Sports Science: Olympics Edition ‒ Javelin

Every four years, the eyes of the world shift towards a global competition, complete with feats of strength, determination, talent and teamwork. The Summer Olympics are back, and I could not be more excited. The following post is one of three about some of my favorite events.

This go-around, I’m rather excited to further study one event in particular. After the 2012 London Olympics, I returned to St. Louis for my junior year of college to find that my roommate decided to join the Washington University track and field team. Why? “I just wanted to be better at throwing spears.”

As he soon learned, Javelin is much more complicated than just throwing a spear. The best javelin throwers have spent decades perfecting their technique. And when I tried to just pick up a javelin and throw it for fun, the result was too embarrassing to share here.

First, there’s the run-up, the series of steps where the thrower is building up speed and momentum. This begins with a traditional run and transitions into crossover steps before the actual throw. The crossover steps are when a thrower swivels his shoulders and hips and orients his body to prepare to release without sacrificing velocity. As a result of the run-up, some athletes can throw the javelin at speeds up to 30 meters per second, or about 100 kilometers per hour!

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As the thrower prepares for the delivery, there has to be a transfer of energy from the body to the javelin itself. This process is started by planting the back foot while still keeping the throwing arm as straight as possible. The front foot continues the transfer by stopping and planting in as straight and rigid a manner as possible. This abrupt stop will force the body to swing around as momentum continues to carry it forward. The athlete must control this swing yet remain rigid in the front foot as much as possible to generate the most force.

Once the front foot plants, a chain reaction of sorts proceeds up the body, transferring force and energy from the legs to the javelin through a series of joints. The back knee swivels forward, followed by the back hip, moving upwards to the shoulder, out to the elbow and finally the javelin.

The javelin is released over the shoulder at an angle ideally between 32 and 36 degrees, according to Mike Barber’s excellent post on the biomechanics of the javelin. As Barber astutely points out, the more important angle measurement is the difference between the angle at which the javelin’s point is moving and the angle at which the javelin’s center of gravity is moving. Ideally, the difference is zero and the pair align to produce the maximum distance. A variation in those angles means the javelin will not travel in the most aerodynamic way possible and, due to increased drag, will not go as far.

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Keep your eye on the motion of the body right at the moment of release of the top javelin throwers. Their arms are straight throughout the run up, and the muscles in their legs have to be strong and robust to handle the abrupt stop required for the best throws. There is a lot of stress put onto their bodies as a result, and they must be in top physical shape.

The javelin throw finals at the Rio Olympics will take place on Aug. 18 for women and Aug. 20 for men.

Archie the Wandering T. rex Goes on a Road Trip

Archie’s blog written with the help of Victoria Smith, HMNS Assistant to the President

Hi! It’s me, Archie the Wandering T. rex! After seeing the National Parks Adventure 3D giant screen movie and spending time at National Parks Photography Project exhibit, I got inspired to go on my own adventure. Fortunately, I was able to hitch a ride and head out on the highway, looking for adventure, or whatever comes my way.

I got my kicks on Route 66

I got my kicks on Route 66

The epic road trip went across 3 states and 8 national parks. I was excited, but it took 2 days just to get out of Texas!!! We finally made it to New Mexico and our first National Park–El Malpais National Monument. Although the name means “bad place”, it was quite beautiful there. A lot of these formations started in the Cretaceous period, so I was amazed to see what happened in the last 65 million years!

I am the kind of dinosaur who like to make the most of my travels, so when I heard about the Junior Park Ranger program, I said, “Sign me up”!

I think I look pretty good in uniform, don’t you?

I think I look pretty good in uniform, don’t you?

Speaking of catching up on the past million years, I had an unexpected family reunion at the Rainbow Forrest Museum in Petrified Forest National Park. I know what you’re thinking: “Archie, the Petrified Forest features reptiles from the Triassic Period, and T. rexes weren’t around till the Cretaceous!” Well, my mother raised me to respect my elders, and if these ancestors are a few million years older than me, I’m still going to stop by and say hi when I’m in town.

Why yes, I did feel at home in the Painted Desert!

Why yes, I did feel at home in the Painted Desert!

Cousins!

Cousins!

The next day was the big day—the Grand Day, if you will. I got to raft on the Colorado River, and they even let me pilot the boat for a little bit. Since the river runs through the arid climate of Arizona, early Native American tribes settled in the area. We disembarked and viewed the petroglyphs on the canyon walls! The Grand Canyon itself was so amazing, I forgot to take pictures. All I can say is that everyone who has the opportunity should go visit! It was a reminder of what a wonderful world we do live in!

Cool art, hot rocks!

Cool art, hot rocks!

After that, the trip headed south—literally! Even though Montezuma’s Castle wasn’t built for royalty, it was impressive to see the cliff dwellings from hundreds of years ago. (But they want to tell a dinosaur about ancient? Please!) Saguaro National Park was also a spectacular site, thick with cactus that can even poke a T. rex. I didn’t realize how tall they got—they can be as tall as a T. rex is long! That’s 40 feet. I never thought I’d be intimidated by a cactus!

Since dinosaurs prefer warm environments, I’ve never really tried winter sports. Imagine my delight sledding on the sand dunes at White Sands National Park! On this trip, I also found out that you can get a National parks passport and get stamps at every stop. I have so many now!

Gotta catch ‘em all!

Gotta catch ‘em all!

When we went back through Texas I thought we were heading home, but it turns out El Paso is closer to San Diego, California than it is to Houston, Texas. No wonder it took two days to leave the state! The Guadalupe Mountains is the highest peak in Texas, and it contains Permian reef. Of course I felt so at home out there. This is a dinosaur dream trip!

We went from the highest peak in Texas to the low parts of New Mexico, and descended into the caves of Carlsbad Caverns. In the evening, I got to see some of the cave residents, when all the bats came flying out at dusk! There are over 400,000 Mexican free-tail bats living in the cave, and they are all hungry for mosquitos. I love bats!

T. rex trying to spelunk

T. rex trying to spelunk

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. After driving around for 3,000 miles, it was sure good to be back at HMNS . . . until I get inspired by the next exhibit. The Bill of Rights is coming soon! Does anyone want to do some research in D.C.? Road trip!!!

A Study in Patience

Written by Jack Alger, HMNS Paleontology Intern

Jack Alger, HMNS Paleontology Intern

Jack Alger, HMNS Paleontology Intern

This summer I bring dimetrodons back to life.

No, life has not found a way, I’m not extracting DNA from inclusions found in amber; I work in the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Sugar Land. It’s a small brick building with a splendid collection of history both recent and prehistoric whose residents stand 30 feet tall and have razor sharp teeth.

Every weekday from 9 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon I sit behind a large table, stare through a lit magnifying glass, and with implements of dentistry I carefully extract the bones of Diego, a 280 million year old dimetrodon, from the hard north Texas rock.

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I am an exhibit.

Visitors of the museum who meander all the way back to the Paleozoic section have the opportunity to watch me work and to ask me questions about anything they please, thankfully usually pertaining to my work. One of the most common questions and comments I get deal with patience. “Wow, that seems really tedious” or “How do you have the patience for that? I certainly couldn’t do it” to which I grin and laugh politely with a “yes it is detailed work for sure”.

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After a few weeks of these comments I would like to make a few comments on the work myself and let you in on some of my secrets on being patient.

My first task upon arriving as the new Paleontology intern for the summer was to sift through the context dirt that once surrounded Diego and now filled a half dozen catering trays stored in a small closet in the museum. I would pick out a pile of dirt half the size of a golf ball and search for the microscopic bones hidden among the dirt often spending hours without finding anything. Now you may be saying “How could you keep your focus and stay patient when you had so much work to do?” To which I answer now “one rock at a time”.

I never thought about the amount of dirt in the tray nor in the closet, I just focused on my little pile, combing through it as if I might find a diamond or some other jewel (being an unpaid intern, this seemed like the greatest outcome) and after just a couple weeks I had finished looking through every single tray in the closet. This early lesson in discipline set me up perfectly for my real job, fossil prep. Now when I attack a bone I don’t think about trying to get all the rock off and reveal the entire bone. No, that would drive me insane. Instead I focus on pushing back the rock a micrometer at a time. Under intense magnification I watch flakes the size of a grain of sand that appear to me to be the size of paving stones come off in bunches. In rare cases large flakes of rock that covered half the bone come flying off in a single touch of my tools and I am filled with such elation that may surpass ever seeing the Texans win a Super Bowl from the sideline. My first lesson in patience is to focus on the little things, take small victories, microscopic even, so that when something big happens you are surprised and filled with joy.

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Now I would be a liar if I said my neck never ached and I never got frustrated with lack of progress, so this is my second lesson. When I begin to feel weary from hunching over the desk or when I become irate at the stubborn rock encrusting my precious Diego, I change my pace. I get up and stretch; I walk around the room and study the fossils on display. I get a drink of water, or I simply rotate the bone and take a different perspective on the situation, attacking at a different and hopefully more prosperous angle. I chuckle to myself every time I change the angle of the rock and where it was once impossible to cut through, large chips start to fly off the bone. Lesson two is when the impatience starts to creep in just take a deep breath, stretch, then change your perspective and you’ll be amazed at the result.

Four hours a day, that’s how long I work. It’s not a long time in the grand scheme of things, but those 360 minutes can feel like 3,000 if you get impatient and watch the clock. During my workday I try not to look at the time more than 4 times because nothing will drive you more insane than watching time slowly crawl onward. They say a watched pot never boils, well a watched clock never ticks. I have come to believe that a minute spent staring at the clock feels slower than an hour spent doing something. So next time it’s 4:30 on a Friday and you’re caught up with all your work don’t just sit at your desk and watch the little clock in the corner of your monitor, don’t even sit around, go clean the break room, go talk to someone in your office who is also done with their work, do something productive and engaging that you normally don’t do and next thing you know it’ll be 5 o’clock and your weekend has started.

Anyone can be patient and everyone can be impatient, patience isn’t something you’re born with its just something you do, like a sport you have to practice to get better. So next time you start to feel impatient just focus on the little things, change your perspective, and don’t look at the clock and you’ll start to notice life get just a little easier.

Summer Trunk Shows: A Touch of Sparkle from Lankford and Tummino

One of our favorite things about summer has arrived — Summer Trunk Shows! This year we’re keeping it simple and local, featuring Rebecca Lankford July 22 and Mirta Tummino on Aug. 5, both from 12 to 4 p.m.

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Locally-renowned Houston artist Rebecca Lankford uses hand-cast metals, fine leathers, and a casual take on precious and semi-precious gems to create effortlessly stylish jewels. Her delicate styles are perfect alone and for layering and stacking.

Rebecca has also created an exclusive museum collection for HMNS using gems hand-picked by our buyers. Each piece is one-of-a-kind or limited in production.

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Leaving corporate America behind, native Texan Mirta Tummino realized her true calling when she began designing jewelry. With an eye for color, Mirta combines unusual gemstones to create her signature wire-wrapped designs.

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If that alone doesn’t convince you to attend our trunk show here are three reasons why you should:

1. Locally-made, handcrafted jewelry. Handmade pieces make unique gifts for others or yourself, all while supporting local artists.

2. A chance to meet the designer and team. Learn all about the gems, materials, and the creative process directly from the artist. Rebecca and Mirta are both inspired by the museum’s gem and mineral collection.

3. Jewelry with savings! Shop with a 20 percent discount in addition to your membership discount. Feel good about looking great knowing that 100 percent of museum store and trunk show proceeds benefits HMNS’s educational programs.