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Investigating the friction created on different surfaces. Factors that affect range of catapult

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How is the range of a catapult affected by the change in the surface used to slide a 236 g box on a cement floor?

A catapult is a mechanical device that can be used to throw or hurl different objects to a great distance depending on the amount of force used. In this test a catapult is used to push a box on a cement floor and the aim is to test one factor that affects the range. For this purpose a catapult model shown in Figure 1 is used together with a 236 gram box with four rectangular shaped sides where each side has a different surface. By alternatively exposing different sides of the box (thereby different surfaces) to the cement floor and by measuring the distance that the box slides on each side when receiving a push from the catapult, it is possible to study how different surfaces affect the range of the catapult. Glass, wood, sandy, fabric are the different surfaces that the box has on its four sides.


Figure 1. Type of catapult used

Independent variable: - the type of surface exposed to the cement floor

Dependent variable: -

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The same catapult was used for the whole duration of the test.The test was performed on a cement floor only. It was also performed on the same area of the cement floor so as to have the same type of friction that is present due to dirt, humidity and other particles on the floor. Therefore a tape was used to mark the area where the catapult was placed on the cement.The whole test should be done in one room only so as to keep the humidity factor constant.


The table below shows five measurements of the range of the catapult using four different surfaces of a box. The uncertainty in the measuring tape is taken to be ± 1 to compensate for human and systematic error. A mean distance is also presented for each surface.

Table 1.

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 Evaluation and Limitation

The test was suitable to perform in a school environment. It can also be done without the need of assistance from others. However there are certain problems that can be improved. Sometime as the launcher of the catapult is released, the catapult is slightly thrown backwards which might take away some force from the push on the box. The cement floor had certain dirt particles on it that might have affect the range depending on the surface used. Pulling and releasing the wooden launcher of the catapult using a hand can cause friction between the hand and the catapult resulting in a reduced speed or inaccurate range.


The catapult can be fixed to the floor using a screw to prevent it from moving. The cement floor can be wiped and dried to remove dirt and other particles. An automatic release system with hooks on the launcher of the catapult can be used for efficiency.

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