Vernier Software and Technology
Vernier Software & Technology

Energy in Collisions


The goal of this activity is for students to recognize that energy can be conserved in a collision, but only in certain cases. Additionally, students will understand that energy is not conserved in inelastic collisions. Students will develop this understanding through a series of investigations using carts colliding on a track.

The Preliminary Observations can be performed with two carts on a track. Prepare to demonstrate different types of collisions with different cart masses. Students should observe the speeds of the carts before and after the collisions, and think about the energy transfers involved.

In their investigation, students may use video analysis, photogates, motion detectors, Motion Encoders, or Go Direct Sensor Carts to collect data for two objects colliding.

This investigation uses the following convention when describing collisions:

  • Elastic collisions are collisions in which kinetic energy is conserved.
  • Inelastic collisions are collisions in which kinetic energy is NOT conserved.
  • Completely inelastic collisions are collisions where two bodies are stuck together after the collision.

Learning Outcomes

  • Design and perform an investigation.
  • Draw a conclusion from evidence.
  • Identify that kinetic energy is conserved for elastic collisions and diminished in inelastic and completely inelastic collisions.

Sensors and Equipment

This experiment features the following Vernier sensors and equipment.

Option 1

Option 2

Option 3

Option 4

Option 5

Additional Requirements

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

Next Generation Science Standards

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • PS2.A Forces and Motion
  • PS3.A Definitions of Energy
  • PS3.B Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer
  • PS3.C Relationship Between Energy and Forces

Crosscutting Concepts

  • Patterns
  • Cause and Effect
  • Systems and System Models
  • Energy and Matter

Science and Engineering Practices

  • Developing and Using Models
  • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

Experiment 15 from Physics Explorations and Projects Lab Book

<i>Physics Explorations and Projects</i> book cover

Included in the Lab Book

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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