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The Double Bounce: Untapped Potential
Whether bounding on a trampoline or inside a colorful bounce house, kids will always make the most of potential energy. Read on to learn the science behind one of their favorite tricks.
For generations, wherever there have been kids on trampolines, there has been the double bounce, the stunt that can send one jumper soaring into the sky like Superman’s cape on a windy day. As kids seem to inherently understand, all it takes to pull the stunt off is good timing, but the double bounce nevertheless demonstrates a basic concept of physics—potential energy. Energy comes in two forms—potential and kinetic. When a person falls, they generate kinetic (or moving) energy. The surface of the trampoline or inflatable absorbs some of that energy, storing it as tension in the springs or fabric. For a brief moment, the surface is still and tense—pure potential energy—until it recoils, transferring the potential energy back into kinetic energy directed upward.
When two people land at the same time, they essentially double the kinetic energy hitting the trampoline’s surface. If they both bounce together, the kinetic energy splits again, springing both bodies up an equal distance. However, if one person lets their knees go slack slightly before the surface snaps back, a larger proportion of the potential energy transfers to the second person, granting them most of the kinetic energy and a much higher bounce. Voila. The double bounce.
This principle can also be used to “steal” bounces from someone else. By landing just after the other person, you can draw the force of their bounce closer to your landing, which can allow you to jump higher and make them feel virtually no upward momentum.