OT: Middle School science project ideas involving baseball or softball

Submitted by Wendyk5 on February 24th, 2017 at 10:12 AM

Thank God for OT season. 

My 13 year old daughter is looking for a topic for this year's science expo. For a variety of reasons, she lost her science partner, and is now going it alone, and looking for a new topic. She loves softball and wants to do something related. I figured some of you physics/engineering people (who also like sports) might have some ideas or directions she could go in. Remember: this has to be easy enough for an 8th grader. The criteria are as follows: 

Must have a testable question.

Must be able to test the hypothesis. 

Must have an independent and dependent variable. 


She's had several ideas but most of them require equipment to be testable (swing mechanics and velocity, for ex).



February 24th, 2017 at 10:29 AM ^

Balistic flight of the ball

Spin of the ball affecting flight path (not sure how this is testable)

Point of contact between bat and ball and how it affects trajectory of the ball

Distance balls travel based upon temperature or humidity


February 24th, 2017 at 10:31 AM ^

whats the timed difference in rounding the bags when you use your inside foot opposed to your outside foot, grass field vs turf? 

Hopefully that helps to churn the gears.


Good Luck.


February 25th, 2017 at 12:24 AM ^

is faster.

Once you leave your feet, the running-through-the-base method catches up REAL fast, so you have to time your lunge such that you slap the bag before you leave your feet, essentially creating as much angular momentum to get yourself down to the bag as quickly as possible.

The down side is that you're in for a hell of a crash landing.  Far worse than just diving horizontally.

I did it in high school.  No way I'd try it in my 50s playing softball.


February 24th, 2017 at 10:36 AM ^

About 4 kids in my sons 3rd grade class last year used Deflategate as their premise to test whether deflating balls actually help ....as scientifically as 3rd grade experiments can be conducted, it seemed to validate deflating as an advantage.

Too bad you can't have your daughter debunk or validate the humidor effect, comparing flight at arid altitude vs humid sea level.


February 24th, 2017 at 10:39 AM ^

if she is required to produce data I would keep it real simple. An idea (similar to deflategate) would be try hitting balls from a tee that have been heated/chilled to different temperatures and collecting average distances and modeling with a scatterplot (independent is temp, dependent is distance).

If she doesn't need to produce her own data then remember that statistics is science and there is so much stuff that can be traacked with softball/baseball it is incredible. Just make a scattterplot and go.


February 24th, 2017 at 10:41 AM ^

Couple ideas:


1) Batting average on balls in play with a shift versus no shift

2) Batted ball results (or just rate of swing and misses) vs. velocity of pitch

3) Batting results vs. order in the lineup

4) Pitcher runs allowed vs. K/BB ratio


Shift stuff would be super interesting but that's also probably a bit fanciful. The rest should be pretty easy.

oriental andrew

February 24th, 2017 at 10:43 AM ^

I like the bat material experiment. Which bat material results in greater distance and why? 

Assuming things like weight, length, and diameter are held constant (or as much as possible), you can compare distance for aluminum alloy (do they even still make all aluminum bats anymore?), wooden, and composite bats. What's the hypothesis as to WHY one type of bat might help a ball travel farther? 

If you can get your hands on a radar gun, you can also test average ball speed.

Maybe have a tee set up, multiple hitters, over several sessions/days. 

Sidenote - i just discovered that there is such a thing as a BAMBOO bat.


February 24th, 2017 at 10:45 AM ^

and she could test that for softball and hardball with their different release points.   She could also vary the speed issues and rate of drop, spin, distance from plate and heighth differecence b/w the plate and the mound.  


another one could be testing the odds of your dad walking out alive from that elevator you mentioned yesterday.   good story. 


February 24th, 2017 at 10:50 AM ^

Ball on tee.

Testable hypothesis -  m1v1 = m2v2

Estimate bat speed using camera -- distance over time, use slow mo and ratio it back up to real speed

Use bat mass over, say, the last 10 inches of the bat (maybe an ME can help on that -- I'm a biochemical guy).

Get ball velocity off the tee using camera again.

Good exercise is looking for sources of error if m1v1 doesn't = m2v2 -- ball compression, bat compression, measurement error, etc


The Maizer

February 24th, 2017 at 12:00 PM ^

I think this would be really difficult for two main reasons.

1.) You would need to measure the bat speed very accurrately both before and after making contact with the ball (because it's really m_bat0*v_bat0=m_bat1*v_bat1+m_ball*v_ball). Unless you have a ridiculously high framerate video camera, this isn't feasible.

2.) You would need to apply zero force to the bat before, during, and after contact with the ball; otherwise you would not expect momentum of the bat and ball alone to be conserved.

Nate the Newt

February 24th, 2017 at 10:58 AM ^

I would test temp of balls as suggested earlier but test it verses COR (a measure of the % bounce a ball has from a heigh dropped).  I play softball with .52 COR balls but I wonder if that COR value changes when the balls are 90 degreeses vs. 45, for example.


February 24th, 2017 at 11:00 AM ^

Simple experiment is testing the effects of wind resistance on different sports balls. If you have a sufficiently high platform from which to drop them, you could measure the time to fall and compare to a calculated value using just gravity. Before testing, have her guess which will fall slowest vs fastest and compare results to hypothesis.

This is Michigan

February 24th, 2017 at 11:09 AM ^

For a low cost motion tracker, you can use your phone's accelerometer and gyroscope. There are many apps that log data in real-time and allow you to share the data files for offline analysis. You can also buy for $100 a Zepp which specifically tracks swing motion or really any commercially available accelerometer.

One idea may include tracking a simple motion e.g. Putting which is more or less a linear motion so you'd only need linear acceleration. There are a number of hypotheses that can be experimentally tested from this data.
A couple off the top of my head:
1. Are skilled golfers more repeatable in their putting stroke?
2. Do practice putts really help performance? (Don't even need data)
3. Difference in kinematic features of a putting stroke between skilled and unskilled golfers.
4. Does using a different ball alter performance?

Leatherstocking Blue

February 24th, 2017 at 11:50 AM ^

1. Here is something I was curious about: Messing around with my son in the basement, I held a large ball (a resist-a-ball like the kind you sit on for excercising. I held it waist high and held a racquet ball a few inches above it. I dropped both at the same time. The reaction of the racquet ball bouncing off the bigger ball as it is rebounding off the floor seems to be exponentially greater than had the racquest ball just bounced off the floor. Wear safety goggles and have nothing breakable near by. I'm not sure what can be measured but it is interesting to test reaction of the ball off different surfaces. Can you make an assumption on the density of a surface based on how a ball reacts?

2. The Yips. Have her study film of ball players like Chuck Knoblauch and in slow motion see what the difference is when their throw is good verses when then chuck it in the stands. Is it realease point? Is it body orientation? Footwork?



February 24th, 2017 at 1:25 PM ^

a velocity off bat with different speed of pitch? she would have to make some assumptions like that swing being constant and hitting the ball constant. Neither are true but if you made those assumptions and then it contact with a 60 mile an hour pitch comma versus a changeup that might be 50 miles an hour what distance change might be or velocity of the ball off the bat given the same swing speed.


February 24th, 2017 at 1:44 PM ^

When I was a middle schooler, my partner and I dropped about 10-12 different balls (basketball, soccer ball, tennis, racquetball etc) from a controlled height. 

So we dropped all of the balls from the same height and measured how high they bounced off the ground. We then cut each ball in half and discussed the material the ball was made of and the layers that made it up. Ahead of dropping them, we made our guesses as to which would bounce off the ground the highest and then proved/disproved our estimations.

It was a fun project and we got an A. I wish I could remember more.

Johnny Blood

February 24th, 2017 at 1:45 PM ^

My son did a project a few years ago where he compared the average distance acheived from using a metal bat versus a wood bat versus a plastic bat.  He repeated the tests using both pitched balls and hitting off a tee.  Then he researched why one material would be more effective compared to the others.


February 24th, 2017 at 9:42 PM ^

One did "The viscosity of ketchup". He dropped a marble in a test tube of ketchup and measured the time it took to reach the bottom. Cheap ketchup was the fastest drop (mostly water).

The other did "The melting time of ice cream". Again, the cheap ice cream melted the fastest because it had more water. The cream didn't melt as quick.

Blue Balls Afire

February 24th, 2017 at 1:58 PM ^

Maybe replicate the visualization test used in the basketball free throw experiment.  I think in that experiment subjects who merely visualized making 10 free throws did significantly better than those who didn't.  Try that with softball hitting?  Have subjects visualize it and compare hits/distance with those who didn't visualize first.