Working With Olympians
Wei has been working with USA Swimming for several years, but the idea and design of the new flow measurement tool really took shape in 2007. Most of the preliminary tests were conducted in October 2007, and the coaches and swimmers have spent the past several months incorporating what they have learned into their training regimes. For any swimmer, it takes time to make adjustments to their strokes and practice new techniques, Wei said.
One highlight of working on the project was when Mark arranged for Wei to attend the 2007 and 2008 U.S. Summer Nationals and be on deck with the swimmers.
“How often does a researcher get to do something like this?” said Wei, whose young son and daughter also swim competitively. “It’s been a journey into a world that someone like me would have never before gotten the privilege to see first-hand.”
Wei began his research career as an aeronautical and mechanical engineer, including hydrodynamics research for the U.S. Navy. But lately he has expanded into bio-related research, such as working with a vascular surgeon to study effects of flow over endothelial cells, and partnering with a neurosurgeon to understand the mechanisms behind hydrocephalus, or excess fluid in the brain.
As a young researcher, Wei dreamed of measuring flow around swimming whales, but the idea never progressed to fruition. Recently, however, in the midst of his work with USA Swimming, Wei worked with marine biologists Frank Fish and Terrie Williams to measure the flow around swimming bottlenose dolphins at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Wei is already thinking of ways to improve his technology to be even more effective when training swimmers to compete in the 2012 London Olympics.
“It’s been a wonderful, unique experience,” he said. “It’s everyone’s dream to make a difference, and I’m excited to keep helping the team for as long as they need me.”
Wei is also currently working with the U.S. Olympic skeleton team and looking at new flow measurement techniques to help shave precious milliseconds off downhill times.