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CR4 Olympic Coverage: Nanotech at the Games

Posted January 15, 2014 9:27 AM by HUSH

Well, it's that time again. No, I don't mean it's football playoffs time (though, it's accurate). And I don't mean the mid-winter season, where there is nothing but cold, darkness, and despair (again though, accurate). And while Martin Luther King Day is sweet and all, it's not exactly on the annual measuring stick by which some holidays are regarded (I'm looking at you, Valentine's Day).

No, no. It's that time that occurs approximately every 24-30 months where the world pretends to give a damn about obscure sports and unknown athletes. Yay biathlon! The Winter Olympics are but a month away, and for the second consecutive edition of the games I'll be offering snapshots of some unique crossroads between high-tech engineering and high-profile athletics.

By now I'm sure you know this year's Winter Olympics is being held in Sochi, Russia, a coastal town on the Black Sea. What's perhaps most perplexing is that Sochi is a Russian summer and beach resort--average February temperatures hover around 50° F (~10° C). This will be the warmest Winter Olympics ever. So yes, let's hold many athletic events dependent on snow and ice in a place that rarely sees it; doing things backwards isn't exactly new to Russia.

But this is the first Olympics Russia gets to host since the fall of the Soviet Union, and despite some notable problems (such as security threats, and poor human rights policies, and rampant political corruption) the Russian Federation is leveraging these Olympics to introduce the world to a new side of Russia. It's presenting a thoughtful, world-leading, and high-tech nation, and it's heavily relying on these Olympics to initiate this discussion. Russia has spent $10 billion (American) on new infrastructure and development in Sochi and they are expecting a profit of $300 million or more; the nation's strong nanotechnology sector (Rusnano, Olimpstroi, Unirem) has provided a chance to boast.

Let's start with the venues. New LED lighting systems sandwich gallium nitride and indium gallium nitride as the semiconductor material, and when positive and negative charges become trapped, they combine to emit light that can be three times more efficient than incandescent or fluorescent lighting. There are notable challenges to this LED design, but this Olympics will feature the first true application use of GaN LEDs. This technology will also be used for aesthetics, as many building exteriors will efficiently shimmer in the warm Sochi air. Many of these LED lamps have been initially charged with solar batteries. Thin-film PV modules have been located on the roofs of most of the Olympic venues.

Additionally, modern sports stadiums feature considerable amounts of glass to improve the building's appearance, and the venues being built for Sochi are using "nano-glass." This glass has been layered with a nano-enabled polymer between 5 and 500 nm thick. The result is a window that better separates heat disparity between inside and outside and (produces? results in?) a 30% savings on thermal energy. The steel superstructure of each new building has been treated with a nano substance to enhance the steel's resistance oxidation. It is applied via thermal spraying and ion magnetron sputtering and is becoming commonly used on bridges and oil platforms to improve the structure's durability. This coating is eco-friendly and can improve the steel's lifespan my 50 years. The adjacent video offers a brief glimpse behind the science of nanosteel. Once the building is erect, enamels and dyes containing nano-engineered, bactericidal silver particles will be applied to many interior areas.

Other local infrastructure is getting a boost from nanotech as well. Roads and highways around Sochi have been repaved, but the asphalt included Unirem, a nanostructured rubber powder which improves the road's resistance to wear and tear, cracks and abrasions, and harsh weather.

In regard to the sports themselves, some may remember the unfortunate incident in 2010 where a luger was thrown from the track and killed during a training run. It was quite difficult at the time to comprehensively evaluate the friction between the blades found on luges and bobsleds and the ice track. This sparked a controversy that not enough design evaluation and engineering tests had been completed, and as a result the track was too fast. Since the 2010 Winter Olympics, German researchers have developed a nano instrument which can accurately determine the friction between blades and ice ina variety of environmental conditions. They provided this to the engineering firm Gurgel+Partner, the company responsible for the design of the track.

And curling, everyone's favorite Olympic event (read: Canada's), has received nano analysis as well. While it may seem simply like shuffleboard on ice, curling requires quite a bit of skill, but not until recently has it been determined exactly what causes the curling stone to, well, curl. Nano instruments were used to examine the bottom side of the curling stone, where it was determined that microscopic protrusions create slight scratches in the ice surface. With a slow rotation of the stone on its release, bumps along the bottom of the stone create intersections where the stone is able to gain traction in a specific direction. Sweepers, the people in front of the stone with brooms, uncover or fill these small scratches, which determine just how much the stone will curve.

So who wins gold at Sochi in 2014? The likely answer is Russia, from both the medal count and public relations perspective. But they're doing it riding the coattails of home field advantage and one of their strongest industries, and this could shape up to be the Olympics of a lifetime. No matter, don't forget what Herb Brooks said to the 'miracle' team; or little Herb Brooks for that matter!


CNSE - Nanotech at the Winter Olympics

University of Cambridge - Lighting the future

IIB - Nano to support Sochi-2014 Winter Olympics

Rusnano/Unicom - Unirem


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Re: CR4 Olympic Coverage: Nanotech at the Games

01/15/2014 9:03 PM

That is an incredibly negative first paragraph, an enumeration of the events the blog is not about.

The second is bull. People do give a damn about the many popular sports and in watching, find their way to, and enjoy, the more obscure games such as curling.

Curling gained followers from the last winter games, to the extent that it does appear on TV now and again. I think you should lose the condescension.

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. George Orwell
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