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In this investigation, the theory of conservation of mechanical energy (mainly

between the gravity potential energy and kinetic energy) was tested. By setting up a
“U” shape track made up by the plastic pipe and releasing a marble on it, (the height
when releasing is controlled to be the same), the height of the marble reached was
recorded. By comparing the height reached and height released, the conservation of
energy could be investigated: The energy is predicted not to be conserved, due to the
energy loss by friction.


The “U” shaped pipe acts as a track. The motion back and forth along the track ideally
would give virtual motion where the energy is conserved. Mechanical energy is
defined as the energy of motion or of potential for motion on a macroscopic scale
(derived from As energy
cannot be created or destroyed according to the conservation of energy, the total
energy in a system can be expressed as:

E total = GPE + KE + Other forms of energy

Where GPE is the gravitational potential energy, KE is the kinetic energy and “other”
means mainly the energy loss as heat.

The mechanical energy in an environment (no friction):

E total = GPE + KE

During the motion on the track, friction force would exist.

f =µN, which as the marble and the track is constant, µ and N is constant, thus, f is

Where f is the friction force, µ is the friction constant, N is the pressure.

Thus, when m is the mass of the object, h is the height of the ground and v is the
velocity of the object and E f is the energy loss to friction. Thus, the formula can be
express as:
GPE = mgh
, K = 2 mv , E f = f ⋅ S

∴ Etotal = GPE + KE = mgh + mv 2 (Excluding energy lost to heat)

Restating the conservation of energy:

1 2 1 2
0 = ( mv f − mv i ) + (mgh f − mgh i )
2 2

During the motion of the marble, the change of energy is shown in figure 1:

Fig. 1: The change of energy during the motion in the tube.

This report will investigate the conservation of energies which appears in almost all
motions in physics aspect of world. For example, the rollercoaster in the
entertainment park will need enough energy to pass the top to ensure safety. The
conservation of energy is applied in the calculations to supply adequate energy input.
Early research has been done by Isaacson, J. who stated that the energy is conserved
when the affect of friction is taken into account. It is expected that energy will be lost
to friction along the track, and the proportion lost will be demonstrated by the results.

Aim: Investigate the conservation of mechanical energy on a tube track.

Question: During the mechanical motion, does the sum of GPE and KE demonstrate
conservation of energy?

Hypothesis: Mechanical energy (conversion between GPE and KE) is conserved.


• 1 meter plastic pipe (shown in figure 2) ● knife

• Sticky taps ●7 iron stands
• 1 ball marble (19.1g) ●video recorder
• marker ●oil
• meter ruler ● paper graph
• electronic balance

Fig.2 The plastic pipe.


1. Graph paper with cubes of 2cm side length was drawn, and hung by two retort
stands. The graph paper was used to ensure the accuracy of observation of the height
the marble had reached.

2. The upper half of the plastic pipe was cut off by knife.
3. Some oil was spreaded on the pipe to minimise friction to optimise the
conservation between GPE and KE.

4. The lowest point of the “U” shape was stabilised at a fixed point.

5. The pipe was fastened on the stands to form a track with an angle of 10 degree.
And the distance from the lowest point to the two sides and the angle on both sides
was the same.

6. The initial height (h) was measured.

The arrangement of the experiment was shown in figure 3.

Fig.3: the arrangement of the experiment.

7. The video was turned on.

8. The marble was released.

9. The final height on the opposite arm was marked on the graph paper behind.

10. The length of the track the marble covered was measured.

11. The lowest point was stabilised, the angle between the horizontal plane of the
lowest point and the initial height was changed to 20°, 30°, 45°, and 60°, as shown in
figure 4. Each track of different angle was repeated three times and the average data
were collected.
Fig.4: Change of angles in the experiment.

(The turning point is smooth and not interfering with marble’s path. As figure 5

Fig.5: The airspace of the turning point.

As showed, the turning point is smooth.

12. Step 7, 8 and 9 were repeated.

13. The mass of the marble was measured using the electronic balance.
Table 1: The objective testing matrix.

Angle g Lowest h Friction force

( gravitational point
√ √
√ √


Validity: If the experiment was observed by eyes and the marble moves relatively
quickly, error would exist. So a video recorder was used to record the motion of the
marble to minimise the error taken from observation, thus ensure the validity of the
data. Also, the track might not be expected flat which increaser the error in data. By
fasten the pipe to several stands, the track was made flatter.

As the marble should rise to a height that is approximately the same as the starting
point, any raw data that the marble raises too low, the experiment was conducted

The results of the experiment were shown in table 2. Where h’ is the final height
reached, S is the length of the track the marble go through.

Table 2: Summary of the direct measurements in different gradient of tracks.

Variables Initial Smoothness Mass of The final The length of

height of the track the height the track the
Angles marble/ g reached marble go
(h)/ cm through
(h’)/ cm
S/ cm

10° 8 With oil 19.1 5.0 74.9

20° 8 With oil 19.1 6.4 42.0

30° 8 With oil 19.1 6.8 29.8

45° 8 With oil 19.1 7.2 21.5

60° 8 With oil 19.1 7.5 13.4

Figure 6 shows the changes h’ to S

Fig.6: The changes of h’ to the different distance travelled on the track.

Figure 7 shows the changes of h’ to the distance it travels.

Figure 7: The changes of h’ to the distance it travels (S)

Figure 8 shows the changes of h’ to angle

Fig.8 : The changes of h’ to different angles.

(It’s expected to form a straight line which the part 10° between 20° does not.

1 1
According to 0 = ( mv f 2 − mv i 2 ) + (mgh f − mgh i )
2 2 ,

So if v(initial)= v(final)= 0,

(0.5 ×19 .1 ×0 2 − 0.5 ×19 .1 ×0 2 ) + (19 .1 ×9.8 ×8 −19 .1 ×9.8 ×h' )

E= should equal

to 0.

Take the friction (f) into account,

E total = GPE + KE + Other forms of energy

Other form of energy =

E total − (GPE + KE ) = GPE − GPE = mg (hinitial − h finish )
initial finish
= 19.1* 9.8*(8-h’)=

Substitute the data from table 2, the process data is shown in table 3.

Table 3: The process data.

h’ GPE S f
(m) lost(J) (m) ( N)
Data[A] Data[B]
10º 0.05 5.62 0.75 7.44

20 º 0.064 2.99 0.42 7.10

30 º 0.068 2.25 0.30 7.43

45 º 0.072 1.50 0.22 7.04

60 º 0.075 0.94 0.13 6.98

f is consistently close 7.00N hence approaches an accurate value of the friction.

This aim of the experiment was to investigate the conservation of mechanical energy
which is make up of GPE and KE. According to the data:

In figure 6:

As the graph shows, the distance the marble covered is in inversely proportional to the
angle as according to trigonometry, the length can be briefly calculated as shown in
figure 9.

In figure 7:

The graph shows that the S is to inversely proportional to the h’, as E f = f *S, so if
S decreases, E f would decreases. As the total energy stays the same, so as the angle
become bigger, the final GPE would become larger, thus the marble would go upper.

In figure 8:

The final height is approximately in direct proportional to the angle since as the
velocity at both the starting point and finish point is 0, so the KE(initial)=
KE(final)=0, and as GPE=mgh, so ΔGPE=mg Δh. As in a non-friction environment,
ΔGPE should be 0 which is contradictory to the data from [A]. ΔGPE≠ 0, which is
caused by the existence of friction. As shown in figure 6, the length of distance is to
the inversely proportional to the angle of the horizontal plane of the lowest point and
the released point. So, the larger the angle is, the shorter the distance the marble
would covered. As f =µN, which is constant as the marble and the track stays the
same. And as E f = f ⋅ S , so, as the angle become smaller, E f become smaller. As
the total GPE stays the same, the marble can go nearer to the initial height. So the
angle increases, the height reached increases.

The hypothesis predicted that the mechanical energy would be conserved. i.e. no loss
of GPE.

But the E f does not support the hypothesis, as data in [A] shows. When the energy
lost by friction is calculated, the data in [B] is approximately the same as [A] which
means the energy test by f is nearly the same as the energy difference in the total
energy. Therefore, the mechanical energy is conserved when friction is taken into

Etotal =GPE(initial)+KE(initial)=GPE(final)+KE(final)+ Eother (mainly caused by


There are some errors occurred in the experiment. Firstly, the height of the marble is
ob served by eyes, thus, the height observed would be different from the actual height.
Secondly, oil is speared on the truck to minimize friction, but as the experiment went
on, the amount of oil on the track would decreases slightly. Thirdly, the track is not
absolutely symmetrical, as the plastic pipe is bended artificially. The first error can be
minimized as the process of the motion is recorded by a video recorder, and by
watching the video couples of tines. The height would be determined more correctly.
The second problem can be eliminated by spreading the track again after each release.
The third error is minimized by fasten the tube on to several iron stand with sticking
tape.. And as it has been minimized and as the data from [A] and [B] relatively match
each other, and the friction calculated out in [B] are closed to 7.00N, which match the
fact that the track and marble are not change, thus, the data and the finding should be
valid. An iron “u’’ track and dimmer switeh should be applied if the experiment is to
be conducted again. To minimize the track errors due to the unsymmetrical of the
track, the velocity of the marble on the track can be collected. Thus the speed of the
marble at the same height would be collected and the KE can be calculated to
compare the KE changes during the motion to further prove the conservation of the
energy by taking KE, GPE & friction taking into account. Further experiment can be
conducted on a loop track, to investigate the minimum energy to pass the top of the


The conservation of mechanical energy was investigated in the report. Generally

speaking, the initial energy (GPE) is not conserved and change to different forms
(GPE and energy lost by friction) during the motion in a “U” track. In the smallest
angle, the energy conserved is 5.0/8.0= 62.5% and in the largest angle, the energy
conserved is 7.5/ 8.0= 93. 75%.


n.a., Mechanical energy, view Sep.09. 2010, derived from
----EEI on motion

Cindy Yao
Mrs. McFandyen