Theoretical Physics of Ice Skating

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San Diego Figure Skating Communications

Theoretical Physics
of Ice Skating

      Watching the hockey, speed, and figure skaters perform at the Olympics, it is difficult to imagine the training necessary to acquire the power, endurance, precision, and elegance to achieve championship form while handling unimaginable stress.

How the Science of Physics makes it possible to ice skate
      The physics theory behind ice skating is pretty neat. Let’s first discuss it at a general level. As we all know, skate blades are sharp. So when we apply our entire weight onto one skate, we are applying a significantly large force on a very small surface (the sharp edge of the blade).

     When blades become dull, for some reason, we tend to slip a lot more than when they are freshly sharpened. The common misconception behind this is that a sharper blade can cut into the ice better; this is only half of it.

The Science Involved
       Let’s get a little more technical. The central phenomenon that is used to explain this act of science is the phase diagram of water.

Burlingame High School 

      The phase diagram describes the state or phase of a substance according to (1) the pressure exerted on the substance and (2) the temperature of the substance. Looking at water’s phase diagram, we can see that at atmospheric pressure (i.e. the pressure an object within Earth’s atmosphere without any external forces), the phase transition from liquid to solid (or water to ice) is at 0°C.

      As the pressure on the water increases, the water will stay liquid at lower temperatures (it will no longer freeze at 0 Celsius). Conversely, if you have ice at 0°C and you apply significant pressure to it, the ice will melt.

      In gliding across the ice, the skater's body exerts pressure on the thin blade, thus creating a small film or layer of water under the blade by melting the ice. The water between the blade and the ice is what we actually glide across. When we stop exerting pressure, that water freezes almost instantly due to the cold temperature surrounding it.

Recommended Reading:
  • The Physics of Ice Skating   The theories of physics on ice skating may the answer question, "Is ice skating a sport, performing art, or a combination of both?"
  • Physics Of Ice Skating The figure below illustrates the physics of ice skating behind this principle. schematic of skater pushing off the ice.
  • Physics Of Ice Skating The formation of water is crucial to the physics of ice skating. The principle behind the functioning of ice skates involves the application of the skater's weight over the blade.
References: Resources:

The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

Role of Physics in Skating

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