MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Physics of Pool

Joseph A. Formaggio
Associate Professor of Physics
Department of Physics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA

Jose Machuca
Teacher of Computer Science
Regis High School
New York, NY

Lesson vetted and approved by CPALMS

The objective of this lesson is to illustrate how a common everyday experience (such as playing pool) can often provide a learning moment. In the example chosen, we use the game of pool to help explain some key concepts of physics. One of these concepts is the conservation of linear momentum since conservation laws play an extremely important role in many aspects of physics. The idea that a certain property of a system is maintained before and after something happens is quite central to many principles in physics and in the pool example, we concentrate on the conservation of linear momentum. The latter half of the video looks at angular momentum and friction, examining why certain objects roll, as opposed to slide. We do this by looking at how striking a ball with a cue stick at different locations produces different effects. Though not required, students who have been exposed to some physics would benefit most from this video. In mathematically rigorous classes, students can concentrate on the details of vectors and conservation of linear momentum. No materials are required for this lesson, and it can be completed easily within a class period.

Prof. Formaggio is an associate professor of physics at MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science.  He works primarily in nuclear physics and cosmology, studying the properties of neutrinos – near massless sub-atomic particles that permeate everything in the universe.  You can find more information on Prof. Formaggio’s research here.

Jose Machuca is a computer science teacher at Regis High School in Manhattan where he and Professor Formaggio attended high school together.

This site, presented by AP Physics and sponsored by Curriki, examines linear momentum, conservation of linear momentum and collisions in the games of pool and tennis.

This applet, created in the physics department at Michigan State University, simulates a simple two dimensional collision between two objects of equal mass.

This page, sponsored by the Real World Physics Problems website, provides a comprehensive examination of the physics involved in pool.

This applet, created at the University of Oregon, simulates the conservation of linear momentum with varying values of momentum, mass and velocity.

This page, sponsored by the HyperPhysics website of Georgia State University, provides an accessible and comprehensive overview of angular momentum.

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This Lesson is in the following clusters: Newtonian Physics