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Summary: To understand how mousetrap cars work you first need to understand the concept of mechanical advantage. There are 4 principles to win with a long distance car:
And 4 principles for winning with a speed car:
Finally, we visit the Science Olympiad to see these principles in action

I make videos like this once a month all year long while supplies last:
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This is a mousetrap car they're coming for competitions in high school physics classes, just like the egg drop challenge or building toothpick bridges. The goal is to build a car that travels the furthest or goes the fastest, but in either case the only power provided to move. The car is from a single mouse trap, so today i'm going to show you how to win first place by building some cars with the world record holder. Then we're going to go to the west coast championships to see all these principles in action and we don't leave.

I know that 99.7 of you have never, nor will ever make one of these, but i will break down in simple terms how i know this car will go twice as far as this one and then i'll prove it and we'll discuss why you see these dvd Wheels so often, but do they work, and why do some winning cars have wheels that look like this, but before we fly all the way out to texas to meet the world record holder, i need to lay the foundation for the one overarching fundamental physics principle. Behind the mousetrap car, it's called mechanical advantage and to do that, i'm gon na need my niece and nephews on a bet. You guys i can lift my car off the ground using just my pinkies. If i can't do it, you can have this chris benjamin, but if i can, you guys have to got me ice cream deal.

I said nothing else, but i am just using my pinkies. That's what i'm doing. This is really good. You guys, thank you.

If you're willing to move a greater distance, you're able to reduce the amount of force by a proportional amount, i can't lift 500 pounds worth of car one time, but i could lift 10 pounds 50 times. A mechanical advantage. Is the ratio of the output force over the input force so in this case it's 50.? That means my hand had to travel 50 times further than just lifting the car in one shot, but the weight was 50 times less, so it was totally worth it. This principle, mechanical advantage, is everywhere.

Let's take a look at a few examples. If i have four pulleys, that means i have to pull the rope down four times further than the dumbbell goes up, but in exchange it feels four times lighter. So this has a mechanical advantage of four for the ramp. You look at the ratio of the length to the height.

Your mechanical advantage, therefore, is 2.2. That means i have to travel a little further, but the brick should feel 2.2 times lighter, pulling up the ramp versus just pulling the brick straight up and sure enough if you measure each with the scale. This is exactly what you see if you think about it: a screw is just a ramp wrapped around a nail. So here you look at the distance traveled around the thread and divide by the space in between the threads to get a mechanical advantage of nine and, as you know, if you really want to multiply your force use a ratchet wrench.

Now the distance your hand travels for one. Full rotation is 300 times longer than the distance. The screw moves vertically between one thread, so the total mechanical advantage is 300. It's like a really long short ramp.

So if this scale reads six pounds, the actual clamping force would be 300 times more or nearly a ton and with wheels and axles it's the same story since this wheel. Diameter is twice what this one is, as you could probably guess. By now, this weight weighs twice as much so now we're balanced with a mechanical advantage of two and you'll, also notice. If i move this, the lesser weight travels twice as far and finally, we have levers, which is where we started with my niece and nephews here.

If you compare the ratio of the distances from the pivot point, we have a mechanical advantage of four, which of course means i have to move this end four times further. But it's super easy because it's one-fourth the weight on this side and in all of these examples, which you see everywhere around us, you, trade, lower force for more distance travel. This is how humans built amazing things before all these fancy machines with engines came around human muscles are totally strong enough as long as you're willing to spend a little more distance to do the task, and so this principle mechanical advantage is at play over and over Again with the mousetrap cars only in reverse, it works both ways. In other words, i don't want the full force of the spring acting over this tiny distance to act directly on the wheels or they would spin out.

That would be a very inefficient transfer of energy. From the spring, so we use mechanical advantage and make the main lever arm 15 times longer than the spring lever arm, and then the wheel diameter is 24 times bigger than the wheel axle. So then, if we multiply them, our total mechanical advantage is one over 360.. That means the force is 360 times less right here on the output at the wheels to the floor versus right here on the input on the spring.

It also means we'll travel 360 times further than the distance. This spring arm rotates all right. So that's enough of a foundation for now, let's go to texas and meet up with my buddy al to build some race cars. Usa.

Not only is he the mousetrap car world record holder, but he also kind of started the whole thing and he was texas, high school physics teacher of the year and since my dream, job is to one day switch from working as an engineer in the private sector. To go, teach high school physics somewhere, i made him show me all his cool demos. I came up with this idea back in 1991. and since that time i have literally built thousands and thousands of mousetrap cars myself i've seen every possible engineering design.

You could ever come up with and there's lots of different variations for rules for a mousetrap car race. Let's talk about how to build the best long distance car. First for our testing, we started with three identical cars. The only difference was the length of the lever arm, so one was short, one was medium and one was long and i've calculated each of their mechanical advantages, which you can see written here now, given what we know about mechanical advantage.

What do you think is about to happen really yep, as you might have guessed, the short lever arm car takes a strong early lead. This makes sense because it has the largest mechanical advantage. Therefore, the highest force where the wheels and ground meet the downside is that it's a short-lived burst and the medium and long lever arm cars pass it once it's quickly used up all its energy. In the end, this is how far they each traveled with the longest lever arm car going the slowest but making it all the way to 30 feet.

This brings up the first principle for the long distance car to win. You want the smallest possible force over the longest possible distance, in other words the smallest fraction for mechanical advantage possible. You want your car to be barely creeping forward to waste as little energy as possible. You can think of the total energy of the spring as this amount of water in this cup, and then this cup represents the amount of energy.

That's passed on to your car to move it forward. If you just quickly dump in all the energy, a ton, spills and splashes out, this will be due to losses from extra heat generated or even drag force from the wind which is proportional to your velocity squared. But if you do it slowly and more controlled, much more energy goes to actually moving your car forward. The next thing we tested was adding graphite to the axles on all three of the cars, and then we re-raised them.

This made a huge difference, and now they went this far again. The longest lever arm car won because it was the slowest, but this shows the importance of dealing with friction. It's definitely your biggest enemy with these cars and the friction comes from two spots. You have the rolling friction between the wheels and the ground, and then the biggie is between your axles and the car body.

This is why we put the lubricating graphite powder there to take our testing a step further. We took the long lever arm car and added ball bearings in place of the graphite and that set a new record for us at 50 feet. So if you only have one hour to make your car - and you want to have a good showing - you can use a long lever arm like this, in conjunction with the cd wheels, to give you a mechanical advantage of about one over 360 and then use ball. Bearings at the axles, or just apply some graphite and you're going to do pretty well.

Next, we figured if long lever arms make it travel slower and therefore further we should do a super long lever arm, but it only made it to here, which was worse than even the short lever arm car. The problem was that it didn't coast very well, because we had to make it really big, which means it's more heavy, which means more friction. You know this already intuitively because it's harder to push a heavy object on a table than a light object, because there's more friction resisting you, so principle three is to make it lightweight. I love this example, though, because it shows you need to balance these principles.

If you take any one of them too far, then another principle will creep in and start penalizing you it's an optimization problem and that's what makes the mousetrap racers such a great project. That's also why testing is so important so tweaking and testing different things like al, and i did is critical for honing in on the sweet spot for your specific design. Next, we tried this big wheel design, which is a popular approach. The strategy here is the wheel.

Is 56 times larger than the wheel axle? So when you combine it with the lever arm, you get a built-in mechanical advantage of one over 840 and that's the equivalent of a lever arm. That's two and a half feet long, but without needing the big heavy car that seems like a good deal and as such, it was our best car yet and made it all the way to here the downside is that it takes energy to get a big wheel. Like that rotating, it's called rotational inertia. Here's a demo i built to showcase this principle.

These two wheels are identical, except this one. Has the steel weights placed at the outer edge of the wheel versus near the axle? This means it has a higher rotational inertia. So when we spin them both identically, the one on the right starts spinning faster and will reach a higher max speed. But the one on the left will coast for longer by having big or heavy wheels you're, basically using them as a temporary storage for your energy, and then you give it back during the coasting phase.

The problem with this is anytime: you transfer energy. You lose some going back to the cups a little splashes out each time. You pour it no matter how slowly you do it so, instead of pouring your spring energy into a big cup and then eventually getting it back in the coasting phase, it's better just to have reasonable size wheels and just have one slow pour directly into the final Cup of making your car move additionally big wheels like this can be hard to steer. So principle, four is to reduce rotational inertia.

This is also why you see people do this to their wheels. Sometimes it's an effort to keep the wheels large in diameter to get that built-in mechanical advantage, but to make them weigh less to reduce the energy given to rotational inertia. So the final test we ran was al's world record car, which traveled an astounding 600 feet when he set the record. He did some crazy things like using jeweler's bearings on the axles, but the real secret is this pulley here in the middle? If we look at the ratios and calculate the mechanical advantage from the lever to the pulley to the wheels we're looking at one over 4608, it's the equivalent of a 16 foot lever arm or a back wheel, four and a half feet in diameter.

But without the downside of the extra weight or wasted rotational inertia, this thing barely crawls along it's hard to even see the spring lever arm moving as this back wheel spins, it's really hard to beat a design like this and now we'll quickly go through the speed Car principle, since most of the same principles apply the biggest difference. Is this time we want to access all the energy from the spring in a short burst right at the beginning, because the finish line is only 15 feet away, so it doesn't make sense to have a really small mechanical advantage like the pulley car. Here we want it much closer to the direct force of the spring itself, which would be mechanical advantage. One problem is if we did that the wheels would slip, so you basically want to incrementally increase your mechanical advantage by making your rear axle, thicker and thicker with tape until your rear wheels start to slip.

Slipping is bad, of course, because that's wasted energy, because your wheel is spinning without actually moving your car forward. It's helpful to zoom in and use the slow-mo on your phone to see if your wheels are slipping or not. This means having good traction on your rear wheels is important because it means you can have higher forces before you start to slip. These squishy foam, wheels, work great and just like with the distance car.

Reducing friction by using bearings or graphite will definitely help as well. Making it lightweight, because newton's second law teaches us that heavier things are harder to accelerate. Just like you throw a baseball further than a heavy bowling ball and smaller diameter wheels not only help by keeping your mechanical advantage closer to one. But you don't have time to give energy to these big wheels and then get it back through coasting.

You want all that spring energy to go directly into making your car go forward. Okay, so those are the basic principles before we head to the west coast. Mousetrap car championships, i'll just mention - i put a list of 10 practical, quick, build tips in the video description. For example, you should soak your bearings in wd-40 to remove all the grease.

The grease is useful if the bearings are actually seeing a lot of load, but since these cars weigh next to nothing, it's only going to slow you down. I should also mention that my buddy al has an amazing website called doc, where you can buy all the parts i showed today to experiment and come up with your own unique design. Also put that link below. Here we go for this competition.

The objective was to travel forward 15 feet and then return back and stop as close to the exact same spot. You started in the least amount of time. Those moves may seem complicated, but you can switch from forward to reverse by simply switching the direction. You wrap up your axle halfway through and you can stop at a certain point by using a wingnut on a threaded axle.

So, given the rules, your design choices should foster both speed and precision about half the designs, relied on preconceived notions and use cd wheels, which are a real bad choice here, because you're not looking for distance, they have more rotational inertia and poor traction. The winning team car, which i won't show here, because the finals are next month, really focused on precision. They use ball, bearings small foam wheels and they made their car body out of aluminum. It weighs more than balsa wood, so it did cost more energy to friction.

But there's plenty of energy in the spring for only traveling 30 feet, so it was worth the trade-off for the extra rigidity and repeatability. They also told me they tested and tweaked their design for six months, which is awesome to hang out and see all the various design approaches. Hopefully, you learned enough by now to give you a solid foundation for your own unique design, so you can build test tweak like crazy and then dominate the competition thanks for watching you.

18 thoughts on “1st place mousetrap car ideas- using science”
  1. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars IN Hoopster says:

    Mark, your buddy, Al, in Texas said "I came up with this idea back in 1991", but my high school physics teacher was doing mousetrap cars in the mid 1980's. Some of my classmates were using vinyl 33 1/3 LP records as wheels. (Yes, there was recorded music media long before .mp3 and CDs.)

  2. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars PieStudios says:

    i think this guy just made everybody who hates physics and maths like these subjects

  3. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars chris williamson says:

    Just saw this. I helped my stepdaughter on this over 10 years ago when we lived in Texas. But, she was only allowed to use the mousetrap itself as the car base.

  4. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Rum Tum Tugger says:

    If I didn't know that Mark was 100x smarter than me this video just proved it 🤯

  5. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Andi 007 says:

    I like all the time thought of something and then you like insteandly sayd it thats so funny your a big brain

  6. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars thomasfplm says:

    In a design class, we had to make a bridge using two pieces of ondulated paper (it had a standard size, but I don't remember anyone) and one roll of masking tape each team.
    It would be placed linking tow tables 0,5m apart and then we would place 1L bottles over it to see what design would hold more.
    Many bridges had problems with tortion, or with the paper bending, but my idea avoided those two problems and was able to hold all the bottles available (about 20 bottles) and we started adding other stuff.

  7. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars SuperHeatWizard says:

    I’m part of the .3% that had to do this for a high school physics class

  8. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Саша Говрилов says:

    The adhesive leek multivariately share because teacher decisively balance to a striped brick. paltry, dull carnation

  9. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Paisleigh Lilliana says:

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  10. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Shenandoah Valley Railfan says:

    If anyone is attempting to build this car, this video is a need to watch

  11. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Boston Pope says:

    Am I only one that noticed that Mark was holding a 12 pound not a 10 pound, or was it in kilos ?

  12. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars SickSquid8564 says:

    I thought he was gonna trap a mouse and use it to run the car using something like a hamster wheel

  13. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars i do live streams says:

    half of the stuff in this video i dont understand but i love his videos

  14. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Faisal Ihsan says:

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  15. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Mike Franks says:

    Wait …wait, wait, hold up. Is he saying that he came up with the idea in 1991? Cuz I and my classmates have competed with mousetrap cars back in the 80s. I came in 2nd place btw. Greg beat me..hmph.

  16. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Marc from Berryland says:

    I wonder how much the individual mouse traps can vary in the amount of power they provide?

  17. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Stephanie Scarpitta says:

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  18. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars paul blepper says:

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