Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Workshop 4

3. Why Does the Ball Stop Bouncing?

bouncing ball

If energy is conserved, why do bouncing balls, pendulums, and other cyclic systems eventually stop moving? The energy doesn’t disappear but rather it is transferred to the surroundings, where it is unavailable to keep the cycle going. The result is that most objects moving in cycles eventually move less and less and then finally stop.

If we consider the bouncing ball striking a table, some energy is transferred to the table causing it to vibrate. This vibration moves the air, creating a sound. The mechanical vibration of the table also transfers energy to the floor of the room through the table legs and heat is produced and escapes to the room as the table deforms slightly at the point of impact. Also, as the ball falls, some energy is used to overcome the effects of its motion through the air and additional heat is produced within the ball as it stretches and deforms at the table surface.

All these transformations allow energy to escape from the system, resulting in a net loss with each repetition of the cycle. We take these losses to the surroundings for granted and if we want to keep a ball bouncing, we give it a little push downward at the beginning of each bounce.

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