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

Physics Explorations and Projects

See other experiments from the lab book.

1Constant Motion and Changing Motion
2Balanced Forces and Unbalanced Forces
3Gravitation on Earth
4Newton’s Second Law
5Projectile Challenge
6Impulse and Momentum
7Equilibrium of Forces
8Circular Motion
9Conservation of Momentum
10Egg Protection Challenge
11Springs Making Things Move
12Kinetic Energy and Mass
13Work and Kinetic Energy
14Work Done by Gravity
15Energy in Collisions
16Rube Goldberg Machine
17Charge and Charge Models
18Coulomb's Law
19Measuring Electric Current
20Conservation of Charge
21Voltage in a Circuit
22Battery Challenge
23Magnetic Field of a Current
24Current from a Changing Field
25Generating Electricity
27Wave Speed on a String
28Speed of Sound
29Interference and Diffraction
30Sound and Loudness
31Wave Communication Challenge
32Energy Storage in Capacitors
34Heat as Energy Transfer
35Solar Cells
36Rube Goldberg Machine Revisited

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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