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The Physics of Ice Skating

Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 2:44 PM
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Community Corner
The Physics of Ice Skating
Where is it always 84 degrees and sunny? In the butterfly house at the Life & Science Museum in Durham.

Mary Catherine Benson
The Kids ‘N Community Foundation supports their Ignite Learning initiative to provide memberships to local families for a $5 donation. A yearly membership to the Museum averages $140; membership costs (and a single general admission) are out of reach for a lot of area families struggling to just get by. This year, they were able to serve 208 families with Foundation support; next year, they hope to serve 500.

Ignite Learning ensures area children experience the inquiry-based, interactive exhibits that uniquely supplement classroom learning. The museum selects program participants through a refugee relocation organization in the area. I had no idea until my visit with Alecia that the Triangle plays host to large numbers of these families. The Museum hosts family days to orient families with the exhibits, with the assistance of several translators.

Alecia gave me a wonderful tour, and we walked by a science lab exhibit coincidently displaying the physics of ice skating. Even though I see the Hurricanes ice on an almost daily basis, I’ve never stopped to think about the physics behind our favorite sport. To ensure control on the ice, skate blades need to be made out of materials that melt ice (Who knew?); skaters are melting the ice a little bit to carve their way across the surface. I pulled up a chair and tested different materials to see what will optimally melt ice. Tip: glass and wood … not the best heat conductors. Metal is much better. Apparently a tiny museum patron tried the tip of a pencil and that it worked better than any of the other materials. One of their staff members did some quick “googling”: pencil lead is made of graphite, graphite is a carbon fiber and speed skate blades contain carbon fiber to conduct energy to melt ice quickly increasing their speed. How cool!

The Life & Science Museum provides children a one-of-a-kind learning experience. They are constantly adding new exhibits, but I remember vividly visiting the barnyard, riding on the train through the dinosaur trail, standing in awe of a water vapor tornado and getting astronaut ice cream from the gift shop. (My dad took me once a year growing up.)

To read more or to visit the Museum visit their website. Thanks for a great Friday and for challenging young minds everyday!


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