Prompt: An interesting field of engineering that officially emerged in 1998 and is gaining momentum with respect to growth of contributors and financial gains, is that of Sports Engineering. In a country in which on average 69% of girls and 75% of boys participate in organized/team sports growing up, this field of engineering has tapped a previously undisturbed industry that is perhaps more widespread than any other. In the coming future, the reach of this industry is only set to expand as more and more Americans become more health conscious and aware of the health benefits afforded by starting participation in organized sports at a young age. Between this and the popularity of sports in media, the sports engineering industry is set to become a major player and it will not be long before engineering schools begin to offer sports engineering emphases. Some of the prevalent subjects within this industry pertain to equipment design, lab experiments and testing, computational modeling, field testing, and interfacing with governing bodies and/or athletes. If you were a mechanical engineer within the sports industry, describe either 3 projects you could work on from an engineering perspective or choose one project and discuss it from at least 3 engineering perspectives.
Let me first start off by saying: I am not an athlete by any means. I was not lucky enough to receive those genes but my sister did so I asked my sister what could be improved about swimming. She told me two areas in which she would like to see improvement: 1. Reducing drag 2. Breathing.
I could wrap my head around “reducing drag” but what did “improve on breathing” even mean? She later clarified and said, “I want to breathe underwater so I don’t have to come up for air.”
Bizarre as that sounded, I came up with 3 engineering perspectives that could help improve competitive swimming.
When it comes to reducing drag, there are a plethora of ways to do so. As discussed earlier with Vortex Generators, drag can be reduced by tripping laminar flow into turbulent flow for blunt objects. The human body is definitely not a streamlined object so this would hold true. Turbulent flow could be achieved by specially designed goggles or swimsuits that have vortex generators at specific locations to reduce the wake region produced by the swimmer.
Currently there is research being done on how to replicate sharks skin. Shark skin is made of thousands of tiny denticles that are embedded on a smooth flexible membrane. This scaly skin is what helps sharks move faster and use less energy when swimming in the water. To replicate this, researchers are 3D printing these denticles and trying to implement them in many areas including competitive swimming. More info here.
Lastly, breathing underwater is actually not as bizarre as it sounds. A battery powered device you put in your mouth that uses a micro compressor and chambers that separate oxygen from incoming water is currently under development. However, the amount of oxygen separated from the water may not be sufficient to replace breathing entirely but could mimic small gasps of air that are just what swimmers need to continue in their race without bringing their head up to take a breath. This technology is far from being in the hands of consumers but its existence brings hope to one day be a part of competitive swimming and perhaps even replace heavy complex scuba equipment. More info here.
When explaining all these considerations to my sister, she just rolled her eyes and left the room. As she walked down the hallway she exclaimed, “Just let me know when I can breath underwater, okay?”