Aleksandar Matic, head of the Materials Science Area of Advance and in charge of the project Sports Technology

Horseshoes, hockey sticks and sailboats can advance research while attracting new students to Chalmers. The focus on Sports Technology has many aspects and exceeds all expectations.
If not before, researchers now realize they were really onto something when 300 horse lovers showed up on campus an afternoon two years ago. They had invited athletes, parents, and trainers from different sports to a series of seminars to find out if there were any problems in particular that could be solved using scientific research. The interest was overwhelming, says Aleksandar Matic, head of the Materials Science Area of Advance and in charge of the project Sports Technology.

– I was stunned by the interest. People had taken a day off their jobs and travelled from near and far to get here. Most had probably never been to Chalmers before.

Even from Chalmers’ side, the investment in Sport Technology is for the most part due to interest. When the topic first came up a couple of years ago, after a guest lecture by Jan-Anders Månsson, distinguished materials scientist at EPFL, the Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne, it didn’t take long before a number of enthusiasts with links to the sports world had started several research projects.

- They have had limited means at their disposal, but made up for it with interest and energy, says Aleksandar Matic.

Gunnar Westman, swim coach and Professor of Organic Chemistry, has among other things, run a project in collaboration with the company Qualisys focused on analysing swim starts using 3D cameras. Christian Finnsgård, former elite sailor with a PhD in logistics and project manager for the initiative in sports betting technology, has used Skeppsrännan to study how the sailor's location and weight affects the properties of a Laser Standard. Under the guidance of Chalmers equestrian sport officer Magnus Karlsteen, Associate Professor in Nuclear Engineering, and Maria Sundin, horse-rider and Associate Professor in Theoretical Physics at the University of Gothenburg, among others, several Master’s and Bachelor’s Thesis related to horses have been undertaken. One in particular, about using smart textiles for measuring heart rate and ECG in horses, has attracted considerable international attention.

Students appreciate the opportunity to apply science to something that really interests them, and this creates very interesting interfaces between Chalmers and other parts of society, says Aleksandar Matic.

– Imagine the advertising for an education in Engineering when using a stable for a laboratory!

Researchers received proof that the projects really are increasing the interest in studying at Chalmers when Seglingsgymnasiet (Sailing School upper secondary school) contacted them asking if there was a special engineering program for them.

According to Aleksandar Matic, although shorter research projects carried out in close proximity to athletes have generated much positive attention, this is not the main goal,. He looks forward to longer projects with more scientific weight and greater potential for being useful in society. Sports Technology Research is the way.

- Athletes can afford to take a chance to gain an edge on the competition, and are therefore early adapters of new technology. If you, for example, are developing new light weight composite materials, they can be field tested in a sailing environment before being used in aviation. Just like research on technical horseshoes or hockey sticks can lead to interesting materials for other applications.

The fact that the goals are clear and that sport is very goal oriented, makes this a useful field for researchers, says Aleksandar Matic. That sport technology is in high demand and the field is relatively unexploited, makes it still more interesting.

– Right now we’re working long-term, building the scientific skills and looking for partners within academia and business. It would be nice if we could form a sports technology cluster in the Västra Götaland region.

Another thing on Aleksander Matic wish list is a swimming pool on the Johanneberg campus. Not just because he swims every chance he gets, but because it could be used for research projects, which today have to be carried out in the large swimming pool in Borås.

- Swimming pools are very energy intensive. That’s a challenge for the researchers within the Energy Area of Advance.

 Text: Malin Avenius

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Published: Thu 23 Oct 2014. Modified: Mon 08 Feb 2016