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Newton's Laws of Bowling

Authored By: 
Linli Chin, Physics teacher

Name a game that can be enjoyed by the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the tall and the short, male and female alike, and that list will be fairly limited.  One that makes it to the shortlist would be BOWLING!  It is a time-tested game that has been enjoyed by millions around the world in various forms.  The one that we are most familiar with is ten-pin bowling in our neighborhood bowling alley.

Growing up with a family that loved bowling, the game has always had a special meaning for me.  It reminds me of good times, camaraderie, cheerfulness and sometimes, playful heckling.  I wanted to share the experience with the students in my classes, since, along with the fun and laughter of the game, there is also a lot of science to explore.  This year (as with every other year I have taught at Beekman), I brought the students in my Physics classes to play a game of bowling, where we saw Newton’s Laws of Motion in action!  We had a great time trying out the differently weighted balls to compare the acceleration of the ball down the lane.  As we know, mass and acceleration are inversely proportional to one another when the net force is kept constant (F = ma).  This is Newton’s Second Law of Motion.  We also had some good laughs when one of the pins was left standing after a ball rolled right past it into the gutter.  This is an example of Newton’s First Law of Motion: an object at rest will stay at rest, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.  I guess the ball wanted the pins’ forces to stay balanced in the case of our “Best Gutter Bowler” during our past excursion.

How about Newton’s Third Law of Motion?  Well, we all experienced that when we lifted the bowling ball with our hands during the approach.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  The force that I applied to support the ball was received as a weight on my hand, which is the force that the ball exerts on me – the more massive the ball, the more force I would have to exert, and at the same time, the more weight I would feel.

My students and I look forward to this bowling activity every year.  This year, we awarded trophies to the top male bowler and to the top female bowler.  My hope is that the time spent at the alley will get the students to think about science in our daily lives and how we can use it to enrich our everyday experiences.  With that, I’m off to my next game: see you at the bowling alley!