Problem: Marble and tube

My family recently visited Moon Marble Company, where my daughter picked up a bunch of marbles.  We’ve been having fun concocting ways to entertain ourselves, one of which was to roll the marbles down a cardboard tube.

The tube is at an angle theta with the floor.

A marble is rolled down a cardboard tube. What can we calculate?

To calculate how far a marble will roll along the floor after being dropped down a tube leaves the comfortable world of school physics and enters the real world of rolling friction on cardboard and carpet.  If the tube is close to vertical, the marble will be going quite fast as it exits the tube but won’t go very far horizontally.  If the tube is close to horizontal, the marble will be going quite slowly as it exits the tube.  Our intuition tells us that neither will work as well as somewhere in the middle, so we can search for the angle \theta that maximizes the horizontal distance of the marble along the floor.  This is a case for which the rolling resistances in the tube and on the floor will partly “cancel”, and my daughter’s play tests show that we can get pretty good results just by tracking the proportionality of the velocity to a function of the angle \theta.

What physics models do you have to use to solve this problem?

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6 thoughts on “Problem: Marble and tube

  1. Brian,
    I like this question—it would be a nice independent investigation for students, and pretty simple to construct an apparatus to test this idea.

    One thing that might be fun is actually taking a question like this to the global physics department. This experiment is simple enough that we could do the experiment right then during the meeting. What do you think?

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