Tag Archives: olympics

This Olympics, all the medals are made entirely of recycled materials

Medalists at the Tokyo Olympic Games are the first ones in the history of the competition to win medals made out of recycled electrical goods — mostly, mobile phones.

These highly desired prizes were crafted from more than six million reused mobile phone parts, part of an effort by organizers to make this year’s competition environmentally friendly. 

The Olympic medals. Image credit: Olympic Games

Two years before the Olympics, the organizing committee launched the “Tokyo Medal Project” to recycle old electronic gadgets such as smartphones and laptops, which would later be used to produce the medals. Billions of precious metals such as gold and silver, which are used in electronic devices, get discarded every year globally — and Tokyo wanted to do something about it.

There was a large-scale, national effort in Japan to collect enough recycled material to produce about 5,000 bronze, silver and gold medals for the Olympics. Up to 90% of Japanese cities, towns, and villages participated by setting up donation pick-up sites where hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens donated their old electronic devices. It was a massive effort to engage the national government, municipalities, companies, schools and other local communities.

When the project was launched in 2017, there were 600 municipalities on board. By the end in 2019, there were more than 1,600, following a public relations campaign. Collections points were set for people to contribute with electronics. They were later dismantled to extract and refine the medals necessary to produce the medals. 

The recycling campaign produced 70 pounds (32 kilograms) of gold, 7,700 pounds of silver, and 4,850 pounds of bronze — all from nearly 80 tons of small electrical devices such as old phones and laptops. The gold alone is worth some $2 million.

The design for the medals shows the Olympic emblem on the front and the Greek goddess of victory at the back. The gold medals are made from pure silver plated with about six grams of gold, while the silver ones are made from pure silver and the bronze ones from gunmetal. The side of each medal is inscribed with the name of the event.

While the Japanese were the first ones to have made medals fully from recycled material, the concept isn’t new. In the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, 30% of the silver to make the gold and silver medals was obtained from recycled materials. Looking ahead to the Paris Games in 2024, the Tokyo Medal Project might have set a precedent. 

A broader sustainability effort 

The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics aimed to create a “minimal impact games,” though a series of steps outlined in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games Sustainability Plan. The games are aiming to move “towards zero carbon” by focusing on “maximum energy savings and use of renewable energy,” the plan reads. 

Most of the venues that are hosting events already existed, with several reused from the Tokyo 1964 Olympics — much of the Olympics-associated emissions come from building new infrastructure. Meanwhile, the Olympic torches, designed by Tokujin Yoshioka, were made up of recycled construction waste from temporary housing used in the aftermath of the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The vehicle that transports Olympic and Paralympic athletes around the Olympic Village is an autonomous and electric car from Japanese company Toyota, the e-Palette. The athletes also sleep in lightweight recycled cardboard beds made by the Japanese company Airweave. The mattresses can then be recycled after being used. 

Yuki Arata, the Tokyo Games director of sustainability, said in a statement: “We hope that the approach we are taking for these Olympics, for example utilising timber to make benches for public facilities for local areas will remain in (people’s) minds as a good memory of these Olympics to be passed on to the next generation.”

Math researcher and amateur cyclist wins heroic gold at Tokyo Olympics

Kiesenhofer doesn’t even have a coach or professional cycling contract. She organizes her how diet and creates her training plans. She entered in the road race without the benefit of an Austrian teammate to help her out. But none of that mattered. She held her arms in triumph as she finished before a crowd of fans, fighting back her tears. 

Anna Kiesenhofer. Image credit: Tokyo’s Olympic Games

Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten threw her arms up in the air after the Tokyo Olympic women’s road race last Sunday. That’s what you usually do when you think you’ve won the Olympic gold — except she hadn’t. The medal went to Austria’s Anna Kiesenhofer, who took advantage of her rival’s confusion and secured a shock win.

“When I crossed the line, I thought I had won,” said silver medalist Van Vleuten, speaking to reporters after the race. She gave an impressive performance, breaking away from the leading group more than 40 kilometers from the end. It was a demanding 147-kilometer course and she was on track for getting a medal for Austria.

But she wasn’t alone. Kiesenhofer spent much of the rest of the race so far ahead of the chasing pack that she was out of sight of the other cyclists. Lack of communication was also a factor. Radios aren’t allowed in the Olympics to update riders on their competitors, so Annemiek and others felt no urgency to sprint at the final stretch.

“I’m gutted about that, of course,” said Van Vleuten. Still, she was pleased with her medal after suffering a crash during the road race at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. “I’m really proud of the medal, because I did not have an Olympic medal. It’s also a silver medal with a shine on it, because I felt super good today,” said Van Vleuten. 

Kiesenhofer, who doesn’t have a professional contract, only took up cycling in 2014, turning professional three years later. According to the Olympics website, the Austrian said her ambition was “to compete at the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo.” She ended up winning Austria’s first cycling medal since the first summer Olympics in 1986. 

Focusing on academia

In fact, her CV features more academic accomplishments than cycling ones. She has a degree from the Technical University of Vienna, studied at Cambridge, and has a doctorate from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. Now, she spends most of her time teaching at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, rather than just training. 

But there’s nothing quite like an Olympic medal. This was her Olympic debut, and the 30-year-old couldn’t be happier.

“My legs were completely empty. I have never emptied myself so much in my whole life. I could hardly pedal any more. It felt like there was zero energy in my legs,” said Kiesenhofer, speaking with reporters. “I couldn’t believe it. Even when I crossed the line, it was like, ‘Is it done now? Do I have to continue riding?’ Incredible,” she added.

The unexpected situation will give the cycling world something to think about before the individual time-trials this week. For now, it’s time for celebration for Kiesenhfoer and Austria as a whole. It has the country’s first gold medal since the 2004 Summer Olympics. “I have sacrificed so much for today, it’s such a reward,” said Kiesenhofer.

World Health Organization rejects scientists’ call to postpone the Rio Olympics due to the Zika epidemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) has rejected a call from 150 health experts to consider postponing or moving the Rio Summer Olympics due to the Zika virus.

A large banner hangs in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Rodrigo Soldon.

The Zika outbreak in South America has pretty much reached pandemic levels, and the WHO has even declared a state of emergency following the outbreak. Thousands of babies have been born with drastic abnormalities such as microcephaly and Guillain–Barré syndrome as a result of the disease and we still don’t understand exactly how this happens.

Dr. Yoel Sadovsky, a Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, University of Pittsburgh said:

“We know very little about how Zika virus infection occurs during pregnancy and how it causes birth defects. However, what we do know from other viral infections during pregnancy is that there are several steps that are needed for viruses to affect the fetus. The first is to get into the mother’s body and then to infect or cross the placenta. At that point, the virus can enter a specific fetal compartment such as neurons which could potentially lead to a defect such as microcephaly. Alternatively the virus can remain in the placenta and may affect development of the fetus by disrupting placental function.”

To make things even worse, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world will travel to Brazil, additional to the 10,000 athletes who will compete in the Olympics. This poses a huge risk and a huge threat not only to everyone who will travel to the Olympics, but to everyone who will be in contact with them.

In an open letter to the WHO director-general, 150 experts in fields from public health to bioethics and pediatrics from two dozen countries have urged for the Rio games to be delayed or relocated “in the name of public health.” The authors also noted that despite increased efforts to wipe out the mosquitoes that spread Zika, the number of cases has gone up rather than down.

However, the WHO rejected this idea.

“Based on current assessment, cancelling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus.” Their reply argued this won’t make a significant chance and that “people continue to travel between these countries and territories for a variety of reasons.”

They did, however, reiterate their plea to pregnant women to avoid traveling in Zika-infested countries, but the researchers who wrote the letter weren’t pleased.

“The WHO’s response is absolutely fanciful,” said Amir Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa and one of the letter’s authors. He called WHO’s argument that Zika is already being transmitted by mosquitoes in up to 60 countries “a scientific half-truth.”

“They’re avoiding the question of `Is it Brazilian Zika in other countries?”‘ he said.

In the meantime, the end to the Zika epidemic is not in sight and the risk posed by the Olympics remains unclear.


Rio Olympics could spark global health crisis

The 2016 Olympics in Rio are riddled with problems, one of them being a potentially global pandemic. Medical doctors are worried that the huge gathering could spark a massive Zika epidemic.

A young girl adds her signature in support of Rio de Janeiro’s candidacy to host the 2016 Olympic Games (January 2009).

Reminiscent of the 2014-2015 Ebola panic, news of the Zika epidemic has spread like wildfire through Brazil and most of South America. The virus, which was once a serious risk for expectant mothers in Brazil, may already be shaping up to be an “explosive pandemic”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Reports of Zika outbreaks have increased at a staggering rate of 2500% from 2014 to 2016, leading the WHO to declare it a global public health emergency. Unlike Ebola, Zika has not been reported as deadly to infected persons. Neither does it remain in a person indefinitely. However, Zika is especially dangerous to pregnant women, being linked to a number of birth defects, including microcephaly.

Writing in the Harvard Public Health Review, Dr Amir Attaran warns that the Olympic Games could drastically speed up the spread of the virus, and suggested the Games could be hosted by another city in Brazil where the illness is less of a threat. He said:

“While Brazil’s Zika inevitably will spread globally, given enough time – viruses always do – it helps nobody to speed that up. In particular, it cannot possibly help when an estimated 500,000 foreign tourists flock into Rio for the Games, potentially becoming infected, and returning to their homes where both local Aedes mosquitoes and sexual transmission can establish new outbreaks.”

“All it takes is one infected traveller, a few viral introductions of that kind, in a few countries, or maybe continents, would make a full-blown global health disaster.”

Brazil is already facing an extremely volatile political situation which raises big question marks about the country’s capacity to host such a major event. In much of the country, environmental problems also plague the population, as a water crisis seems inevitable this summer and gang violence is ever on the rise. It seems like the perfect opportunity for the disease to spread. Hopefully, this won’t be the case.

With the football (soccer) World Cup, extra protection for the armadillo?

With the football (soccer) World Cup in sight, many are worried about the negative environmental impact the competition will have, in a country already torn apart by poverty. But some are trying to look at this as an opportunity to help preserve biodiversity, especially the armadillo, the endemic species which inspired this year’s World Cup mascot.

Big words, small actions

Known locally as the “tatu bola” or “armadillo ball”, this armadillo is an emblematic animal for South America; it protects itself by rolling its flexible armour into an almost perfect and impenetrable ball when threatened. Interestingly enough, it inspired the mascot for the World Cup. I really love its name too: Fuleco. Fuleco is a combination (in Portuguese) of Football (“Futebol”) and ecology (“ecologia”); it also sounds like “Full eco”, so the environmental message is clear.

The 2014 World Cup mascot: Fuleco.

“As a member of a vulnerable species, the official mascot can play a key role in driving environmental awareness”, said FIFA, the International Federation of Association Football.

The message is there, but did FIFA actually do anything? The short answer is – no. They claimed to raise awareness and send an environmental message, but a mascot and a mascot name, as cute and well thought as they may be, do little in effect. In an article published last month in Biotropica, a group of Brazilian scientists wrote:

“As football fans and conservationists, we challenge Fifa and Brazil to set an ambitious mark: at least 1000 hectares of Caatinga declared as protected area for each goal scored during the 2014 World Cup”.

With an average of 170 goals scored during each cup, that would translate to 170.000 hectares of armadillo habitat protected, which would do wonders for the animal. The armadillo was declared endangered two decades ago, but the situation is more desperate than ever. The Caatinga dry forest once covered nearly 845,000 square km or about 11% of the Brazilian territory, but now it covers less than half of that, mostly because of deforestation for wood.

A wonderful animal going extinct

Rodrigo Castro coordinates the Brazilian three-banded armadillo project at the Caatinga Association and he’s a firm defender of the species:

“From the 11 armadillo species found in Brazil, only two have the ability to roll into a ball: the one that inspired the mascot, which is endemic to Brazil, and another species, the Southern three-banded armadillo, Tolypeutes matacus, that can be found not only in southwestern Brazil but also in Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia”.

“This unique defensive strategy helped the three-banded armadillo survive 140 million years of evolution but it makes it vulnerable to human beings, because when it rolls into a ball it remains still”.

The message is pretty clear: if we don’t do anything (and fast), the armadillo may very well go extinct soon. This World Cup seems like the perfect chance to start powering up some efforts, but FIFA doesn’t seem truly interested in that; they don’t seem interested to reinvest their winnings into biodiversity conservation.

The armadillo rolls itself into an impenetrable ball to defend itself from predators, but this won’t help it against habitat destruction.

Some 20 million Brazilians live in the Caatinga area, and they are some of the poorest in the entire country. But even in these remote areas, the Fuleco brand is already well known.

“According to our latest research in the Brazilian market Fuleco is known by 95% of the Brazilian population.”, Castry said.

So it would be the perfect time to take action, while the little armadillo has the spotlights focused on him. Leaving this World Cup passing by without taking action would be missing a huge chance. But FIFA hasn’t responded yet, and they don’t seem interested in the matter. Hopefully this will chance, especially with the Summer Olympics also heading for Brazil in 2016.

“The Brazilian three-banded armadillo gave life to Fuleco, but Fuleco has achieved very little for the three-banded armadillo. We hope that millions of people watching the matches will become aware of the plight of this animal and that the World Cup will have an impact on the fate of the species,” Rodrigo Castro told the BBC.

“The outcome depends to a great extent on FIFA. We still hope it will understand this is the first ever World Cup that could leave a lasting legacy for biodiversity, helping to save the Brazilian three-banded armadillo from extinction”.

London Tower Bridge GE lighting

London’s Tower Bridge LED revamp puts the city in a new light for the Olympics

London Bridge

Arguably one of the most recognized landmarks in the world, London’s Tower Bridge received a full relamping in celebration for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For the first time in its 118-year history, the bridge will be fully visible at night in all its stunning beauty, pulling the architectural wonder into the third millennium.

The creation of architect Sir Horace Jones and civil engineer Sir John Wolfe-Barry, Tower Bridge was completed on 30 June 1894, after eight years of work becoming the only crossing for the Thames at that time. The city has grown into a behemoth since then, and quite a few more bridges have been built, but still none of them come close to the Tower Bridge. As the city’s symbol, and in the wake of the Olympics, as well as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, authorities chose to put it under a different light. Now, after more than 25 years since its last lighting system revamp, Tower Bridge rises majestically on both side of the Thames, by day or night.

London Tower Bridge GE lighting

London Tower Bridge GE lighting

Thanks to an funding deal reached between Mayor of London Boris Johnson, bridge-owners the City of London Corporation, and London 2012 Olympics sponsors General Electric (GE) and EDF, the LED-lighting and cabling system has now been fully installed at no cost to taxpayers.

London Tower Bridge GE lighting

Tower Bridge has always been on the things to do in London list for any tourist, but now the iconic British landmark is worth revisiting even for hardened travelers. Over the past six months designers and electricians have been scaling the granite ledges and steel suspension chains of London’s landmark to install some 2 km of GE Lighting’s Tetra Contour architectural LED lighting, 1,800 LED lamps, and 1,000 junction boxes with 5,000m of cable. Thus, static lights have been replaced with LEDs that can vary in intensity and colour, while at the same time cutting energy consumption considerably. The new sustainable energy control system has reduced the energy used to light the bridge by up to 40 % compared with the previous system.

“We are incredibly proud to have been involved with the lighting scheme at Tower Bridge,” explained Phil Marshall, President and CEO, GE Lighting EMEA. “The combination of architectural and floodlight LEDs were specified to help reduce the energy used to light the bridge by up to 40 % compared with the previous system. As a London 2012 Sustainability Partner and London 2012 sponsor, GE is excited to have successfully contributed the future of Tower Bridge and to London’s sustainability commitments.”

London Tower Bridge GE lighting

Over the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the computer controlled lights were used to make the famous bridge over the Thames gleam in “diamond” white. Now with the Olympics in full swing, Londoners and tourists alike dazzle each evening at the sight of the bridge and the color-changing lights, which highlight the Olympic Rings and Paralympic Agitos fitted to the London icon.

“Furthermore, during the London 2012 Olympics as part of the overall celebrations, there will be an evening light display every evening at 21.00pm for 15 minutes on Tower Bridge, ensuring those in the city can fully enjoy the new lighting scheme and see Tower Bridge – as they never have before,” Marshal said.

Also, the GE Olympics developed an interactive Olympic park map, complete with all the official venues for the Games from the Olympics Stadium, to the Aquatics Center and so on, in fantastic satellite-image detail. Also, besides the lighting system, GE is also directly involved in the Games, as the  ImageQuant™ LAS4000, a biomolecular imager, developed by the company’s Healthcare Life Sciences division is currently in use for the testing process for recombinant erythropoietin (EPO) – a performance enhancing drug that can be used to boost the number of red blood cells enabling vastly improved oxygen flow, increasing an athlete’s endurance.

Check out the video below of the Tower Bridge’s GE lighting in action.


Scientists synthesize and image 5-ring graphite molecule in tribute to Olympics symbol


The 2012 London summer Olympic games are just a few weeks away, and as millions are set to flock to the city and other hundreds of millions will rejoice on the web and TV at the world’s grandest spectacle of athletic performance, it’s pretty clear this is one of the most anticipated events of the year. Every four-years people all over the world offer their tribute to the competition, including scientists too, of course.

“When doodling in a planning meeting, it occurred to me that a molecular structure with three hexagonal rings above two others would make for an interesting synthetic challenge,” says Professor Graham Richards, an RSC Council member.

“I wondered: could someone actually make it, and produce an image of the actual molecule?”

A joint collaborative scientific effort comprised of scientists at the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), the University of Warwick, and IBM Research Zurich, have  imaged the smallest possible five-ringed structure. The researchers employed synthetic organic chemistry to build the Olympicene molecule, while scanning tunneling microscopy was used to reveal a first glimpse of the molecule’s structure. To image the 1.2 nanometres in width molecule, about 100,000 times thinner than a human hair, at an unprecedented resolution, like captioned above, scientists at IBM Zurich made use of a complex technique known as noncontact atomic force microscopy.

“Alongside the scientific challenge involved in creating olympicene in a laboratory, there’s some serious practical reasons for working with molecules like this,” says Fox.

“The compound is related to single-layer graphite, also known as graphene, and is one of a number of related compounds which potentially have interesting electronic and optical properties.

“For example these types of molecules may offer great potential for the next generation of solar cells and high-tech lighting sources such as LEDs.”

source: Futurity

Canadian husky dog slaughter shows the unknown face of the olympics

The Canadian olympics of 2010 will forever be stained with the blood of 100 husky dogs who were brutally killed with a knife and a shotgun, because they were no longer profitable.

For Canadians and tourists, the blue eyed huskies who took them on sleds were nothing less than icons; but for Outdoor Adventures, the company which rented them, they were nothing more than a deal. In the months following the Olympics, when the deal wasn’t so profitable, they decided to cut their loss. They officially claimed that they were aware of the killing, but they “expected this to be done in a proper, legal and humane manner”. So buy dogs, rent them, make money, then kill dogs – what is proper and humane here ?

“No creature should ever have to suffer in the manner that has been reported, and we want to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again in our province,” British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said in a statement on Wednesday.

It appears they had a veterinarian kill them in a “humane manner”, but when he declined, for obvious reasons, they had to take matter into their own hands. An employee of Outdoor Adentures admitted to killing more than 70 dogs, with a shotgun and a knife, with injured dogs desperately, but hopelessly trying to escape; only one escaped.

“Any dog sledder who culls dogs at the end of a season should be culled himself, as far as we’re concerned,” said Paul McCormick, head dog sledding guide for Wilderness Adventures, a Toronto-based company that runs dog-sledding trips through Canada’s Algonquin Park. “You don’t go out and cull dogs,” he said. “We’re part of the largest dog sled operation in the world with 40 dogs and we never cull dogs. We retire them, they’re adopted … there are a lot of alternatives.”

There are of course a lot of other alternatives – but this was the cheapest, and in the end, it came down to that. I will not post any pictures related to the slaughter, for obvious reasons.

Vancouver 2010: probably the greenest Olympics ever

Well I have to say, I’m really thrilled about the Winter Olympics that have just started, and even though they don’t get as much hype as the Summer Olympics, they still attract tens of millions viewers (or even more). It’s also really great to see they’re being held in a city like Vancouver. Why am I saying this ? Because Vancouver is one of the greenest cities in the world.

It doesn’t fall into the major North American city cliche; the city development was thoroughly planned in the 1950s, and the results were definitely worth it. Perhaps the thing that hits you first is the lack of highways all around the city; instead, you find green spaces and parks, most of the time. However, despite this, there’s almost never a traffic jam and it’s quite easy to drive your way around every part of the city. The city is quite compact with tall buildings, but the really admirable thing is that they managed to mix urban skyscraper kind of architecture with lots and lots of green spaces.


Travel green

Several years ago, when the location for the Olympics was announced, the city officials started a program whose purpose was to “green” the air transportation. The goal was to purchase carbon credits and neutralize the emissions caused, especially by tourists that will come to the sports event. I pretty much doubt they will be able to fully neutralize all the emissions, the project is definitely something worth applauding, and I can see this being applied to other major sport events too (and not only).

Once people get to Vancouver, they will find a cheap efficient transportation system that discourages buying cars (for locals) or renting them (tourists). They also boast an impressive bicycle renting program, though it may not be the best thing to do, especially during the winter.


Also, there’s a number of hotels that follow eco-friendly principles, low-flow toilets and faucets, energy-efficient lightbulbs, recycling and composting. Basically, all the hotels are in a process of improving their efficiency in energy and water disposal matters.


Eco friendly buildings and medals

Another fine initiative the Canadians took was to rather renovate and improve than start wrecking and building big. All the Olympic complexes have LEED certification and the transportation for the sportsmen will be provided with alternative fuel vehicles.


Probably the most interesting complex is the Richmond Olympic Oval, which is where all the speed skating events will take place. Aside from the LEED standards, it also has a remarkable unique roof, with quite a story. The local pine forests were devastated by the Mountain Pine Beetle, so in order to prevent further devastation, a large number of pines were cut down. However, instead of just putting the trees to waste, they created a 6 acre large roof, and parts of the outside finishing too.



The environmentally friendly design will be completed by the medals, which are all made from recycled materials. Instead of using freshly mined metals, they will be made from recycled scrap electronics. They’ll also have a unique wavy shape meant to represent Vancouver’s landscape.



They also created an interesting energy centre that will heat the almost 3000 sportsmen and officials (and a number of locals, after that), using sewage water. Waste water heat recovery out of this plant will account for about 70 per cent of the neighbourhood’s annual energy requirements.


These are however, not the only green accomplishments of the Vancouver officials, and they’ve been adopting eco friendly policies for quite some time now; if you know of something else that’s worth mentioning and I missed, don’t hesitate in sharing with the rest of us. All in all, this promises to be quite an event worth remembering !