Sports, STEM, and Shoes

In our everyday lives, shoes play a critical role: they protect our feet, help prevent injury and more. Shoes in sports have to work even harder for the athletes wearing them, to help improve performance for the different people and sports environment that they’re used in. There’s a whole lot of science (in addition to 2 feet) packed into those small packages! But have you ever thought about what that science is? Read on to learn a little bit about that, and why not try our fun activity to see for yourself!

The Science of Shoes

It takes more than cool colours to make cool shoes:  here are just some of the ways science is at the foot (ha!) of that process:

  • Overall weight of the shoe:  Science tells us that if you can reduce the energy it takes to run, then in theory, you should be able to run faster and for a longer period. The most basic way to do this is to reduce the mass, or weight, of the shoe. The lighter the shoe, the more efficiently a runner can swing their legs, and the more energy they will have to run further and longer.
  • What the shoe is made of:  The most common materials that shoes are made of include leather, textiles (like cotton or polyester), synthetics (like a synthetic leather), rubber and foam. Each textile has its own physical properties, such as variations in breathability, support and temperature control, that make it a good or bad choice for a particular type of shoe. For example, if using foam, there are 2 broad categories: open and closed cell foam. In open cell foam, the material is permeable, which means it would allow water and air to pass through. In closed cell foam, these open cells are sealed, preventing the gasses inside them from escaping. If being waterproof is important, closed cell foam would be the best choice. 
  • The construction of the sole: The sole, or bottom or the shoe, is also very important. Shoes designed for soccer, football and baseball have cleats, or spikes, designed to help grip the ground and make sure you don’t slip and slide when rounding first base! Shoes worn for basketball, wrestling, volleyball and rock climbing on the other hand, have flatter, rubber soles that provide greater grip. Cycling shoes are very stiff and sturdy. Hiking boots have soles that are thick, waterproof and offer traction. 
Now that you understand a bit of the science that goes into your soles, we need your help for a very important mission…

Captain American Needs Your Help!

The Challenge: You know Captain America is a superhero, but did you know even superheroes get sore feet? Unlike Superman who doesn’t feel any pain, Captain America is a genetically enhanced human who, even though he has awesome muscles, still feels pain. Which is why he needs your help designing a great pair of shoes that will help to protect his feet while he’s running after the bad guys!  

Materials Needed: Several pairs of shoes, pencil and paper 

Educational Concept: Scientific observation

Objective: To make detailed observations by using your senses and taking measurements to make inferences about changes in technology. 

Activity: STEM campers will use observation skills and critical thinking to determine which parts of the shoe make the shoe great, and design a shoe that will help Captain America save his feet and the world!

  1. Describe your favourite pair of shoes. Would it be hard to play outside or play sports with those shoes? Why or why not?
  2. Observe several other pairs of shoes. Draw, measure and use all four of your senses (sight, hearing what it sounds like when you run, smell, touch…but no taste please!) in your observations and record what you find for each pair of shoes on a piece of paper.
  3. Using your observations, which pair of shoes would be the best to use for different activities or sports?  Why do you think so?
  4. Take some measurements of your shoes. Rank how much they weigh when you hold them in your hand, from heaviest to lightest. What impact do you think size and weight has on shoe performance? Why do you think so?
  5. Design what you think would be a great shoe and explain why. We’d love to see your designs! Post them on our facebook page

Some Fun Shoe Facts

Did You Know...

High heels were first worn by men for horseback riding, to help them stay secure and stable in their stirrups, particularly during battles.

Did You Know...

The term “sneakers” came about because the rubber sole in those types of shoes allowed you to walk without being heard.

Did You Know...

The most expensive shoes ever sold at auction, were the ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. They sold for over $660,000 in 2000.


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