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Chemistry and sports: Championship soccer edition!

Every four years, soccer fans put everything aside to focus on the world’s most popular soccer tournament, and this year is no different – with one key exception: many fans are just as focused on the new technology in the games as they are on the outcomes. And this is where chemistry scoresyet again!

Polyurethane soccer ball, the “fairest” of them all?

As you know, the soccer ball has come a long way since the original leather design. This year’s tournament ball, created by adidas®, is even more improved than its predecessors, thanks to new technologies from Bayer MaterialScience.

Today’s soccer ball, called the “Brazuca,” is comprised of an air-filled latex chamber surrounded by five layers of polyurethane. The polyurethane layers of the ball create a surface that is water resistant and flexible on contact but quickly returning to its original shape.

These qualities, unlike previous constructions, are vitally important for fair play, especially for a tournament played in the tropical climate of Brazil.

“Vanishing spray foam” keeps defenses honest

You’ve likely noticed that of the referees in this year’s matches are carrying around a bottle of what has been dubbed vanishing spray foam, an aerosol spray that leaves a temporary mark on the pitch to show where players can stand and where the ball is placed during penalty situations.

The spray, which is sold under the brand name 9:15 Fair Play, has become so popular with fans that it now has its own social media page and is a popular hashtag on Twitter. But what is it, really?

The spray contains a number of chemicals including surfactants. Surfactants are chemical compounds that, when added to a liquid, lower the liquid’s surface tension helping it and other ingredients not stick to the surface where the product is applied. A surfactant is normally found in soaps and other household cleaners. In the case of 9:15 Fair Play, the surfactant plays a role in allowing the foam to “disappear” after a few minutes.

An Argentinian journalist and entrepreneur by the name of first developed the spray, which is now patented in many countries and commercially available for purchase. The surfactants in the spray are thoroughly tested by both the United States and international regulatory bodies for safety. You can read more about the health and environmental safety of surfactants here and here.

Recycled clothing and protective gear helps keep players sustainably stylish and safe

This year’s gear is unique in more ways than you might suspect. The U.S. Men’s team’s shirt, shorts and even the socks all feature fabric made from recycled plastic bottles – an average of 18 of those reusable bottles per “kit.”

As Plastics Today reports, that’s 100 percent recycled polyester in the shorts, 96 percent recycled polyester in the shirt and 78 percent in the socks. Thanks to initiatives like this, Nike has diverted almost two billion bottles from landfills since 2010. That’s enough to cover over 2,800 full-sized soccer pitches!

Protective gear, like shin guards and face masks, are also an important part of the game. And because of chemistry, the gear has evolved significantly since the early days of soccer fever.

Soccer players originally wore shin pads similar to those worn by cricket players, which were made primarily out of leather. Today, a majority of shin guards worn by the top soccer players in the world are made of either polycarbonate or polypropylene. These shin guards are lightweight and allow for easy movement while offering maximum protection.

Face guards are not normally worn during a soccer match, except by players that have incurred a facial injury, like a broken nose. Many of these face guards are made of polycarbonate, which are shatter resistant and clear, allowing players to maintain as much visibility as possible, while at the same time protecting themselves from further injuries.

Skin refrigerants – the other magic spray

In the case some minor injury that does occur, however, chemistry can still help. You may have seen trainers spraying a topical “skin refrigerant” on injured parts of the body. The spray works by numbing the affected area for a couple of minutes to reduce swelling and bruising.

Soccer players that are accidentally kicked (or bit, as the case may be!) can use the product to reduce swelling while giving the player time to work out the injury. These sprays can contain a number of active chemicals to treat the athletes and help them get back on their feet in almost no time.

Chemistry really is changing the game by increasing the performance of athletes and their equipment, and reducing the risk of injury while playing the sports that we love.

How do you think your game been helped by chemistry? Post a comment below or tweet us @AmChemistry.

Image via Chinaleather / Bayer MaterialScience

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