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Potential Energy

Defines types of energy that is stored in a person or object.

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Physics of Archery

Physics of Archery


Credit: Rhead, Louis. "Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band: Their Famous Exploits in Sherwood Forest". New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1912
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robin_shoots_with_sir_Guy_by_Louis_Rhead_1912.png
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Does a bow and arrow make you think of Robin Hood? The bow and arrow is actually one of the oldest long-range weapons. It’s also a marvel of physics.

The Back Story

  • Archeologists have found evidence of bows and arrows dating back to 20,000 years ago. Since prehistoric times, the bow and arrow was used for hunting and warfare. It is still used for hunting today.
  • The bow and arrow is also used in the sport of archery, in which athletes compete to shoot with the greatest accuracy. Archery is an Olympic sport.
  • A bow is basically a long rod with the two ends connected by a string. The bow bends when the archer pulls back on the string. The bow can bend because it is made of an elastic material. Bending the bow gives it elastic potential energy.
  • The arrow is a long, straight shaft. It has a pointed object on one end (the arrowhead) and a balancing device, such as a feather, on the other end.
  • The archer holds the feather end of the arrow against the string while pulling it back. Releasing the string thrusts the arrow forward with the elastic force of the bow. The elastic potential energy of the bow is converted to the kinetic energy of the arrow.
  • For a good introduction to archery, watch this video. 


  • To learn about different types of bows and shooting techniques, watch this video. 


Can You Apply It?

Learn more about the physics of archery at the link below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. What materials are used to make bows? What properties must these materials have to be useful for this purpose?
  2. The force the bow can exert on the arrow depends on the bow’s draw weight. What is the draw weight?
  3. What determines the draw weight of a bow?
  4. How do feathers on the end of an arrow help an archer to shoot?
  5. Contrast a long bow and a recurve bow.
  6. Explain why a compound bow can deliver more force than a regular bow.
  7. A bow with a sight system allows an archer to shoot more accurately. How does a sight system work?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Rhead, Louis. "Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band: Their Famous Exploits in Sherwood Forest". New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1912; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robin_shoots_with_sir_Guy_by_Louis_Rhead_1912.png; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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