Intermediate-Level Science Projects

Downhill Discoveries

The concepts of potential energy, kinetic energy, drag, friction and acceleration come into play in this suggested science fair project, making it a valuable learning experience.

By making your own sloping tracks and selecting course variables, you'll be able to determine how course conditions can affect acceleration and race results. Think bobsledding, luge racing, and downhill skiing.

All the necessary materials can probably be found around your house, with the exception, perhaps, of the large cardboard box. Different materials used on the strips of paper or foil represent different conditions racers face.

You'll need a large piece of cardboard, such as from an appliance box, tape, a small fan, salt, water, cornstarch, butter, a meter stick or tape measure, aluminum foil or waxed paper, clay, a stopwatch, and five checkers.

Simulate trails by taping six strips of foil or waxed paper onto the cardboard, leaving some space between them. Don't fasten the strip at the bottom. Leave one strip as is—that's your control. On the other strips, sprinkle or coat with one of the following: salt and water mixture, cornstarch, water, and butter. The leftover strip will have a fan blowing onto it.

Prop up the cardboard to simulate a hill, and have one person stand at the top of the cardboard with a checker. Slide the checker down one path, recording distance traveled and time needed.

Use one checker for each of the other strips, recording time and distance traveled for each condition. Repeat procedure a total of three trials, using the clay to add weight to the checkers as another variable.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Science Fair Projects © 2003 by Nancy K. O'Leary and Susan Shelly. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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