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Analytical Chemistry

Footloose and Fancy-free, Stampede, Sticky Shoes

by Marc S. Reisch
May 16, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 20

Footloose and fancy-free


Shoemaker Adidas has introduced a running shoe it calls the “1.” It is billed as the world’s first computerized shoe and took three years to develop in a hush-hush project. Just recently introduced, this svelte and intelligent foot appliance can be yours for $250.

The Herzogenaurach, Germany-based shoemaker claims that the shoe “works like a human reflex nerve.” A sensor below the runner’s heel gauges the impact of each footfall. It is so sensitive, it can measure the distance from the bottom to the top of the midsole, accurate to 0.1 mm, gauging the compression and the amount of cushioning required.

A microprocessor embedded in the middle of the shoe takes 1,000 readings per second, says the shoemaker. Using secret algorithms, the microprocessor, “which is capable of making 5 million calculations per second,” decides whether the shoe is too soft or too firm.

The microprocessor then sends a signal to the shoe’s “muscle,” which flexes to accommodate the runner’s foot. This is done with a cable embedded in the shoe stretching from a motor housed in the midfoot to a plastic cushioning element in the heel. The cable adjusts to give just the right amount of support. When the cable shortens, the cushioning element tenses and compresses very little. When the cable lengthens, the cushioning element yields and makes the shoe feel softer.

This high-tech podiatric marvel is so advanced, you might think that it would have an embedded foot-powered generator to energize its microprocessor and motor. However, a small 3-V battery, good for the 100-hour “normal life” of a running shoe, provides the juice.


The U.S. Postal Service has issued not one, but a series of stamps honoring U.S. scientists.

Featured on the 37-cent stamps are Josiah Willard Gibbs, most well-known for developing the modern method of thermodynamics, but also a pioneer in vector analysis electromagnetic theory and in statistical analysis; Barbara McClintock, discoverer of genetic transposition and winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; John von Neumann, mathematician and computer pioneer; and Richard P. Feynman, 1965 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga.

One scientist who was not honored but should have been, according to Harold R. Paretchan of Weymouth, Mass., is the late University of California, Berkeley, chemistry professor Gilbert N. Lewis. Paretchan, 84, has long campaigned to secure greater recognition for the pioneer in the valence theory of chemical reactions. Newscripts last took note of his success in getting the science wing at Weymouth High School named for the Weymouth native (C&EN, Nov. 22, 2004, page 128). Paretchan is now corresponding with the U.S. Postal Service to secure a stamp for Lewis.

Sticky shoes

Sick and tired of stepping in discarded chewing gum? According to the Oxfordshire Bioscience Network in southeast England, the University of Manchester and the firm Green Biologics are developing “a revolutionary biological treatment” that uses microorganisms to break down the chemical structure of gum.

Not only are sticky shoes difficult to clean, so are the sidewalks that chewing gum can soil. Cleanup methods include freezing and then physically scraping off the unpleasant wad, applying abrasive chemicals, and using high-pressure washing.

While the average cost of a piece of gum is about 6 cents, the average cleanup cost per wad is 19 cents. The scientists are working on a method they hope will reduce the $280 million cleaning bill that local authorities in the U.K. foot annually for gum cleanup.

This week's column was written by Marc Reisch . Please send comments and suggestions to



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