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Moving Magical Marbles with More Momentum than Most – an experiment to demonstrate inertia

Colorful marbled marbles

Using marbles in an experiment to demonstrate inertia and momentum

Inertia means that a rolling ball on a smooth, level surface will roll forever if nothing stops it. In fact, friction and air pushing against the moving ball will eventually bring it to a stop. But interesting things happen when a motionless object gets in the way of a moving one. Try this experiment and see for yourself.

  1. Tape the yardsticks to a tabletop so they’re parallel and about 1/2 inch apart (if you are under 5 then we feel compelled to remind you that mom and dad will not appreciate the artistic appeal of 2 yardsticks glued to the kitchen table).
  2. Put 2 marbles in the middle of the sticks (our ‘track’) a few inches apart.
  3. Flick a marble so that it rolls and hits the other one. Notice that the one that had been rolling stops while the one that had been still now rolls! The momentum of the rolling marble transfers to the other one, stopping the first and setting the second in motion.
  4. Now put two marbles on the track so they touch, and a third several inches away. Flick the single marble into the other two. Notice that the rolling marble stops, the middle one stays put, and the third one rolls. The momentum went through the second marble into the third.
  5. Try other combinations: two marbles into three still marbles, or three into three. You’ll find that however many marbles you set in motion, the same number will be made to roll when they hit.

Three concepts about momentum

This experiment introduces three concepts about momentum:

  1. Momentum can transfer from one object to another.
  2. Momentum can pass from one object, through a second, and into a third.
  3. The total amount of momentum at the beginning will stay the same.

Advanced notes about momentum and inertia

Momentum is a fundamental concept in physics that describes the motion of an object. It is defined as the product of an object’s mass and velocity. Mathematically, momentum (p) can be represented by the following formula:

p = m x v

where ‘m’ is the mass of the object and ‘v’ is its velocity.

Momentum is a vector quantity, which means that it has both magnitude and direction. The direction of an object’s momentum is the same as its velocity. For example, if an object is moving to the right, its momentum is also to the right.

One of the most important properties of momentum is that it is conserved in a closed system. This means that the total momentum of a system before an event is the same as the total momentum of the system after the event, provided that no external forces act on the system. This is known as the law of conservation of momentum.

The concept of momentum is useful in understanding many real-world phenomena, such as collisions between objects, the behavior of fluids, and the motion of celestial bodies. It is also important in engineering, where it is used to design structures and machines that can withstand the forces generated by moving objects.

Experiment Supplies

Supplies: Yardstick, Marble

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

Colorful marbled marbles via Wikimedia Commons by Joe Mabel with usage type - GNU Free. November 6, 2007

Featured Image Credit

Colorful marbled marbles via Wikimedia Commons by Joe Mabel with usage type - GNU Free. November 6, 2007


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