When Spheres Collide


Deflect and go your own independent directions. Break and leave each other shattered. Merge into a new entity and form a partnership. The collision of spheres is can result in a number of outcomes. In its simplest form, a collision is an instance of one moving object “striking violently against another” [1]. However, a more soft and complex definition of collision would call it a conflict between opposing ideas, interests, or factions [1]. Whether we are talking about physical spheres like a basketball or a conceptual sphere like our spheres of influence, collisions can alter the trajectories and the fate of both moving and stationary objects.

Here I attempt to shed light on the types of collisions between spheres which can occur (be they physical or conceptual collisions) using physics.

Types of Collisions

Applying the basic physics where spheres are often used to illustrate basic laws of the universe, we know that before, during, and after every collision there exists energy and momentum. Energy can take the form of potential energy (i.e. untapped energy) or kinetic energy (movement), as well as many other forms such as light and sound. To conceptualize a collision of two spheres, I have created Mr Blue and Mr Orange, both spheres having the same mass and living life on a frictionless surface. We rarely encounter frictionless surfaces in real life, but they work quite well for physics illustrations – so please bear with me.

One day, Mr Blue approaches Mr Orange directly at a constant velocity, which we shall call V. The two spheres collide, whereupon one of three interactions can occur.


1. An elastic collision can occur where Mr Orange zooms forward at a constant velocity V, assuming all the kinetic energy from Mr Blue, while Mr Blue lies dormant. In this situation, the system maintains a constant kinetic energy (movement) and no energy is lost as light or sound. This is similar to what happens when playing billiards as the cue ball strikes another ball.


2. An inelastic collision can occur where the two spheres stick together and move forward as one object at half the velocity of Mr Blue initially. In this interaction, the system of two spheres loses kinetic energy as heat in the joining process. Unlike kinetic energy, the momentum of the system remains unchanged after the collision. 


3. A super-elastic collision can occur where the Mr Blue and Mr Orange move together at a velocity much greater than Mr Blue initially. In this interaction, the kinetic energy and momentum system increases significantly. Such an interaction is only possible if an outside energy source enters the system OR a measure potential energy within one of the spheres is tapped into upon collision [2].


To further illustrate what a super-elastic collision might look like, imagine you are skating up to your friend who is standing still on an ice rink. You happen to be wearing a jetpack that is turned off, which is essentially a bucket full of potential energy. As you approach your friend, you throw your arms out to catch her and she accidentally turns on the jetpack. You hold on tight to your friend and continue skating together, though at a much higher speed than you were going before. You now both move as one object at a new pace impossible to achieve without tapping into the potential energy that was on your back. 

Find your “potential” energy

While you may have experienced an elastic or inelastic collision are more commonplace, it is the super-elastic collision I find most interesting. I find I can relate this collision type to that mysterious buzzword synergy. The word synergy describes the unseen “extra potential energy” that is released when the right people are in the right place at the right time working on the right things. The energy in synergistic environments is much greater than the combined energy in each of the constituent objects. It is almost as if someone hits the on switch on the invisible jetpack.

As a woman of faith, I believe God can also be the bucket of extra potential energy operating within our spirits. The One orchestrating moments and circumstances beyond our control, I can see how God has propelled me faster and faster on the ice rink as I glide on with my measure of strength. 

Don’t fear collisions of ideas, opinions, or spheres of influence. Rather, find the right people and do the right things in order to hit the on-switch of your invisible jetpack – then hold on. Your life’s trajectory and velocity might change for the better.




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