6.9.2015 2:18 AM

Science

What Exactly Is the 'Air Technology' in Nike's Air Force 1s?

Meet the most coveted viscoelastic bag full of air on the planet. 

Flickr.com/Shaun Wong

Nike is gearing up to re-release its Air Force 1 basketball shoes, which sneakerheads know as the first basketball shoes to house Nike’s proprietary “Air Technology” within their soles. Back in 1987, Nike Air was just a beautiful idea to make “footwear with adjustable viscoelastic units.” No one — aside from maybe a U.S. Patent Office clerk — knew what would happen next. 

Viscoelasticity combines the shear-resisting flow of viscous materials (think: molasses’ slow pour) with the elastic ability to return to an original form (think: rubber). The goal in Nike’s case, as outlined in the patent, was “attenuating shock and returning energy of foot impact.”  

The air bit comes into play thanks to a “gaseous medium,” inflating the sole to the sweet spot on the toughness-to-flexibility ratio. The best gases available in 1987: Hexafluoroethane and sulfur hexafluoride. It wouldn’t be until the 2000s that the gases were replaced with greener nitrogen (putting the actual air in Air).  

USPTO/Nike Inc

But does Nike’s shoe tech actually pump you up?

That’s a 25-year-long biomechanics debate though the evidence points to no. Reduction of energy loss is one thing, but the idea that energy can return to an athlete thanks to a cushion, as kinetics experts Benno Nigg and Bernhard Segesser wrote in 1992, is bunk.  

That’s not how physics works. Still, the shoes are sweet.

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