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Virtual sports

Patty Srinath works in the Digital Sports department at the Nike headquarters. She uses her engineering knowledge and her love of sports to make brand new gadgets to track and measure our fitness!

Patty Srinath Og

If you thought that measuring and recording detailed data so athletes can improve their performance is only for the likes of sporting stars such as Mo Farah, Andy Murray and Jessica Ennis, think again.

Patty Srinath is an engineer in Nike's Digital Sports department where they make products like training watches – these can record your physical activity before uploading it to a computer where you can measure your fitness, compare it with your friends or see how you would compare against professional athletes. Patty helps test and improve these new gadgets, helping people get fitter and healthier!

Read on to find out about Patty's job, how swimming inspired her to go into engineering and how engineers stopped athletic stadium spectators being impaled by flying javelins!

Name: Patty Srinath
Job title: Test and Validation Engineer, Digital Sport department at Nike
Lives: Oregon, USA
Studied: Bachelor of Science, Aerospace Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
Master of Science, Sports Engineering, Sheffield Hallam University

What does the Digital Sport group at Nike do?
Our mission is to use information based on sporting activity and the power of the online community to make athletes better. Some recent products that the group has been working on include the Nike+ SportWatch GPS, Nike+ FuelBand, and Nike+ Training and Nike+ Basketball.

What is your role in the team?
The main role of a test and validation engineer is to provide information to help product development. We create and carry out plans to test our new products, analyse the data and use the conclusions for design and development feedback to create a better product.

We do a range of testing, including mechanical testing, subject-based and algorithm testing. The results and insights from the tests are fed directly into the product development cycle to further improve the design.

How does it feel to be working on this brand new technology?
It's a dream come true for me! Sport helps bring people together and motivates them to live healthier lives. To help develop products that can be used by high-level athletes and by non-athletes who just want to lead a healthier life is really exciting.

What first got you interested in engineering?
Engineering is a very interesting subject because, on a very basic level, engineering principles can be applied to almost anything. In any type of engineering there is the same basic theme: improvement or progress, and this gives me a lot of motivation.

My favourite sport is swimming and I started swimming competitively at an early age and, like all athletes, strived to get better. In swimming there are a few basic attributes to improve: speed, endurance and technique.

Fluid mechanics is a way of understanding how and why things move through a fluid, in this case water. Fluid mechanics is what drives the biomechanics (changes of technique) of swimming. So by understanding how a person moves through the water we can figure out how to make them faster! It was this idea that really sparked my interest in fluid mechanics and engineering.

Why are engineers needed in sport?
The influence that technology can have on sport is incredible and engineers are an important part of creating that technology.

Technology can help improve an athlete's performance. It can also make sport safer and fairer. In the 1980s, javelin throwers were starting to throw so far that they were getting very close to hitting the spectators in the stands. This was incredible but obviously very unsafe so they changed the equipment: the “centre of mass” of the javelin was moved forward so the javelin would fall sooner and travel a shorter distance.

Spectators can be drawn closer to the game by providing more information and different views of what's happening. For example, in tennis the Hawkeye camera system is being used as a way to see the trajectory of a ball and it allows players to challenge the umpire’s ruling. It also means the spectator, commentator, analyst or opposition can see patterns in a player’s game, such as where they usually hit their shots, and much more.

Other than swimming, what other sports do you like?
I played many sports growing up: soccer, softball, gymnastics, tennis, but my main sport was always swimming.

What subjects did you study at school and how are they useful to what you do now?
Physics and math are very important in engineering and are used on a daily basis. Engineers work in a team and communication is really important in any engineering job so English/journalism classes are really helpful.

What did you study at university?
My undergraduate degree was in aerospace engineering which I chose based on my interest in fluid mechanics. I went on to work in the aerospace industry for a few years and really enjoyed my job. However, my real passion was always applying engineering principles to improve performance in sport so when I found out about the MSc Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University I jumped at the opportunity!

What did you learn on the Sports Engineering MSc course?
The MSc program gave me an all-round understanding of sports engineering topics like biomechanics, methods for improving an athlete's performance and of course the application of engineering principles to sport. My professors were all incredibly passionate about their jobs, making my time in Sheffield fantastic.

And how did you find out about your current job?
I did a lot of research on (and applied to) various companies in the sports industry, ranging from very small and usually fairly new companies to the big giants. I applied for my current job on Nike's website and was lucky enough to get an interview and ultimately a job.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a similar career?
One of my favourite thing about the sports engineering course was the opportunity to meet people in the industry. The sports engineering industry is fairly small and if you are interested in working in sports you should seek out people in the industry and ask as many questions as you can about where you can use your skills.

What kind of personal qualities do you think are important for an engineer?
I think a lot of people still have the misconception that engineers are like the guys in NASA mission control in the 1960s: short sleeve white shirts with a pocket protector and glasses. While everyone thought they were really smart, they came across as introverted and socially awkward. In most cases, engineers are not like this. It's really important to be well rounded. You need to be able to communicate well, both to other engineers and to people who don't have a technical background.

Do you have a favourite piece of sports engineering that you wish you’d invented?
The Speedo LZR suit made a huge impact on swimming. There are different opinions on whether it was good or bad for the sport but it drew attention to a non-mainstream sport (it was eventually banned – Ed). It was the only big innovation in swimming since the introduction of goggles.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I'm pretty new to the northwest region of the US so I spend most of my time trying to explore what the area has to offer. Although after a busy week of work, I do enjoy relaxing on the couch and watching TV or a movie. That is of course until I look at my Nike+ FuelBand and realise I’ve barely done any activity that day so I go out and try to be active!

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