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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                DRAFT

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:

Potential Energy = mass x gravity x height

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

Kinetic energy = 0.5 x mass x velocity x velocity

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 potential energy that an object has will affect the amount of energy transferred to kinetic energy. Inevitably if there is more potential 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.

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  • The angle at which the card passes through the light gate – If the card passes through the light gate at a very abnormal angle the reading will not be accurate. To eliminate this counteracting variable I will ensure that the card always passes through the light gate at a right angle, by taking great care to measure and line it up each time
  • The surface that the spring is compressed against – The surface that the spring is compressed against must be substantial enough not to move and absorb any of the energy that the spring gives. Therefore a hard surface such as a wall shall be used throughout the experiment.

The variable that I am going to change is the compression of the spring. I will be compressing the spring at 1cm intervals, which will give me a range of at least six results, as the spring is over 7cm long. This range is substantial enough to allow me to put my results into a graph and identify whether or not there is a definite correlation.


I predict that the shorter the spring is (the more it is compressed), the further and faster the trolley will travel. I believe this because the more compressed the spring is, the more elastic energy it will have, meaning that more energy overall can be transferred into kinetic energy which will make the trolley move.

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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, 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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