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The Sciences

Taking Science to Where the Peeps Are: NFL Football!


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This is a guest post by Darlene Cavalier, a writer and senior adviser at Discover Magazine. Darlene holds a Masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and is a former Philadelphia 76ers cheerleader. She founded and cofounded to make it possible for lay people to contribute to science.

Lots of chatter recently here and here among science bloggers debating and distilling the merits of various forms of science communication. Novel, broad approaches to reach new audiences were discussed. I hinted at one such approach in the thread and now I'd like to share the details. I've been working with the National Science Foundation, NBC and the National Football League on The Science of NFL Football, a video series featuring current and former NFL stars and scientists to demonstrate and explain the multiple scientific concepts, core to the game of football. The football action is broken down using a Phantom camera, which captures the players' movement at rates of up to 2,000 frames per second. Players provide insights and scientists give blow-by-blow accounts of the specific scientific principles such as Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, kinematics and projectile motion. The Phantom video shoot was overseen by the NBC Olympics Production Group, which also provided research and technical support throughout the project. Steve Capus, President of NBC News said, “NBC is extremely excited to offer this creative video series that combines science education and a sport that so many kids know and love.” That's right. We're going to where the adults and kids are. Or, as NYTimes reporter Joanne Gerstner put it in this piece, "It’s almost like telling kids their favorite food was entirely made of really healthy vegetables." In this same Times piece, Soraya Gage, executive producer of NBC Learn adds “… Getting the athletes to talk about what they do hooks the kids and the students. And when it’s coming from an idol, a sporting hero, they sit up and listen.” A little back story. Originally pitched this as a series featuring the many procheerleaders who are scientists and engineers. Why? These women are remarkable. They are the real deal and they are passionate about inspiring young women to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. And, obviously, they are provocative (i.e. attention grabbers). As scientists/engineers AND procheerleaders, they epitomize opposing stereotypes. Turns out, they're also proving to be influential role models and mentors to middle school girls, in particular. Before you snicker or roll your eyes, keep in mind that 1.4 million gals are cheerleaders and they look up to these women. You can bet plenty of these young science-minded cheerleaders are feeling torn between identities. Follow an interest in science? Or be jocks or cheerleaders? Science Cheerleaders say, "both." I chose to emphasize these so-called Science Cheerleaders because they speak from personal experience and they all have a good story to tell...and I can empathize with them. For years, while working at Discover Magazine, I kept secret my identity as a 76ers cheerleader for fear of being dissed. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. In fact, it's partly due to my past cheerleading relationships that this NFL, NBC, NSF partnership came to be! As the NFL video segments are released on (about once a week), a procheerleader-turned-scientist or engineer will introduce the segment and we'll link to an online interview we did with her. I think you'll enjoy them and it's one way of broadening distribution among young women. If Science Cheerleaders aren't your thing, have no fear. The segments will be aired without the cheerleader-tie ins on NBC,, and Without further ado, here's the official announcement of the Science of NFL Football series. Hope you and your fellow football fans enjoy learning about the science and engineering of NFL football. (Oh, and that Science Cheerleader series pitch? Just wait.) Al Roker, Lester Holt, and Deuce McAllister kick off the Science of NFL Football on this Today Show clip. The 10-part video series starring past and present NFL stars was produced in partnership with the NFL, NBC, and the National Science Foundation. As the segments are released each week, I'll pop back here to The Intersection and provide a brief description and link to the new segment. Visit and NBC Learn for more information and to download supplemental lesson plans available free to educators.

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