Science Projects on How a Ball Bounces

Gravity, kinetics and elasticity interact in a predictable progression that makes a ball bounce. Energy loss in each phase of the bounce event will also factor into differences in ball behavior. Experimentation can help evaluate the effect of molecular density, polymer organization, temperature and distance on how high a particular ball will bounce on each drop.

  1. Energy Transfer

    • When a ball is dropped, gravitational potential energy changes to kinetic energy that is collected in the ball as potential elastic energy when the ball deforms on impact with the ground. When the ball springs back into shape, elastic energy transfers back into kinetic energy and the ball bounces. To amplify this process, perform a simple demonstration using a basketball and a tennis ball. Hold the basketball from the bottom with one hand and place the tennis ball on top. Hold the two balls together and drop them at the same time. When the basketball hits the ground, the release of elastic potential energy will make the basketball bounce but also transfer kinetic energy into the tennis ball and send it flying in a dramatic display of power in motion.

    Molecular Activity

    • The transfer of potential energy to kinetic energy that causes a ball to bounce affects the ball on a molecular level. Rubber that has a very dense molecular structure bounces higher because energy is being transferred by a greater number of very tiny balls with the compound of the rubber. To observe this, take two golf balls of the exact same type. Bounce both balls at the same time and visually measure the height of each bounce. Place one of the balls in the freezer for an hour to slow the molecular activity in the ball. Remove the ball from the freezer and immediately bounce both balls again on the same surface. There will be notably less bounce from the ball that is frozen.

    Bounce Measurements

    • To fully observe the interaction of potential energy and kinetic energy of bouncing balls, measure and record bounce heights for a variety of different ball types. For best results, cover a clear wall with paper and draw accurate measurement points up to 6 feet. Ask an assistant to bounce each ball at least three times from three different heights. Use a chart to record the bounce resulting from each drop and average the results for a comparative analysis with each type of ball chosen for the test.

    Deformation Experiments

    • Energy lost in the transition between the kinetic energy of the ball drop -- the elastic potential energy of the deformity in the ball when it hits the ground -- will limit the height of the bounce. Using the wall-sized measuring chart and a basketball, measure ball bounce height with a variety of different air pressures and identify the best pressure for the highest bounce. Bounce the ball on a number of different surfaces, including carpet, cardboard, plywood and pine. Identify the best floor surface for the best basketball bounce.

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