Friday Science Bites 8/19/16 — Olympics Edition

A number of science-y articles on the Olympics have popped up this week, so today’s post will be an Olympics Edition science bites.

  1.  First, the Great Green Olympic Pool Caper.  Why did the pools turn green?  Well, everyone agreed early on the green color was due to algae, but what allowed the algae to proliferate in the first place?  Most people’s money is on the accidental addition of hydrogen peroxide . . . yes, that chemical you might remember from childhood as foaming and frothing on your cuts to disinfect them.  Hydrogen peroxide is a great disinfectant but in conjunction with UV light as opposed to chlorine.  What happens exactly?  Well, hydrogen peroxide reacts with the hypochlorite ion, releasing oxygen gas and free chloride ions, which by themselves are powerless to kill algae.  For more on hydrogen peroxide, and why you SHOULD NOT use it on your cuts AND why we go gray, click here!
  2. Wonder why the medalists all appear to be snacking on their award?  This stems from an age-old practice of biting on gold to determine its authenticity, as tooth enamel is harder than the soft metal.  It’s more of a photo stunt now, as the first-place prizes haven’t been made of real gold since 1912.
  3. More pool drama: Did the Olympic pool favor swimmers in lanes 5 – 8?  Preliminary evidence suggests currents in the higher-numbered lanes may have been responsible for the swimmers’ faster times.
  4. I recently learned that in addition to infrastructure for the actual sports, a new subway line was also necessary to make these Rio games happen.  The geology in Rio made this especially challenging, necessitating the use, in some places, of diamond wire!
  5. Psychological research from prior Olympics suggests coming in third results in greater happiness than winning the silver.  Why?  From the 2012 Scientific American report: “The most obvious counterfactual thought for the silver medalist might be to focus on almost winning gold. She would focus on the difference between coming in first place, and any other outcome. The bronze medalist, however, might focus their counterfactual thoughts downward towards fourth place. She would focus on almost not winning a medal at all. The categorical difference, between being a medalist and not winning a medal, does not exist for the comparison between first and second place.” 

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(Graphic from https://www.theatlas.com/charts/r11bghyq)

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