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Swinging on Swings



One of my favorite activities as a young kid was to play on the playground; I loved the monkey bars and slides, but one of my all time favorite thing to do would be to swing on a swing.  Swings give the sensation of flying, which is probably why I loved them so much.  Ironically, the way a swing works happens to revolve a lot around the conservation of energy.  Think about it: In order to start swinging, someone has to either give the swing a push, or the swinger must kick themselves off of the ground.  As one swings back and forth, they must continue to pump their legs because otherwise they will lose the battle to air resistance and slowly but surely come to an eventual stop.  As one swings and gains elevation, all of the energy from the leg pumping becomes potential energy, which varies directly with the height of the swing from the ground.  For a split second, when all of the kinetic energy is converted into potential and the swing is at its peak, the swing stops (as a kid and admittedly now, that is my favorite part).  Then, as the swing accelerates towards the ground, the potential energy becomes kinetic, resulting in maximum speed at the bottom of swinging motion.  In fact, a swing is very much like a pendulum in terms of how energy works to keep the participant swinging and how energy is transferred and conserved.

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Tons of great physics with swings.  I love putting my little girls on swings beside each other and seeing if they can figure out how to out-race the other (recognizing, of course, the swings are basically pendulums and only the length of the swing affects the period.)  No matter how hard she tries, the little one on the longer swing (closer to the ground) can never win...   :jig:   <evil dad tricks>

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