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A stretched rubber band is a great source of elastic potential energy. When
released, that energy is converted to kinetic (motion) energy as the
rubber band snaps back to its original size and shape. How can we tap into this
energy source? Let's try using it to power a small car! (Adult supervision
Buy our Balloon and Rubber Band Racecar Kit to get everything you need to build a rubber band
car and a balloon car. Or, find the following materials:
- Car body: sturdy cardboard, foam board, or balsa wood
- Axles: wooden dowel that fits inside the straws
- Wheels: use plastic bottle caps, film canister caps, foam board, toy wheels such as K'nex,
wooden wheels from a craft store, etc.
- Rubber bands
- 2 small cup hooks
What to do:
- Cut a six-inch length of balsa wood to be the car body, or chassis. Cut a
1x1-inch notch out of one end. Your
rear axle will be accessible through this notch.
- Cut two lengths of straw the same width as the chassis and glue or tape
them across the chassis near each end. Trim away the center of the rear
piece where it stretches across the notch in the chassis. Make sure the
straws are lined up straight, or else the car won't roll straight. (The
picture to the right shows how it should look underneath the car.)
- Cut the dowel into two pieces, each one inch longer than the width of
the chassis. Thread the dowels through the
straws to create your axles. Slide a
cup hook onto the rear axle so that it fits tightly in the center of the
notch in the chassis. The screw will stick up to catch the rubber band.
(If you don't have the right-size cup hook, you can make a catch by
wrapping an unfolded paperclip around the axle and securing it with hot glue.)
- Attach your wheels to the axles. The wheels need to be a tight fit on
the axle; if they aren't, you may want to use hot glue to hold them in
- Screw a small cup hook into the chassis just behind the front axle.
- Choose a large rubber band to power the car. Loop one end on the hook at
the front of the car, and loop the other end over the catch on the rear
- Your car is ready to roll! Turn the rear axle several times to wind the
rubber band around it, set the car on a smooth hard surface, and let go!
(Note: if your wheels are smooth, you might need more traction for the car
to operate properly. Wrap rubber bands or loops cut from a small balloon around the rear wheels to add
The more you twisted the rubber band around the axle, the more potential
energy you built up. When you let go, the rubber band snapped back to its
original form, spinning the axle in the process. The potential energy in the
stretched band was converted into kinetic energy propelling the car forward!
There are many ways you could change your car design to make it go faster or
farther. Experiment with different types of wheels. Will the car go farther if
you use bigger wheels, or wheels with more or less friction? What if you use bigger
wheels in the back and smaller in the front? Or a 3-wheeled design? Try building
a car with CDs for wheels. Does the weight of your car affect how it travels?
Try adding a load like coins or washers to the car and see how it changes the
distance or speed. What happens if you make your chassis longer? If you give
your car a ramp to start on, how much further will it travel?
Try building two cars with different features and race them against each