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Name: Daniel M.
Status: student
Age: 11
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2001-2002

We went to the bowling alley and asked ourselves " which bowling ball will hit the most pins down?" So my mom and I went to the bowling alley and asked the attendant for the handicap ramp and we set it up so that we could get a fairly straight roll. We put the finger holes going the same direction each time and only counted the first ball. We found that the 6 lb ball rolled the slowest and curved, and the 16lb ball rolled the fastest and rolled the most inconsistent. The 11lb ball on the average got the most pins. Is there a good reason for this or how can I find the correct answer using real math and real science.

First of all, what you were doing WAS real science. You ran an experiment to answer your question. The results of your experiment told you how the different balls rolled.

Now you have another question - WHY did the different balls roll the way they did? Was it just a matter of different weights? If so, then if you test, say five different 6-lb balls, they should all roll the same way. Was it some interaction between the balls and the lane? If so, then you should get different results if you do the experiment in a different lane. Might some of the balls be lopsided? You could check this by seeing how they roll if you place them on a level surface. Are the balls all the same size (same diameter)?

To really understand how a ball rolls down the lane, you'd need to know all the forces that act on the ball from the instant it starts rolling until it has passed the pins. To summarize my answer to you then - I don't know why the 11-lb ball knocked down the most pins! The scientific way to find out is to make a testable guess, and then to test it.

Richard E. Barrans Jr., Ph.D.
Assistant Director
PG Research Foundation, Darien, Illinois


If you had been bowling on the moon, with no air to slow things down, all three balls would have rolled at about the same speed. Since all balls are about the same size and shape, they all experience the same initial drag (sometimes called air resistance). The same force on three balls affects the heaviest ball least. This is why the heaviest ball rolls the fastest. I cannot explain the curve. That may have to do with internal structure of the ball or even the weight of the ball causing the ramp to bend a little.

Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Physics Instructor
Illinois Central College

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