How to Build a Ramp for a Science Experiment

Written by regina edwards
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A science experiment using a ramp can illustrate principles involving kinetic energy, gravity, force and friction. Use objects around the house or classroom to construct a simple ramp, building a raised platform on one end. A variety of objects such as a toy car, ball or roll of coins can be used to demonstrate motion down the ramp. The science experiment can be enhanced according to grade level and topic studied by comparing various heights, adding weight calculations or changing the ramp's surface. Document all measurements, materials and your process under the "Materials and Methods" section in your experiment log.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Log book
  • Books
  • Ruler or measuring tape
  • Long board (cardboard or wood)
  • Small car
  • Optional: Table, cans, rolls of coins, fabric, cling film, scale

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  1. 1

    Draw a right triangle in your experiment log to illustrate the components of your experiment. Label each segment as: Vertical = A Horizontal = B Diagonal = C

  2. 2

    Stack books on one end of the table or floor.

  3. 3

    Measure the total height of the stack and write this down in your log book.

  4. 4

    Measure the length of the long board and write this down in your experiment log. Note this length for the diagonal (C) in your illustration.

  5. 5

    Place one end of the long board on the stack and position it so that the other end is on the opposite side of the table.

  6. 6

    Place a book at the foot of the ramp (i.e., at the bottom of the ramp) to stop objects.

  7. 7

    Measure the final height of the raised end of the board to the table (because there will be a gap where the board sits on the stack). Write this measurement in your log book and note this measurement as the length of the vertical (A) in your illustration.

  8. 8

    Measure the distance of the surface between the flat end of the board and the end of the stack of books. Write this measurement as the horizontal segment (B) in your illustration.

  9. 9

    Center your car at the raised end of the board (on top of the stack) and allow it to roll down the ramp.

Tips and warnings

  • Compare the movement of other objects, such as a roll of coins, sliding down the ramp.
  • Weigh each object that is rolled to document your science experiment and compare how quickly heavier objects roll down the ramp (compared with lighter objects).
  • Cover your ramp with various materials, such as fabric or cling film, to compare the effects of surface friction.
  • Compare the speed of objects rolling down shallower ramps (that use shorter stacks of books) to demonstrate how the elevation reduces the rate of change.
  • Calculate the angle at the foot of your ramp (see Resource 2) using the following values: C = Hypotenuse; A = Opposite; B = Adjacent. Document that the angle between A and B is a right angle (90 degrees) and document the calculated angle between B and C. Subtract the calculated angle (BC) from the 90 degrees to obtain the angle between A and C (write down this measurement in your log).
  • Avoid using breakable or fragile objects to roll down the ramp.
  • For safety, make sure the raised stack is sturdy and not too high.

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