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Inelastic Collisions

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Riding Bumper Cars

Why does a clump of bumper cars move so slowly?

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Clumps of bumper cars in a bumper car zone. [Figure1]

In an inelastic collision, momentum is conserved, but energy is not. Because multiple objects collide and stick to each other, some of the energy is lost as heat due to friction. However, momentum is conserved because friction is an internal force, not an external force.

When you play bumper cars in an amusement park, you might have always wondered why you slow down when you crash into another bumper car. The more bumper cars in a crash, the slower the whole clump goes.

Creative Applications

1. How are bumper cars an example of an inelastic collision?

2. Let’s say that you bumped into one other bumper car. In order to use momentum to solve for the velocity of the clump consisting of you and the other bumper car, what must be assumed?

3. You crash into another bumper car at rest of equal combined mass (120 kg) at 4 m/s from behind. Assuming that there is no net external force, what would be the speed of the clump formed by you and the other bumper car?

4. Compare the kinetic energies of the clump and your bumper car before the crash using the same information from the previous question.

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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