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Athlete and physicist takes a closer look at everyday phenomena
Thursdays 12, 19 and 26 January 2006 9.00-9.30pm 

Have you ever been driving on a motorway and the traffic suddenly grinds to a halt for no apparent reason? Or maybe you find it easier to remember numbers rather than names. Or perhaps you enjoy outdoor sports, and have wondered how some fabrics allow body moisture to escape, but at the same time keep out the rain.

Jonathan Edwards

In a series of three programmes, the Olympic triple-jumper Jonathan Edwards looks at the way science impacts on our lives. Drawing on a physics degree completed before he began his athletics career, Jonathan discovers that science not only provides us with a wide range of sophisticated technologies, but it can also help to explain the world around us.

Programme 1

In the first programme Jonathan wonders whether we can apply the rules of maths and physics to such a human phenomenon as traffic flow.

Jonathan talks to science writer Philip Ball . Philip discusses the work of early traffic modellers who described traffic flow in terms of the three states of water: light traffic corresponded to gas; heavier traffic was like water; ice was the equivalent of a traffic jam!

Current traffic modellers, like Professor Mike Smith at York University, have developed sophisticated mathematical models to optimise road usage.

York City Council is working with Mike to find scientific solutions to York 's traffic problems. Together, they have developed an integrated traffic management system, known as UTMC - Urban Traffic Management and Control.

Matthew Page from the Institute for Transport Studies at Leeds University agrees that we need to use road space efficiently, but warns against the social and environmental cost of cramming more and more cars onto our roads.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 1

Programme 2 - Memory
In the second programme, Jonathan looks into memory. Jonathan is convinced that he's better at remembering numbers than names. If he's right, why should that be?

Jonathan talks to Dr Chris Moulin at Leeds University about the basic mechanisms of memory. Chris describes memory in terms of a 'control mechanism' that responds to a cue. The 'control mechanism' then sifts through the memory to find the bits of information relevant to the cue.

Jonathan also goes to Northumbria University to talk to some sports psychologists. Professor Andrew Scholey tests Jonathan's memory. Though Jonathan has a very accurate number recall, he does the test slowly. So there's a trade-off between speed and accuracy.

Another sports psychologist, Dr Nick Neave , suggests that Jonathan's sporting excellence might, in part, be due to his spatial memory. Some researchers have linked an enhanced spatial memory to testosterone. Interestingly, both spatial memory and mathematical ability are located in the right hemisphere of the brain. Nick measures the ratio between Jonathan's second and fourth finger, and finds that Jonathan does indeed have higher than average levels of testosterone.

Jonathan then talks to Dr Sandy Wolfson about deeply embedded, implicit memories. When Jonathan broke the triple jump world record in 1995, he used a new jumping technique. But after 1995, and for the rest of his career, he was unable to 'remember' that record breaking technique.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 2

Programme 3 - Sports Fabrics
In the final programme in the series, Jonathan goes to the University of Loughborough to talk to Ken Parsons about the way the body controls its temperature. If we get too hot, blood vessels dilate and carry blood from the body core to its surface, and heat is lost to the environment. Conversely, if we get too cold, blood vessels constrict. Blood is withdrawn from the extremities and preserved in the body's core to ensure that vital organs continue to function.

Modern sports clothing aims to help the body maintain thermoregulation. At W L Gore in Livingston, Jonathan has a chemistry lesson from Carole-Anne Smith. She describes ePTFE, expanded polytetrafluoroethylene, the breathable membrane used in Gore-tex. The membrane's pore size is designed to let water vapour out, and at the same time stop the rain getting in.

Gore's Manufacturing Leader, John Housego, tells Jonathan more about the PTFE molecule. It is also used for cabling insulation, for medical applications and to protect mobile phone users against electromagnetic emissions.

Jonathan then visits Ronhill. Jackie Turnbull, their Head of Design and Development, shows Jonathan how sports fabrics are turned into clothes. She stresses the importance of exploiting the capabilities of sporting fabrics in her designs. The company's founder, ex-marathon runner Ron Hill, tells Jonathan that not so long ago athletes competed in cotton vests and baggy shorts. But in today's competitive climate, athletes look to hi-tech sports fabrics for sporting advantage.

Finally, Jonathan meets George Havenith, Professor of Environmental Physiology and Ergonomics at Loughborough. George researches the interface between body physiology and textile technology. He is working on a sweat map which will give a detailed account of where and how much the body sweats. George believes that this information will be very useful to manufacturers when they come to design the next generation of sports clothing.

Listen again Listen again to Programme 3
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