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Luge

 

Overview

The Olympic luge event was introduced in 1964 at Innsbruck-Igis, Austria. The word luge is French for "racing sled." Lugers careen down the course feet first while lying on their backs. The luge sled was originally controlled by a hand-held strap which guided the front of the runner. Now luges are steered by the lugers exerting pressure on the sides of the car with their feet and shoulders. Sliders have limited visibility because of their body position combined with speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. Hairpin turns in the course and rules requiring one of the four runs to be run at night make this event one of the most dangerous in the Olympics. It is so dangerous, in fact, that in 1964 a Polish-born British slider named Kazimierz Kay-Skrzypeski was killed in a luge accident, and later, two other German lugers were severely injured. Several physical forces are demonstrated by a luge event. One is friction , the force that slows down moving objects when two surfaces rub together. Of course, the ice on the luge course minimizes the potential for friction on the surface. Lugers attempt to further reduce the force of friction by using the most slippery materials possible to construct the luge itself. The weight of the luger places pressure on the ice, melting it and creating a slippery layer of water that further reduces friction. But there are rules about overcoming friction. In 1968, the German Women's Olympic Team was disqualified for heating the runners on their sleds! Another physical force involved with luge is gravity. Gravity causes acceleration and helps the luge move. The forward motion is balanced by the friction of air pushing against the luge. Because of this air friction, designers must use aerodynamic principles to reduce the wind drag to a bare minimum. Often they use tight rubberized suits, special helmets with rounded face shields or smooth sleds designed with a low center of gravity.

Activity

By applying the physical forces of friction, the force that slows objects down when they rub together, and gravity, which helps the luge accelerate, you can design super fast luges and exciting luge courses. Materials:
  • Graph paper
  • Card board
  • Rubber bands
  • Waxed paper
  • Butcher paper
  • Aluminum foil
  • Several toy cars of different shapes and sizes (Or, try to make your own luge with popsicle sticks, tongue depressers and glue)
  • Stop watch
1. Have the class discuss what kind of course to build for your cars or luge. Choose what kinds of variables you want in your course, like the number of curves, angle of turns, elevation or length of the course. You may want to add a drop hole so the car or luge could drop through to another chute below. 2. Once your class has chosen a plan, divide into two teams. One team will design and build the course, the other will select the best cars or build a miniature luge. 3. Once the chute is constructed and the cars are ready, begin timing how long it takes the cars or luges to complete the course. Run several time trials and record your observations. Graph the results. 4. Try to modify the cars or luges to make them go faster. Record and graph the times of these modified trials. 5. Discuss your modifications, observations, and graphs. Select one car or luge for the course and invite other classes to enter a luge contest.

Resources

  • Freier, G.D. and Anderson, F.J. A Demonstration Handbook for Physics Teaching. College Park, MD: American Association of Physics Teachers, 1983.
  • Henry, Sara J. "The Need for Speed." Women's Sport and Fitness, Jan./Feb. 1991, pp. 58-59.
  • Milgrom, Harry. First Experiments with Gravity. E. P. Dutton & Co., New York: 1966.
  • Sklarwitz, Norman. "80 M. P. H. on Ice", Boys Life, Dec. 1990, pp. 36-37.
  • Wallechinsky, David. The Complete Book of the Olympics. Crawfordsville, Indiana: R. R. Donneley & Sons Co., 1985.