Using sports to make civil engineering relevant

August 22, 2012

The basketball arena, seating 12,000, was the largest temporary venue built for any Games and an engineering marvel.

Let the 2012 Summer Olympics do the work for you!

Ideas you can share with kids this fall to tell them what civil engineering is all about.

Want to make engineering relevant? Look no further than the 2012 Summer Olympics to take this year’s most riveting sports event and remind kids that the engineering behind the scenes made a world of difference!

OK, so it goes without saying that the athletes are the real heroes of the games, but it’s worth noting that even the athletes recognize and appreciate the talent and teamwork that goes into designing and building the world’s great machines, infrastructure and digital technology that surrounded them as they set out to achieve their dreams. From sports equipment they use, to the uniforms and swimsuits they wear, to the Olympic village where they competed, athletes were surrounded by an array of technologies that made the Olympic experience both an athletic and engineering marvel.

Consider this: While all eyes were glued on the incredible athletes at this year’s summer Olympics, how many people really thought about the engineering that went on behind the scenes to make the Olympics happen?

Olympic Swimmer Missy Franklin did. NBC did a nice piece on the engineering behind the scenes at the London Aquatic Center, where the world’s best swimmers competed to achieve their fastest times ever! The engineering involved in designing a fast pool involves mitigating wave energy that slows swimmers down, giving swimmers like Missy an advantage. What difference does engineering make? Engineering helped swimmers achieve their fastest times, smashing world records.

80,000 people who attended the opening ceremonies at the Olympic Stadium did. So did the people who attended the 208 events that were scheduled there during the Olympics. The Olympic Stadium is the centerpiece of the Olympic Park, which will be the largest park created in Europe for over 100 years. Check out this cool photo gallery of the stadium provided by National Geographic. What difference does engineering make? Engineering gave fans, by the tens of thousands, the best seats in the house to celebrate athletes’ greatest achievements. Engineering made the stage larger.

The Olympic Committee did. The fact that the venues and infrastructure were noted to have been delivered on time, within budget and to the highest possible standard is a significant tribute to the profession. What difference does engineering make? Engineering literally created the foundations of a vast global event, deservedly catching the imagination of the public and raising public awareness of the invisible structures and systems we all take for granted.

Here are some other engineering factoids that you might want to share: (complements of

■2.5 square kilometres in size – one of the largest urban parks to be built in Europe in 150 years.
■220 buildings demolished.
■2.3 million cubic meters of soil excavated and four Iron Age skeletons unearthed.
■250 acres of new parklands developed for the UK.
■8.35 km of waterways built in and around the Park.
■10 new rail lines built
■five permanent venues established
■30 new bridges
■11 residential blocks and 2 818 new homes in the Olympic Village.
■30,000 people will have worked on the project by 2012.

Who did all this? Teams of problem solvers who helped turn the idea of the 2012 Olympic Games into a reality for the whole world to see and enjoy. Men and women who dared to think bigger and bolder as they set out to shape the future Olympic Village. Watch Engineering the Olympic Park for an insider’s view of this complex undertaking.

Some of the work was less glamorous: from preparing the land for construction to demolishing redundant structures and cleaning the contaminated soil to improving the Park’s many waterways, burying the overhead power lines and ensuring that any wildlife and plant species are protected.
Others were simply remarkable. Take the disappearing basketball arena, for example. Following the Olympic games, it will disappear – completely – from East London, making it the largest-ever temporary venue to be built for any Olympic games. The arena is made up of 20 separate 10-story steel arches and the 115-meter long, 1,000 ton steel frame is wrapped in 20,000 square meters of white waterproof fabric. The various elements can be easily dismantled and put to use individually after the Games or used as a whole elsewhere.

But whether invisible or super-sized, the engineering of the Olympics is a gift to all of us who look for ways to make engineering relevant in the eyes of kids. Long after the last medals were awarded, the memory of the athletes and the Village and venues they called home for the summer of 2012 will remain imprinted on the minds of the next generation of civil engineers.

Be sure to seize the opportunity. Collect those pictures and factoids and visit a classroom or school in your local community. Let students know that they will be needed to design the Olympic stage in 2016 and beyond!

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