Science of the Winter Olympics: Faster & Safer Bobsleds

Controlled violence. That’s what Steve Langton of the U.S. Bobsled Team calls his sport, in which he’s huddled in a bullet-shaped, finned shell made of carbon fiber and Kevlar hurtling down a curving track at speeds over 70 miles per hour. The team’s bobsled designer, Michael Scully of BMW DesignWorks USA, agrees based on a quote from a interview: “Just the brutality and the violence of it was something that really left an impact on me.”
So what’s a bobsled designer to do? In the same interview, Scully said, “As a designer, it’s your responsibility to look at those experiences and try to leverage those into design directions.” Turn your students into bobsled designers by first showing them Building Faster & Safer Bobsleds, from the Science & Engineering of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games video series created by NBC Learn and NSF. Then, use the Engineering Design Inquiry from the NSTA-developed lesson plans to create your own bobsled competition.
This is one of those inquiry investigations where allowing students to “mess around” with the materials you have on hand will fuel their creativity. Of course, if someone asks, your students are “observing the materials’ properties” or something that doesn’t sound quite so chaotic!
Tune in to the Games on NBC TV on February 18–23 to see the bobsled (and the USA Team) in action. Then find the video series, available cost-free, on and Link to the downloadable lesson plans below. Leave a comment to let us know what you think!
Building Faster & Safer Bobsleds discusses how the research and design of modern bobsleds changes the speed and safety of Olympic bobsledding.
Lesson Plans
Faster & Safer Bobsleds Integration Guide spells out the STEM in the video and gives you mini-activities and ideas for research, teamwork, projects, and interdisciplinary connections.
Faster & Safer Bobsleds Inquiry Guide models a science inquiry into factors that impact a bobsled’s movement AND an engineering design inquiry focusing designing and testing a bobsled.
Photo of “The Night Train” team, which won an Olympic gold medal in bobsleigh for Team USA for the first time in 62 years, by U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public Affairs.
You can use the following form to e-mail us edited versions of the lesson plans: [contact-form 2 “ChemNow]

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