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Science

The US Swim Team's Secret Weapon, Science 180

Hugh Pickens writes "When American Swimmer Margaret Hoelzer goes for the gold tonight in the 200-meter backstroke, part of her success will be due to a new system developed by Tim Wei, a mechanical and aerospace engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, that uses fluid dynamics to study human movement allowing scientists and coaches to study how fast and hard a swimmer pushes the water as he moves through it. 'Wei uses a tracking technique called digital particle image velocimetry, commonly used to measure the flow of small particles around an airplane or small fish or crustaceans in water.' Wei filtered compressed air in a scuba tank through a porous hose to create bubbles about a tenth of a millimeter in diameter. When an athlete swims through a sheet of bubbles that rises from the pool floor, a camera captures their flow around the swimmer's body and the images show the direction and speed of the bubbles, which Wei then translates into the swimmer's thrust using software that he wrote."

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