The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea begin this week with the opening ceremony on Feb 9. Many of the events in the Olympics are based on sliding down a hill whilst trying to minimize friction. To explore some of the physics behind the luge, bobsled, and downhill ski races, start with the Inclined Plane – Sliding Objects Gizmo. In this Gizmo, students can explore changes in energy, acceleration, and velocity as objects slide down ramps. Students can vary the angle of the ramp and the composition of the blocks and ramp to explore the effects of friction.
The Winter Olympics provide many opportunities to apply physics, from energy conversions to projectile motion. For example, try this problem with your students. The bobsled track at PyeongChang drops a total of 116.3 meters over its 1.38 km length. If the track was frictionless, how much speed would the bobsled gain from top to bottom?