Quantitative Tests in Classical Mechanics
Classical mechanics is the cornerstone of physics, yet it is usually missing one crucial point:quantitative results. Though the conceptual models developed during introductory courses areobviously essential, it would be equally desirable to have quantitative checks of some simple(or more complicated) but fundamental dynamic phenomenon.Having quantitative test results of some selected one, two or three degrees of freedom-typemovement makes the process of the education more interesting.Students can compare theoretical (numerical) tests with actual test data, asses the effect of some usual idealization, like the neglect of friction or other non-linearity.It is no wonder why there is a scarcity of numerical tests of actual dynamic movement. It isquite cumbersome follow even the movement of a mass point, to say nothing of its velocity oracceleration.
There are methods today to follow the spatial and temporal dynamics of one or two mass points, but they are usually not enough: one might like higher derivates in order to check theconservation principles.
Eight years ago we set about to study the quantitative dynamics of systems with two degreesof freedom.It took about eight years and five generations of test devices and data acquisition systems tosolve this problem up to a degree of about 1% of accuracy, when the acceleration is not higherthen about 100-150 m/s
.The whole task of quantitative data acquisition even at these modest parameters is unsolvablewithout fast and specialized electronic data acquisition and processing.We had to learn some painful lessons during these years, and to make some compromiseswith costs. First of all one has to fight friction forces. Using tiny ball bearings could reducefriction substantially, but makes the shape of moving bodies more complicated, thus morecumbersome to calculate e.g. their moment of inertia.The size of test machines should not usually exceed about 20 cm. Above that size and at highaccelerations, potential stress energy could be accumulated in the moving active masses or inpassive ballast parts as elastic deformations. Monitoring these deformations continuously isnot impossible –but very expensive.An ordinary strain gauge will not do the job –their amplifiers are too slow for the job, andpiezoelectric ones are too expensive.The most crucial device used in all tests is an incremental transducer which has anoptoelectronics system inside, and converts the temporal dynamics of rotation into digitalsignals. The most convenient type for our tests had 2000 slits for a 360 degree rotation gauge,manufactured by HP with optical lithography. There are also linear incremental transducersbut they are less reliable and prone to mechanical damage and distortion during dynamicoperations. Though the application of rotational incremental transducers seems to be a severerestriction, in fact one is able to track linear movement with the help of fine flexible steelcables or ribbons.Special care was taken to use sturdy frames with minimal distortion, in order to reduce theeffect of external or internal vibrations and dynamic distortions.Five test devices are shown in the first photograph, which gives some impression about thepractical size of the test devices.Only one device will be detailed in this article, a heavy gyroscope, as this is the mostcomplicated and least understood device of classical mechanics.Students could penetrate to the depth of classical mechanics if they are able to understand thequalitative and quantitative behaviour of a heavy gyro.