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02-07-2014

Clarkson University Researchers Design Next Generation of Sleds for USA Luge

As USA Luge competes in Sochi, Russia, Clarkson University researchers are improving the sled for use in the next Winter Olympic Games.

Olympian Erin Hamlin and Duncan Kennedy of the United States Luge Association work with Prof. Doug Bohl, grad student Brian Heckendorf, and Prof. Brian Helenbrook on sizing a sled so that they can model it electronically and then manufacture it.Two engineers from Clarkson are designing a faster, more aerodynamic and comfortable sled for the United States luge team, which it hopes to use at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Mechanical engineering professors Douglas G. Bohl and Brian Helenbrook are using computer models and wind tunnels to speed up the sled, reduce drag and find ways to make the vehicle more comfortable, including more space for the hands and legs.

Comfort is key in maximizing performance, according to Bohl. The team has already identified key components of the luge to improve and will be working to make further updates in the years to come.
“If the athlete fits well and can be comfortable in the sled, the overall performance will improve too,” Bohl said.

Bohl got involved after his now 16-year-old son tried out for the USA Luge development team. While traveling to the luge track in Lake Placid with his son each weekend, Bohl met sports programs director and two-time Olympic medalist Mark Grimmette, at which point he proposed the idea for a research project to reduce aerodynamic drag on the sled.

When finished, Bohl said the luge will be the first designed in a computer model; in the past all luge were handcrafted.

“We’re getting to the point where we can work with technology to improve the sleds,” he said.

Duncan Kennedy, technical programs manager at USA Luge, praised the relationship between the two organizations. USA Luge is headquartered in Lake Placid, N.Y., 90 minutes away from Clarkson.

“Clarkson was a key piece of the puzzle to get this done,” Kennedy said. “The team at Clarkson is so talented and so much fun to work with. I think we can take this to a whole other level in the next few years.”

Clarkson University is working in collaboration with USA Luge, Dow and Norton on the project.

Bohl said, “When the equipment for these games was set this fall, we all immediately shifted to getting ready for the 2018 games. They are not that far off.”

Clarkson University is a sponsor of USA Luge. Bohl, Helenbrook and their team of students will receive no monetary compensation from USA Luge for their research.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Clarkson University researchers are improving the USA Luge sled for use in the next Winter Olympic Games. Above (left to right), Olympian Erin Hamlin and Duncan Kennedy of the United States Luge Association work with Prof. Doug Bohl, grad student Brian Heckendorf, and Prof. Brian Helenbrook on sizing a sled so that they can model it electronically and then manufacture it.

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/luge-fitting.jpg .]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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