What Are Some Real-Life Examples of Parabolas?

Paul L. Dineen/CC-BY-2.0

When a pitcher throws a baseball, it follows a parabolic path, providing a real life example of the graph of a quadratic equation. The parabolic function predicts if the ball arrives in the batting range for the particular hitter and the time between it leaving the pitcher’s hand and crossing the plate. There are many real life examples of such shapes ranging from video games to engineering.

Projectile motion is the name of the parabolic function used for objects such as baseballs, arrows, bullets and missiles. It predicts the path of any object with both a horizontal force and a vertical force due to gravity, according to Math is Fun.

Financial experts use parabolas to maximize profits. These functions compare the number of items sold with the price of each, allowing the retailer to know the ideal price to set.

The cables and arches that support bridges often follow the shape of a parabola. This allows the engineer to maximize the weight supported while minimizing the materials the bridge requires for construction.

Parabolic reflectors are useful in designing microphones and satellite dish receivers. These reflectors concentrate the wavelengths on a single point to maximize reception. If the reflector is a mirror and the energy it concentrates is sunlight, the reflector becomes a solar cooker, able to boil water without other power.