featured Olympic athletes include swimmer Missy Franklin, decathlete Bryan Clay and runner Jenny Simpson, among others.

Kemnitzer, who helps identify the engineering topics featured in each video and who also helps check all scripts for technical accuracy, said that foundation’s hope is to provide a new web-based educational tool for people all across the country, and educators right here in local schools.

The National Science Teachers Association is developing engineering-focused curriculum for high school and middle school teachers that will be available on website at the end of August.

All video segments featuring Olympic athletes will be broadcast throughout the course of the Olympics are available to watch for free at Science360.gov.