Lecture 2 – The trainer that ran over the world

From the 2002 autumn programme:

What connects the trainers on your feet to a jumbo jet flying 40,000 feet up in the air?

From pole-vaulting to attaining supersonic speeds, getting around the planet relies on some nifty chemical trickery. Take training shoes - a miracle of modern science. The average pair lasts just six months. But in that time, they will have run hundreds of miles, absorbed hundreds of litres of sweat and withstood thousands of tonnes of impact.

How they survive even a single lap of the stadium is  due to some miraculous chemistry that lurks beneath their flashy skin - a hidden world of impact cushioning gel, height propelling airpumps, moisture absorbing insoles and breathable foot-hugging coatings.

Probe further, and you'll uncover the chemical secret that connects your trainers to a jumbo jet ... glue! Two tonnes of the same sealant that keeps the soles on your trainers stops a jumbo jet from falling apart in mid-air. How do these adhesives work? And how can they be stronger than metal rivets? What is the difference between adhesion and grip? Which has most grip, the wheels of a racing car or the soles on your shoes? How do insects walk up walls? Can we ever mimic this and become real life Spidermen? Could we make materials that know when to hold and when to let go?

This lecture will answer these questions by exploring the chemistry that propels people around the planet. 

Supported by




Tony Ryan



All lectures in the series