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What factors affect the gravitational potential energy of a trolley when it travels down a ramp.

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Gravitational Potential Energy Investigation


                In this investigation, I will be investigating what factors affect the gravitational potential energy of a trolley when it travels down a ramp.

GPE = mgh                Gravitational Energy = mass x gravity x height

                The formulae above shows that three things affect gravitational potential energy: mass, gravity and height. If the mass is increased then the GPE will increase. If the mass is decreased then the GPE will decrease. This also applies for the height. If the gravity was increased then the GPE would also increase. However, it is not possible to change the gravity because gravity is always 10 because we are on earth. The only way of investigating this factor is to use very advanced special equipment which not very practical for this investigation.

                The GPE is stored energy possessed by the trolley as a result of the relative positions of the components of that particular system. In this case, it is a trolley that is held at the top of the ramp, which is above the ground; the trolley and the earth possess a certain amount of potential energy. The GPE is the energy stored in an object as a result of its vertical position (i.e. height.) The energy is stored as the result of the gravitational attraction of the earth for the object.

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Preliminary Method

                The apparatus was set up as shown in the diagram below. I made the gap between the light gates 25cm. I changed the mass of the trolley but I kept the gradient of the ramp and the height of the trolley on the ramp the same. The masses that I used were 700,710,720,730,740 and 750g. I changed the mass of the trolley by adding more plastesine to it. I recorded my results in a table.

Preliminary Results

Weight Of Trolley in Grams

Time in Milliseconds













Preliminary Evaluation

From my preliminary work, I found out that when the mass was increased, the trolley traveled faster through the light gates. However the change was minimal therefore it would be hard to gain a set of reliable results by using this method. If I was to do repeats, my results could easily vary because the mass changed that I did in my preliminary work were not very big. If I was to vary the mass of the trolley by about 200g then the time that it takes for the trolley to go through the light gate would have noticeable changes. In my experiment I only want to use plastecine to change the mass of the trolley.

                I have decided that from my preliminary results,

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                The first law of motion states that balanced forces mean no change in velocity. When the trolley is moving, it is at a constant velocity because the thrust and drag factors acting on it are balanced. For the trolley to be moving at a constant speed there must be zero resultant force. The second law of motion states that a resultant force means acceleration. This means that if the thrust and drag acting on the trolley are different, then the trolley will accelerate or decelerate. This acceleration can take 5 different forms: starting stopping, speeding up, slowing down and changing direction. If there is an unbalanced force, then the trolley will accelerate in that direction. The size of the acceleration is decided by the formula f=ma. M is mass, a is acceleration and f is always the resultant force. The bigger the force, the greater the acceleration or deceleration. The bigger the mass, the smaller the acceleration. To get a big mass to accelerate as much as a small mass, it needs a larger force. In this experiment, the trolley is not a large mass. I predict that when the height of the trolley on the ramp is increased the quicker it will travel through the light gates because it has more GPE and the thrust and drag forces acting on the trolley will be unbalanced.

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