Going for Gold: Physicists & Winter Olympic Sports

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Photos of the Month - February 2018

Audrey Lengel, Photo Archivist

This month, the world’s attention will be focused on PyeongChang, South Korea during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. As a skier myself, I’m biased and enjoy watching the skiing events; but I also have a soft spot for bobsledding and curling. You’ll see in this month’s selected photos from our archives that some familiar physicists, as well as their families and friends, are fans of certain winter sports themselves!

For example, did you know Enrico Fermi was an avid cross-country skier? Or that Daniel J. Alpert attributed some of his success in physics to his ability to stay active through skiing and hiking? Beyond the images of physicists in this crop of Photos of the Month, we have plenty more in our searchable online archive of historic photographs. Feel free to search for your favorite winter (or summer!) sport.

In addition to athleticism, there is a certain amount of physical science involved in perfecting the triple axel, achieving the greatest ski jump distance, and sliding through the finish line with the fastest skeleton time. For more on the science behind some of your favorite Olympic sports, I highly recommend John Eric Goff’s book Gold Medal Physics.

Alpine Skiing

Daniel J. Alpert downhill skiing.

Credit line: Department of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Biathlon (rifle)

Clemens Schaefer, Professor and Director of the Physics Institute at the University of Wroclaw, shoots a rifle during an “Institute excursion”.

Credit line: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Kohn Photo Collection


Fritz Reiche and family outdoors in the snow; their two children sit on a sled.

Credit line: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Kohn Photo Collection

Cross Country Skiing

Enrico Fermi cross country skiing on a hillside.

Credit line: Argonne National Laboratory, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Ice Skating

Homer and Margaret Dodge ice skating on the Iowa River.

Credit line: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Dodge Collection

Harald Enge stands on top of a cart in a classroom to demonstrate the difference between static and dynamic friction using the principles of cross-country skiing.

Credit line: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives