You are on page 1of 14

http://www.sciencebuddies.org/mentoring/project_ideas/home_Phys.shtml?

gclid=CP
HXt9L9v44CFRZLYQodgH1hgQ

Objective

The goal of this project is to build a roller coaster for marbles using foam pipe insulation and to
investigate how much of the gravitational potential energy of a marble at the starting point is
converted to the kinetic energy of the marble at various points along the track.

Introduction

Slow and clanking, the string of cars is pulled up to the crest of the tallest point on the roller coaster.
One by one, the cars start downhill on the other side, until gravity takes over and the full weight of
the train is careening down into curves, twists, and turns. The roller coaster is a great example of
conversions between potential energy (stored energy) and kinetic energy (the energy of motion). As
the cars are being pulled up to the top of the first hill, they are acquiring potential energy. The chain
that pulls them up the hill works against the force of gravity. At the top of the hill, the cars' potential
energy is at it's maximum. When the cars start down the other side, this potential energy is converted
to kinetic energy. The cars pick up speed as they go downhill. As the cars go through the next uphill
section, they slow down. Some of the kinetic energy is now being converted to potential energy, which
will be be released when the cars go down the other side.

Potential energy comes in many forms. For example, chemical energy can be stored and later
converted into heat or electricity. In the case of a roller coaster, the stored energy is called
"gravitational potential energy," since it is the force of gravity that will convert the potential energy
into other forms. The amount of gravitational energy can be calculated from the mass of the object
(m, in kg), the height of the object (h, in m), and the gravitational constant (g = 9.8 m/s2). The
equation is simply: gravitational potential energy = mgh.

Kinetic energy is the energy of motion. The amount of kinetic energy an object has is determined by
both the mass of the object and the velocity at which it is moving. The equation for calculating kinetic
energy is: kinetic energy = 1/2 mv2, where m is the mass of the object (in kg) and v is the velocity of
the object (in m/s).

You've probably noticed that the first hill on the roller coaster is always the highest (unless the coaster
is given another "boost" of energy along the way). This is because not all of the potential energy is
converted to kinetic energy. Some of the potential energy is "lost" in other energy conversion
processes. For example, the friction of the wheels and other moving parts converts some of the
energy to heat. The cars also make noise as they move on the tracks, so some of the energy is
dissipated as sound. The cars also cause the supporting structure to flex, bend, and vibrate. This is
motion, so it is kinetic energy, but of the track, not the cars. Because some of the potential energy is
dissipated to friction, sound, and vibration of the track, the cars cannot possibly have enough kinetic
energy to climb back up a hill that is equal in height to the first one. The way that physicists describe
this situation is to say that energy is conserved in a closed system like a roller coaster. That is, energy
is neither created nor destroyed; there is a balance between energy inputs to the system (raising the
train to the top of the initial hill) and energy outputs from the system (the motion of the train, its
sound, frictional heating of moving parts, flexing and bending of the track structure, and so on).

You can investigate the conversion of potential energy to kinetic energy with this project. You'll use
foam pipe insulation (available at your local hardware store) to make a roller coaster track. For the
roller coaster itself, you'll use marbles. By interrupting the track and allowing the marble to continue
on a smooth, level surface, you'll measure the velocity of the marble at different points along the
track. >From the velocity and the mass of the marble, you'll be able to calculate the marble's kinetic
energy at the different track locations.

For each track configuration, you should try at least 10 separate tests with the marble to measure the
kinetic energy. How much of the marble's gravitational potential energy will be converted to kinetic
energy? A foam roller coaster for marbles is easy to build, so try it for yourself and find out!

Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research

To do this project, you should do research that enables you to understand the following terms and
concepts:

• Potential energy (stored energy)

• Kinetic energy (energy of motion)

• Conservation of energy (basic law of physics)

• Gravity

• Velocity

• Friction

• Slope (rise/run)

Questions

• What is the equation for calculating an object's gravitational potential energy?

• What is the equation for calculating an object's kinetic energy?

• The marble has its maximum gravitational potential energy when it is at the starting point: the
highest point on the roller coaster. How much of this potential energy is converted to the
marble's kinetic energy?

Bibliography

• Here's a good webpage on kinetic and potential energy applied to roller coasters:
Merritt, T., M. Lee and B. Colloran, 1996. "The Physics of Amusement Parks: Kinetic and
Potential Energy," ThinkQuest Library [accessed August 23, 2007]
http://library.thinkquest.org/2745/data/ke.htm.
• This short animation explains kinetic energy and potential energy:
Brain POP, date unknown. "Kinetic Energy," Brain POP® Animated Educational Site for Kids
[accessed August 23, 2007] http://www.brainpop.com/science/energy/kineticenergy/.
• Here are some more quantitative explanations of kinetic and potential energy:
o Henderson, T., 2004. "Work, Energy, and Power," The Physics Classroom and Mathsoft
Engineering & Education, Inc. [accessed August 23, 2007]
http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/energy/u5l1c.html.
o Nave, C.R., 2001a. "Kinetic Energy," HyperPhysics, Department of Physics and
Astronomy, Georgia State University [accessed August 23, 2007]
http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/ke.html.
o Nave, C.R., 2001b. "Potential Energy," HyperPhysics, Department of Physics and
Astronomy, Georgia State University [accessed August 23, 2007]
http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/pegrav.html#pe.

Materials and Equipment

To do this experiment you will need the following materials and equipment:

• At least two 6 foot (183 cm) sections of 1-1/2 in (about 4 cm) diameter foam pipe insulation

• Glass marbles

• Utility knife

• Masking tape

• Tape measure

• Bookshelf, table, or other support for roller coaster starting point

• Stopwatch

• Gram scale for weighing marble

• Length of Masonite (smooth hardboard) for marble to travel on (for measuring velocity at
different points along the track). You can glue the Masonite into a V-shape, and paint it with
alternating stripes at 5 or 10 cm intervals. The V-shape keeps the marble going straight, and
the stripes allow you to easily measure the distance the marble has traveled during a timed
interval.
• Optional: video camera and tripod

Experimental Procedure

Note: use the utility knife with care. A fresh, sharp blade will make cutting the insulation easier.

1. Do your background research so that you are knowledgeable about the terms, concepts, and
questions, above.
2. Cut the foam pipe insulation in half (the long way) to make two U-shaped channels.
a. The illustration below shows the foam pipe insulation, end-on.

The illustration above shows the cross-section at one end of the foam pipe insulation.

b. The insulation comes with one partial cut along the entire length. Complete this cut
with the utility knife (yellow circle in the illustration above).
c. Make a second cut on the other side of the tube (yellow line in the illustration above),
along the entire length of the tube.
d. You'll end up with two separate U-channel foam pieces. You can use masking tape to
attach pieces end-to-end to make the roller coaster track as long as you want.
3. To make a roller coaster track, tape two (or more) lengths of the foam U-channel together,
end-to-end. The joint between the two pieces should be as smooth as possible.
4. You can make the track as simple or as complex as you'd like. You can add curves, loops, and
additional uphill and downhill sections. The illustration below shows two examples. You'll find
that one requirement is that the starting point be the highest point on the track.

The illustration above shows two different roller coaster tracks for marbles. How much height is needed at
the starting point in order for the marble to loop the loop?

5. In order to measure the velocity of the marble, you'll need a way to measure how much
distance the marble travels during a measured time interval.
a. A good way to do this is to interrupt the foam track and direct the marble along a
smooth, level surface (e.g., two long pieces of Masonite glued in a V-shape). Support
the Masonite V (with cardboard, beanbags, etc.) so that it is level with the end of the
foam track.
b. Paint the Masonite with 5 or 10 cm long stripes in contrasting colors (e.g., red and
white or black and white) so that you can use it to measure distances.
c. Use the stopwatch to measure the time it takes for the marble to travel a certain
length along the Masonite track.
d. You can also videotape the marble, and use the measuring stick to measure the
distance the marble travels in successive frames (each standard video frame is
1/30 second).
6. Measure the height of the starting point for the track.
7. Measure the mass of the marble.
8. Calculate the gravitational potential energy of the marble at the starting point.
9. Run a single marble down the track 10 separate times.
a. For each run, use your striped measuring stick and stopwatch to measure the velocity
of the marble as it completes the track.
b. Calculate the average of your 10 measurements.
c. More advanced students should also calculate the standard deviation.
10. From your velocity measurement and the mass of the marble, calculate the kinetic energy of
the marble.
11. Repeat the velocity measurement at various points on the track by cutting the track and
allowing the marble to continue on in a straight line on a smooth surface. Use your striped
measuring stick and stopwatch to measure the velocity of the marble.
12. Does the marble's kinetic energy ever equal or exceed its initial gravitational potential energy?

Variations

Here are just a few of many possible variations on this project. Perhaps these will stimulate your
thoughts about other experiments you could try:

• How much kinetic energy is required for various track features? For example, how much
kinetic energy is required for a marble to successfully navigate a loop in the track?
• You can expand the experiment by building a set of roller coaster tracks with various loop
sizes. How does the kinetic energy requirement change when the loop diameter increases?
How does the kinetic energy requirement change when the loop diameter decreases?
• If you can find spheres that have equal diameter but made from different materials, you could
investigate how the mass of the sphere affects how well it travels along the track.
• Maybe you noticed that your loop wobbles a bit as your marble passes through it. The energy
to move the track comes from the marble. The energy that the marble loses to make the track
move means less energy is available to make the marble itself move. Can you think of a way
to stabilize the loop so that it doesn't wobble? Does the marble have more kinetic energy after
exiting the stabilized loop? Design an experiment to find out!
• Try using different lengths of roller coaster track so that you can adjust the initial slope of the
track. Keep the starting height the same, but change the slope by adding additional track
length. (Remember, slope is rise/run, so you'll be holding the "rise" constant, and gradually
increasing the "run.") How do you think the kinetic energy of the marble will change as you
change the slope of the track?
• For a more basic version of this experiment, see the Science Buddies project Roller Coaster
Marbles: How Much Height to Loop the Loop?.

Credits

Andrew Olson, Ph.D., Science Buddies

Objective

The goal of this project is to design and do experiments that demonstrate which skateboard wheels
are best for speed and maneuverability.

Introduction

The fast moving, slip-sliding sport of skateboarding looks like pure fun, but it's also an activity chock
full of science. Those rotating wheels speeding along smooth cement parks or clicking across bumpy
sidewalks follow the same laws of friction and rotational
momentum as the classic incline plane and trolley in a
physics lab. The glide you enjoy after initial push off on your
board demonstrates, at least briefly, the constant speed or
velocity from inertia, and the slow roll to a stop indicates
that frictional forces have finally robbed you of your forward
motion. Skateboarding, that high flying sport of athletic
anarchists, blends balance, speed, and spunk with real life, in-
your-face demonstrations of force, motion, and frictional drag.

This project focuses on testing skateboard wheels. The video


highlights two skateboarders, Chuck and Jake, who decided to
take the scientific approach to investigate the importance of
wheel size to their ride. They knew that large wheels are
supposed to be faster than smaller wheels, according to
seasoned skateboarders and skateboard manufacturers. So
they put the theory to the test. They set up two experiments
to compare large wheels (60 mm diameter) to small wheels Click here to watch a video of this
(50 mm diameter) in speed and maneuverability. Check out investigation, produced by DragonflyTV
the video to see their results. Then read on to see how you and presented by pbskidsgo.org
can test their theory in a set of experiments of your own.

Jake and Chuck's approach and experimental design were definitely on target. They changed only one
variable (wheel diameter) to run their experiments while keeping other variables like track distance,
board size, rider weight, and skill level constant. They carefully clocked their times to tenths of a
second. Still, the results surprisingly showed no difference between the large and small wheels in
speed down the flat and only a slight difference in ability to successfully turn through a short obstacle
course. Wheel size alone wasn't enough to make a measureable difference, at least in their
experiments. If you were to repeat theses experiments would you get different results using your
board, local terrain, and different sets of wheels?

The challenge of this project is to design experiments that can verify the advertised speed and
performance differences between skateboard wheels. The results don't have to be huge; tenths of a
second may be enough. But the differences have to be consistent and large enough to be detectable in
your experiments. It's all about wheel choice and surface selection in this project.

For starters, why not set up longer test runs than they showed in the video so that there's more
distance to travel and time to pick up possible differences in speed or performance of the wheels.
When selecting the wheels for your tests, consider not just size but other factors that determine
speed, grip and maneuverability. For example, the "hardness" of a wheel, its width, and the shape of
the wheel's edge (rounded, beveled, or straight) all contribute to how fast a skateboarder can cruise,
fly vertically, or turn sharply. The type of surface you skate on is another variable since soft wheels
give a smooth but slower ride over bumpy terrain while hard wheels take on slick runs with greater
speed but a rougher ride. Your task is to study these variables and come up with the best wheel
choices to get the most "extreme" results with your board in your chosen terrain.

Modern day skateboards have come a long way from the homemade clunky contraptions of metal
skate wheels nailed to the bottom of a short 2 x 4 board. The wheels, in particular, illustrate the
synergy of space-age products with the development of an entire sport centered around flips, turns,
verticals and the desire for speed and a sense of flight. Skateboard wheels have morphed into
synthetic, highly engineered structures made from resilient, lightweight and durable plastics that
encase sleek metal ball bearings to provide the smoothest and fastest spin. These designs have come
about to large degree from manufacturing engineers applying a solid understanding of the physics of
wheels and rotational motion.

Plastic materials, like the polyurethanes used in skateboard wheels today, are slicker than metal so
they decrease the frictional forces between the wheel and the surface. This translates into both a
smoother ride and increased speed per push. The relative hardness or softness of the plastic wheels
also creates subtle but important differences in how the wheels roll. Generally, hard wheels mean
greater speed, while softer wheels travel more slowly because they interact more with the tiny bumps
in the road as you move along. As the young boarders in the video suggested, the diameter of a
skateboard wheel affects speed as well. A larger wheel rotates over a longer surface distance per
revolution than a smaller wheel, so larger wheels produce more speed per push, if all other factors are
equal.

Which combination of wheel characteristics do you think will show the most dramatic differences in
speed and maneuverability on your board? Should you use large, soft wheels with a square edge and
run those against small, hard wheels with a round edge? Or should you use some other combinations
of wheels? How will the wheels you select for the flat course hold up in a slalom test of turning ability?
Will the slower wheels in the straight away actually turn out to be better in the rapid turns of the
timed slalom course or the hard, slow turns of a maneuverability test? Can you explain your wheel
choices and their eventual results based on the science of the friction and rotational motion?

To find out, start by doing some background research on skateboard wheels and the basic physics that
describes their spin and speed. We've listed some suggested search terms and basic questions in the
next section. Organize what you learn or know about skateboard wheel performance according to
diameter, hardness, width, and shape using the summary table below. That should help keep the basic
details straight and make your choices of which wheels to test in your experiments a little easier. Then
bolt those wheels to your trucks, hop on your board, and run your experiments to find out if your
scientific instincts are as awesome as your skateboarding skills!

Skateboard Wheels Performance Summary

Wheels Effect on Speed Effect on Grip Effect on Turns

I. Diameter (mm)

Large Wheels (60+) N/A N/A

Medium Wheels (56-60) N/A N/A

Small Wheels (52-55) N/A N/A

II. Hardness (A)

Hard (97-105) N/A

Medium (94-96) N/A

Soft (85-93) N/A

III. Width

Wide

Narrow

IV. Edges

Square

Beveled
Round

Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research

To do this project, you should do research that enables you to understand the following terms and
concepts:

• Skateboard wheels

• Friction (rolling friction and static friction)

• Velocity

• Acceleration

• Momentum

• Rotational motion

• Newton's First Law of Motion (inertia)

• Newton's Second Law of Motion (Force = mass × acceleration)

Questions

• How is friction important in the push off and in the rolling speed of a skateboard wheel? How
do large wheels differ from small wheels in surface frictional forces?
• Explain how Newton's first law of motion applies to skateboarding.

• Describe how large, hard wheels perform differently than small, soft wheels. Describe the
advantages of using large, soft wheels versus small, hard wheels.
• Describe how the width of a skateboard wheel affects the grip and slide of a skateboard.

• Describe how the edge shape of a skateboard wheel can affect the ride of a board and what a
skater can do on the board.
• What is polyurethane? Why is it an excellent material for skateboard wheels?

The goal of this project is to explore how changing your center of gravity affects how well you can
balance.

Introduction

The project video below focuses on three talented students at


a circus arts school. The girls performed one of the most
difficult circus acts, walking the tightrope. They knew from
experience that it was easier to balance on the tightrope when
they held a balancing pole in front of them instead of just
using their arms stretched out to the sides. But they
wondered if the length of the pole would make any difference
in their ability to successfully walk the wobbly rope.

The girls decided to develop an experiment to answer their


question. Each of them attempted to walk across a low
tightrope using poles of three different lengths, and they
counted the number of times they wobbled or fell with each

Click here to watch a video of this


investigation, produced by DragonflyTV
and presented by pbskidsgo.org
pole. They found their balance improved as the pole length got longer. They figured that holding a long
balancing pole was like having "super-long arms" to help keep them upright on the rope.

In this project, you can do a similar experiment without having to worry about falling from a circus
tightrope. In fact, your balancing challenge need only go as high as a roadside curb in these
experiments. You'll stand on a curb with your heels hanging off of the edge, and ask an assistant to
record the number of seconds you maintain your balance. If you find that's too easy a test, you can
try to balance while slowly raising your heels up and down or stand on one foot to increase the
difficulty.

This curbside balancing act will serve as a simple but useful test to see how changing arm position or
holding a pole affects how long you can stay on the curb. Using a short pole or a long pole will help
you measure the effect of pole size on your balance. You may not have the fancy costumes or the
equipment of a circus performer, but in this project you'll be able to collect interesting data about
balance just the same. Read on to see how to organize your experiments and get started on this fun,
light-footed project.

As a first step, do some background research on the science that explains the physics of balance.
We've provided a list of useful search terms and basic questions in the next section to get you started.
One of the major concepts you will need to understand is the idea of center of gravity or center of
mass. This is an imaginary point about which all weight (mass) is evenly distributed in an object or in
our bodies. It's a little easier to think of the center of mass of a perfectly round object like a ball,
because its center of mass is located at the centermost point of the ball. Our bodies are not evenly
symmetrical in all directions, but for most people when they are standing, the body's center of gravity
is midway between the stomach and back, about two inches below the belly button.

Athletes use the idea of center of gravity to improve their performance in all kinds of sports, dance,
and martial arts. Generally, a lower center of gravity in the body means an increase in stability. That's
why football players bend down, take a wide stance and shift their weight forward when they block
and tackle. This position lowers the center of gravity in their bodies, makes their base of support
broader, and makes it harder to push them over. The same idea applies to cars and buildings where
engineers tailor designs to keep the center of gravity low to make safer, more stable vehicles and
structures.

Whenever our center of gravity lies directly over the base of support (for example, our feet when
standing), we remain perfectly balanced and steady. But every time we move, our center of gravity
shifts in response to the change in our shape and the new distribution of mass. This means while
standing almost any change in position comes with a risk of falling if our center of gravity shifts too far
beyond the base support of our feet. In order to remain upright while doing something as simple as
walking, our body must continuously compensate to the changing center of gravity by slightly
adjusting our arms, head, and shoulders forward or backward to keep the center of gravity always
directly above our moving feet. So there's some complicated mechanics going on even when one takes
an easy stroll down the street. Imagine the rapid adjustments the body must automatically make
when you try something as challenging as traversing a high wire.

For a high wire performer, the body's natural center of gravity must be kept directly over the wire in
order to stay balanced. That's difficult because the base of support (usually just one foot on a thin
wire) is so narrow and the wire is constantly moving. Such a limited base of support means just a little
too much lean to one side or the other can cause a serious wobble and dramatically increase the risk
of falling off the wire, hopefully into a safety net. Anything performers can do to lower their centers of
gravity will make their walk on the wire easier. That's where the balancing poles come in. In your
curbside experiments, see if you can figure out just how the position, weight, and length of a pole
changes your center of gravity and increases or decreases your stability when trying to balance.

You also should notice how using the poles influences the speed of your wobbles on the curb.
Physicists explain that bodies rotating around a fixed point, like a tightrope walker falling off (around)
a fixed high wire, follow similar laws of torque and angular velocity. Angular velocity is basically how
fast an object spins around a pivotal point. Torque is the amount of force that causes an object to
rotate about that point. In a general sense, the speed of a spinning object varies in direct proportion
to the torque applied to it and in inverse proportion to its length or distance from the pivot point. The
more torque, the greater the spin. The longer the distance, the more time it takes the object to
complete the entire circle around the pivot point, and the slower the spin.

For a tightrope walker, a foot on the rope represents the pivotal point. When she is not carrying a
balancing pole, her head or the fingertips of her outstretched arms mark the maximum distance from
the pivot point. Adding long poles to a tightrope walker essentially extends the distance from the pivot
point out to the limits of the ends of the poles. So the circus school students in the video were not far
off when they said they thought their balancing poles acted like "super-long arms." Check out how
well the poles you carry in your experiments serve as long arm extensions and if they slow the speed
of your wobble when you try to balance on the curb.

You'll find a few recommended activities on finding your center of gravity in the Bibliography section.
Do at least two of the activities before you start your experiments. They will quickly demonstrate how
your center of gravity changes as you move or an object's center of mass shifts when you change its
shape or weight.

Good luck, have fun, and watch that wobble!

Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research

To do this project, you should do research that enables you to understand the following terms and
concepts:

• Mass

• Gravity

• Center of gravity (or center of mass)

• Rotational motion

• Torque

• Angular velocity

• Physics of tightrope balancing

Questions

• What is the difference between mass and weight?

• What is the center of gravity (center of mass) of a spherical object? of an irregularly shaped
object?
• How does center of gravity relate to balance?

• Where is the approximate center of gravity of a human when standing? when sitting?

• How do the long poles used by a tightrope walker make balancing easier?

• What is torque? How does torque influence a tightrope walker?

• How does a tightrope walker's center of gravity change with the position or an increase in
length of a balancing pole?

Bibliography
As part of your research and preparation, do at least two of the following activities to become better
acquainted with the concept of center of gravity:

• Quick demonstration of center of gravity using a meter stick and clay :


Exploratorium, 1997. "Center of Gravity," Science Snacks, Exploratorium [accessed July 1,
2007] http://www.exploratorium.edu/snacks/center_of_gravity.html.
• A simple way to find the center of mass of some interesting shapes:
Olesik, S., 2002. "Center of Mass," WOW Project, Ohio State University [accessed July 1,
2007] http://wow.osu.edu/experiments/ntb/centerofmass.html.
• Magically balance a cork on the edge of a cup; find the center of gravity of an irregular shape:
Schneider, J., 2007. "Center of Gravity," HotChaulk, Inc. [accessed June 30, 2007]
http://www.lessonplanspage.com/ScienceExWhereIsCenterOfGravityLocatedMO68.htm.
• Finding the center of gravity as you move with a partner:
WAW, 2005. "Finding the Balance--Movement and Music Activity", World Arts West [accessed
July 1, 2007]
http://www.worldartswest.org/plm/guide/activitypages/movemusic/findbalance.shtml.
• Easy demonstrations and activities to show how to change center of mass in our body or of
paper models :
Dorean, E., date unknown. "Balancing Bernie: Sports and Balance," Knight Foundation
Summer Institute, Haverford College [accessed July 1, 2007]
http://www.haverford.edu/educ/knight-booklet/balancebernie.htm.
• The idea for this project came from this DragonFlyTV podcast:
TPT, 2006. "Circus by Alex, Sarah and Sasha," DragonflyTV, Twin Cities Public Television
[accessed June 30, 2007] http://pbskids.org/dragonflytv/show/circus_stunts.html.

Here are some additional websites you might want to check out as you start your research:

• Short introduction into the physics of tightrope walking:


Clark, J., 2000. "Tightrope Walking," Physics of the Circus, Mr. Fizzix Physics website [accessed
June 30, 2007] http://physicsofcircus.homestead.com/files/tightrope3.htm.
• Explanation on how torque and rotational motion relates to tightrope walking:
Clark, J., 2000. "What is Torque?" Physics of the Circus, Mr. Fizzix Physics website [accessed
July 2, 2007] http://physicsofcircus.homestead.com/files/torque.htm.
• Short explanation of the physics of balancing on a tightrope:
Taylor, D., date unknown. "Circus High Wire," Newton's Apple, KTCA Twin Cities Public
Television [accessed June 30, 2007] http://www.darylscience.com/Demos/TightRope.html.

Materials and Equipment

To do this experiment you will need the following materials and equipment:

• Stop watch or timer that measures seconds

• Sidewalk curb with at least 3 meters (approx. 9 feet) clearance on either side

• An assistant to take times and spot you, if needed

• Two poles of the same material


o One pole should be at least 2 meters (approx. 6 feet) longer than the other.
o You can use wood poles, PVC pipe, or small diameter plumbing pipe.
• Notebook

• Pen or pencil

Experimental Procedure

1. Gather your materials and arrange with your assistant the day and time of your experiment.
2. The day of your experiments, first practice balancing without poles while standing on the edge
of the curb facing the sidewalk. Your heels should not touch the curb.
3. If you find this too easy, balance while slowly raising your heels up and down, or balance on
one foot for your trials. Decide which type of balance test you want to do in your experiments.
4. Prepare a data table similar to the example shown below.
5. Perform the three experiments listed in the table. The first experiment involves balancing
while placing your arms in three different positions. The second and third experiments involve
balancing with a short or long pole held close to your body at three different levels. Do five
balancing trials for each position in all experiments.
6. Your assistant should record how long, in seconds, you stay on the curb for each trial.
7. Also note how stable you feel while balancing in each position. Record a "wobble rating" for
each position (i.e. slow = steady, medium = less steady, fast = unsteady).

Balancing Experiments Data Table


Name: Date:
Pole Material: Location:

Balance Time (sec)


Experiment No. Wobble Rating
& Positions (Slow, Med, Fast)
Trial 1 Trial 2 Trial 3 Trial 4 Trial 5 Total

Exp 1. Arms Only

A. Arms down at sides

B. Arms out to sides, shoulder level

C. Arms above head

Exp 2. Short Pole Only

A. Pole at waist

B. Pole at shoulder level

C. Pole above head

Exp 3. Long Pole Only

A. Pole at waist

B. Pole at shoulder level

C. Pole above head

Analyzing Your Data


1. Total the seconds for all trials. Calculate an average balance time for each position.
2. Use the three average times within each experiment to calculate a "total average time" for
Experiments 1, 2, and 3.
3. Prepare a bar chart showing the average and "total average" times for Experiments 1, 2, and
3. Group the the data by experiment number so you can more easily compare the results
between the three experiments.
4. What positions were best and worst for balancing? Were they the same in all three
experiments?
5. Which experiment showed the longest average times? Were you surprised by your results?
6. What did you notice about the speed of wobbles when using no poles, a short pole, or a long
pole?
7. Construct stick figure diagrams to represent your positions in each experiment. Indicate where
you think the center of gravity is located on each stick figure. Hint: Start with the center of
gravity at the belly button for Experiment 1A. Then show on other stick figures how the center
of gravity moves up or down when the arms or poles are added in the next positions or
experiments.
8. What do you notice about the placement of the center of gravity and the number of seconds
you could balance in each position?
9. For help with data analysis and setting up tables, see Data Analysis & Graphs.
10. For a guide on how to summarize your results and write conclusions based on your data, see
Conclusions.

Variations

• More data. Have your assistant or a few friends try the same experiments. Are the results
similiar? If not, try to explain why.
• Heavy lifting. Repeat the experiments using two soup cans as weights. Hold them in your
hands or duct tape them to the ends of the poles. (You can also use wrapping flexible ankle or
wrist weights if you have them.) How does the additional weight affect your results? Adjust
your placement of the center of gravity in the stick figures you drew to show how it shifts
when weights are involved in each position.
• Change your view point. Repeat the experiments with your head turned to the side or with
your gaze upward. Be sure to have your assistant close by in case you need a spotter for some
of the balancing tests. Compare these results with your results from the original three
experiments. How do visual cues help us in balance? Do some research into how the eyes and
ears are important for balance.
• Stay on the beam. Repeat the experiments using a wooden 2x4 beam nailed into the grass
to keep it from wobbling. Record the number of times you can travel up and back. Are your
results on balance while traveling along the balance beam similar to the results you got when
you balanced while standing on a curb? For an experiment that describes how to make this
type of balance beam and includes various tests to try, see
"Balancing Act,"http://www.darylscience.com/Demos/TightRope.html.
• Baby steps. Research how a baby learns to walk. Investigate the importance of the ratio of
the baby's head size to body size during the first couple of years and how the ratio influences
center of gravity and the ability to walk.
• Do the math. For students interested in mathematical descriptions of balance, look up the
equations for torque, angular velocity, and angular acceleration. Calculate the changes in
angular acceleration when a tightrope walker of your height wobbles or falls without a pole
and then with poles of various lengths.