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L’X develops its research and training in "Sport Physics"

Christophe Clanet, research director at the CNRS and Director of the Hydrodynamic laboratory of Ecole Polytechnique, is to develop one of the initiatives of l’X on the "Sport physics". The physicist gives some more details about projects that will be implemented as part of the issue that largely involves the society.

>The Sport Physics at École Polytechnique, which interest does it have?

Sport physics has first of all a scientific interest, sport and physics are both in the genes of École Polytechnique’s academic programs. It’s been seven years that we develop this research within the hydrodynamics laboratory (LadHyX) and are convinced of its originality and potential in terms of education and innovation. This initiative will allow us to partner with the INSEP for high-level sport and handisport, and with MIT for research and education programs establishing.   

Internationally, Sport Physics is an area that is developing in several top universities like Harvard with "Biodesign Lab", Stanford with "Human Performance Lab" or ETH Zurich with "Movement and Sports Sciences." In this context, we decided to partner with MIT in order to become a world leader on this issue in the next five years.

>What projects will be implemented as part of this initiative?

We will develop this initiative in three areas: education, research and innovation.

Regarding the educational part, a human mechanics course will be offered in the 3rd year of Ingénieur Polytechnicien program in 2017. This course is a continuation of the one entitled "Sports Physics" I gave at MIT in 2015 and that will be delivered again in 2016 at ENS Lyon. The idea is to offer students a transverse course that combines different fields of physics such as mechanics, statistical physics and biomechanics. This training will be complemented by projects realized in tandems: a student from l’X and a student from MIT will present, after nine months of work on a topic issued from discussions with the INSEP, their results to sports instructor and professors. In the longer term, we aim to offer a Masters program "Sports Physics & Technology" with courses provided by École Polytechnique and MIT.

In terms of research and innovation, we detect three areas of development. The first one is related with biomechanics associated with the development of new diagnostic tools. More precisely, I rely on the study we recently conducted on the bench press. In this study, we sought to understand the speed of dumbbells lifted from the myosin-actin interactions responsible for force generation in humans. This connection allows us now to identify malfunctions of sarcomere (contractile elementary cell), just from global movements and without biopsy.

The second area of our research focuses on performance materials. An example in this field is the collaboration we have with Martin Fourcade, biathlon Olympic champion and world champion, which helps us to understand the wax. Our goal is to identify the phenomena responsible for the ski - snow friction in order to help athletes choose the most suitable waxes, or improve existing waxes adapting them to race conditions.

The third research area is based on "winter sports and low cost transportation". We worked with the skipper Yves Parlier on a kite propulsion project for commercial ships that responds to important environmental issues in shipping. This work was the subject of Emmanuel Pontavice’s (X 2008) thesis, its valuation is in progress.

>What are the medium - term objectives ?

For the educational part, the most ambitious targets are the human mechanics courses for students in the 3rd year of Ingénieur Polytechnicien program and development of the Masters program with MIT. For the research part, the goal is to develop a long-term partnership with the INSEP and to conduct high-level research on topics related to sport and handisport discussed with athletes and researchers from the INSEP. Regarding innovation, it’s difficult to predict in advance the sectors in which sport physics will develop. What is certain is that we keep working on the issue every day and that our young researchers do not hesitate to create start-ups such as Stilla Technologies, an automatic genetic analysis platform, and Instent that develops innovative remote monitoring system for stents equipping. The link with innovation will therefore be established in sport physics.