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Basketball Science: The Physics of Bounce

by Christopher Monfette | 0 Comments

Connect a Million Minds would like to extend our appreciation to Science Buddies for contributing this special blog on the science of basketball.

When it comes to engaging students with science, technology, engineering, and math, starting where they are and with what they enjoy can help ignite student interest. To encourage more students to explore hands-on science projects, Time Warner Cable has teamed up with Science Buddies to support the development of exciting new sports science project ideas that help students learn more about science related to the sports they love. A new Science Buddies basketball project idea challenges students to experiment to find out what's going on, scientifically, when you dribble a ball.

Hands-on Hoop Science

For a student who loves basketball, a project on column chromatography may or may not fuel the same kind of enthusiasm as a project related to the science of shooting three-pointers. Can you turn love of the game into a challenging and educational science project? Absolutely! Thanks to quality, scientist-authored project ideas at Science Buddies, students can tackle classroom or science fair project assignments by exploring angles of science related to popular sports like basketball, football, golf, figure skating, baseball, cycling, and auto racing.

From the physics of projectile motion to the science behind trajectory and the role gravity plays on the movement, speed, and path of a ball, students who love basketball can find plenty of science questions to ask and answer through hands-on science experimentation. When it comes to basketball, mastering the basics is key. There is a reason star shooters spend time throwing free throw after free throw from the line, and a shooter's technique can make a big difference in the percentage of shots made! Dribbling, too, is a critical skill. A guard without great dribbling skills won't last long in the play making point guard position, but is there really science involved in dribbling? Yes!

When Ball Meets Court

What happens when you drop a basketball? It bounces back. But how high does it bounce? And what happens when it hits the ground the next time, on the second bounce? If there wasn't a hand or some other force involved in pushing it down again, the second bounce will be different from the first. The way a ball responds and moves is all about momentum and energy. As the ball bounces, it appears to lose energy because some energy is transferred. To keep the ball bouncing at a consistent height, a dribbler has to replace the "lost" energy, over and over again, up and down the court.

But energy is never really lost. It just changes. So what happens to the energy in a dropped basketball? The movement of a bouncing ball involves both potential and kinetic energy. As the ball changes positions in its path to the floor and back up again, the energy changes from potential to kinetic and back, but some of the energy changes forms and is transferred out of the ball, decreasing the energy the ball had when it was first dropped. For example, when the ball hits the court, it makes a sound--that sound is a result of a transfer of energy. The court (or ground) also absorbs some of the energy from the impact of the ball--the energy in the ball is transferred to the court. Another form of energy is heat energy. Does a bouncing basketball lose energy because it creates heat as it bounces?

Putting It to a Dribbling Test

The "Basketball Physics: Where Does a Bouncing Ball's Energy Go?" sports science project idea at Science Buddies helps students explore the question of thermal energy and a bouncing ball by conducting a hands-on science experiment. Using an infrared thermometer, students take multiple temperature readings of a basketball before and after bouncing the ball 100 times in a row. What do you think the readings will show about the relationship between thermal energy and the act of dribbling?

Depending on what students discover through their hands-on dribble tests, firsthand understanding of the energy transfers and changes happening with a bouncing ball may help improve overall ball handling skills—or at least give students new appreciation for the dynamics of a bouncing ball!

Putting Science in Student's Hands—The Importance of Hands-on STEM Education

Science Buddies is a K-12 non-profit organization dedicated to supporting science, technology, engineering, and math education for all students, at school, after school, and at home with their families. The organization's award-winning website contains more than 15,000 pages of content, including more than 1,200 free scientist-authored Project Ideas in 32 areas of science, including classical areas like physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy and contemporary areas like robotics, biomedical technology, nanotechnology—and sport science. Science Buddies believes strongly that matching students with a project they will enjoy is key to increasing student interest in science. One of the organization's key online tools, the Topic Selection Wizard, helps students discover science and engineering projects that fit their individual interests.

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