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Einstein flip

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Scientific writing
Topic: Energy transfer

2005 is Einstein year! To celebrate, physicist Helen Czerski worked out a new bike stunt on computer. And World-class BMX rider Ben Wallace dared try it – it worked! This activity communicates the excitement of physics, and shows just how useful it is to understand the laws of physics in extreme sports.

Published: 18th February 2005
Reviews & Comments: 6

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Learning objectives

� Students will be excited by physics, and realise the usefulness of the laws of physics in extreme sports
� Students will reinforce their understanding of energy transfers and forces through applying them to a new situation

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

� 7i energy resources – identify energy transfers within a range of systems
� 9i energy and electricity – describe some energy transfers and transformations in familiar situations, including dissipated energy; total energy in a system is conserved
� 9j gravity and space – gravity is a universal force of attraction between objects
� 7k forces and their effects – identify directions in which forces act

Running the activity

Suggested time: 20 minutes – one lesson, depending on how much time you allow students to create their magazine features.

Possible starter:
To set the scene, show students page 1 and, if possible, the computer simulation of 'Einstein flip' (see weblink below). Ask how they think the laws of physics were useful in devising the new BMX stunt.

Main activity:
Students use the 'info for journalists' on page 3 to create a feature on the Einstein flip for BMX magazine, for which there is a template on page 2. This page is based around a series of graphics and students can use it as it is or cut it up or add other graphics to it. You may want to photocopy this page onto A3.

The stunt facts on page 3 can also be used as an extension activity for students to do calculations to check whether energy is conserved. Speeds are given in both km/h (to enable students to do the calculations) and mph (so students have more of a 'feel' for the speeds involved).

Each student looks at another's magazine feature. They say one thing they like about it and suggest one improvement.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
How does a physicist know how fast to approach?
Helen Czerski used the laws of energy in a computer simulation to predict what will happen at different speeds – she found the right one for the dimensions of the ramp/platform.

What happens if Ben approaches too slowly?
He won't get enough kinetic energy to get high enough (potential energy) to buy enough 'air' time to flip.

What happens if Ben approaches too fast?
He will have too much kinetic energy and will go beyond the downward curved ramp on other side. He's in for a very hard landing on the ground!

Might it be possible to do more than one flip? How?
This would be very difficult! One way of doing it would be to get more speed so as to gain enough airtime to make more flips.

Why is the ramp curved?
For a given angle where Ben mounts a ramp, a curved ramp has a greater angle with the ground at point of lift off than a flat ramp. The angle of a flat ramp that Ben could mount would not be great enough at point of lift off.

The curvature of the ramp is not directly linked to the bike's rotation – the bike rotates because Ben pulls on the handlebars, so causing a torque.

News links

Einstein Year is an easy to navigate and fun site where students can discover all about Einstein and the physics laws he set out in three scientific papers, when he was only 26. The site has lots of interesting information. Students can send in their physics questions and get an appropriate answer for their Key Stage.
Stunt animation is the computer simulation of the stunt.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Einstein Flip

Aug 18th, 2009

4 Star

Ran this activity with two separate year 10 classes. One class using computer software (word, publisher, photoshop). The other, activity printed out and class using paper, glue, scissors textas to design article. You can probably already guess which class seemed to enjoy the activity the most. Yes, the use of computers. For a while there was a resistance from both classes to translate their writing skills to science, magazine style writing. I assumed they could do this, so next time I will discuss more on how to write for a target audience and the style to use.

Reviewer: Paul McMullen


Sep 4th, 2008

5 Star




Sep 4th, 2008

5 Star



can't find the simulation

May 13th, 2008

5 Star

It is a fab activity but I can't find the animation/ simulation anywhere. Any help really appreciated!!

Reviewer: nichola keeley

einstein flip

Oct 19th, 2007

5 Star

showing bmx stunt videos as a starter as they came into the room engaged them striaght away. this was a great follow-on to work we had done on putting force arrows on cartoons. they devised their own stunts after with arrows and explanations and showed a much higher level of understanding than i would have expected.

Reviewer: debra johnson

Used in a circuis

Feb 15th, 2006

4 Star

Used 4 activities in a circuis, poo power, if the lights go out, solar powered cars and Einstein Flip. Class worked on one in groups and had to present findings to rest of class. I then displayed their work in the class.

Worked really well and highlighted the need to work as a team. Would reccommend using these in this way or as stand alone activities.

Reviewer: Kevin Marshall