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Physics Challenge for

Teachers and Students

Boris Korsunsky, Column Editor

Weston High School, Weston, MA 02493

Solution to December 2015 Challenge

w Lord of the ring
A small massive bead can slide without friction along a wire ring
of radius R mounted in the vertical plane. A light elastic cord is
attached to the top of the ring and to the bead. Initially, the bead
is at rest at the bottom of the ring, and the force exerted on the
bead by the ring is twice the beads weight.
After a small disturbance, the bead begins to slide upward along
the ring, reaching its maximum velocity at the moment it covers
one-third of the rings circumference. What is the length of the
relaxed cord?

(180 f) + q + q = 180 q = f/2.


Second, we can bisect the angle labeled 180 f to see

2R cos q = L + DL DL = 2R cos(f/2) L (2)
using Eq. (1) in the last step.
Assuming the bead is traveling toward its point of maximum speed, then v must be directed counter-clockwise
as indicated above. In addition, the tangential acceleration at = dv/dt must be in that same direction, since
the bead is speeding up. (The other component of the
acceleration is the centripetal contribution ac, which is
directed radially inward toward C.) Newtons second law
in the tangential direction is

Consider an instant in time when the cord makes angle q
relative to the vertical, as in the following diagram. Let the
relaxed length of the cord be L and its current length be L
+ DL . The cord is stretched if DL > 0, in which case the
cords elastic force F = kDL is directed toward the attachment point O, where k is the force constant. The normal
force N that the ring exerts on the bead must be directed radially away from or toward the center C; the figure assumes
that q is small enough that N points away from C. The third
force acting on the bead is gravity mg directed vertically
downward where m is the beads mass.

using Eqs. (1) and (2). However, we are told that v is a

maximum and hence that at = 0 when f = 120 (corresponding to one-third of 360). Substituting these values
of at and f into Eq. (3) and rearranging, we find that the
relaxed length of the cord is
L = R mg/k . (4)
To express this answer purely in terms of R, we use the
given information about the starting point of the bead at
the bottom of the ring where f = 0. Denote the normal
force as N0 = 2mg and the stretch of the cord as DL0 at
that point. According to Eqs. (2) and (4),
DL0 = 2R L = R + mg/k . (5)
The forces must balance at the starting point since the
bead is initially at rest and thus ac = v2/R = 0. Consequently
N0 + mg = kDL0 . (6)
Substituting in the preceding expressions for N0 and DL0,
Eq. (6) can be rearranged into
mg/k = R/2

The beads angular position around the center C is labeled

f in the diagram above. We can use geometry to relate q
and L + DL to f and R by considering the isosceles triangle
formed by O, C, and the bead. First, the sum of its internal
angles has to add up to 180 so that

and thus Eq. (4) becomes

L = R/2. (8)
The problem can be extended to find two more interesting quantities. Using conservation of energy, one can
show that the maximum speed of the bead is


Vol. 53, 2015

Finally we can use the centripetal component of Newtons second law to show the ring is exerting an inward
(i.e., toward O) normal force on the bead equal to half of
the beads weight at its point of maximum speed.
(Submitted by Carl E. Mungan, U. S. Naval Academy,
Annapolis, MD)
We also recognize the following successful contributors:
Philip Blanco (Grossmont College, El Cajon, CA)
Phil Cahill (The SI Organization, Inc., Rosemont, PA)
Don Easton (Lacombe, Alberta, Canada)
Supriyo Ghosh (KolKata, India)
Fredrick P. Gram (Cuyahoga Community College,
Cleveland, OH)
Gerald E. Hite (TAMUG, Galveston, TX)
Art Hovey (Galvanized Jazz Band, Milford, CT)
Jos Ignacio iguez de la Torre (Universidad de Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain)
Philip Keller (Holmdel High School, Holmdel, NJ)
Matthew W. Milligan (Farragut High School, Knoxville,
Daniel Mixson (Naval Academy Preparatory School,
Newport, RI)
Clark M. Neily, Jr. (Hermons of Alaska Christian
School, Allston, MA)
Thomas Olsen (TAOM Tutoring, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
Pascal Renault (John Tyler Community College, Midlothian, VA)
Joseph Rizcallah (School of Education, Lebanese University, Beirut, Lebanon)
Daniel Schumayer (University of Otago, Dunedin, New
Robert Siddon (U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD)
Jason L. Smith (Richland Community College, Decatur,
Cssio dos Santos Sousa, student (Instituto Tecnolgico
de Aeronutica, So Paulo, Brazil)
Clint Sprott (University of Wisconsin Madison, WI)
Robert Stewart (retired, Forestburgh, NY)
Hiroki Sugimoto, student (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical
University, Daytona Beach, FL)


Guidelines for contributors:

We ask that all solutions, preferably in Word format, be
submitted to the dedicated email address Each message will receive an automatic acknowledgment.
The subject line of each message should be the same as the
name of the solution file (see the instructions below).
The deadline for submitting the solutions is the last day of
the corresponding month.
We can no longer guarantee that well publish every successful solvers name; each month, a representative selection of names will be published, both in print and on the
If your name isfor instanceLisa Randall, please name
the file Randall16March (do not include your first
initial) when submitting the March 2016 solution.
If you have a message for the Column Editor, you may
contact him at; however,
please do not send your solutions to this address.
As always, we look forward to your contributions and hope
that they will include not only solutions but also your own
Challenges that you wish to submit for the column.
Many thanks to all contributors and we hope to hear from
many more of you in the future!

Boris Korsunsky