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Momentum Notes

Name ________________

When we think of momentum, we often think of sports teams. We might say that a
team has a lot of momentum. That team is hard to stop. That can give us a good
working definition for momentum: an objects momentum is how hard it will be to stop
the object.
Momentum and Inertia:
When we discussed inertia, we gave it a similar working definition. Inertia was
how hard it is to change the speed of an object. We found that the inertia of an object was
its mass. Since momentum (how hard it is to stop) and inertia (how hard it is to change
speed) have similar definitions, they are easy to confuse. To try and sort it out, imagine
these examples:
A train moving at 20 m/s

A ping pong ball traveling

at 20 m/s.
A train at rest.

Inertia (How hard it is to

change speed)
Huge. It will take a long
time and a lot of energy to
slow down or speed up the
train down.
Small. It is easy to speed
up or slow down the ping
pong ball. Just hit it with a
Huge. It will take a long
time and a lot of energy to
get the train moving.

Momentum (How hard it

is to stop)
Huge. It will be very
difficult to stop the train.
Small. It will be very easy
to stop.
None. It is already stopped.
It will take nothing to stop

So, a train will always have a lot of inertia, since it has a large mass. But, its
momentum can vary depending on its velocity.
p = mv

where p = momentum, m = mass and v = velocity

Note: Momentum is a vector.

What is the momentum of a 60 kg student running at 8 m/s, west?
p = mv = (60 kg)(8 m/s) = 480 kg m/s, west
Note that momentum does not have its own unit. Since we got it by multiplying
kg and m/s, the unit is just kg m/s. Also, since it is a vector, we should add the
direction to be complete in our answer.

How to change momentum:

In order to change momentum, we must change velocity. According to Newtons
First Law (An object in motion will stay in motion at a constant velocity), in order to
change velocity, a force is needed.
Starting with Newtons Second Law (F=ma) , and the definition of acceleration
(a = v/t) we can see that:
F = ma
F = mv/t

Then multiply both sides by t

Ft = mv
The right side of the equation is the change in momentum (p = mv).
The left side of the equation is a new quantity called the impulse (the
symbol for impulse is J). J = Ft
We can combine this to get J = Ft = mv = p
1. A car with a mass of 1000 kg slows from 30 m/s, west to 22 m/s, west in 4 seconds.
a. What is the change in momentum for the car?
b. What is the force on the car?
c. What is the impulse on the car?

2. An egg with a mass of 0.1 kg is dropped. It hits the ground with a speed of 5 m/s, and
stops in 0.05 seconds. A 2nd egg with the same mass is dropped and lands with the same
speed on a pillow, and comes to a stop in 0.2 seconds.
a. Compare the change in momentum for the eggs.
b. Compare the impulse for the two eggs.
c. Compare the forces on the two eggs.

How do air bags protect you?

Note that in the example above, the same impulse was achieved with different forces. To
achieve a certain change in momentum, you can have a big force acting over a small
time, or a small force acting over a larger time. So, imagine a car traveling at 50 mi/hr
hitting a tree. The driver changes speed from 50 mi/hr to zero whether or not she is
protected by an air bag. She will have the same change in momentum either with or
without the air bag. The air bag reduces the force by increasing the time necessary to
achieve the same impulse.

Conservation of Momentum
A very important concept is that for any system of objects, as long as there is no
external force, momentum is conserved. (Think of Newtons first law. Objects will
move at a constant velocity, and therefore a constant momentum, as long as there is no
outside force.)
Conservation of Momentum does not mean that every object will have the same
momentum all the time. If two cars collide, they will both change speed and momentum.
But, because there was no outside force (just the force between the two cars), the total
momentum of the system will remain the same.
Problem Solving.
For problems which involve conservation of momentum, you will always follow the
same steps.
1. Draw a picture.
2. You know that the total momentum is conserved. (ptot before = ptot after)
3. Find expressions for the total momentum before and the total momentum after,
and set the expressions equal.
1. A 400 kg car traveling east at 20 m/s collides with a stationary 200 kg car. After
the collision, the 200 kg car is traveling at 15 m/s, east. What is the speed of the
400 kg car?

Elastic Collisions vs inelastic collisions.

Elastic collisions are when two objects bounce off each other without any sticking,
and there is no loss of kinetic energy in the collisions. This is an ideal case, and would
never happen in the real world. (Although it can be approached with hard objects, like
billiard balls, and can be essentially achieved with subatomic particles.)
Inelastic Collisions are when there is some sticking, and there is some loss of
kinetic energy. A totally inelastic collision is when the objects stick together and the
most kinetic energy is lost.
A 200 kg car traveling at 30 m/s, east collides inelastically with a 400 kg car traveling
at 20 m/s, west. What is the velocity of the cars after the collision?

Explosion Problems: Explosion problems are like inelastic collision problems in

reverse. An object that was together breaks apart.
Example: A 5 kg cannon ball is shot out of a 100 kg cannon. If the speed of the
cannonball if 60 m/s after firing, what is the recoil speed of the cannon?