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Physics Teacher

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The Physics Teacher
November 1993
Volume 31/Number 8

The Physics of Bungee Jumping
Paul G. Menz
The vocabulary is new and multisyllabic - slingshotting, sandbagging, bodydipping,
vinejumping, part-of-four, and more. The spelling is erratic - bungee, bungi, bungy. And
terra firma types would say the trendy activity is a threat to body wholeness. But physicists,
of course, calmly regard bungee jumping as a dramatic demonstration of the conversation
of energy. They know that gravitational potential energy at the top of the jump is converted
to elastic potential energy at the bottom. The basic equations involved have been used for
years to describe events in which loads are suddenly applied to springs. The bungee cord
is simply a very weak spring yielding large spring deflections and rather small force
magnitudes. But for the benefit of those who didn't know this, we'll lay it all out here.
The origin of sport bungee jumping is quite recent, but the activity is related to the
centuries-old ritualistic practices of "land divers" of Pentecost Island in the Pacific
Archipelago of Vanuatu. There the men demonstrate their courage and offer their injuries to
the gods for a plentiful harvest of yams. But it was members of the Oxford University
Dangerous Sport Club who, inspired by a film about "vine jumpers," plummeted off a bridge
near Bristol, England, in April 1979 and thereby launched a new worldwide recreational
activity. During the 1980s, the sport flourished in New Zealand and France and was brought
into the United States by John and Peter Kockelman of California. In the early 1990s
facilities sprang up all over this country with cranes, towers, and hot-air balloons serving as
platforms. Thousands have now experienced that "ultimate adrenaline rush." Many have
tried to describe that exhilaration. All share the post-jump elation and grin. In Fig. 1 the
jumper, following countdown, has leapt backwards. In Fig. 2, the jumper is enjoying that
motionless instant at the top of the rebound.
Bungee cords have some vague military origin, but today can be purchased from
manufacturers who construct them specifically for jumping. They are soft and springy and
may stretch to three or four times their free length. The harnesses are related to and derive
from mountain climbing equipment, as does the carabiner, which is the principal link
between the cord and the harness. Most present-day facilities use redundant connections,
that is, double hookups to the jumper's body are provided as shown in Figs. 3 and 4. If a
jumper chooses an ankle jump, the body harness is backup; if the body harness is primary,
the chest/shoulder harness is secondary.
This article is not a commercial for bungee jumping, but familiarity with the equipment used
and the forces involved may surprise some readers and may testify to the safety of this
activity as a sport. The activity was banned in France after three deaths in 1989. The
Australian government declared a hiatus after an accident in 1990, and the summer of 1992
saw a few accidents in the United States that were given major exposure by the media and
caused several state governments to get involved. But the activity is clearly basically safe.

file:///D:/2%20Orkdal/1%20FY2/1%20FY2%202012_2013/Strikkhopp/FYSIKK/Fysi... 02.05.2013

and will be gradually and gently unwrapped and forgiven as the cord develops elongation and associated low tensile force. and "bodydipping" (over water) are examples. a registered professional engineer who operates Sky Tower Engineering Inc. 02. "I have investigated many accidents and can confidently conclude that all are caused by human error and not faulty equipment. No modern-day jump site has seen any serious entanglement. Some jumpers reported getting slapped in the face by the cord. occur when jumpers act contrary to instructions. file:///D:/2%20Orkdal/1%20FY2/1%20FY2%202012_2013/Strikkhopp/FYSIKK/Fysi. which is caused by gripping the cord. some pendulum motion. and has been professionally involved in this sport for several years. which tends to keep the cord away from the jumper 3. mismatch between jumper and cord.2013 . Some daredevilish embellishments may tempt the adventurous participants. But serious injury inflicted by the cord. the cord's minimal torsional stiffness 2.Physics Teacher Side 2 av 9 All accidents can be traced to human error as related to improper attachment." Minor injuries such as skin burn. including: 1.. misunderstanding or miscalculation of the physics involved. He has stated. such as strangulation. Physics of Bungee Jumping The principle components in the physics of this sport are the gravitational potential energy of the jumper and the elastic potential of the stretched cord. Figure 5 depicts a jumper of mass m who is tethered by a bungee cord conveniently attached to the supporting structure on a level with her center of mass. and it is noteworthy that many participants enjoy somersaulting during the free fall without any detrimental effects. This view is shared by Carl Finocchiaro.05. the fact that any entanglement will occur when the cord is slack.. Extreme care and proper application of the physics involved are vitally important in these challenges. total height of jump available. He is a charter member of the North American Bungee Association and is the original and incumbent chairman of its safety committee. This can be explained by a combination of factors. "sandbagging" (jumping with extra weight). "Slingshotting" (from the ground up). and other lapses. appears not to happen.

05. This event terminates the free fall.. file:///D:/2%20Orkdal/1%20FY2/1%20FY2%202012_2013/Strikkhopp/FYSIKK/Fysi. which lasts between one and two seconds.Physics Teacher Side 3 av 9 Figure 6 depicts the jumper just as she has fallen a distance equal to the free length (L) of the cord.. 02.2013 .

05. the cord has stretched a distance d.. file:///D:/2%20Orkdal/1%20FY2/1%20FY2%202012_2013/Strikkhopp/FYSIKK/Fysi. and the velocity of everything at that instant is equal to zero. The jumper has fallen a total distance of L + d..Physics Teacher Side 4 av 9 Figure 7 depicts the jumper at the bottom extremity of the jump.2013 . 02.

2013 . Therefore: If we allow the bungee cord to be a linear spring of stiffness K N/m. then file:///D:/2%20Orkdal/1%20FY2/1%20FY2%202012_2013/Strikkhopp/FYSIKK/Fysi..Physics Teacher Side 5 av 9 Energy considerations dictate that the gravitational potential energy of the jumper in the initial state is equal to the elastic potential of the cord in the final state. 02..05.

L) is matched with a given person (m). Calculations Closer to Reality In a more realistic vein. consider a hypothetical second match between a person (m) and a jump height (L + d). Suppose a person weighing 667 N is to jump using a 9-m cord which will stretch 18 m and use a jump height of 27 m: This 200% elongation produces a maximum force three times the jumper's weight.. then the d will be determined by When a given jump height (L + d) is to be matched with a given person (m). but in order to show the orders of magnitude involved. two factors must be considered: 1.2013 . file:///D:/2%20Orkdal/1%20FY2/1%20FY2%202012_2013/Strikkhopp/FYSIKK/Fysi. 02. A given facility will have a limited number of cords of differing lengths and stiffnesses. 2.7 g's is produced. Some actual force-deflection diagrams are shown in Fig. the first match is made so that the total fall (L + d) will fit the facility. and a maximum acceleration of 2. A 300% elongation is a softer ride: This requires a jump height of 36 m.05.Physics Teacher Side 6 av 9 and from this the following quadratic equation is produced: When a given cord (K. 8. Those cords have been found to demonstrate variable stiffness over their range of use. then the stiffness (K) will be determined by In many cases..

2013 .Physics Teacher Side 7 av 9 and a piece wise linear approximation is shown in Fig. 02. file:///D:/2%20Orkdal/1%20FY2/1%20FY2%202012_2013/Strikkhopp/FYSIKK/Fysi.. Three areas are delineated in Fig. 9.05.. 9 so that Fdx can be evaluated as a sum of areas: Analysis of these three bungee cords yields the information found in Table I.

10).. is the addition of a static line (see Fig.05. 02. The conservation of energy then takes this form: which yields the following quadratic equation: file:///D:/2%20Orkdal/1%20FY2/1%20FY2%202012_2013/Strikkhopp/FYSIKK/Fysi. It also may be played in or out to customize the jump height to any individual. which complicates the arithmetic but contributes in two ways to a facility's improvement. This rigid line or cable prevents the cord itself from rubbing or chafing against the floor of the basket or tower..2013 .Physics Teacher Side 8 av 9 A third factor.

174. 3. 3rd ed. Sears and M.W. World. University Physics. the jump height should be approximately 28 m. the force imposed is. and the soft cord with a jumper of about 490 N. Inc." March 3. the mass creates a d of 2 mg/K. whether or not it is related to bungee jumping. twice as great as the static load. The calculations have been performed using a free length (L) of 9 m. Then d = 14. and the matched jumpers and cords.05. 02. Also. This can be done by adding length to the static line. at the minimum. p. In other words. p. Suppose Ls is increased to 3. References 1. Even if dropped from a distance of L=0. F.. a static cable length (Ls) of 1. which is exactly twice the effect realized if the mass is applied gradually.. The results are presented in Table II. and the g value becomes 3. Back file:///D:/2%20Orkdal/1%20FY2/1%20FY2%202012_2013/Strikkhopp/FYSIKK/Fysi. Carl Finocchiaro. Reading. Denver. David Thigpen. Equation (4) is applicable to any weight mg being dropped onto a compression spring of stiffness K from distance L above. 1992. The material presented here offers the instructor of introductory physics an "in-vogue" application of the conservation of energy concept that is related to both entertainment and athleticism. 1990. April 23. Zemansky. it is informative to consider Eq. 1340 Dahlia Street. (4) carefully because it depicts one of the most important practical ideas to be learned from dynamics. Jeremy Hart. which shows the maximum forces and the number of g's obtainable from Eqs..W. 1991. 75.2013 .to 28-m ride to match the geometry of a given tower or crane.13.5 m. MA. CO 80220.8 m. 1963). 2. (Addison-Wesley. perhaps a teacher could devise an appealing laboratory exercise using the same applications for short bungee cords (0. and with a cord of about 9 m free length. 4. 40-45. the jump height increases to 26. a medium person (800 N) with the medium cord.6 m or so) and masses from the stockroom (with due attention being given to the masses as they rebound!). Sky Tower Engineering. Time. Discussion We see from both the hypothetical linear spring and the real nonlinear spring that the proper match of cord and jumper should produce maximum accelerations of the order of 3 g's. 4.6 m for the 490-N jumper. "Engineering Report. Finally. pp.Physics Teacher Side 9 av 9 It seems plausible to match a heavy person (1112 N) with the stiff cord. if a load is administered to any system or structure suddenly or dynamically. May. (9) and (10) respectively Some organizations might give the light jumper a 27.8 m.