Newton Meets the Bumper Ducks

We’re sure that you’ve played (and can’t stop playing) our physical science game BumperDucks. In case you haven’t, here’s the gist: in BumperDucks your job is to help a wayward band of ducks reach their final destinations – tasty treats! With the help of collisions and rebounding you can slingshot these ducks to victory. BumperDucks is all about the laws of motion and how we can utilize their effects once we figure out how they work! All of the complex motion and reactions that go into winning a level of BumperDucks can be summed up in a just a few simple laws, thanks to Sir Isaac Newton. 

Title screen for the app BumperDucks! BumperDucks welcome screen Image: Smithsonian Science Education Center

The first law is the law of inertia. Inertia is essentially how much an object resists being moved and is directly related to the mass of the object (or how much stuff the object is made of). The law of inertia states that an object at rest will stay at rest and an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted on by a force. We can visualize this easily in everyday life! If nothing comes to knock a book off a table that book won’t move. An object staying in motion is a little trickier to visualize because Newton described an ideal situation. In real life moving objects are slowed down by hidden forces of friction. These forces of friction mean that objects in motion don’t stay in motion forever. The best way to visualize this concept is to think of an object floating out in space, or even moving on an air hockey table! You can see this happening in BumperDucks when you bounce a duck off of a wall and they continue their motion back and forth! Their motion won't change until they come in contact with an object.

Newton’s second law is a personal favorite of mine. Keep this equation in mind, because it’ll come up again and again in physics. The second law of motion describes force with the equation: f = ma. Or in English, force equals mass times acceleration. This is important! It allows us to calculate how different objects will interact with each other.

The third law is a law of symmetry. The law says that every force creates an equal and opposite force. This one can be a little tricky! Keep in mind the equation from the second law (f = ma) because even if two objects have the same force applied to them they will move (accelerate) differently based on their masses. It’s these colliding forces that are essential for winning any level of BumperDucks!

Let’s think back. In BumperDucks when a duck hits an object of the same mass, it stops and the object goes flying! This is called an elastic collision. Since your duck and the object have the same mass when they collide the motion is transferred completely from one to the other. Hence, you stop. In cases of bigger logs and smaller ducks, or smaller ducks and bigger logs, this transfer of motion is more of a ratio. Both objects will move (either backwards or forwards) with velocities dependent on their masses.  

It’s incredible that just these three laws describe so much of our everyday life! Such is the beautiful world we (and the bumper ducks) live in. 

You can play BumperDucks online or download the app to a tablet below! 

Click here to download BumperDucks for iPad!

Click here to download BumperDucks for Android tablets




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About the Author

Sarah Wells
Digital Media Intern

Sarah Wells is a rising senior at Clark University and hails from Montpelier, Vermont. She is majoring in English with a double minor in physics and computer science.