Follow the Bouncing Ball: A Data-Driven Investigation of Complex Models through Basic Newtonian Mechanics

Bouncing a ball is quite simple.  You can let go of a ball and let the force of gravity pull it down or you can exert a force on the ball yourself and throw it to the ground.  Either way, the predictions regarding the motion and interactions are quite simple: the ball will hit the ground and reflect back in the direction it came from.  While the behavior of a single bouncing ball is straightforward, this simple element can be used to view a bigger picture.  This model can yield complex and interesting dynamics with connections to advanced topics and applications.  Students will investigate the bouncing ball from multiple perspectives based on their units of study in the course.  They will start by discussing the energy and momentum transfers, and motion of the ball and will further their understanding by applying these concepts to much more complex situations.

In this project, the students will have the opportunity to investigate these questions and ideas with some teacher led suggestions.  But overall, they will be developing their own questions and investigating them using computer-based simulations and their own lab set ups.  In the end, these students will create a poster for their independent research and present in a format that is typical of undergraduate research.

Author: Alexandra Solender

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