The Brain Power of Youth

Lifted out of the water on their foils, today's America's Cup yachts are travelling four times faster than they did just 14 years ago. Sailors need super-fast decision making and lightning quick reflexes, which is why it pays to be young. Recently scientists discovered that the brain's response time begins a slow and steady decline from when you turn 24. Physical changes in the nerve fibres slow the speed of conduction, and the parts of the brain involved in motor control lose cells over time. So how fast are you?

To find out, get a friend to hold a ruler near the end and let it hang down. Hold your hand beside the bottom of the ruler and get ready to grab. At some time in the next 5 seconds - your friend will release the ruler and you catch it as fast as you can. Record the number of centimetres at which you fingers caught the ruler. Repeat the test 5 times, varying the time of dropping the ruler within the 5 second "drop-zone" so you can't guess when the ruler will drop.

Dropping Rulers diagram

Reaction Table

Use the Reaction Table to convert the distance on the ruler to your reaction time.

Try testing the whole class. Who is fastest? Compare the boys versus the girls. On average, is there a difference? How does your teacher compare? Or your parents? (And be sure to remind them that their peak performance was back when they were 24 years old!)

Drag Racing

Do you remember how difficult it is to walk through water? Perhaps you were wading through the sea and noticed it was much harder than walking through air. That's because the particles of water were pushing back against you, resisting your movement. The boats in the America's Cup use hydrofoils to reduce the drag from the water resistance. With the hull up in the air, there's much less surface area "rubbing" on the water to slow the boat down.

AC75 designer Elise Beavis uses computers to study how the boat moves through water and air, but you can do your own experiments to investigate how the shape of objects affects water resistance.

Take pieces of plasticine and shape it into a ball. Drop it into a tall jar of water and time how long it takes to reach the bottom. Now try changing the shape of the plasticine to a pancake, or a pyramid. What other shapes speed up or slow down the descent? What shape do you predict will be fastest? What shape do you predict will be slowest?

Now try modelling the plasticine into the shape of a boat. Does it float? Why?

Putty Boat image

The Ultimate Game Controller

In Bermuda, it was Skipper Glenn Ashby’s job to control the twist and camber of the giant 23m-high wing sail (that's taller than a Boeing 707 wing!) and the smaller jib sail in front of it. Hidden inside the rigid carbon fibre wing are complex hydraulics, all plugged into what looks suspiciously like an X-Box controller! This little black device gave more flight control than his counterparts on the other America’s Cup yachts who relied on traditional ropes and winches to adjust their sails.

Imagine if you could take Glenn's controller and modify it for use around your house. Would you have a button for the television? Or use it to control a drone to deliver food to your room?

ETNZ Controller image
Teacher Resources link

KIWI CAN FLY - The America's Cup