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Taro Turns Techie


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Upon conclusion of his career in the VHL, Davos center Taro Tsujimoto has announced that he doesn't plan to open a restaurant or go into broadcasting or do any of the usual post-career sports stuff. Instead, he's taking his talents and expertise to the wide world of materials science.


"When you think about it, everything you see in hockey is a material that can be and has been engineered for the best possible experience," said Tsujimoto when contacted by reporters for this article. "It's quite fascinating that so much of it is taken for granted."


And he's right--jerseys are made from polymerized fabric, sticks have changed their composition almost endlessly since aluminum came in and shocked the wooden world, and protective equipment constantly gets lighter, better, and safer. The glass surrounding the ice must be strong enough to absorb bodies and pucks, and it's gotten stronger in recent years--think back to 10 years ago or so, if you're old enough, and think about how often you'd see a game stopped for a few minutes while a pane of glass is replaced. Sure, it still happens, but not as often. And, by the way, the glass can't fog up. Behind the scenes, technical experts have been working to give players and fans the best possible experience at the molecular level. Even the ice is engineered--players prefer to skate on harder, colder ice, so it isn't just tap water that's out there in the rink. It's salt water, taking advantage of water's resistance to crystallization (in other words, its lower freezing point) when used as a solvent. And, of course, knowing exactly what's going on with the ice leads to great potential improvements in skates--making blades that stay sharp and interact well with the ice surface, improving the security of the blades so players don't lose an edge, designing insoles to reduce player fatigue and making skates that conform easily and tightly to players' feet to reduce the risk of ankle or knee injury.


Flooring leading from the locker rooms must be durable enough not to break down while also being soft enough to damage skate blades. Seats in the arena should be cheap, tougher than the drunkest fan, and (ideally) comfortable. Even the concrete poured for the building must be tough and long-lasting, and metal supports used to hold up the stands and the roof need to be able to handle the dynamic stresses of excited fans or the weight of snow. Zamboni tires need to make the machine steerable, while also making sure it doesn't dig into the ice--relying upon surface friction on a surface noted for its lack of friction.


Everything you see is a material. And Taro is up to the challenge. 


"I'm a part-time student at ETH Zürich during the offseason, and by the time I retire, I hope I'm halfway through a degree," he says. "I've earned enough that I can put myself through the rest of school with no problem, and then I'd like to start a business." 


Though it may be a long way away, the hockey world waits to see how one of its brightest stars can contribute to its future.


Happy theme week!

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