Elastic and inelastic collisions

Elastic and inelastic collisions


In this lesson, we will learn:

  • Meaning of elastic and inelastic collisions
  • What happens to kinetic energy in a collision?
  • Understanding perfectly inelastic collisions
  • Problem solving with elastic and inelastic collisions


  • Total momentum and total energy are conserved in collisions. However, kinetic energy is not always conserved, since it can be converted into other forms of energy.
  • Elastic collision: collision where no kinetic energy is lost
  • Inelastic collision: collision where part of the kinetic energy is converted to other forms of energy
  • Perfectly inelastic collision: collision where the maximum possible amount of kinetic energy is converted to other forms of energy; objects stick together.

Conservation of Momentum

pi=pf\sum\vec{p}_i = \sum\vec{p}_f

pi:\vec{p}_i: initial momentum, in kilogram meters per second (kg·m/s)

pf:\vec{p}_f: final momentum, in kilogram meters per second (kg·m/s)

Conservation of Energy

Ei=Ef\sum\vec{E}_i = \sum\vec{E}_f

Ei:\vec{E}_i: initial energy, in joules (J)

Ef:\vec{E}_f: final energy, in joules (J)

Kinetic Energy

KE=12mv2KE = \frac{1}{2}mv^2

KE:KE: kinetic energy, in joules (J)

m:m: mass, in kilograms (kg)

v:v: speed, in meters per second (m/s)

Potential Energy

PE=mghPE = mgh

PE:PE: potential energy, in joules (J)

g:g: acceleration due to gravity, in meters per second squared (m/s2)

h:h: height, in meters (m)

  • Introduction
    Introduction to elastic and inelastic collisions
    Meaning of elastic and inelastic collisions

    What happens to kinetic energy in a collision?

    Understanding perfectly inelastic collisions

  • 1.
    Solving word problems with momentum and elastic/inelastic collisions
    Two cars collide head-on and stick together. The cars are stationary after colliding.
    1. Is total momentum conserved?
    2. Is total energy conserved?
    3. Is the collision elastic or inelastic?

    Identify each situation as an inelastic or elastic collision.
    1. One car crashes into another, bouncing apart with a loud bang.
    2. A hammer strikes a piece of steel, bouncing off and producing sparks.
    3. A He atom collides with a H atom, bouncing off and maintaining overall kinetic energy.

  • 2.
    Ei=Ef\bold{\sum\vec{E}_i = \sum\vec{E}_f} ;\bold{ ; } pi=pf:\bold{\sum\vec{p}_i = \sum\vec{p}_f:} Conservation of energy and momentum in elastic and inelastic collisions
    3.6×104 kg train car A travelling at 5.40 m/s [E] collides with stationary 5.20×104 kg train car B. The train cars bounce apart, and after the collision, train car A travels at 1.70 m/s [E]. Determine if this collision is elastic or inelastic.

    0.50 kg steel ball A travelling [E] with a kinetic energy of 0.49 J collides with stationary 0.75 kg steel ball B head-on. After the collision, ball A travels at 0.28 m/s [W]. Assuming the collision is elastic, find the velocity of ball B after the collision.

    A "ballistic pendulum" is a method used to measure the velocity of a bullet. A 5.60 g bullet is fired at a 1.24 kg wooden block suspended as shown in the diagram, and the block rises to 0.250 m higher than its initial position at the peak of its swing.
    1. Find the velocity of the bullet when it hits the block.
    2. Calculate how much of the kinetic energy is lost in this inelastic collision. Explain what happens to this energy.
    ballistic pendulum