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To investigate the affect a changing slope has on the distance traveled by a toy car.

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23 November 2001CHRIS BRUNDAN


AIM: To investigate the affect a changing slope has on the distance traveled by a toy car.

BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE: This experiment involves three major factors, gravitational potential energy, kinetic energy and friction. Advancing Physics by Jon Ogborn and Mary Whitehouse has, I feel, the best explanation of the relationship between gravitational potential energy and potential energy. They use a tennis ball as an example:


HYPOTHESIS: The significant variables for this experiment are:

Height of car at start -         gravitational potential energy

Mass of car used -                 gravitational potential energy

Car used -                         axle friction, wheel width and diameter,

Aerodynamics etc. may differ on different


Texture of ramp -                 friction

POSSIBLE INDEPENDANT OR CONTROL VARIABLES: Height of car, Mass of car, Texture of ramp (very difficult to measure).

POSSIBLE DEPENDANT VARIABLES: Distance traveled, Average speed.

As said in my background information decrease in potential energy, or the car going down the ramp, is equal to the increase in kinetic energy that is the car accelerating down the ramp. The height of the car at the start should therefore be proportional to the distance traveled, frictional forces ignored.

PREDICTION: I predict that, assuming no friction on the ramp, distance traveled is proportional to height of car at start, or amount of gravitational potential energy. That is to say when you double the height of the car, you double the distance traveled.

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My range is to be from 30mm - 120mm. I am to test height.



Stand with clamp



Toy car


METHOD: The ramp will be placed on the desk and attached to the stand via the clamp, the height will be taken from the starting line, 420mm up the ramp from the bottom, to the desk surface and adjusted until the desired height is achieved. The car will be placed with the front of it on the starting line facing down the ramp. The car will be released and a measurement taken from where the care gets to, to the bottom of the ramp. Readings will be taken every 10mm height, between 30mm and 120mm; three readings for each interval unless an anomaly is spotted in which case a fourth test may take place. If the car goes off the side of the desk or collides with the wall running alongside the desk, the test will be void, and have to be redone.

My experiment will be a fair test as the car will be the same throughout, keeping mass and axle friction constant, as will the desk surface and the ramp. Safety is not a key element in this experiments, accidents may be caused by carelessness and lack of attention, such as knocking the stand onto one’s toe, I will be extra-vigilant to avoid these.

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CONCLUSION: This experiment not very accurate, however, a constant error having been established from the graph, the results became useful. There was no need to refine the method further as I managed to prove my hypothesis and any other apparatus for reducing the constant error was not available to me. I conclude that, when friction is ignored, distance traveled is directly proportional to height.

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