With the summer Olympics coming up fast, I find myself enchanted by, and in awe of, the 4000 engineers that work feverishly behind the scenes of every event. The engineers that help the world’s finest athletes break world records by inventing new training equipment, better ways to measure performance and even fabricating performance clothing.
The engineers that design the timing systems that can measure if a racer wins by 1/1000th of a second, the water filtration systems that keep the one million gallons of water in the Olympic pool at precisely 78 degrees, and the broadcast engineers that are dedicated to bringing better footage and entertainment to everyone watching the games on their television or laptop.
It gets better if you are an athletic engineer - most sports equipment companies won’t hire engineers that don’t play the sport. To be a successful sports engineer you must understand the sport, the performance criteria and the perception of the fans. You must appreciate the mental state of both the athlete and the audience.
Equipment must be designed to keep the athlete safe and lessen injury. The social appeal of color, function and trend must be considered. The materials should be the best for the conditions and developed to advance the sport. And lastly, the equipment must be thoroughly tested and evaluated.
There is no one degree that is better suited to becoming a sports equipment designer. Mechanical, biomedical, chemical, materials, manufacturing, industrial, computer and electrical are involved in making each sport more appealing, enhancing performance and setting new world records. These engineers do everything from:
- Designing systems for manufacturing, motion analysis or impact testing;
- building and testing prototypes;
- analyzing the human body to prevent injury;
- developing or designing new light weight materials that will be more comfortable and withstand greater impacts or forces;
- creating systems or processes for manufacturing;
- developing software or hardware to aid in pressure or impact detection analysis; and much more.
Sport engineering* is not an accredited degree at any University in the United States although the University of Colorado at Denver offers a sports engineering track of study in their Master’s level mechanical engineering department.
How else can you work with some of the best athletes in the world and experience sports in a whole new way? Many times, the designers are also the “test pilots”, so you may get to try out technology such as hitting a new electronic boxing bag, taking a luge sled down a start ramp, or paddling electronic kayaks. A passion for a particular sport and a degree in engineering can offer interesting possibilities.
*Note: In Ireland, Sport & Exercise Engineering BE (hons) and MEng Sc at NUI Galway.