How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 645

Does the air pressure of a basketball and the hardness of the floor surface have an effect on the height of the bounce? — BB, West Unity, OH
Yes to both questions. When a basketball collides with the floor, the ball's kinetic energy—its energy of motion—is temporarily stored as elastic potential energy in two objects: the ball and the floor. The fractions of the collision energy stored in the basketball and the floor depend on how far each of them dents—the more one dents, the larger the fraction of the collision energy it receives. How well the basketball rebounds from the floor depends on how much of the collision energy returns to the ball during the rebound. Some of the stored energy in each dented surfaces is converted to thermal energy and is lost from the bouncing process. A hardwood floor is very springy and returns its share of the collision energy efficiently. A properly inflated basketball is also very springy. Thus when a firm basketball bounces on a good hardwood floor, it bounces well. But if the basketball is underinflated, its surface bends too far so that it receives most of the collision energy and internal friction in the ball's skin wastes most of that energy. The ball bounces weakly. And if you try to bounce the ball on a soft carpet, the carpet dents easily, receives most of the collision energy, and wastes most of it as thermal energy. Again, a weak bounce.

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