As part of our Winter-Olympics inspired S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) series, students engineered Bobsleds today and demonstrated how energy concepts can be used to find how far the Bobsled will slide. The bobsled sporting event, which goes back to the 18970's and has long been a part of the winter Olympics tradition, must take into account several key aspects of physics and engineering. For one, bobsleds must be engineered to be very aerodynamic, such that they encounter little wind resistance that will slow them down. Additionally bobsleds must have as little friction as possible so as to not waste energy.
Students were taught that bobsleds involve energy transfers, just like all other everyday phenomena. The Law of Conservation of Energy states that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, but it can be transferred from one form to another. In our bobsleds, the potential energy of the bobsled on the ramp was transformed into kinetic energy as it slid down the ramp, and finally into thermal energy as friction as it came to a halt.
When graphing the distance traveled vs. number of weight blocks added, students found that there is a general positive trend; the greater mass is added to the bobsled, the farther it will slide once it hits the bottom of the ramp.