The Science and Math of the Summer Olympics

The 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris are fast approaching, bringing excitement and inspiration to audiences worldwide.  

While the athletic feats and spectacular opening ceremonies are captivating, there’s also a fascinating world of math and science behind the scenes.

Let’s explore how math and science intersect with the Olympics and how you can bring this knowledge to life with hands-on activities for learners!

The Science of Sports Performance

Science plays a pivotal role in every aspect of the Olympics. Here are a few ways it enhances athletic performance: 

  1. Biomechanics: Scientists use biomechanics to learn how our bodies move and how to improve sports safety. It involves looking at movements, forces, and energy during sports to help athletes get better and avoid injuries.  
  1. Physics: Principles of physics, such as gravity, force, and momentum, are at play in all sports. Understanding these concepts helps athletes and coaches develop better techniques for many types of performances.  
  1. Nutrition and Physiology: Proper eating and understanding the body’s responses to exercise are crucial for peak performance. Science helps design diet plans and training regimens that enhance endurance, strength, and recovery. 
A family explores how pedaling a bike can turn the light on during a Science on Wheels program!

Math in the summer Olympics

Math is integral to the Olympics, from scoring and timing to analyzing performance data. Here are some examples where math is used: 

  1. Scoring Systems: Many sports rely on precise scoring systems. For instance, diving uses math equations to calculate scores based on difficulty and execution. Explore more below with our math problem, Nadhiya’s Olympic Dive!
  2. Statistics: Athletes and coaches use statistical analysis to track performance metrics, identify trends, and make data-driven decisions about training and strategies. 
  3. Geometry: Understanding angles and trajectories is essential in sports like archery, shooting, and even soccer, where the optimal angle of a kick can determine a goal. 

Math and science are important in sports, helping athletes and coaches improve performance and strategy. While older athletes might dive deeper into these advanced ideas, it’s never too early to spark curiosity in science and math! 

Just like athletes and sport scientists use STEM to excel in sports, kids of all ages can explore STEM concepts through hands-on activities at home.  

Activities for Preschoolers 

For our youngest learners, easy and hands-on activities can introduce basic science and math ideas. Here are some fun options: 

  1. Counting and Measuring: Use toy athletes or action figures to set up mini sports events. Help learners count jumps, measure distances, and compare results. 
  1. Javelin Throw Engineering: Gather paper towel rolls, paper, foil, and tape for learners. Have them follow the engineering process in a team to create a javelin. After hands-on construction, have them take turns throwing their javelin and measuring the distance. 
  1. Olympic Dough Medals: Mix 1 cup of salt, 1 cup of plain flour, and 3/4 cup of water to make dough, then roll it out. Cut out medal shapes with a cup, push a hole with a straw, and make imprints with wooden numbers. Then bake on low heat (100°C/210°F) for 2 hours, turning once. 

Activities for Elementary School Students

  1. Math Relays: Set up a relay race where each leg involves solving a math problem. This combines physical activity with mental challenges, making learning fun and dynamic. 
  1. Reaction Time: Our reflexes help us stay safe and alert. Measure your reaction time with this simple activity. 
  1. Make a Model Lung: What does it look like when our lungs bring air in and out of our body? Let’s find out in this model lung activity! 

Activities for Middle School Students 

Older students can engage with more complicated math and science concepts. Here are a few project ideas: 

  1. Math Battles: Use math to solve for the winning number in this puzzling card game for any number of players. 
  1. Rolling with It: What is the mathematical difference between rolling two six-sided dice and flipping six two sided coins? Learn how to calculate the probabilities of different random events. 
  1. Engineering Challenges: Task students with designing their own playground sports equipment. They can apply principles of physics and geometry to create efficient and effective designs. 

Bringing the summer Olympics to Pacific Science Center

Whether you visit us in person or explore our online resources, there’s always something new to discover. 

One exhibit that perfectly aligns with the Olympic spirit is BodyWorks, an ongoing exhibit included in general admission.  

BodyWorks is all about understanding how your body works. You can see how much energy you produce on the Calorie Bicycles and explore various interactive displays that demonstrate the principles of physiology and biomechanics. This exhibit is a fantastic way to connect the physical feats of Olympic athletes with the science behind human performance. 

Bodyworks exhibit

Want to learn more about STEM careers? Watch our career corner videos!  

Want to find more free activities? Visit our Curiosity at Home resources!  

Join us in celebrating the science and math behind the Olympics and ignite a passion for curiosity and discovery in your learners. 

For more information and resources, visit our website and stay tuned for exciting programs and activities that bring the Olympic spirit to life!