Swimming Pool Science: Advanced Edition

Summer’s in sight and many are eagerly awaiting Memorial Day weekend when many swimming pools open. Whether you’re counting down the days till your own pool’s opening, looking to impress with some poolside science facts, or trying to find a way to justify a field trip to the water park at your upcoming science camp it’s always useful to have a go-to resource list of swim-themed science activities. However, most of the lists I found were for the under 5 crowd. Here are eight advanced science activities and articles for middle and high school students.

CHEMISTRY

Pool Science by Marci Harvey and Catherine Matthews – In this weeklong activity students first build a model swimming pool and then use their knowledge of acid-base chemistry and Le Châtelier’s principle to keep it safe for swimmers.

Chemistry for the Gifted and Talented Swimmer by The Royal Society of Chemistry – This activity has a wonderfully pretentious title and is also a great 6-page worksheet of advanced and real-world chemistry. Topic covered include equilibria, entropy, mass spectra, oxidation numbers, curly arrow mechanisms, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, delocalization, tautomerism, and relative molecular mass calculations.

The Chemical Reactions Taking Place in Your Swimming Pool by Celia Arnaud – This article “dives deep” into what happens when pool disinfectants, like chloride, mix with sun lotions, dirt, and organic matter but manages to also be an easy and engaging read.

The Green Hair Problem: A Preliminary Investigation by G. Bhat et al. – Back in the late 70’s scientists from Johnson & Johnson thoroughly looked into why people’s hair turns green after multiple swims. Because the problem hasn’t gone away the article is still relevant and a good peer-reviewed read.

Physics

Wanna Swim Like Phelps? Take a Dive into the Physics of Drag by Rhett Allain – This Wired article starts by discussing swimming in terms of four forces (gravitation, buoyancy, thrust, and drag) and then looks at several mathematical models related to drag.

The Physics of Swimming – This page illustrates all the forces at play for each of the different swimming strokes. Remember the water park feel trip / impressive poolside talk that I mentioned in the beginning? This post would be great to recreate after doing some swimming of your own,

The Optimum Finger Spacing in Human Swimming by Bence Dániel Darázs1 and György Paál1. – This peer-reviewed article was published in the Journal of Biomecanics in 2009. It’s a dense article but an interesting research question. There are thousands of articles showing how physics and mechanics can be applied to human movement and even more on the biomechanics of swimming in other animals so with a quick search your students can choose their own question/focus.

Biology & Environmental Science

Natural Ponds and Natural Swimming Pools – Natural swimming pools are a great introduction to biology and biotechnology. These pools have a separate filtration section that harnesses the filtering power of plants instead of using chlorine or other chemical disinfectants. Read about them here and then challenge your students to design one of their own.