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My aim in this experiment is to investigate how the compression of a spring affects the amount of kinetic energy transferred to the trolley that it is attached to.

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Emma Lerway                

Trolley Investigation


My aim in this experiment is to investigate how the compression of a spring affects the amount of kinetic energy transferred to the trolley that it is attached to.

Scientific Knowledge

In any compressed spring there is potential elastic energy. This can be calculated using the formula:

Elastic Energy = ½ k x 2

When the spring is released it transfers the elastic energy mainly into kinetic energy. The formula that is used to calculate this energy is:

Kinetic energy = ½ m v 2

However to find the velocity of an object you must first calculate its speed. This is done using the formula:

Speed = Distance


In any case, the amount of elastic energy that an object has will affect the amount of energy transferred to kinetic energy. Inevitably if there is more elastic energy that means that there is a larger quantity that can be transferred, resulting in a bigger final amount of kinetic energy.


I will carry out my experiment in a safe, secure area so that no harm is caused to anyone or anything. Dangers that may be encountered during this investigation include the fast (or slow!) moving trolley, possibly causing damage to interfering obstacles or people. To ensure that this does not happen I will clear the area before carrying out the experiment.

I will ensure that people participating in the experiment are standing and not sitting and that a First aid kit is available in case of injury or emergency.

Preliminary Experiment

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  • Surface – Different surfaces could cause different resistances (friction), this would affect the speed at which the trolley travelled, in turn, affecting the amount of kinetic energy transferred. To ensure that the speed does not vary because of the surface, I shall be using the same surface throughout the investigation. I will also try to keep the surface clean, as small pieces of grit or other contamination could well affect the course of the trolley.
  • Temperature – This variable is very hard to control, as I will be conducting the experiment in the science lab, which will be at room temperature (this can increase and decrease at anytime). The fairest way that I can carry out the experiment is to run it all on the same day or aim to do it at the same time each day. This will minimise variation in temperature as much as possible.
  • Distance of the card from breaking the light gate – This variable is very important as it will affect the outcome directly. I will be placing the card on top of the trolley so that it lines up to be less than 2cm away from breaking the laser on the light gate. This will ensure that the light gate measures the trolley’s speed when it is almost at it’s fastest and when the most energy has been released. The reasoning behind
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  • Repeat anomalous readings – by doing this we could maybe neutralise any anomalies, showing that our results are once again more reliable.
  • Repeating the investigation with ticker tape – Even though ticker tape is not very accurate as there is a lot more calculations involved leading to far more transcription errors, it would be enough to support the results we currently have, and tell us how correct they are.

To further or back up the evidence we currently have there are other investigations that could be carried out. These include:

  • Using a different spring with a different spring constant would allow us to see if the graphs produces gave the same as the current ones. The experiment would be carried out in the exact same way as this one was, changing nothing except the spring on the back of the trolley. We would have to do the same number of compressions, use the same card on top the trolley, use the same trolley, just change the spring.
  • To further the experiment we could investigate how the weight of the trolley affected how much kinetic energy was transferred. This time however we would only compress the spring to one measurement, maybe 4cms. Then we would vary the mass of the trolley by adding weights to the top of it. I would have to have at least 6 different weights to produce enough results to show whether or not there is a correlation.

These further investigations may help to support my current results or explain anomalies.  

Physics Coursework 2003

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