Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Playgrounds
Name: N/A
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A

How does physics play a part in the playground equipment, e.g. swings, can this be presented in a science demonstration at a science carnival?

One can use physics to explain how everything on a playground works. In fact, physics is involved in every aspect of everyone's daily life. So maybe what you want to do is get a book, like "The Flying Circus of Physics" to get you started on looking for classroom ideas.

Jack L. Uretsky

One simple demonstration is the period of a swing. It swings back and forth, and you can time it. The period should be proportional to the length of the chains holding up the swing, and should not depend on the weight of the person (or nothing) sitting in the swing. The period is also independent of the amplitude of swinging - except when the swing goes REALLY high. For low amplitude swinging (where the period does not depend on amplitude) this is a perfect example of one of the most ubiquitous objects in physics - the harmonic oscillator - which is exemplified in everything from swings, clock pendulum, quartz oscillators, LC circuits, earthquakes, and just about anything else that has a regular period (well not really for earthquakes, but the ringing modes of the earth and other planets and stars). Another great demonstration is with the see-saw. Can you balance two people with the same weight? Easy. With one person twice as heavy as the other? Just have the heavier person sit twice as close to the center of the see-saw and it should balance! And of course there is friction on the slide. Test out a few anti-friction devices and see how fast people can get going down that thing (well, be careful with this!)

Arthur Smith

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory