Monday, January 28, 2008

What's in a bowling ball?

Photo credit: Leon Brooks

Last night, I saw this commercial where a guy crushes a bowling ball with his bare hands. It was a dramatic scene with the ball shattering into little pieces. The ball was obviously hollow. I thought to myself, "How silly is that? Of course bowling balls are solid."

Then I had another thought. "If bowling balls are solid – and roughly the same circumference – why do they weigh different amounts? Maybe they aren't solid after all."

It turns out that bowling balls have an outer shell and an inner core. There are four popular types of bowling ball shells in use today – plastic, urethane, resin, and particle (a mix of resin and ceramic or glass particles) – according to Bowlers Paradise.

I expected the inner cores to be simple, round, metal spheres, but as it turns out, that’s not the case. This diagram from the United States Bowling Congress shows how cores come in all different shapes and sizes, which affect the ball’s spin and how it hooks as it rolls down the lane. Lighter balls have a core made of foam; heavier balls use polymers and resins (A tip of the hat to Victoria Junior College in Singapore for that information).

If you are interested in the physics behind bowling ball mechanics (or you need an unusual topic for your next science report), be sure to check out "Harry" the robot, described by the USBC as "an approximately seven-foot tall robotic bowling ball thrower." USBC researchers use Harry "to help test balls, lanes, pins and oil patterns." (I had no idea!)

While looking for the answer to what lies inside a bowling ball, I discovered the next generation of bowling, courtesy of Brunswick. In Brunswick's Virtual Bowling, a player throws a small ball down a real lane, but there are no pins. Instead, you get to knock down virtual pins (like video ketchup bottles) on a video background (like a ketchup factory). If you can’t wait for virtual bowling to hit your nearest arcade, try out the USBC Games page!

If you liked this post, you might also like:

--Website of the Week: Victoria Junior College (more on balls & science)
--Simulations from Physics Education Technology (learn to shoot a bowling ball out of a canon online!)

[Update: 3/17/09 -- Checked links & added suggested posts]


Joel Foust said...

I saw the same commercial and had the same thought, thanks for posting this

jublke said...

Thanks for stopping by, Joel! Glad to know that I'm not the only one who wonders about these things. :)

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