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What factors affect the distance traveled by a margarine tub?

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What factors affect the distance traveled by a margarine tub?


Aim: To find out what factors affect the distance traveled by the margarine tub.

From previous research, I’m aware that there are other factors that affect the distance traveled by the margarine tub.


  • Friction – If the tub has no force propelling it along it will always slow down and stop because of friction. To travel at a steady speed, the tub will need a driving force to counteract the friction. As friction increases, the speed increases. It converts potential to kinetic energy and wastes it as heat energy. There are things that will affect the amount of friction that occurs. One of them is the weight that presses the two surfaces together, and that friction is proportional to this load or weight that presses the surfaces together. The surface area of the object does not affect friction because the total area of contact at these points is small compared to the total surface area of the object. If the weight of the object increases, the pressure at the contact points also increases and the surfaces are pushed together. This leads to an increase in the friction force between them.I know from textbooks and from lessons that friction will affect how far certain object travel. Since I'm not going to change the friction or not going to change where I will do my experiment I don't need to worry about this factor.
  • Force – The force will affect the distance traveled because the greater the force, the greater the friction. As a result of increasing the force the speed will increase and the distance will be greater. The greater the force, the greater the acceleration. Any resultant force will result in acceleration and therefore this is the formula:

F=ma (Force = Mass x Acceleration)  

This is showing the relationship between the force and the acceleration.

  • Mass – Mass is the amount of matter in an object. In our case it’s the amount of matter in the margarine tub. The greater the mass, the speed will decrease and the friction will increase. Also the bigger the smaller the acceleration. The friction acting on the tub will decrease as well. Therefore the mass has an effect on the acceleration and it can be shown using this formula:

a=F/m (Acceleration = Force/Mass)

For this investigation I am going to find out how changing the mass of the margarine tub affects the distance in which it is projected.


I predict the greater the masses of the margarine tub, the shorter the distance it will travel. This is because as the mass increases, the frictional force is greater. This means that there is a greater pressure between the tub and the floor. The higher the pressure is the greater the amount of heat produced due to friction. This heat is lost quickly and so the tub travels a shorter distance. Whenever energy is transferred a force moves.Because the force is the same all the way through, the acceleration is going to decrease. This is due to the formula found in my research: a = F/m Therefore the tub will cover less distance each time. As the elastic potential energy is converted to kinetic energy that is converted further into heat energy. I predict that this should produce a smooth, curve on my graph, as this will show that as the mass increases, the distance travelled will decrease.


Apparatus List

  • Newton Meter
  • 10g weights
  • 100g weights
  • Margarine Tub
  • Stool
  • Sellotape
  • Paper Strips
  • Elastic Strip
  • Meter Sticks
  • Ruler


First we did 2 preliminary tests to find out which force to use and to find out a suitable range of weights to use. For the first test we varied the weights to decide which weights to use. We did as follows:

  • Get an elastic strip and attach it to the bottom of the stool.
  • Put 10g in the margarine tub and fix the tub in front of the strip.
  • Get the Newton meter and hook it to the elastic and pull back until it is 5N.
  • Measure the distance.
  • Repeat each step until you have 4 readings of each weight. Repeat them for 50g, 100g, and 200g. Make sure you keep the force at 5N

For the second preliminary test we varied the force to decide which force to use. We did as follows:

  • Get an elastic strip and attach it to the bottom of the stool.
  • Put 10g in the margarine tub and fix the tub in front of the strip.
  • Get the Newton meter and hook it to the elastic and pull back until it is 2N.
  • Measure the distance.
  • Repeat each step until you have 4 readings of each force. Repeat for 4N, 6N, 8N, 10N. Make sure you keep the weight at 10g.
...read more.






Average (cm)


































Average (cm)

























...read more.


 Some of the results were not as accurate as they could have been. The way to improve this is by making sure the measurements are accurate by actually looking properly. If the experiment was to be repeated, I would not use just stools as we found out that they kept slipping because they were too light. Therefore, I would suggest using stools again but have a person sitting on each stool to make sure it wouldn't move. If this was to be done, you would have to make sure that the people who were sitting on the stool are of similar weights too make sure it remains a fair test. I think also sellotape should have been used to tape the weights down inside the tub as if the masses are loose, the masses may help the margarine tub by hitting the opposite end making it move further. Also the tub we used affected our results as well because it was quite rectangular and oval like and so the air resistance around the tub will be different. If we used a round tub the air resistance will be the same and so the speed will be different. The anomaly on the graph could have been due to the fact that the stool sometimes moved and fingers got in the way of the tub when it was projected. The tub also sometimes flipped over when released. To improve this in future, if the tub flips over or fingers affect it or the stool moves, I won’t count it and I will repeat that particular reading.

...read more.

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