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Bungee Jumping:
Extreme Physics in an Extreme Sport

The Societal, Economic, Environmental,
Technological, and Scientific Aspects of the Sport

by Helen
Mr. Varsava's Grade 11 Physics Class
March 29, 2004

Over the years, popularity of bungee jumping and other such extreme sports has escalated phenomenally. The origin of bungee jumping dates back thousands of years. For millenia, the indigenous population of the South Pacific Pentecoste Islands has been tying vines around peoples' feet in order to allow them to spring safely off bamboo towers. However, modern bungee cords did not come into use until militia designed "shok cords" to connect heavy equipment to the parachutes needed to safely deploy them from aircraft onto land. When burdensome loads such as entire jeeps were lowered, the cords absorbed the shock of the parachutes' discharge and prevented the jolt which had previously often damaged the parachute. Nowadays, technology has come along way, and the items attached to such cords are seldom harmed. This includes people! Statistics have shown that one bungee jump is approximately as dangerous as travelling one hundred and sixty-one kilometres by automobile. This statistic conveys that the chances of death are about one in five hundred thousand. Furthermore, nearly all accidents have occured, not because of a fault in the bungee cords, but because of errors in attaching the cord securely to the jump platform or the jumper. Bungee cord manufacturers are clearly more than efficient at their job.

Social and economic impacts of bungee jumping have been monumental. Not only has the activity given new meaning to the word, "sport," but it has also set a new standard for all those who consider themselves "daredevils." Bungee jumpers are seen as risk-taking rebels, mostly because they defy gravity as well as the human instinct to take comfort in safety and stability. With such a "cutting edge" image, the sport has phenomenally expanded the modern wave of popularity of "extreme sports." For exaple, influenced by the current style of entertainment, people have recently been going snowboarding as opposed to skiing, and would rather be dragged behind a boat than safely relaxing inside it. Because of this immense trend, the market for extreme sports equipment such as surfwear, snowboarding gear, and above all, skateboarding apparel, has boomed. The economy has been drastically affected by the fact that wealthiest generation of youth in all of history desires to be "extreme" not only in sports but in their lifestyle. Billions of dollars are spent each year in North America in stores taking advantage of this fashion. Additionally, from this fad a new style of music called "punk" has developed and flourished, and former rock and roll hits have resurfaced because oftheir daring nature. One can hardly venture outside without coming across a youth with a skateboard. Bungee jumping, along with other extreme sports, have shaped a new breed and attitude of youth. Although many would say such fashions are harmless, the social effects of the advertised fascination with defiance has sparked a very negative attitude in many impressionable young people. The perspective that "it's good to be bad" has overtaken the modern generation. Alcohol, drugs, sexuality and violence have been exalted, leading to the abuse of all three. Adolescentsare becoming more promiscuous and underage drinking and smoking is seen as average at a younger age that seems to continue to shrink. Of course, extreme sports are not entirely to blame. Without doubt the media and other factors have greatly influenced society as well. However, extreme sports have produced a new species of adreniline craving, unstable, not easily shocked youth who are constantly pushing boundaries and testing limits that are quite possibly better left alone.

Environmentally, bungee jumping itself has made a relatively minor impact. Unfortunately bungee cords are largely composed of rubber and synthetic materials whose production and disposal is harmful. Other materials used include nylon and cotton, which are fairly natural and environmentally friendly. Furthermore, bungee jumping in scenic areas such as cliffs and gorges is popular, leading to industrialization and pollution in remote, and otherwise rural, locations. Thankfully, few alterations need to be made to the area in order for it to be suitable for bungee jumping. The idea of bungee jumping is fairly simple, as is the preparation and action of it.

Impacts and demands of bungee jumping on science and technology are terrific. Because it is such a dangerous sport, bungee jumping demands that the calcuations and equipment be perfect. Any mistakes can lead to the death of the jumper. For this reason physicists and chemists have been in demand by the industry to come up with the most efficient techniques and materials to be used in bungee jumping. Physicists must take into account Hooke's law that the restoring force of the cord will equal the mass of the individual multiplied by the spring constant of the material being used. Cords must be the specified thickness and length in order to ensure survival. Chemists must take into consideration the spring constant of different substances and combine them to make an efficient cord. If the cord is not stretchy enough, at the point at which it catches the jumper, the force will be so great against the bindings that the jumper will be affected as if he or she were to hit the ground. The individuals body will be dismembered and death will most certainly occur. On the other hand, if the cord is too elastic, it will not slow the person's body enough and substantial damaging contact with the ground will be made, resulting in severe injury, and most likely, death. Because of such dire consequences, leaps and bounds have been made by scientists hired to make this adreniline rush possible for the courageous. The cords used in bungee jumping are also applied in other everyday uses. Bungee cords are used on large loads in cars to keep the trunk closed or to secure articles to the roof, and even rubber bands found in one's kitchen or office are related to bungee cords. Also, bungee cords were originally used to lower machinery into areas of war, and because of the demands of bungee jumping, scientists can now develop the products needed to do so more efficiently than ever before. In each case, the same rule applies: if the cord is too flexible or too stiff, it will not serve its purpose. It is up to physicists and chemists to find the ideal median.

Overall, the physics of bungee jumping are astonishing. One is able to defy gravity while obeying it. Certainly the anomally of bungee jumping has made its mark in society and history. Generations of the future will undoubtedly use physics to transform the sport into an even more deadly and extraordinary experience than people claim it is today.



©2004 Helen, all rights reserved.


Measurements and calculations must be exact to keep the jumper from striking the canyon walls or ground.



Bungee jumping from a crane!

 
Related Sites

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Bungee Zone

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Bibliography

Physics Concepts and Connections, Bungee Jumping, 2001

 
Webliography

The Physics of Bungee Jumping, Irene Lam

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Choose Your Own Adventure