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Bouncing ball experiment

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Bouncing ball experiment

A squash ball is a hollow ball made of rubber, with air inside. Before starting a game of squash, most players will "warm up" the ball by knocking it around the court. This raises the temperature of the ball and increases the "bounciness". In this experiment you can investigate the effect of temperature on the height to which a ball bounces. An alternative experiment is to investigate how the height of each successive bounce changes.

Planning your experiment

The height to which the ball bounces will depend on the initial height and the temperature, so you must decide which of the variables you are going to investigate and how you can ensure that your experiment is a "fair test". You must then decide the range over which you are going to make measurements and how many measurements you should make. e.g. if you were varying the temperature of the ball, what would be suitable value for the maximum temperature?  Should you make measurements every degree, every 5 degrees, every 10 degrees, etc.  

How could you change the temperature of the ball and measure the temperature?

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  • The volume of water.
  • The starting temperature of the water.
  • The size and shape of the container.
  • Whether the container was insulated.

You might then decide to measure the temperature of the water at say 1-minute intervals as it cools down. To make the experiment a fair test, you would need to change just one of these variables and keep the rest

constant. I.e. if you did one experiment with 100 cm3 of water starting at 80 oC in an insulated container and then a second experiment with 50 cm3 of water starting at 60 oC in an uninsulated container, you

Couldn’t compare the two because you wouldn’t know if any   differences were caused by the different masses of water, the different starting temperatures or the different containers.

Processing your data

Usually, the best way to display your results is in the form of a graph. (Remember that all graphs should have titles and the axes should have labels and units).

The points you should cover are:

  • Do your results support your prediction?
  • Are there any trends or patterns in your results?
  • Would you expect your graphs to go through the origin?
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initial gravitational potential energy. Again notice that the total energy (elastic PE + heat +sound) is constant.

As the ball returns to its original shape, some of the energy that was stored as elastic PE is converted back to kinetic energy, heat and sound. I.e. the ball starts to bounce.

Once the ball leaves the ground it will start to slow down as it rises and its kinetic energy is converted back to gravitational potential energy. Because some of its initial energy has been converted to heat and sound it will finish up with less gravitational energy than it started with. I.e. the rebound height is less than the starting height.


For a soft ball like a squash ball the deformation of the ball is quite large. (During a squash game the ball is completely flattened when it hits the wall of the court.) For more rigid balls, the deformation is less. Steel ball bearings and glass marbles will bounce quite effectively when dropped onto a hard surface and in these cases the deformation is very small indeed , but because it takes a very large force to produce the small deformation, the energy stored can still be large.

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