Dow Chemical Gives U.S.A Luge an 'Edge'

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If you're looking for speed in Sochi, look no further than luge.

With riders regularly hitting more than 90 miles per hour, it's truly the fastest sport on ice. In the last several years, the U.S. has struggled to keep up with its competitors.

"The technology progressed and the level of competition rose to the point where they recognized the fact that they also had to increase their level of technology and their standards of performance," said Scott Burr, Group Leader of Dow Product Development.

Dow came into play when its research team was approached by U.S.A. Luge in 2007.

"Our sled builder had just left," said Duncan Kennedy, Technical Director for U.S.A. Luge. "We had an aging fleet of hand-built sleds that lacked that consistency that I wanted to see."

'Consistency' that can be boiled down to a few specific pieces.

"The main part of the sled we're working on is called the 'Kuffen', the German word for 'runner'," said Burr. "That's really the interface between the steel that touches the ice and the sled.

Runners are what the riders use to steer and keep control while going down the track. A sport timed down to a thousandth of a second, precision in the building process is just as important as it is during a run.

"The latest technology is being used in these components," said Jay Tudor, a Dow Research Scientist. "There was a lot of experimentation and building prototypes."

The process of making the runners is top-secret and so are the materials involved.

"It's a mixture of plastics. One of the materials we're using is carbon-fiber, which is a high-tech material that's used in aerospace," said Tudor.

It's strong and light-weight. Different from the wood and steel runners normally used. The idea for the material came from its use in Dow's Automotive Division.

"We were able to leverage in a lot of that technology, a lot of those principles, a lot of the engineering tools and a full set of materials to bring forth to this problem and be able to provide a solution," said Burr.

So far, seven years of work has paid off, in the form of fast times and four silver medals on the world circuit. It's the team's best results in years. Now these Michigan-made 'kuffens' are making their Olympic debut in Sochi.

"A lot of the athletes have said they love them," said Tudor. "They love the smoothness down the track, to it's really a validation of all of our efforts here."

Validation that a piece of plastic could lead to 'metal' around the necks of U.S.A. Luge.

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