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    Home / Science projects / Reaction Time Science Project
    • Reaction Time Science Project

      Reaction Time Science Project

      For Olympic runners and swimmers, a fraction of a second is often the difference between winning a gold medal or a bronze. Indeed, it's the distance between winning any medal or returning home with nothing but hopes at another chance in four more years. And while its impact is most dramatic in running events, speed isn't only a matter of crossing the finish line first. In sports, reaction time, the interval between stimulation and reaction, often determines who wins and who loses. Even more importantly, in real-life situations, like when driving a car, it can mean the difference between life and death. Measure your reaction time with the following project.

      What You Need:

      What You Do:

      1. Have your partner sit or stand with their arm on the flat surface so their wrist extends beyond the edge.
      2. Hold the meter stick vertically above your partner's hand, with the "0" end of the stick just above their thumb and forefinger, but not touching them.
      3. Instruct your partner to catch it as quickly as possible as soon as they see it begin to fall.
      4. Without warning your partner, drop the meter stick.  
      5. Record how far it fell before your partner caught it. Consult the reaction time table to determine reaction time. Repeat at least two more times.
      6. Switch places with your partner and repeat.

      What Happened:

      In this experiment, your reaction time is how long it takes your eyes to tell your brain that the meter stick is falling and how long it takes your brain to tell your fingers to catch it. We can use the distance the meter stick fell before you caught it to figure out your reaction time. The following formula is the basis: d = 1/2 gt2.

      In this formula, "d" equals the distance the object fell, "g" equals gravitational acceleration (9.8 m/s2), and "t" is the time the object was falling. To simplify the process, we've provided a reaction time table with the calculations already done.

      Try it again with a dollar bill, only start with the bill halfway between the catcher's thumb and pointer finger. If you're really brave, you can up the ante and allow whoever catches the dollar bill to keep it. Unless someone anticipates the dollar bill being dropped, the 6-inch bill should fall completely through the catcher's fingers before the typical human reaction time (about 1/4 second) allows them to catch it.

      For further study:

      • Talk about what sports depend on having a fast reaction time. How about real-life situations?
      • Try the experiment on a variety of people of different ages. Whose reaction time is faster? Boys or girls? Adults or kids?
      • Repeat the experiment, only this time, have the catcher whistling throughout. Did that make reaction time faster, slower, or the same?
      • Can you improve your reaction time by repeating the experiment several times daily? Practice for a week then test yourself again to see.

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    By: Christian De Jaeger
    Date: Mar 20, 2017

    Great help, one question, control variables?

    By: evi
    Date: Mar 12, 2017

    is there more tests you can do to tests reaction times. i have to do this for my 7th grade project

    By: deusdert domitius
    Date: Mar 12, 2017

    Is good but how about other experiments related to time reaction and how to correct data in histograms

    By: Ibrahim
    Date: Nov 27, 2015

    Fantastic experiment never seen anything like this

    By: Sebastian
    Date: Sep 09, 2015

    I like this expirement ! How do I measure a sports reaction time?

    By: Kgotlelelo
    Date: Jun 16, 2015

    Hi, this experiment is only about ruler or stick ... Why not about a measuring tape.

    [HST adds:  A meterstick or ruler won’t bend while it’s dropping.  You could try different measuring equipment to see if you get different results, but watch out if the measuring tape has sharp edges!  Hope this helps!]