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London, Ont., broom research catching the eye of the curling community

A curler releases a rock during play at the 2019 Brier. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Sports fans are well aware of the sweet science, but it’s sweep science that has caught the attention of curlers.

A pair of engineers from Western University have been taking a closer look at how the fabric of certain brooms are able to manipulate the direction of a rock.

By measuring the topography of an ice sheet after it has been swept by different broom heads, the co-authors discovered some materials can cause deep ice scratches that could alter a rock’s curl and direction.

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The research was sparked by a 2015 scandal where some curlers were caught using “Frankenbrooms” with different fabric, used to alter a rock’s direction after it had been thrown.

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“New fabric came out and we saw some interesting behaviour with what the rocks were doing when people were sweeping, sort of a joystick effect, where you could sweep in a certain direction and you could help the rock move in that direction,” said Balsdon, who is also an elite provincial-level curler.

“People were perfecting this sweeping technique to basically make a shot that wouldn’t be made otherwise.”

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This rock manipulation frustrated curlers at all levels. Including co-author Dr. Jeffrey Wood, a club curler and associate dean of undergraduate studies at Western University’s Faculty of Engineering.

“We were really trying to understand the physics of what makes a rock curl the way it does,” said Wood.

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The study compared a legal broom to six others that are now deemed illegal by the World Curling Federation.

Following each sweep, Balsdon would place d a type of putty over that patch of ice to capture an impression of its topography.

Under a microscope, four of the now-illegal broom heads had caused significantly deeper scratches than those made by the approved head.

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“I think the results show that some of the brooms truly were damaging the ice which is against the rules of the game,” said Wood.

“But some of the brooms that were disqualified from high-level competition, I don’t think were causing a problem, so maybe some of them may make a return to the game. We’ll see.”

The research has caught the attention of curlers at all skill levels, including a player from one of the top five team’s in Canada.

“I think he was also curious about what other research we might be doing when it comes to sweeping, so sweeping techniques and that, I think a lot of the players currently are trying to figure out what the best technique is,” said Balsdon, who did not mention the player by name.

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“I think we’ve sparked some conversation.”

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