Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Mystique of Artificial Turf

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The Mystique of Artificial Turf

By Airi Altinate
The Daily Magi
November 5, 2058


Artificial turf is a surface of synthetic fibers made to look like natural grass. It is most often used in arenas for sports that were originally or are normally played on grass. However, it is now being used on residential lawns and commercial applications as well. The main reason is maintenance—artificial turf stands up to heavy use, such as in sports, and requires no irrigation or trimming. Domed, covered, and partially covered stadiums may require artificial turf because of the difficulty of getting grass enough sunlight to stay healthy. But artificial turf does have its downside: limited life, periodic cleaning requirements, petroleum use, toxic chemicals from infill, and some heightened health and safety concerns.

Artificial turf first gained substantial attention in the 1960s, when it was used in the newly constructed Astrodome. The specific product used was developed by Monsanto and called AstroTurf; this term since then became a colloquialism for any artificial turf throughout the late 20th century. AstroTurf remains a registered trademark, but is no longer owned by Monsanto. The first generation turf systems (i.e., short-pile fibers without infill) of the 1960s has been largely replaced by the second generation and third generation turf systems. Second generation synthetic turf systems featured sand infills, and third generation systems, which are most widely used today, offer infills that are mixtures of sand and recycled rubber.

David Chaney – who moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1960 and later served as Dean of the North Carolina State University College of Textiles – headed the team of Research Triangle Park researchers who created the first notable artificial turf. That accomplishment led Sports Illustrated to declare Chaney as the man "responsible for indoor major league baseball and millions of welcome mats." Artificial turf first came to prominence in 1966, when AstroTurf was installed in the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. The state-of-the-art indoor stadium had attempted to use natural grass during its initial season in 1965, but this failed miserably and the field conditions were grossly inadequate during the second half of the season, with the dead grass painted green. Due to a limited supply of the new artificial grass, only the infield was installed before the Houston Astros' home opener in April 1966, the outfield was installed in early summer during an extended Astros road trip and first used after the All-Star Break in July. The use of AstroTurf and similar surfaces became widespread in the U.S. and Canada in the early 1970s, installed in both indoor and outdoor stadiums used for baseball and football. Maintaining a grass playing surface indoors, while technically possible, is prohibitively expensive. Teams who chose to play on artificial surfaces outdoors did so because of the reduced maintenance cost, especially in colder climates with urban multi-purpose "cookie cutter" stadiums such as Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium and Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.

In 1969, Franklin Field, the gridiron stadium of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, switched from grass to artificial turf. Also home of the Philadelphia Eagles, it was the first National Football League stadium to use artificial turf. In 2002, CenturyLink Field, originally planned to have a natural grass field, was instead surfaced with FieldTurf upon positive reaction from the Seattle Seahawks when they played on the surface at their temporary home, Husky Stadium during the 2000 and 2001 seasons. In 2006, Gillette Stadium, the football stadium of the New England Patriots and the New England Revolution, switched from grass to FieldTurf due to the conflict of poor weather and hosting many sporting and musical events at the stadium. It is one of 13 National Football League stadiums that have turf instead of grass fields; the Patriots, Giants and Jets (who share a stadium) and Bengals actually switched from AstroTurf to natural grass before reverting to a next-generation artificial surface.

All eight stadiums in the Canadian Football League currently use artificial turf, due to that country's northern climate.

The XFL, in its short life, outlawed the use of artificial turf, requiring all of its teams to play in stadiums with natural grass surfaces. The move, made in part to reduce injuries, was also a ploy to give the league a more authentic, "smash-mouth" appeal. The league also scheduled all of its games, however, in the winter, when grass does not typically grow as well in the northern United States; the New York/New Jersey Hitmen and Chicago Enforcers' home fields were visibly damaged with heavy bare spots by the end of the league's lone 2001 season.

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