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The Physics of Curling

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  • Pages: 3
  • Word count: 602
  • Category: Physics

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One of the more popular sports that have achieved the title of “chess on ice” (as it is, of course, played on ice similar to hockey) is none other than the sport of curling. There is often fierce competition for this intriguing sport, as it is notoriously played on the Olympics, and it involves two teams with four people on each respective team . Each team is afforded eight stones in which the imperative and goal is for each player (the players take turns) to guide the stones from a fixed distance and as proximal as possible to a center target.

Furthermore, there are two sweepers that attempt to guide the stone as close as possible to the center target(similar to a target one would see at an archery range except this target is embedded into the ice) — the game requires an immense amount of strategy and hitting the stone (which is essentially the puck) at tactical angles while taking into consideration physical forces which is where the beauty of physics comes into this sport as it does with essentially almost every aspect of nature.

Prominent physicist, Mark Shegelski, has actually spent a substantial amount of time, who also devotes a lot of his time researching quantum tunneling and decay, studies how physics applies to the sport of curling. Podcast host, Steve Mirsky, has a conversation with Dr. Shegelski about his findings in regards to the application of physics to curling. Sweepers often have a hectic job of slowing down the puck, as it is on its way to its final destination, by “vigorously sweeping in front of the ice” ( The Physics of Curling).

After being asked as to why the sweepers in curling engage in such a task, Dr. Shegelski explains that the basic and general reason as to why sweepers do this is that it reduces the friction of the rock on the ice and this essentially slows the rock down and it gives it a higher probability that it will come to a stop in close proximity to the parget. However, there are other things to consider: Dr. Shegelski explains that by sweeping the ice in front of the rock vigorously enough—since the rock does not slow down that fast, the rock may actually end up going faster instead of slowing down and in some cases it might actually make the rock go further past the target if there was not any sweeping done at all!

Hence, the players really need to take into account the physics that interact with the sport of curling and strategically sweep the ball while considering the force that they are sweeping relative to the frictional forces that act on the stone (The Physics of Curling). Furthermore, Dr. Shegelski explains the main focus of his research and by thoroughly discussing how by sweeping, the temperature of the ice increases and hence there is an energy increase—he also puts into perspective that the ice not just flat but made up of miniaturized hills and valleys.

By sweeping the ice, not only does it reduce the friction of the rock on the ice but it also creates a sort of film of quasi-liquid which his research has shown and actually proven is the key player in reducing the friction is this quasi-liquid. With this quasi liquid film the rock has better lubrication, and hence there is less friction. This is why sweeping can be sometimes counter-productive if the sweeper applies too much force to the stone and effectually guides it too far or applies too little force causing the rock to end up much farther away from the target.

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