Rolling Rubber Bands
The rubber band, an object that nearly everyone in the world has seen or used at some point, was the subject of a recent study by physicists and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at École Polytechnique in Paris, France. What might be of so much interest to a physicist about a rubber band? It turns out that it was the perfect object to use in experiments designed to learn more about how elastic objects react to gravity and speed.
Hundreds of years ago Galileo used a bronze ball and rolled it down a hillside. Eventually, his observations formed into the laws of gravity that are so widely known about today. The researchers at MIT and École Polytechnique replicated Galileo’s experiment in a fashion, by taking a rubber band and placing it inside a rotating rolling cylinder. In effect, what this did was simulate rolling it down a hill, so that it could increase and decrease speed while allowing the researchers to observe what happened with precise details.
Their findings are quite interesting. At low speeds, the structure of the elastic rubber band mostly kept its original form in an ovular shape. When the speed of the rolling cylinder increased though, the band started to deform. The faster it went, the more squashed it became, with the top of the band almost touching the bottom and the front and back ends forming very acute angles.It turns out that the centrifugal forces acting on elastic figures can override the effects of gravity.
What does this mean though? Researchers hope to learn more about the effects of speed and gravity on elastic figures by analyzing these results. As speed and centrifugal force effectively increased, the form naturally became more aerodynamic. Possible practical applications for this elastic effect could include future automobiles.