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The Physics of Bowling

What is Physics?

Physics is the study of the mathematics of movement (which can be objects like the bowling ball or the human body). Biomechanics is a branch of physics which is applied to biological systems, such as the study of limb movements during the execution of sporting actions (see more on bowling biomechanics). Below are descriptions of a few of the basic physics principles that apply to the sport of bowling.


A ball thrown down the lane will slow down over its course. The main cause of this is Friction. The magnitude of the friction between the bowling ball and bowling lane depends on what the surfaces are made of and the amount of oil on the lane, if there is any at all, and the mass of the ball. Some lanes will have no conditioning on it at all, while others will have oil placed to a certain degree on different areas of the lane. As the bowling ball travels down the lane, the friction between the ball and the boards will slow it down. The composition of the oil, and where it is more dense on the lane will have a different effect of the ball as it travels along the lane. The more oil that is laid down, the less friction there is between the ball and the lane surface.The less friction, the harder it is for the bowler to send the ball in a curved path imparted by the spin that the bowler puts on the ball at the instant of release.

The equation to find the kinetic friction is : µk=Fk/mg. µk stands for the coefficient of kinetic friction and Fk stands for the Force due to kinetic friction, m is the mass of the ball and g stands for gravity.

tenpin bowling alley tenpin bowling needs physics


What is gravity? The value of gravity (g) is 32 ft/s2 (feet per second squared) or 9.8 m/s2 (meters per second squared). This value is a constant, which means that all objects fall to the earth at the same rate of acceleration, no matter how much they weigh (there is some slight variation in the value for g depending where on earth you are located). Read about a Gravity Experiment using a bowling ball.

What is Center of Gravity (CoG)?

The Center of Gravity (CoG) is the point at which gravity can be considered to act. In most cases (with uniform gravity) it is equal to the center of mass. The CoG is not always within the object, as in the case of unusually shaped objects.

Center of Gravity in bowling

Bowling pins have a low center of gravity due to their shape, which make them more stable. The center of gravity of a bowling ball is not always in the absolute middle of the ball. The position of the center of gravity is usually indicated by the position of the logo or punch mark onthe surface of the ball.

Momentum in Bowling

Momentum is a quantity formed by the mass of an object and its velocity, described in mathematical terms as p (momentum) = mass (m) times velocity (v).

Conservation of Momentum : In collisions involving hard bodies, such as between the bowling ball and pins, momentum is conserved.

Angular Momentum : Angular momentum is the product of Moment of Inertia and Angular Velocity. Moment of Inertia is the angular counterpart to mass - it is the measure of the resistance of an object to changing its angular speed. The bowling ball progressing down the alley has angular momentum.

Collisions in Bowling

Is the collision between a bowling ball and pins elastic or inelastic?

A perfectly elastic collision is defined as one in which there is no loss of kinetic energy in the collision. An inelastic collision is one in which part of the kinetic energy is changed to some other form of energy in the collision. After collisions between bowling balls and the pins you see the pins scatter and bounce when struck by the ball, transferring some of the kinetic energy from the bowling ball to the pins. Therefore the collision is somewhat elastic. However, both the pins and get damaged over time, and come to rest after the collision, so the answer is that the collision is somewhat inelastic.

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