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Popular Science’s Play issue is now available to everyone. Read it now, no app or credit card required.

The average person spends some 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime, which adds up to 10 years on the clock. But some folks figured out how to bring their extracurriculars into the office. Here’s how four lucky people folded fun into their professional callings. These are their tales from the field as told to Ellen Airhart, Claire Maldarelli, and Marion Renault.

Speedy Research

Jes Woods is a Nike Running coach.

While working as an engineer, I started running ultramarathons for fun. I quickly realized that I was never going to be the fastest runner. So instead I took a scientific approach to training, which ultimately led to my career as a coach. For instance, I always experiment with new workouts on myself to make sure they’re not just good on paper.

Math Stitches

Sabetta Matsumoto is a Professor of Theoretical Physics and Applied Mathematics at Georgia Tech.

My mom was a textile artist, so I grew up crafting. Now I study why some fabrics get stronger or more elastic when you knot their fibers together in new ways. Early in my career, I started knitting the math concepts involved in my work, like curvy hyperbolic planes, to make them tangible.

Flight School

J. Drew Lanham is a Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson University.

As a kid I wanted to fly, which launched my fascination with birds and tracking their migration patterns. As a cultural conservation ornithologist, I follow how human events have altered the size of avian populations. Seeing things from a bird’s-eye view reminds me that these animals help link the world together.

Game Theory

Elizabeth Bartels is an Associate Policy Researcher at RAND Corporation.

My interest in simulation design began in college. My Model UN team ran a cat-and-mouse scenario pitting Al Capone’s Mafia against the Chicago city police. Now I create games for government teams—where they navigate simulations of flu pandemics, for example—so they can rehearse responses in advance.

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