Science of the Summer Olympics: designing a fast pool

Aerial picture of Aquatics Centre at London OlympicsWe already knew Michael Phelps was good. Now Missy Franklin is a household name. But how much of their achievement might be attributed to the pool? Find out about the design and engineering of the London Aquatics Center in this installment of Science of the Summer Olympics—Designing a Fast Pool. Who knew how much engineering goes into a huge hole filled with water and marked off into lanes!

Join NBC Learn, NSF, and NSTA as they explore the engineering of sport (and science too!) through the lens of the 2012 Summer Olympics.The London Olympics Swimming Pool by Claire Dancer, on Flickr Use the video to engage students, spark discussion, and liven up your own lesson plans. Use the NSTA-developed lesson plans to promote inquiry through the application of science and engineering design concepts. These lesson plans provide a good opportunity, in the words of one of our contributors, to allow students to “mess around” with materials as they develop and refine their own questions for investigation. Allowing students to “mess around” with equipment, even simple materials, conjures up scenes of chaos in many. But those who build in a little extra time for students to examine the available materials and fiddle around with them find that it actually conjures up more thoughtful explorations!

Add these STEM resources, available cost-free on and, to your arsenal as you prepare to head back to the classroom. And be sure to let us know how you like them!

Hmmmmm … wonder how many more medals Mark Spitz might have hung ‘round his neck if he had swum in such a “fast” pool!

–Judy Elgin Jensen

Aerial image of London Aquatic Center courtesy of Context Travel.

Pool image courtesy of Claire Dancer.

In “Designing a Fast Pool,” Anette Hosoi, a mechanical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explains how the knowledge of waves and the energy they transfer is applied to designing competitive pools, such as those built at the London Aquatics Center for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Lesson plans
Two versions of the lesson plans help students build background and develop questions they can explore regarding pool design and other factors that impact the swimmer. Both include strategies to support students in their own quest for answers and strategies for a more focused approach that helps all students participate in hands-on inquiry.

Designing a Fast Pool models how students might investigate factors associated with the mass of the swimmers.

Designing a Fast Pool, An Engineering Perspective models how students might apply what they learn in the video or other sources to explore how pool design and turbulence are related.

You can use the following form to e-mail us edited versions of the lesson plans:

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