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Valerie Thompson - Science & Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games

Olympic Fever Skies, Skates, and Luges into Classrooms

Everyone knows that a screen is a great way to capture kids’ attention. Pair that with the excitement of the Olympic Games and you have the formula for a gold medal in STEM education.

"Science and Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games" is a 10-part video collection, narrated by NBC Sports' Liam McHugh, which illuminates the physics, engineering, chemistry, design, and mathematics involved in performing Olympic sports. Valerie Thompson, 2012-14 Executive Branch Fellow at the National Science Foundation, was a key player in its making.

“The goal of the series is to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the Olympic Games in order to engage students and the public in the science and engineering that underlies the seemingly impossible feats of skill and strength demonstrated by the athletes,” explains Thompson. “All kinds of scientific concepts are explored: From the physics of slopestyle skiing, to the design and engineering of the snowboard halfpipe, to the chemistry of snow and ice, to tissue engineering.”

The videos feature sports stories, told by leading world athletes and record holders, along with perspectives and innovative research from NSF-supported engineers and scientists. Each video is accompanied by lesson plans for elementary through high school students. The lessons were prepared by the National Science Teachers Association and commissioned by the Engineering Directorate at NSF.

Thompson led an NSF team on the making of five of the 10 videos. They identified the scientific experts for each video, determined the concepts that would be presented, and reviewed the scripts and illustrations. “I also helped develop and implement a training workshop that showed local teachers how to implement the hands-on science and engineering lesson plans,” she says.

The 2014 Olympic video collection is a collaborative effort between the Engineering and Math & Physical Sciences Directorates at NSF and NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News.  They have collaborated in the past on other video collections including “Science of the Summer Olympics” (London, 2012).  The potential reach of "Science and Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games" goes far and wide. The 2012 Summer Olympics series was advertised on NBC, featured by 101 NBC affiliates in the US, featured on TV screens in grocery stores, New York City taxis, and other locales, and two videos translated into Spanish and broadcast on Telemundo.