# Energy Storage and Transfer: Gravitational Energy

```Experiment
Energy Storage and Transfer:
Gravitational Energy
9
PART 3 – GRAVITATIONAL ENERGY
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In the first of this series of labs exploring the role of energy in change, you found that the energy
stored in an elastic system was proportional to the square of the change in the length of the
spring or rubber band deformed by the applied force. We called the energy stored in this way
elastic energy.
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In the previous experiment you found that this energy could be transferred to a cart to produce a
change in its speed. We said that the moving cart stored energy in an account called kinetic
energy. Suppose that, instead of moving horizontally, the cart were to move up an incline.
Gradually, the cart would come to a stop before it began to roll back down the incline. Let’s
examine for a moment the energy of the system when the object reaches its maximum height and
its velocity is zero. While kinetic energy has diminished to zero, the energy of the system isn’t
“lost.” It must be stored in some other account, which we call gravitational energy. This is the
energy stored in the Earth-cart system as a function of its new height. Consider for a moment
what system variables might affect the gravitational energy of the Earth-cart system.
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While it is not a simple matter to measure this quantity directly, determining the change in the
gravitational energy is straightforward. We can simplify this discussion if we arbitrarily assign a
value of zero to both the gravitational energy of the system and the height of the object when it is
as close to the Earth as it will get during the course of our investigation. Your goal is to
determine a quantitative relationship between the gravitational energy and the height of an object
above the zero-reference position.
OBJECTIVES
In this experiment, you will
Recognize that the energy stored in an elastic system (spring, rubber band) can be
transferred to another object, resulting in a change in the state of that object.
Determine an expression for the gravitational energy as a function of the height of an
object above the Earth.
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MATERIALS
Vernier data-collection interface
Logger Pro or LabQuest App
Vernier Dynamics Track
standard cart
standard lab masses (100 g increments)
Advanced Physics with Vernier – Mechanics
Vernier Bumper and Launcher Kit
(recommended) or
heavy rubber band
Vernier Photogate (Extension only)
Cart Picket Fence (Extension only)
9-1
Experiment 9
PRE-LAB INVESTIGATION
Examine the apparatus for this experiment. Assume that after you
released the cart, all the elastic energy was transferred completely,
first to kinetic energy, and then to gravitational energy as the cart
reached its maximum height.
On the axes to the right, predict what a graph of the gravitational
energy vs. the height would look like. Compare your graph to those
sketched by other students in your class.
PROCEDURE
1. Attach the same spring you used in the last experiment to the Dynamics Track Bracket, then
mount the bracket on the end of a Dynamics Track.
2. Obtain the value of the spring constant, k, for the spring you used in the previous
experiment.1
3. Let D represent the distance between the leveling feet and H the height you have elevated
one end of the track. By measuring the distance, d, the cart moves up the track, you can use
similar triangles to determine the cart’s height, h, above its zero position.
Figure 1
4. Before you elevate the track, recall the need to minimize the effect of friction on the transfer
of energy from elastic to gravitational accounts. Use the leveling screws on one of the feet to
raise that end of the track slightly. After you have made the necessary adjustment, place a
block of height, H, under the other foot. Be sure to record these parameters.
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If you used a rubber band to store energy in the previous lab, you will need to quickly collect F vs. x data again to
make sure that the band’s effective “spring constant” has not changed since the last use.
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Advanced Physics with Vernier - Mechanics
Energy Storage and Transfer: Gravitational Energy
5. Position the cart so that it just touches the hoop spring without deforming it. It is helpful to
adjust the position of the bracket so that one end of the cart falls on a “convenient” value on
the scale. Note this value as the zero reference position, x0, for the spring.
Figure 2
6. For this experiment, you will measure the distance, d, the cart travels before stopping as you
vary the compression of the spring. This value, along with H and D (see Figure 1) will help
you determine the height the cart reaches. Later, you will create a file (or use one your
instructor provides) to analyze the data you have collected.
7. Consult with your instructor about appropriate values of change in length, x, for your
apparatus. Begin data collection. Perform several trials for each change in length, x, and
average the three most consistent values of distance. As before, it is important that you sight
the scale from a position directly above the cart so as to avoid parallax error. Keep in mind
that the initial position of the cart changes as you increase the extent to which you compress
the spring
EVALUATION OF DATA
1. To evaluate the relationship between gravitational energy, Eg vs. height, set up a Logger Pro
or LabQuest App file with the columns of x and d, where x is the change in length of the
spring, and d is the average distance the cart moved up the inclined track. You will enter
these data manually. You also need two calculated columns, h (the change in height of the
cart) and Eel (elastic energy). Your instructor may guide you in the design of this file.
2. Discuss how the system energy is stored once the spring returns to its original shape. Make a
new manual column for Eg (gravitational energy) and then fill in the Eg column with the
appropriate values.
3. Create a graph of gravitational energy vs. change in height. If the relationship between
gravitational energy, Eg, and the change in height, h, appears to be linear, fit a straight line to
your data. If possible, print a copy of your data table and graph.
4. Write a statement that describes the relationship between the gravitational energy and the
height of the cart. Keep in mind any assumptions made in the design of the file for this
experiment.
5. Examine the slope of the graph (units as well as numerical value). Recall that the SI unit of
energy, joule, is defined as a N m. Simplify the units of the slope, then compare the value
that you obtained with that obtained by other groups.
6. Now write the general equation describing the relationship between the gravitational energy
and the height of an object (above the zero-reference position).
Advanced Physics with Vernier - Mechanics
9-3
Experiment 9
EXTENSIONS
1. Suppose that you used a spring with a k value half as great as the one you used in your
experiment to launch the dynamics cart. How would this change have affected the values of
distance, d, you would have obtained? Describe the effect of this change on the graph of
Eg vs. h. Explain.
2. Suppose that you had used a more massive dynamics cart (mass = 750g) in your experiment.
How would this change have affected the values of distance, d, you would have obtained?
Describe the effect of this change on the graph of Eg vs. h. Explain.
3. Suppose that the block that you used to elevate your track were 50% higher than the one that
you used in your experiment. How would this change have affected the values of distance, d,
you would have obtained? Describe the effect of this change on the graph of Eg vs. h.
Explain.
4. Suppose that you had been able to perform your experiment on Mars where the acceleration
due to gravity is about one third that on Earth. How would this change have affected the
values of distance, d, you would have obtained? Describe the effect of this change on the
graph of Eg vs. h. Explain.
EXTENSION ACTIVITY
Suppose you released a cart on the Dynamics Track at some height, h, above a zero-reference
position. Assuming that you made an adjustment to minimize frictional losses, the principle of
Conservation of Energy should lead you to predict that the kinetic energy (Ek) at the zero
reference position would equal the gravitational energy (Eg) at the point of release. The
following activity will enable you to test this prediction.
1. As you did in the experiment, raise the left end of the track slightly by adjusting the leveling
screws on the left foot so as to minimize frictional losses. After you have made the necessary
adjustment, place a block of height, H, under the right foot. Use the same value of D,
(distance between feet) as you did in the experiment. Be sure to record these parameters.
2. Place the cart picket fence on the cart, then position a photogate near the lower end of the
track so that the leading edge of the flag interrupts the beam when the front end of the cart
falls on some “convenient” value on the scale, as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3
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Advanced Physics with Vernier - Mechanics
Energy Storage and Transfer: Gravitational Energy
3. Start the data-collection program. Set up the photogate for Gate Timing. The length of the
flag passing through the photogate is 0.05 m. The GateState should read Blocked when the
flag interrupts the sensor and Unblocked when it has moved beyond the sensor.
4. You will first collect velocity data for 5–6 distances, d, and record these manually in your lab
notebook. Later, you will create a file (or use one your instructor provides) to analyze the
data you have collected. From the distance, d, the cart travels before the flag blocks the
beam, you can determine the value of h. Using this, you can determine the value of the
gravitational energy, Eg, in the system before you released the cart. With the cart mass and
velocity, you can determine the kinetic energy, Ek,, of the cart at the zero-reference position.
5. Produce a graph of kinetic energy vs. gravitational energy for your data. If the relationship
appears linear, fit a straight line to the data. What can you conclude from the value of the
slope?
Advanced Physics with Vernier - Mechanics
9-5
Vernier Lab Safety Instructions Disclaimer
THIS IS AN EVALUATION COPY OF THE VERNIER STUDENT LAB.
This copy does not include:
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Essential instructor information including discussions on how to lead students
to a successful activity
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Sample data
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Important tips for successfully doing these labs
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