Vernier Software and Technology
Vernier Software & Technology

Energy Storage and Transfer: Gravitational Energy

Figure from experiment 9 from Advanced Physics with Vernier — Mechanics


In the first of this series of labs exploring the role of energy in change, you found that the energy stored in an elastic system was proportional to the square of the change in the length of the spring or rubber band deformed by the applied force. We called the energy stored in this way elastic energy.

In the previous experiment you found that this energy could be transferred to a cart to produce a change in its speed. We said that the moving cart stored energy in an account called kinetic energy. Suppose that, instead of moving horizontally, the cart were to move up an incline. Gradually, the cart would come to a stop before it began to roll back down the incline. Let’s examine for a moment the energy of the system when the object reaches its maximum height and its velocity is zero. While kinetic energy has diminished to zero, the energy of the system isn’t “lost.” It must be stored in some other account, which we call gravitational energy. This is the energy stored in the Earth-cart system as a function of its new height. Consider for a moment what system variables might affect the gravitational energy of the Earth-cart system.

While it is not a simple matter to measure this quantity directly, determining the change in the gravitational energy is straightforward. We can simplify this discussion if we arbitrarily assign a value of zero to both the gravitational energy of the system and the height of the object when it is as close to the Earth as it will get during the course of our investigation. Your goal is to determine a quantitative relationship between the gravitational energy and the height of an object above the zero-reference position.


In this experiment, you will

  • Recognize that the energy stored in an elastic system (spring, rubber band) can be transferred to another object, resulting in a change in the state of that object.
  • Determine an expression for the gravitational energy as a function of the height of an object above the Earth.

Sensors and Equipment

This experiment features the following Vernier sensors and equipment.

Additional Requirements

You may also need an interface and software for data collection. What do I need for data collection?

Advanced Physics with Vernier — Mechanics

See other experiments from the lab book.

1Motion on an Incline
2Error Analysis
3Newton's First Law
4Newton's Second Law
5Newton's Third Law
6Projectile Motion
7Energy Storage and Transfer: Elastic Energy
8Energy Storage and Transfer: Kinetic Energy
9Energy Storage and Transfer: Gravitational Energy
10AImpulse and Momentum (Motion Detector)
10BImpulse and Momentum (Photogate)
11AMomentum and Collisions (Motion Detectors)
11BMomentum and Collisions (Photogates)
12ACentripetal Acceleration
12BCentripetal Acceleration
13Rotational Dynamics
14Conservation of Angular Momentum
15Simple Harmonic Motion: Mathematical Model
16Simple Harmonic Motion: Kinematics and Dynamics
17Pendulum Periods
18Physical Pendulum
19Center of Mass

Experiment 9 from Advanced Physics with Vernier — Mechanics Lab Book

<i>Advanced Physics with Vernier — Mechanics</i> book cover

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Vernier lab books include word-processing files of the student instructions, essential teacher information, suggested answers, sample data and graphs, and more.

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