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UW Scientist and Olympian Spotlighted in ‘NBC Learn’ Segment for Winter Olympics

January 15, 2014
People conducting videotaped interview
Sarah Konrad, associate project director for Wyoming’s EPSCoR office and a 2006 Winter Olympian, provides her expertise in a new NBC Learn video, titled “Science of Snow.” (UW Photo)

Eight years after she competed in the Winter Olympics, the University of Wyoming’s Sarah Konrad receives another NBC moment in the spotlight.

Konrad, associate project director for Wyoming’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) office, is part of a new NBC Learn video, titled “Science of Snow.” As part of NBC’s “Science and Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games” series, the educational video was posted to the broadcasting company’s website Jan. 9.

During the piece, Konrad, a glaciologist, conducted experiments with water and ice in the “cold lab” of UW’s S.H. Knight Geology Building. She demonstrates how to instantly freeze water by hitting a super-cooled bottle of the distilled liquid. The agitation resulted in the water visibly turning to ice.

She also discusses the science of snow and how it relates to Nordic skiing, particularly how it can affect the outcome of a race. For example, if snow sits in the sun a couple of days, the points on the crystal will melt. The crystals become rounder and smaller, like ball bearings, and allow a skier to move across the snow more quickly.

The fastest skiing conditions occur when snow is several degrees below that melting point, when the surface of ice crystals is close to the point of being water, a condition Konrad termed as “molecular looseness.”

“I thought it ended up very well done,” Konrad says of the video. “I thought the science came across.”

NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, creates stories, images and primary source documents that are available on demand to teachers, students and parents. Now in its seventh year, NBC Learn has created many award-winning programs, including “Science of the Winter Olympic Games.”

For the past two Olympic Games, NBC Learn has partnered with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop web-based videos related to the science of Olympic sport for teachers to use in the classroom.

During taping of her NBC Learn segment last August, Sarah Konrad prepares to agitate a bottle of super-cooled water to make the distilled liquid freezeThis latest 10-part video collection, narrated by NBC Olympics’ hockey host Liam McHugh, delves into the physics, engineering, chemistry, design and mathematics behind the Olympic Winter Games. The segments feature a variety of sports stories, as told by some of the world’s top athletes and record holders, along with perspectives and innovative research from leading NSF-supported engineers and scientists. The series’ diverse topics reveal how key engineering and science concepts, and cutting-edge technology, play an integral part in each athlete’s respective sport, and help maximize performance at the 2014 Sochi Games.

“These videos build a connection between the wonder of athletic accomplishment and the wonder of scientific insight,” says F. Fleming Crim, assistant director for NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate.

“It is really designed for school kids, to have a cool background for learning about science,” Konrad says. “I will look forward to see how kids react.”

Konrad hopes local schools in Laramie, as well as UW’s Lab School on campus, use the videos in their classrooms.

For her segment, Konrad was interviewed by Caleb Medders, producer of NBC News/NBC Learn. Medders also talked with Cort Anastasio, a University of California-Davis chemistry professor, for the piece.

“Sarah was chosen for the video because, unlike most glaciologists, she’s actually a winter Olympian,” Medders says. “So, she was not only able to talk about the science of snow, she was able to relate it to Olympic sports with her first-hand experience.”

In 2006, at age 38, Konrad became the first U.S. female Olympian to qualify in two sports -- Nordic skiing and the biathlon -- for one Olympic Games. She competed in four events in Torino, Italy, finishing 14th in the women’s cross-country relay. Konrad also placed 32nd (and the first American) in the women’s Nordic 30-kilometer event.

Konrad won her first national Nordic skiing title in 2004 and competed in World Cup cross-country and biathlon events during 2005. Konrad also is a previous three-event national collegiate cycling champion at UW. She won the 2001 National Collegiate Cycling Association national road, criterium and omnium championships.

Konrad now serves as chair of the United States Olympic Committee’s (USOC) Athletes Advisory Council, which oversees 47 athlete representatives for all the various Olympic and Paralympic sports.

She will attend the Sochi Winter Olympics Feb. 7-23. Sochi is a city in Krasnodar Krai, Russia, which is located on the Black Sea coast near the border between Georgia/Abkhazia and Russia. Konrad departs for Sochi Feb. 2.

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