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Tennis study serves up the science of sliding

Engineers at the University of Sheffield have teamed up with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to measure the effects of friction between tennis court surfaces and footwear in a bid to ensure the world's top players can play their natural game and slide in a controlled manner, with a reduced risk of injury.

Sliding is a key skill on clay courts, mastered by the likes of one-time 'King of Clay' Rafael Nadal, who enjoyed years of success in the French Open at Roland Garros. But the fast pace of the modern tennis game means that top players are also using slipping and sliding as a technique to move more quickly around grass and hard surface courts to reach the ball.

"In all sports athletes tend to push the interactions to a greater degree. And in elite tennis we're seeing that more players are sliding on hard courts than they used to. So the kind of movements that they're carrying out on hard courts would be something that you might have seen on clay courts before," said Dr Matt Carré from the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The increase in sliding among top players could be a natural reaction to more powerful racket technology, according to mechanical engineering PhD student Daniel Ura.

"The speed of the game has increased a lot because the players are serving faster than years before; it could be because of the materials of the racquets or could be the strings as well. But I think it's a necessity of the players to reach the ball faster," Ura told Reuters.

Working in collaboration with the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the world governing body of tennis, the researchers have conducted experiments to measure the amount of friction between different playing surfaces and shoes. Carré said their laboratory testing rig mechanically replicates the friction between the player, the shoe and the surface.

This includes parameters like the surface type, player force, sliding shoe orientation, outsole temperature and speed during critical player movements, he said.

"The end goal is to actually develop a system that allows us to better understand tennis courts and how they perform and to monitor the tennis courts. In order to do that we need to understand a number of parameters including; how the shoe changes, how the properties of the shoe affect that interaction, how the properties of the tennis courts affect that, and also other factors like temperature and the actual players loading themselves, so how they slide or move around on the courts," he said.

Their aim is to develop a portable hand-held device that could measure the friction of any tennis court and allow players and coaches to adjust their game plan. This could lead to a 'sliding scale' for surfaces that grades them according to their propensity for sliding.

While it will help the ITF more easily regulate tennis courts around the world, the research could also aid tennis shoe and surface manufacturers in designing new footwear and tennis courts to maximize a professional player's ability to control their sliding.

Ura likened it to Formula 1 motor racing, where the choice of car tire is crucial, depending on the condition of the track.

"I think it will become more like a Formula 1 race probably, when depending on the weather conditions or depending - in this case - on the surface conditions, I think the shoes are going to play an important role during a match. So I think that's probably the future of the shoes, they're going to start to customize them according to the surface properties," he said.

"So I think when we're able to find the optimum friction or the optimum parameters between the shoes and the surfaces, then the shoe and the surface manufacturers are going to be very interested to try to improve their shoes (and) their surfaces to get the best performance."

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Science’s ‘Breakthrough’ winners earn over $21 million in prizes

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF.Academia just turned a little more glitzy for a select group of scientists.

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner on Sunday handed out seven Breakthrough Prizes, the award for scientific accomplishment he created three years ago alongside technology giants including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, 23andme founder Anne Wojcicki and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The prizes are worth $3 million, around three times the sum a Nobel Prize winner receives.

For one group of Breakthrough recipients, the honor will carry more prestige than cash. Some 1370 physicists are being honored as part of a single $3 million prize for their work confirming the theory of neutrino oscillation, a phenomenon in quantum mechanics.

Seven team leaders will split two-thirds of the prize. That leaves $1 million to split among the others, or around $700 to each physicist.

"I would love to give $3 million to each one, but we're not there yet," Milner said in an interview on Friday. Increasingly, he added, breakthroughs are made through vast consortiums rather than a handful of scientists working in relative isolation, raising the chances of such shared prizes in future.

Five prizes went to researchers in life sciences for advances in areas ranging from optogenetics to sequencing of ancient genomes. A prize in mathematics went to a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, for work in low dimensional topology and geometric group theory.

Eight scientists early in their mathematics and physics careers won awards of $100,000.

Milner has set his sights on giving the sciences the same cultural resonance as sports or entertainment, but on Friday, he said it was too early to see if his work was having any effect. He pointed to the ceremony's broadcast on a major U.S. network, Fox, for the first time as a sign things were moving in the right direction.

A onetime physics PhD student in Moscow who dropped out to move to the United States in 1990, Milner has backed some of the world’s biggest technology companies, including Facebook.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of the hit TV series “Family Guy,” is hosted the black-tie ceremony, held at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Hollywood celebrities like pop star Christina Aguilera hobnobbed with Silicon Valley celebrities like Theranos chief Elizabeth Holmes, whose blood-testing company has come under fire in recent weeks. News Corp.O> chief executive Rupert Murdoch sat next to Gen. David Petraeus.

Singer Pharrell Williams serenaded the audience before dinner, created by chef Thomas Keller. Other celebrities milling about included actress Hilary Swank and cast members of the TV show "Silicon Valley."

Earlier this year, Milner said he would spend $100 million looking for intelligent life in space by searching for radio and light signals.

(This story corrects paragraph 3 to physicists instead of physicians.)

(Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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Sugar beet waste product could be billion dollar ‘wonder material’

A Scottish company which has developed a material made from sugar beet waste believes the sky is the limit - literally. Cellucomp says its Curran product is twice as strong as carbon fibre and could one day be used to make airplane wings.

Curran was invented by Cellucomp co-founders Dr David Hepworth and Dr Eric Whale, a pair of Edinburgh-based scientists looking to create a composite to rival carbon fibre. But having proved the principle of Curran's strength by making a commercially available fly fishing rod, they have since concentrated their efforts on developing a product for the paints and coatings industry.

According to Cellucomp chief executive Christian Kemp-Griffin, Curran's physical strength, combined with its viscosity when added to liquids and composites, make it unique.

"Curran is a material that is derived from nanocellulose particles - root vegetables," said Kemp-Griffin. "Now when you get down to that very, very small size you actually get incredible strength properties. So when we put the resulting product that we have into other products, as an additive that goes into other products, it actually adds strength to those products, as well as adding viscosity, and there is no other product that will do both things at the same time."

Curran is the Gaelic word for carrot, which was the first root vegetable that Hepworth and Whale experimented with, due to its easy availability in shops. They moved onto sugar beet, due to the sheer volume of extracted waste in factories from sugar production.

Approximately 20 percent of sugar is derived from sugar beet root globally.

Wood is used by other nano cellulose manufacturers, but Hepworth says beet is preferable because it grows quickly and breaks down easily, and as the vast majority of the plant is wasted there is a positive environmental impact.

"It takes less energy to produce this material than it would to make nanocellulose from something else, like trees, so we're trying to do this in a very energy-minimising way, which is good for the environment and it's good for us because it saves costs of production, so we can potentially produce a cost-effective material and that opens a number of markets," said Hepworth.

The firm has a new factory just outside Edinburgh, which is able to produce 400 tonnes of Curran powder per year, a substantial amount considering how little is actually needed in any product. For instance, it makes up less than one percent of the ingredients of the paint developed by Curran and paint company Whitson’s. Cellucomp wants to expand production to 2,000 tonnes annually within three years, having received much interest internationally from large manufacturers.

"The feed stock that we use is from a sidestream from the sugar producing industry," said Hepworth. "It's the waste pulp that comes after they're removed the sugar, which is then pressed and dried into pellets for ease of shipment. So you can see the bottom of this stack here I've got the dried pellets. So that can be used as a low-grade cattle feed, but obviously we want to take this material and turn it into something that has a lot more value."

Hepworth says that although sugar beet factories, mainly in Europe, create large amounts of waste pellets, they are looking into other natural materials from which fibre could be extracted, such as potatoes and palm fruit.

Kemp-Griffin says Curran can be used for hundreds of applications. "There are all kinds of potential applications that Curran can be used for," he said. "It can go into things like paint and coatings, it can go into concrete, cosmetics. It can even be used for drilling fluids, as an additive to go into your food, and go into composites. So you can imagine one day airplane wings made from Curran."

Arguably the largest current market for Curran is the £2 billion paint and coating additives industry. Cellucomp have already linked up with paint manufacturers Whitson to create a new range of paints, set to go on the market shortly.

Whitson's founder - and famous decorating guru - Cait Whitson says adding Curran to her paint's ingredients has had multiple benefits, in addition to being environmentally friendly. Curran makes up 0.6 percent of her paint's ingredients.

According to Whitson, "one of the things that excited me about the Curran product was that a very small amount of Curran adds a significant amount of durability to the paint product. Secondly was the rheology, about how the paint flowed from the brush, how it flowed from the roller, what it was like to use, really I wanted a paint that over any substrate, however sucky or dry or very absorbent emulsions that you can work over that it didn't drag, and that has really come out with the Curran," she said.

Whitson says Curran helps make paint scrub-resistant, avoids unsightly brush marks, and prevents cracking, particularly in so-called 'putty' paints used widely in the Middle East.

Cellucomp has received major financial backing from the Scottish government and its economic development offshoot Scottish Enterprise, and now believes it is on the way to potentially becoming a billion-dollar company.

The company is also looking to use Curran to reinforce recycled paper.

Studies on kissing, the word ‘huh?’ among Ig Nobel award winners

BOSTON Researchers who studied the consequences of intense kissing, the global use of the word "huh?" and how badly bee stings hurt on different parts of the body were among the winners of this year's Ig Nobel prizes for comical scientific achieveme...

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