Rensselaer Research Review Winter 2009-10
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* Researchers Using Science To Decode the Secrets of Olympic Skeleton Sliding
See video of skeleton athletes using Timothy Wei's test track.
Another video taken with student-developed “helmet cam.”
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Real-time resistance data

Wei and his students created a replica section of a skeleton track directly behind the wind tunnel. They built sensors into the floor of the replica, onto which they placed a skeleton sled. Each sensor was fit with an oscilloscope, and sent digital data to a nearby computer that calculated the sled’s pitch, roll, and balance — technical terms for indicating if the slider is leaning backward, forward, left, or right. The sensors also measured wind resistance, or drag.

With a skeleton athlete lying on a sled in the test track, Wei turned on the wind tunnel. The steady stream of air exiting the wind tunnel’s exhaust replicated the conditions of an actual skeleton run. Wei and his team cut a hole in the bottom of the test track, slid in a computer monitor, and covered the hole with clear plastic. This allowed the athletes to view, in real time, data and graphs clearly illustrating the impact that every little lean or tilt had on wind resistance, and thus on their speed. One side wall of the track was also made from clear plastic, allowing coaches to observe the tests.

Wei and Peters brought 10 different skeleton athletes to Rensselaer for a test run on the new system. They tested a wide variety of skeleton suits and gear, some of which, Wei said, certainly created more drag than others.

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