Home Store Project Ideas Project Guide Ask An Expert Blog Careers Teachers Parents Students

Think Fast!

TWC PI auto racing slingshot
Difficulty
Time Required Very Short (≤ 1 day)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety No issues

Abstract

Are you a piano player or a video gamer? Then you might have a quick reaction time that can come in handy while playing sports. Find out how to measure your reaction time and compare it to your friends and family with this fun experiment.

Objective

In this experiment, you will measure the reaction time of a person by catching a metric ruler.

Credits

Sara Agee, Ph.D., Science Buddies

This project idea was adapted from a project by Kelsey of Incline Village, NV submitted to Zoom Science at PBS Kids:
Zoom, 2006. "Reaction Time," Zoom Science, PBS Kids. [accessed August 4, 2006]
http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities/sci/reactiontime.html

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Think Fast!" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 20 June 2014. Web. 2 Oct. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Sports_p009.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, June 20). Think Fast!. Retrieved October 2, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Sports_p009.shtml

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Last edit date: 2014-06-20

Introduction

Has anyone ever said, "Think fast!" and then thrown something at you? How quickly or slowly you react is called your reaction time. Your reaction time will be measured by how long it takes for your eyes to tell your brain that the ruler is falling and then for your brain to tell your fingers to catch it (Zoom, 2006). The ruler falling is called a stimulus and this type of reaction is called a simple reaction. The simple reaction time is the time it takes to react to a simple stimuli — or small change in the environment (Wikipedia contributors, 2006).

In this experiment, you will measure your reaction time by catching a metric ruler with your fingers. After you catch the ruler, you will convert your measurement in centimeters into a reaction time measured in seconds. To do this, you will need to use the following reaction time table (from Brody, 1987, 147):

Drop
Distance
Reaction
Time
Drop
Distance
Reaction
Time
Drop
Distance
Reaction
Time
Drop
Distance
Reaction
Time
(inches) (cm)(ms) (inches) (cm)(ms) (inches) (cm)(ms) (inches) (cm)(ms)
1.0 2.5 72.0 7.0 17.8 190.5 13.0 33.0 259.6 19.0 48.3 313.8
2.0 5.1 101.8 8.0 20.3 203.6 14.0 35.6 269.4 20.0 50.8 322.0
3.0 7.6 124.7 9.0 22.9 216.0 15.0 38.1 278.8 21.0 53.3 329.9
4.0 10.2 144.0 10.0 25.4 227.7 16.0 40.6 288.0 22.0 55.9 337.7
5.0 12.7 161.0 11.0 27.9 238.8 17.0 43.2 296.9 23.0 58.4 345.3
6.0 15.2 176.4 12.0 30.5 249.4 18.0 45.7 305.5 24.0 61.0 352.7

To measure your reaction time, ask a friend for help. They will drop the ruler for you and you will catch it. To get better data, you should take three different measurements, each called a trial. You will combine the data from the trials together by taking an average. Then you can measure the reaction time of your friend. You will record each other's reaction times and compare them when you finish. Then you can ask other people to volunteer, too!

Terms and Concepts

  • reaction time
  • stimulus
  • centimeters
  • seconds
  • trial
  • average

Questions

  • What is my reaction time?
  • How do the reaction times of different people compare?
  • How do I measure the average reaction time?

Bibliography

  • The original idea for this project was sent to Zoom Science by Kelsey of Incline Village, NV:
    Zoom, 2006. "Reaction Time," Zoom Science, PBS Kids. [accessed August 4, 2006]
    http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities/sci/reactiontime.html
  • Get plenty of background info on reaction times and stimuli:
    Wikipedia contributors, 2006. "Reaction time," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. [accessed August 4, 2006]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Reaction_time&oldid=64445209
  • Adair, R. K., 2002. The Physics of Baseball: Third Edition, Revised, Updated and Expanded. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
  • Here is an online version of the reaction time test developed by Jim Allen:
    Allen, J., 2002. "The Online Reaction Time Test," GetYourWebsiteHere.com [accessed August 4, 2006]
    http://getyourwebsitehere.com/jswb/rttest01.html
  • Brody, H., 1987. Tennis Science for Tennis Players. Philadelphia, PA: The University of Pennsylvania Press.

Learn more about the science of auto racing with this easy-to-read guide:

Materials and Equipment

  • metric ruler with centimeter marks
  • table and chair
  • paper and pen for charting results
  • a different colored sticker or pen for each person

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Experimental Procedure

  1. Sit in a chair with your arm resting on a table so that your wrist hangs off the edge. Your friend should hold the ruler so that it dangles above your hand. Make sure the "zero" end of the ruler is hanging between your thumb and finger.
  2. When your friend lets go of the ruler, try to catch it between your thumb and finger as quickly as you can.
  3. Mark the ruler where you caught it with a colored piece of tape or a sticker. This will be your first measurement, or trial #1. Write down the measurement in a data table:
    Name Trial #1 Trial #2 Trial #3 Average Reaction Time (s)
    ruler (cm) time (s) ruler (cm) time (s) ruler (cm) time (s)
    Me              
    Bobby              
    Susie              
    Mom              
    Dad              

  4. Compare the marking on the ruler where your fingers caught it to the reaction time chart above. Write down your reaction time in the data table.
  5. Repeat steps 1–4 two more times, for trial #2 and trial #3. Did your reaction times vary a lot or were they pretty much the same from trial to trial?
  6. Calculate the average reaction time. Add together your three times and divide the answer by 3. Write the average reaction time in your data table.
  7. Repeat steps 1–6 for your friend, and any other volunteer you would like to test.
  8. Draw a bar graph to present your data. Along the left side of the graph (Y-axis) write the times from the reaction time chart. Across the bottom of the graph (X-axis) write the names of yourself and your volunteers separate columns. Draw a bar for each person up to the number that matches their average reaction time in seconds.
  9. Who has the best reaction time?

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Variations

  • Do your reaction times improve with practice? Try doing more trials to see if our reaction time gets faster. You can see this by making a line graph of your reaction times versus trial number. Put the reaction time on the left side (Y-axis) and the trial number on the bottom (X-axis). Then place a dot above each trial for the matching reaction time. When you are done, connect the dots to make a line. Does your line slope up or down? If it slopes down, you got better! But if it slopes up, you got worse! :(
  • Are older kids faster than younger kids? Try grouping volunteers by age group on your graph. Do you see any differences between groups? How about comparing you and your friends to your parents? Even try your grandparents!
  • Are boys faster than girls? Group your volunteers by gender on your graph. Are there any differences? Try to get the same number of boys and girls for your comparison. Also try to get volunteers of the same age to make a fair comparison.
  • Is your right hand faster than your left?
  • Does your reaction time improve with both hands if you only practice with one hand?
  • Many sports skills require quick reaction times: think of hitting a 95-mph fastball, returning a 100-mph tennis serve, or blocking a slapshot at the net in hockey. Try relating your reaction time to real situations in your favorite sport. For example, calculate where the baseball is on its way to the plate when the batter has to make his decision to swing. In addition to reaction time, it takes between 150–190 ms from initiating the swing to making contact with the ball. You'll also need to know the distance from the pitcher to home plate, and the speed of a pitched ball. (Adair, 2002, Chapter 3)
  • For a related Science Buddies project, see: Does a Cell Phone Conversation Affect Reaction Time?

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Ask an Expert

The Ask an Expert Forum is intended to be a place where students can go to find answers to science questions that they have been unable to find using other resources. If you have specific questions about your science fair project or science fair, our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Ask an Expert

Related Links

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

Neurologist adjusting settings on Parkinson patient's neurostimulator

Neurologist

Each time your heart beats, or you breathe, think, dream, smell, see, move, laugh, read, remember, write, or feel something, you are using your nervous system. The nervous system includes your brain, spinal cord, and a huge network of nerves that make electrical connections all over your body. Neurologists are the medical doctors who diagnose and treat problems with the nervous system. They work to restore health to an essential system in the body. Read more

Looking for more science fun?

Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.

Find an Activity