Curling is rather unique among target-based sports because it allows athletes to alter the trajectory of their projectile after release. Curlers send 19 kg granite stones sliding across a pebbled ice surface at a target 28 meters away. On the way, teammates sweep the ice with natural or synthetic brushes. Sweeping the ice causes frictional heating, which lowers the local coefficient of friction and allows the stone to slide meters further than it would without sweeping. The bottom of the stone is concave, so the rock only contacts the ice along a narrow ring. One explanation for the stone’s tendency to curl in the direction it spins comes from this contact ring. Researchers suggest that the roughness of the leading edge cuts scratches into the ice which the trailing edge attempts to follow, causing the stone to move laterally, as illustrated over at Smarter Every Day. It’s important to note that the sweeping curlers do doesn’t directly guide the stone. In fact, by lowering the coefficient of friction the sweepers prevent the stone’s curling, and thus much of the skill of the sport is in knowing when, how, and how much to sweep. (Photo credit: C. Spencer/Getty Images)
FYFD is celebrating #Sochi2014 by studying the fluid dynamics of the Games. Check out some of our previous posts including how to make artificial snow, the aerodynamics of bobsledding, and how ski jumpers fly further.