Welcome to practical physicsPracticle physics - practical activities designed for use in the classroom with 11 to 19 year olds

Testing projectile motion with a drawn parabola


This is a demonstration which shows that motion can be predicted.

Apparatus and materials

Object, small

Health & Safety and Technical notes

Read our standard health & safety guidance



a Draw a rough parabola by sketching vertical and horizontal lines on a blackboard or whiteboard (see diagram). 

b Throw a small object in a vertical plane parallel to the blackboard and near it, so that it follows the curve. With the proper start, the object follows surprisingly well. It is better to start with a parabola which results from throwing the object horizontally.

Throw a small object in front of the board

Teaching notes

1 After trying horizontal projection, you could be more adventurous and try the more elaborate path of a complete parabola (see below). Give the object an initial velocity which has both horizontal and vertical components.

Trying a more aventurous path (throw)

2 Discuss how you managed to draw such a perfect parabola, using the idea that the resulting motion for the horizontal (x=vt) and vertical (yat2) components of the motion is a parabola. 
3 Their velocity at each instant is a tangent to the parabolic path. The components of a velocity add as vectors. 
4 A related experiment shows that the horizontal and vertical motions of a projectile are independent of each other: a video of Monkey and Hunter is freely available from the National STEM Centre eLibrary. 
This experiment was safety-checked in March 2005.


Related experiments

Multiflash photographs of projectiles


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