Anyone who has ever gone bowling must be familiar with the brightly colored balls used to knock down the pins. But few people have ever really paid attention to the science behind bowling and realized how much of an influence aspects of technology has had on the advancement of this intriguing sport. Some people think of bowling balls as “just a ball” but for others, bowling is a “serious sport” (Falcioni). To the serious bowlers, it is much more than “just a ball”. There are hundreds of different types of bowling balls that have been created, each made a little differently. Bowling balls have different types of what is called cover stock, which is just another way of saying the outer shell of the bowling ball (Falcioni). One of the new, most popular types of cover stock is called reactive resin (Falcioni). Balls with a reactive resin cover stock give bowlers a better chance of striking because the angle into the pocket is greater as well as the amount of energy transfer (Falcioni).
Reactive resin was mixed with a substance called urethane, which in the 1980s was found to be more effective on the lanes than polyester shells because tiny pores in the shell increased the friction between the ball and the lanes (Falcioni). Each outer shell of a bowling ball has tiny pores, just like a person’s skin, that soak up the oil on the lane. The development of reactive resin shells enhanced this sport because the pores on this shell were tinier than other shells, meaning it would take longer to soak up the oil and thus would have a greater hook for a longer period of time. Once a ball soaks up a significant amount of oil (if the ball is not cleaned with a towel frequently by the bowler), it will simply slide down the lane and decrease its amount of hook (Carton).
New developments in the cover stock of bowling balls have prolonged the amount of time before a ball simply slides down the lane, helping with better results during a game. Brunswick Corp is one of the leading bowling manufacturers that continues to work to create bowling balls that perform efficiently, even under the toughest and oiliest lane conditions (Miller). To test prototypes of new balls, the ball must be thrown the same exact way every time to get accurate results, which is difficult for humans to reproduce (Valenti). Therefore Brunswick turned to Bayer Corp.’s polymers division and used a machine to help reproduce the same shot every time and improve the sport of bowling (Valenti).
Bowling balls also come in many different weights. There is a core in the middle of the bowling ball, which is where the weight is embedded in. The ball’s weight is very influential on the performance of the ball because the weight depends on the type of core used in that specific ball (Falcioni). There are some balls with a circular core and others with more elaborate shapes, such as a cylindrical structure (Falcioni). The weight has a slight effect in altering the axis; however it is mainly the actual shape of the core which is significant because “it provides enough dynamic stability to maintain a preferred axis of rotation after drilling the grip holes,” as stated by Brunswick’s Edwards (Falcioni). Similar to Brunswick, another corporation, Ebonite International, has aided in the use of computers to digitally design a new ball and test its performance (Shemwell). Now, engineers have begun to experiment with nonspherical symmetric cores, thus leading to the wide variety of unusually shaped cores that are in the bowling balls today (Shemwell).
The core also influences the rotation axis about the core, which also increases a greater hook into the pocket and a better chance of rolling a strike on the lane (Shemwell). The eccentric shapes of the core that are not normally seen have a huge impact on this sport because the cores of bowling balls are essentially “designed to alter the ball’s moment of inertia” (Tesler). The structure of the core can distribute the weight of the ball in different ways, thus allowing it to change speed and direction for a small amount of distance down the lane, which are sometimes seen as “trick” properties (Tesler). A bowler’s main objective is to always hit the pocket to give him or herself a better chance of striking or leaving an easy spare to pick up, and this is exactly what the different cores accomplish by allowing some to hook more than others (Tesler).
The lanes have also changed drastically since the beginning of the sport of bowling. In the very beginning, bowing lanes used to be made of actual wood (Sheck). However, over the years, as the sport of bowling progressed and engineers began to realize the balls were damaging the lanes, they decided to try a new material. Now, in most of the bowling alleys, the lanes have changed from wood to a synthetic material; there are very few, if any, bowling alleys that still use actual wood as the material for their lanes (Sheck). It might not seem like the material of the lanes makes a big difference on the development of bowling, and compared to the cover stock and core of the bowling ball it does not; however the material of the lanes does have a slight impact because the ball hits slightly differently on wood compared to synthetic lanes when it is released off the bowler’s hand (Sheck). That is another reason that bowling centers oil the lanes- this coating acts as a layer of protection so that the balls do not seriously damage the lanes (Tesler). Although more durable wood was used, like pine and maple for the boards, it could not hold up against the constant pounding of bowling balls and therefore centers made the switch to synthetic material, which was cheaper, more manageable, and easier for bowling (Kushner).
Another important aspect contributing to the improvement of bowling is the oil and oil patterns on the lanes. As mentioned before, mineral oil was first put down on the lanes as protection from any sort of damage (Tesler). In the early days, the lanes used to be oiled by hand using a towel (Rozin, “Sports, Science, and the Spirit”). However, over time people began to get creative with the way the oil was put down on the lanes, thus giving us the many different oil patterns used today. Oil was put in the middle of the lane for better results in the pocket, but over time there were new oil patterns designed for harder and more challenging, competitive bowling (Rozin, “Sports, Science, and the Spirit”). Technology has also sped up the advancement of the sport of bowling.
U.S. World Bowling Congress’s director of research, Neil Stremmel, stated that there are now “lane machines that automatically lay down more oil in the center than on the sides, guiding the ball toward the head pin,” however these oil machines can be programmed to lay down tougher patterns if so desired (Rozin, “Sports, Science, and the Spirit”). Oil patterns are crucial in the sport of bowling because it challenges the athlete’s skill and ability. However, technology has significantly aided in the advancement of bowling because the oil machines provide a faster way for bowling centers to lay down an easy oil pattern- which is really just a layer of protection- for recreational and non-competitive bowlers, as well as putting down specific and more challenging oil patterns for serious and competitive bowlers (Rozin, “Bullish on Bowling”).
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