Science of the Summer Olympics: Sarah Robles and the mechanics of weight lifting

Weightlifter performing snatchSarah Robles punctuates the opening of every Science of the Summer Olympics video—with good reason. She’s a “super heavyweight” lifter. Sarah’s strong for sure, but her abilities rely as much on finesse as on strength. See how her technique ties into robotics in this installment of Science of the Summer Olympics—Sarah Robles and the Mechanics of Weight Lifting.

Asking teachers what they think of when they think “engineering,” we found that most often it’s robotics. Very few mention biology topics outside of genetics. This video will give students insight into the field of biomimetics, or using nature to help design and engineer a variety of devices. Not only will your future mechanical engineers see how science is put to work, your future bioengineers will too.

If you are just tuning into this blog after an all-too-short summer break, scroll down to find others in NBC Learn’s Science of the Summer Olympics video series that focus on the link between science knowledge and engineering design with input from NSF engineers. NSTA-developed lesson plans help you put the videos to work in the classroom. The series is available here, and cost-free on and

We hope you will try them out. If you do, please leave comments below each posting about how well the information worked in real-world classrooms. And if you had to make significant changes to a lesson, we’d love to see what you did differently, as well as why you made the changes. Leave a comment, and we’ll get in touch with you with submission information.

–Judy Elgin Jensen

Image of weightlifter courtesy of Keith Williamson.

In “Sarah Robles and the Mechanics of Weightlifting,” Brian Zenowich, a robotics engineer at Barrett Technology, Inc., explains how he and others working in the field of biomimetics use nature to help design and engineer a variety of devices, including some of those used in medicine. Zenowich discusses and demonstrates his company’s Whole Arm Manipulator, or WAM™ Arm, and compares it to how Olympian weightlifter Sarah Robles’ arms work.

Lesson plans
Two versions of the lesson plans help students build background and develop questions they can explore regarding mass, force, and robotic arms. 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.

SOTSO: Sarah Robles and the Mechanics of Weightlifting models how students might investigate the relationship of mass and force.

SOTSO: Sarah Robles and the Mechanics of Weightlifting, An Engineering Perspective models how students might design simple models to mimic robotic arms.

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

[contact-form 2 “ChemNow]

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