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Copyright © Carmel Fry, Keith Burrows, Rob Chapman, Doug Bail, Geoff Miller
2008
First published 2008 by Pearson Education Australia
2011 2010 2009 2008
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Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Heinemann physics 11 / Carmel Fry ... [et al.].
3rd ed.
9781740819367 (pbk.)
Includes index.
For secondary school age.
Physics--Textbooks.
Other Authors/Contributors: Fry, Carmel.
Dewey Number: 530
Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd ABN 40 004 245 943
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the following for their contributions to our text book.
The following abbreviations are used in this list: t = top, b = bottom, c = centre,
l = left, r = right.
Airbus Industries: p. 474.
Alamy Limited: pp. 53, 90,135, 536.
Anglo-Australian Observatory: pp. 338b, 340l; David Malin Images: pp. 338t, 346.
ANSTO: pp. 454, 458b.
Arthur Wigley / Royal Melbourne Hospital: p. 546t
Australian Associated Press Pty Ltd: pp. 73, 144, 181, 189, 194, 201b, 242, 355t.
Australian Science Media Centre / Daniel Mendelbaum: p. 158.
Carmel Fry: pp. 542b, 545.
Coo-ee Picture Library: pp. 267l, 499, 507.
Corbis Australia Pty Ltd: pp. 24t, 56, 117, 143l, 198c, 281, 336b, 336t, 365l,
385, 432, 440c, 445r.
CSIRO: pp. 492, 505.
David Malin Images / Akira Fujii: p. 394; Royal Observatory Edinburgh: p. 418.
Doug Bail: p. 512.
EFDA-JET: p. 466.
European Space Agency: pp. 393, 416; John Bahcall: p. 429.
European Space Observatory: pp. 377r, 424(b); Lars Lindberg Christensen: p. 424(a).
Getty Images Australia Pty Ltd: pp. 1, 4, 109, 110, 111b, 113, 127tl, 152, 165,
178, 179t, 199, 211, 215, 317, 435, 444, 542t, 357b.
Imaginova Corporation / Starrynight.com: pp. 337r, 347.
iStockphoto: pp. 70, 77, 80, 93, 95, 111t, 131, 132l, 143br, 143tr, 156, 161,
162, 179b, 191c, 191t, 198b, 198t, 201t, 207, 210bl, 210br, 210cl, 210tl, 225,
237, 291l, 299, 343, 401, 404l.
Keith Burrows: pp. 57, 59, 69, 98, 99, 255, 384, 397, 409l.
Malcolm Cross: pp. 291r, 303, 375.
Mark Fergus: pp. 61, 258b, 258t, 292, 312.
Meade Instruments: p. 373.
NASA: pp. 151b, 286, 334, 337c, 337l, 369, 376, 379, 382l, 387, 420, 424(d),
476; Astronomy Picture of the Day/ Robert Gendler: p. 383; Joe Gurman,
Simon Plunkett, Steele Hill and Stein Vidar Haugan: p. 407; Hubble Site / Space
Telescope Science Institute: p. 419; European Space Agency / J. Hester and A.
Loll (Arizona State University): p. 421; Wikisky: p. 424(c); WMAP Science Team:
p. 433; European Space Agency, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/
ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team: p. 390.
Nationwide News Pty Ltd: p. 132r.
Official 2008 Melbourne Marathon Course Map: p. 112.
PASCO Scientific: p. 119r.
Pearson Asset Library: p. 245l.
Pearson Education Australia / Dale Mann: p. 47; Advanced Science Medical
Physics: pp. 531, 533.
Photodisc: pp. 143cr, 229b, 335, 399, 404r, 409r, 428, 504.
Photolibrary Pty Ltd: pp. 26, 36, 183, 245tr, 249, 254, 366c, 404t, 405, 406,
439, 447, 511, 530b, 534; Digital Vision: p. 465; Gianni Tortoli: p. 370;
Mary Evans Picture Library: p. 402; Oxford Scientific: pp. 319, 472; Photo
Researchers: pp. 23, 24b, 146, 245br, 324, 403, 431, 547; Science Photo
Library: pp. 2, 6, 8, 13, 31, 37, 41, 52, 101, 118, 119l, 142, 154, 206, 226r,
234, 262, 272, 280, 287, 306, 357t, 361, 362, 365r, 366t, 377l, 381, 382r, 386,
398, 410c, 423, 425, 440b, 440t, 445l, 528, 532, 535, 544, 553, 554, 555.
Quasar Publishing: p. 355b.
RMIT: p. 475; Craig Mills: p. 259.
Shutterstock: pp. cover, 18, 127bl, 143c, 151r, 164, 173, 188, 191b, 192, 223,
224, 226l, 229t, 244, 506, 515, 520, 523.
Sport: The Library: p. 126.
State Library of South Australia/Mountford-Sheard Collection: p. 340r.
Track & Field News: p. 127r.
University of Michigan: p. 410t.
Virtual Hospital: pp. 546b, 549.
Wikipedia / Tao’olunga: p. 350.
Yerkes Observatory: p. 366b.
Every effort has been made to trace and acknowledge copyright. However,
should any infringement have occurred, the publishers tender their apologies
and invite copyright owners to contact them.
Disclaimer/s
The selection of Internet addresses (URLs) provided for this book were valid at
the time of publication and chosen as being appropriate for use as a secondary
education research tool. However, due to the dynamic nature of the Internet,
some addresses may have changed, may have ceased to exist since publication,
or may inadvertently link to sites with content that could be considered offensive
or inappropriate. While the authors and publisher regret any inconvenience
this may cause readers, no responsibility for any such changes or unforeseeable
errors can be accepted by either the authors or the publisher.
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Introduction vi
Unit 1
Area of study 1 Nuclear physics and
radioactivity 1
Chapter 1 Nuclear physics and
radioactivity 2
1.1 Atoms, isotopes and radioisotopes 3
1.2 Radioactivity and how it is detected 8
1.3 Properties of alpha, beta and
gamma radiation 15
1.4 Half-life and activity of radioisotopes 20
1.5 Radiation dose and its effect on humans 26
Chapter review 32
Area of study review Nuclear physics and
radioactivity 34
Area of study 2 Electricity 36
Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity 37
2.1 Electric charge 38
2.2 Electrical forces and felds 45
2.3 Electric current, EMF and
electrical potential 51
2.4 Resistance, ohmic and non-ohmic
conductors 59
2.5 Electrical energy and power 67
Chapter review 75
Chapter 3 Electric circuits 77
3.1 Simple electric circuits 78
3.2 Circuit elements in parallel 84
3.3 Cells, batteries and other sources of EMF 89
3.4 Household electricity 97
Chapter review 102
Area of study review Electricity 104
Unit 2
Area of study 1 Motion 109
Chapter 4 Aspects of motion 110
4.1 Describing motion in a straight line 111
4.2 Graphing motion: position, velocity
and acceleration 122
4.3 Equations of motion 130
4.4 Vertical motion under gravity 135
Chapter review 140
Chapter 5 Newton’s laws 142
5.1 Force as a vector 143
5.2 Newton’s frst law of motion 150
5.3 Newton’s second law of motion 156
5.4 Newton’s third law of motion 164
Chapter review 175
Chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work
and power 178
6.1 The relationship between momentum
and force 179
6.2 Conservation of momentum 187
6.3 Work 191
6.4 Mechanical energy 198
6.5 Energy transformation and power 209
Chapter review 217
Area of study review Motion 219
iii
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Area of study 2 Wave-like
properties of light 223
Chapter 7 The nature of
waves 224
7.1 Introducing waves 225
7.2 Representing wave features 232
7.3 Waves and wave interactions 240
Chapter review 247
Chapter 8 Models for light 249
8.1 Modelling simple light properties 250
8.2 Refraction of light 258
8.3 Critical angle, TIR and EMR
8.4 Dispersion and polarisation of
light waves 280
Chapter review 285
Chapter 9 Mirrors, lenses and
optical systems 286
9.1 Geometrical optics and plane
mirrors 287
9.2 Applications of curved mirrors:
concave mirrors 291
9.3 Convex mirrors 299
9.4 Refraction and lenses 306
9.5 Concave lenses 312
9.6 Optical systems 317
Chapter review 327
Area of study review Wave-like properties
of light 329
Units 1 & 2
Area of study 3 Detailed
studies 333
Chapter 10 Astronomy 334
The story continues ... 335
10.1 Motion in the heavens 337
10.2 The Sun, the Moon and
the planets 347
10.3 Understanding our world 357
10.4 The telescope: from Galileo
to Hubble 369
10.5 New ways of seeing 379
Chapter review 388

Chapter 11 Astrophysics 390
11.1 The stars—how far, how bright? 391
11.2 Our favourite star 401
11.3 We know the stars by their light 409
11.4 Whole new worlds 423
11.5 The expanding universe 431
Chapter review 437
Chapter 12 Energy from the
nucleus 439
12.1 Splitting the atom—
nuclear fssion 440
12.2 Aspects of fssion 447
12.3 Nuclear fssion reactors 453
12.4 Nuclear fusion 463
Chapter review 468
Chapter 13 Investigations:
fight 470
13.1 The four forces of fight 471
13.2 Modelling forces in fight 481
13.3 Investigating fight 486
13.4 Investigation starting points 489
Chapter 14 Investigations:
sustainable energy sources 492
14.1 Energy transformations 493
14.2 Renewable or sustainable—the
key to our future 498
14.3 Investigating alternative
energy sources 499
14.4 Starting points 503
Chapter 15 Medical physics 515
15.1 Ultrasound and how it is made 516
15.2 Ultrasound interactions 523
15.3 Scanning techniques 528
15.4 Diagnostic X-rays 537
15.5 Radiotherapy, radioisotopes
in medicine and PET 550
Chapter review 558
Appendix A 560
Appendix B 563
Appendix C 565
Solutions 576
Glossary 599
Index 608
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Heinemann Physics 11 3rd edition is the most up to date and complete package for Vce Physics.
the 3rd edition has been fully revised and upgraded to match the content and focus of the new 2009
Vce Physics study Design. successful features of the 2nd edition have been retained while significant
improvements and innovations will make the books even easier and more stimulating to use.
Heinemann Physics 11 3rd edition covers Units 1 and 2 and Heinemann Physics 12 3rd edition covers
Units 3 and 4.
Components of this CD require
Microsoft Office 98 or later.
How to use
Place CD into your CD drive. If
it does not launch automatically,
look on the CD to find the file
'launch' and double-click on it.
Important
For Conditions of Use,
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schools@pearsoned.com.au
Heinemann ePhysics 11 includes:
· a ceuu|ctc ceuu Physics 11 third edition
· interactive tutorials
· e0lossatu
· ICT toolkit
© Pearson Education Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) 2008 ISBN 9781 0000 0000
Windows®
Mac
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3rd edition
ephysics 11
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Key features:
• Newfullcolourdesign
• DetailedStudiesincludedinthetextbook
• Extensionandenrichmentmaterialclearlyindicated
• Self-contained,lesson-sizedsections
• Hugerangeofwell-gradedend-of-sectionquestionsandchapterreviews
• Exam-stylequestionsthatareexamstyle!
• Extensiveglossary
• ePhysics 11interactiveCDincludedwiththetext
Each textbook includes ePhysics 11, an interactive student CD containing:
• Electronictextbook
• Interactivetutorials
• ICTtoolkit
Heinemann Physics 11 3rd edition Teacher’s Resource and Assessment Disk
the teacher’s Resource and Assessment Disk contains a wealth of support material and makes effective
implementation of the study Design easy.
Included:
• Detailedanswersandworkedsolutionstoallquestionsinthetextbook
• Extensiverangeofshortandlongpracticalactivitiesallwithteachernotesandsuggested
outcomes and answers
• Sampleassessmenttaskswithmarkingguidelines
• CompleteelectroniccopiesofthetextbookandePhysics 11 student cD
3rd edition
Teacher's Resource
and Assessment Disk
physics 11
heinemann
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ta|uc| l|u · Doug Bail, Keith Burrows, Rob Chapman
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- ¡eacher netes and adv|ce ìer
pract|ca| |nvest|gat|ens
- äamp|e kssessment ¡asks
- Leurse eut||ne and werk pregram
- eÞhgs|cs 11
Components of this DVD
require Microsoft® Office.
Hew te use
Place DVD into your DVD drive. If it does not
launch automatically, look on the DVD to find
the file ‘launch’ and double-click on it.

© Pearson Education Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd), 2008 ISBN 978 0 0000 0000 0
www. pearsoned.com.au/physics
Heinemann Physics 11 3rd edition textbook
Includes the ePhysics 11 student CD
the complete package for Units 1 and 2 Vce Physics
Heinemann Physics 11 3rd edition companion Website
www.pearsoned.com.au/physics
the companion Website includes further support for teachers including
weblinks
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The Heinemann Physics series is now in its third edition. The first edition
was published in 1996 and since then the original author team has remained
together and has continually strived to build on and improve the series. Over
that time, the authors have not only remained highly involved in the teaching of
Physics but have also contributed to Physics and Physics education as members
of professional organisations, supported curriculum development and have
regularly presented professional development to their colleagues.
The third editions of Heinemann Physics 11 (Units 1 and 2) and Heinemann
Physics 12 (Units 3 and 4) represent the authors’ ongoing commitment to Physics
teachers and students. The series has been fully revised and upgraded to match
the content and focus of the new 2009 VCE Physics Study Design.
Successful features of the second edition have been retained, while significant
improvements and innovations have been added. These include:
• New full colour design
• All Detailed Studies in the textbook
• Exact match to the structure and sequence of the study design
• Chapters divided into student-friendly sections
• Clear explanations and development of concepts consistent with the intent
and scope of the Study Design
• Extension and enrichment material clearly designated
• Numerous well-graded end-of-section questions and chapter reviews
• Exam-style questions that are exam style!
• Extensive glossary
• ePhysics interactive CD with each text
Heinemann Physics 11 3rd edition
The authors have written a text that will support students’ learning in Physics
while making the subject interesting, enjoyable and meaningful. The book uses
clear and concise language throughout. All concepts have been fully explored
first in general and then illustrated in context. Illustrative material is fresh,
varied and appealing to a wide range of students.
Each chapter has been divided into a number of self-contained sections.
At the end of each section is a set of homework-style questions that are designed
to reinforce the main points. More demanding questions are included at the
end of the chapter. At the end of each Area of Study is a set of exam-style
questions. These can be used for revision. The large number of questions is
designed to assess students’ understanding of basic concepts as well as giving
them practice at problem solving. Answers are supplied at the end of the text
and extended answers and fully worked solutions are available on the Teacher
Resource and Assessment Disk.
vii vii
Within each section, the concept development and worked examples
occupy the main column. The minor column has been set aside for some of
the numerous photographs and diagrams, as well as small snippets of ‘Physics
File’ information. The longer pieces of high interest and context material are
contained in the page-width ‘Physics in Action’ sections. Both Physics in Action
and Physics File sections are clearly distinguishable from remaining material,
yet are well integrated into the general flow of information in the book. These
features enhance students’ understanding of concepts and context.
The authors have written the text to follow the sequence, structure and scope
of the Study Design. Material outside the scope of the Study Design is clearly
marked. This includes entire sections and a sub-sections.
This material has been included for a number of reasons, including as
important background to core concepts, important physics in its own right and
as extension material for more able students. Teachers should consider whether
they wish to incorporate this material into their work program.
The third edition includes all Detailed Studies
in the textbook. Chapters 10–15 are the Detailed
Studies. Students will undertake one Detailed
Study in each Unit. The Detailed Study chosen
for Unit 1 must be different from the Detailed
Study chosen for Unit 2.
The textbook includes an interactive CD,
ePhysics 11, which will enhance and extend the
content of the texts, and includes:
• Fully interactive tutorials that allow
students to explore important concepts
which may be too difficult, dangerous
or expensive to do first-hand in the class room
• A complete electronic copy of the textbook
• ICT Toolkit with tutorials on spreadsheets, databases, web use and more
The Heinemann Physics 11 Teacher’s Resource and Assessment Disk supports the
text and ePhysics 11 and assists teachers to implement, program and assess the
course of study. It includes:
• Detailed answers and worked solutions to all questions in the textbook
• Extensive range of short and long practical activities all with teacher notes
and suggested outcomes and answers
• Sample assessment tasks with marking guidelines
• Link to the Companion Website pearsoned.com.au/physics
• Complete electronic copy of the textbook and ePhysics 11
The Companion Website (pearsoned.com.au/physics) includes
further support for teachers and includes weblinks.
Optional sub-section.
Components of this CD require
Microsoft Office 98 or later.
How to use
Place CD into your CD drive. If
it does not launch automatically,
look on the CD to find the file
'launch' and double-click on it.
Important
For Conditions of Use,
click the Help <or Licence> button.
Customer Care 1800 656 685
schools@pearsoned.com.au
Heinemann ePhysics 11 includes:
· a ceuu|ctc ceuu Physics 11 third edition
· interactive tutorials
· e0lossatu
· ICT toolkit
© Pearson Education Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) 2008 ISBN 9781 0000 0000
Windows®
Mac
ta|uc| l|u · 8eb t|auuao · kc|t| 8u||eWs · ueug 8a||
3rd edition
ephysics 11
heinemann
3rd edition
Teacher's Resource
and Assessment Disk
physics 11
heinemann
Important
For Conditions of Use,
click the Help <or Licence> button.
Customer Care 1800 656 685
schools@pearsoned.com.au
Windows®
ta|uc| l|u · Doug Bail, Keith Burrows, Rob Chapman
- 0eta||ed answers and werked
se|ut|ens te textheek quest|ens
- ¡eacher netes and adv|ce ìer
pract|ca| |nvest|gat|ens
- äamp|e kssessment ¡asks
- Leurse eut||ne and werk pregram
- eÞhgs|cs 11
Components of this DVD
require Microsoft® Office.
Hew te use
Place DVD into your DVD drive. If it does not
launch automatically, look on the DVD to find
the file ‘launch’ and double-click on it.

© Pearson Education Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd), 2008 ISBN 978 0 0000 0000 0
Optional section.
9.1
fundamentals of magnetism
viii
Doug Bail
Is an experienced physics educator and writer
with a particular interest in the development
and integration of new technologies into
science teaching. He has previously been a
Head of Science and senior physics teacher,
and maintains a passion for making physics
relevant, stimulating and accessible to all
students. Doug now runs his own company
developing and distributing products for
Physics education.
He led the development of the new
practical activities that form part of the teacher
support material. These activities were
extensively trialled throughout Australia
and include a range of activities from
teacher demonstrations to discovery-based
investigations, suiting a range of learning
styles and needs. This includes many short
activities for when time is limited!
Keith Burrows
Has been teaching senior physics in Victorian
schools for many years. He is a member of
the Australian Institute of Physics Victorian
Education Committee and was actively
involved with the VCAA in the design of the
new course. Keith was a VCAA representative
involved in the introduction of the new VCE
course to physics teachers in Victoria and
running the workshop sessions for teachers.
He is particularly keen to portray ‘The Big
Picture’ of physics to students. Keith would
like to acknowledge Maurizio Toscano of the
Melbourne University Astrophysics Group
who has provided invaluable help and
advice in the preparation of the Astronomy
and Astrophysics detailed studies.
Rob chapman
Has taught physics for many years from
HSC onwards. Rob has been enthusiastic
in exploring the possibilities presented
by changing technologies over the years.
He has been Science Coordinator at St
Columba’s College in Essendon, where he
was instrumental in introducing the use of
datalogging technology to junior science
and senior physics classes. Rob is currently
teaching Senior Physics at PEGS (Penleigh
and Essendon Grammar School). He has
written a wide variety of curriculum support
materials, including physics units for the
CSFII. Rob has also produced physics trial
examination papers and is the author of the
acclaimed Physics 12—A student guide.
carmel Fry
Has 19 years’ involvement in development
of text, CD and on-line curriculum materials
for VCE Physics and Science. She is Head
of Science at Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar
School, where she continues her interest in
providing high-quality curriculum resources
and learning experiences for students.
Carmel is the author of numerous texts, multi-
media resources and teacher-resource
materials developed for senior physics. These
materials are currently in use in many
parts of Australia and overseas. She led the
development of the Interactive Tutorials.
Carmel is particularly passionate about
providing physics curriculum materials
that involve a variety of approaches to
learning, and that support independent
learning through stimulating and appealing
contexts and activities. Carmel would like
to acknowledge the on-going support of her
husband and children over her many years
of publishing.
Review panel
The publisher and authors would like to
acknowledge and thank the expert review
panel consisting of experienced VCE teachers
and educators: Luke Bohni, Mike Davies,
Barry Homewood, Chris Hourigan, John
Joosten, Terry Trevena, Steve Treadwell,
Lyndon Webb and Chris Ward.
Acknowledgments
The publisher would like to acknowledge
and thank the author team for their ongoing
commitment and passion for this project. It
is a huge and complex task and the demands
including short timelines are great. Carmel,
Keith, Rob and Doug it has been a pleasure
and privilege to work with you.
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On completion of this area of
study, you should be able to
explain and model relevant
physics ideas to describe the
sources and uses of nuclear
reactions and radioactivity and
their effects on living things, the
environment and in industry.
outcome
Unit
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M
any people think that they never come into contact with radioactive
materials or the radiation that such materials produce. they are wrong to
think this way. human beings have always been exposed to radiation from
a variety of natural sources. the ground that we walk on is radioactive. every time
we inhale, we take minute quantities of radioactive radon into our lungs. even the
food we eat and the water we drink contain trace amounts of radioactive isotopes. It
is now accepted that exposure to higher than normal levels of high-energy radiation
leads to the development of cancerous tumours and leukaemia. however, radiation
and radioactive elements can also be used in a variety of applications that are of real
benefit to people in industry and in medicine; for example:
radioactive substances are used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. the •
photograph shows an image taken with a gamma ray camera. technetium-99m
(a radioactive isotope) was injected into the bloodstream of a patient. this allows
the blood-flow patterns within the brain to be studied.
Smoke detectors usually contain a small sample of the radioactive element •
americium-241.
Geologists and archaeologists determine the age of rocks, artefacts and fossils by •
analysing the radioactive elements in them.
In industry, the thickness of manufactured sheet metal is accurately measured •
and controlled using radiation.
In this chapter, we will examine radioactivity and discuss the associated dangers
and benefits of its many applications. an understanding of this topic will help you to
develop an informed opinion on this important issue.
by the end of this chapter
you will have covered material from the study of nuclear
physics and radioactivity including:
• theorigin,natureandpropertiesofα, β and γ radiation
• thedetectionofα, β and γ radiation
• stable,unstable,naturalandartifcialisotopes
• productionofartifcialradioisotopes
• thehalf-lifeofaradioactiveisotope
• radiationdosesfrominternalandexternalsources
• effectsofα, β and γ radiation on humans and other
organisms
• nucleartransformationsanddecayseries.
3 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
atoms
In order to understand radioactivity, it is necessary to be familiar with the
structure of the atom. The central part of an atom, the nucleus, consists of
particles known as protons and neutrons. Collectively, these particles are
called nucleons, and are almost identical in mass and size. However, they
have very different electrical properties. Protons have a positive charge,
whereas neutrons are electrically neutral and have no charge. The nucleus
contains nearly all of the mass of the atom, but accounts for less than a
million millionth (10
−12
) of its volume. Most of an atom is empty space that
is only occupied by negatively charged particles called electrons. These
are much smaller and lighter than protons or neutrons and they orbit the
nucleus of the atom at high speed.
The simplest atom is hydrogen. It consists of just a single proton with a
single electron orbiting at a distance of about 5 × 10
−11
m. Compare this with
a uranium-238 atom. Its nucleus contains 92 protons and 146 neutrons. Its
92 electrons orbit the nucleus. Uranium-238 is the heaviest atom found in
the Earth’s crust.
Two important terms that are used to describe the nucleus of an atom are its:
• ATOMIC NUMB…R (Z)—the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom.
• MASS NUMB…R (A)—the total number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus.
A particular atom can be identified by using the following format:
mass number

A
Z
X
element symbol
atomic number
The atomic number defines the element. Atoms with the same number
of protons will all belong to the same element. For example, if an atom has
six protons in its nucleus (i.e. Z = 6) then it is the element carbon. Any atom
containing six protons is the element carbon, regardless of the number of
neutrons.
In an electrically neutral atom, the number of electrons is equal to the
number of protons. Any neutral atom of uranium (Z = 92) has 92 protons
and 92 electrons.
The complete list of elements is shown in the periodic table in
Figure 1.6.
Isotopes
All atoms of a particular element will have the same number of protons,
but may have a different number of neutrons. For example, lithium exists
naturally in two different forms. One type of lithium atom has three
protons and three neutrons. The other type has three protons and four
neutrons. These different forms of lithium are isotopes of lithium. Isotopes
are chemically identical to each other. They react and bond with other atoms
in precisely the same way. The number of neutrons in the nucleus does
not influence the way in which an atom interacts with other atoms. The
To gain an idea of the emptiness of
atoms and matter, consider this example.
If the nucleus of an atom was the size of
a pea and this was placed in the centre
of the MCG, the electrons would orbit in
a three-dimensional space that would
extend into the grandstands.
Physics file
Figure 1.2 (a) hydrogen is the simplest atom.
It consists of just one proton and one electron.
(b) Uranium-238 is the heaviest naturally
occurring atom. Its nucleus contains 238
nucleons—92 protons and 146 neutrons.
Figure 1.1 the nucleus of an atom occupies about
10
−12
of the volume of the atom, yet it contains
more than 99% of its mass. atoms are mostly
empty space!
A
to
m
s
, is
o
to
p
e
s
a
n
d
ra
d
io
is
o
to
p
e
s
1.1
(a)
(b)
nucleus consisting of
protons ( )
neutrons ( ) and
cloud of electrons
4 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Figure 1.3 Isotopes of lithium. (a) the nucleus
of a lithium-6 atom contains three protons and
three neutrons. (b) the nucleus of a lithium-7
atom contains three protons and four neutrons.
difference between isotopes lies in their physical properties. More neutrons
in the nucleus will mean that these atoms have a higher density.
ISOTOP…S are atoms that have the same number of protons but different numbers
of neutrons. Isotopes have the same chemical properties but different physical
properties.
When referring to a particular nucleus, we talk about a nuclide. In this
case, we ignore the presence of the electrons. For example, the nuclide
lithium-6 has three protons and three neutrons. Stable isotopes can be found
for most of the elements and, in all, there are about 270 stable isotopes in
nature. Tin (Z = 50) has ten stable isotopes, while aluminium (Z = 13) has
just one.
radioisotopes
Most of the atoms that make up the world around us are stable. Their
nuclei have not altered in the billions of years since they were formed and,
on their own, they will not change in the years to come.
However, there are also naturally occurring isotopes that are unstable. An
unstable nucleus may spontaneously lose energy by emitting a particle and
so change into a different element or isotope. Unstable atoms are radioactive
and an individual radioactive isotope is known as a radioisotope. By way
of illustration, carbon has two stable isotopes, carbon-12 and carbon-13,
and one isotope in nature that is not stable. This is carbon-14. The nucleus
of a radioactive carbon-14 atom may spontaneously decay, emitting high-
energy particles that can be dangerous. If you look at the periodic table in
Figure 1.6, you will see that every isotope of every element with atomic
mass greater than that of bismuth (Z = 83) is radioactive.
Most of the elements found on Earth have naturally occurring
radioisotopes; there are about 200 of these in all. As well as these, about
2000 radioisotopes have been manufactured. During the 20th century, an
enormous number of radioisotopes were produced in a process known as
artificial transmutation.
artificial transmutation: how radioisotopes are
manufactured
Natural radioisotopes were used in the early days of research into radiation.
Today, most of the radioisotopes that are used in industrial and medical
applications are synthesised by artificial transmutation. There are now
more than 2000 such artificial radioisotopes. In the periodic table, every
element with an atomic number greater than 92 (i.e. past uranium) is
radioactive and is produced in this way.
One of the ways that artificial radioisotopes are manufactured is by
neutron absorption. (In Australia, this is done at the Lucas Heights reactor
near Sydney.) In this method, a sample of a stable isotope is placed
inside a nuclear reactor and bombarded with neutrons. When one of the
bombarding, or irradiating, neutrons collides with a nucleus of the stable
isotope, the neutron is absorbed into the nucleus. This creates an unstable
isotope of the sample element.
Figure 1.4 this symbol is used to label and
identify a radioactive source.
Figure 1.5 artificial radioisotopes for medical
and industrial uses are manufactured in the core
of the Lucas heights reactor in Sydney. this is
australia’s only nuclear reactor facility and has
been operating since 1958. the original reactor
was replaced by the OpaL (Open pool australian
Light-water) reactor in 2007.
(a)
(b)
55 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
This is how the radioisotope cobalt-60 (widely used for cancer treatment)
is manufactured. A sample of the naturally occurring and stable isotope
cobalt-59 is irradiated with neutrons. Some of the cobalt-59 nuclei absorb
neutrons and this results in a quantity of cobalt-60 being produced:
1
0
n +
59
27
Co →
60
27
Co. This nuclear transformation is illustrated in Figure 1.7.
The heaviest stable isotope in the
universe is
209
83
Bi. Every isotope of every
element with more than 83 protons,
i.e. beyond bismuth in the periodic
table, is radioactive. For example,
every isotope of uranium (Z = 92) is
radioactive. Technetium (Z = 43) and
promethium (Z = 61) are the only
elements with an atomic number below
bismuth (Z = 83) that do not have any
stable isotopes. Uranium is the heaviest
element that occurs naturally on Earth.
All the elements with atomic numbers
greater than 92 have been artificially
manufactured.
Physics file
Figure 1.6 the periodic table of elements.
Figure 1.7 the artificial radioisotope cobalt-60 is used extensively in the treatment of cancer.
It is produced by bombarding a sample of cobalt-59 with neutrons.
Group
Period 1
Group
2
3
4
5
6
7
Lanthanides
Actinides
Every isotope of these
elements is radioactive
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
1 2
H He
1.01 4.00
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Li Be B C N O F Ne
6.94 9.01 10.81 12.01 14.01 16.00 19.00 20.18
11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
Na Mg Al Si P S Cl Ar
22.99 24.31 26.98 28.09 30.97 32.06 35.45 39.95
19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36
K Ca Sc Ti V Cr Mn Fe Co Ni Cu Zn Ga Ge As Se Br Kr
39.10 40.08 44.96 47.90 50.94 52.00 54.94 55.85 58.93 58.71 63.54 65.37 69.72 72.59 74.92 78.96 79.91 83.80
37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
Rb Sr Y Zr Nb Mo Tc Ru Rh Pd Ag Cd In Sn Sb Te I Xe
85.47 87.62 88.91 91.22 92.91 95.94 (99) 101.07 102.91 106.4 107.87 112.40 114.82 118.69 121.75 127.60 126.90 131.30
55 56 57 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86
Cs Ba La Hf Ta W Re Os Ir Pt Au Hg Tl Pb Bi Po At Rn
132.91 137.34 138.91 178.49 180.95 183.85 186.2 190.2 192.2 195.09 196.97 200.59 204.37 207.19 208.98 (210) (210) (222)
87 88 89 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118
Fr Ra Ac Rf Db Sg Bh Hs Mt Ds Rg Uub Uut Uuq Uup Uuh Uuo
(223) (226) (227) (261) (262) (263) (264) (277) (268) (271) (272) (277) (289) (289) (293)
58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71
Ce Pr Nd Pm Sm Eu Gd Tb Dy Ho Er Tm Yb Lu
140.12 140.91 144.24 (145) 150.35 151.96 157.25 158.92 162.50 164.93 167.26 168.93 173.04 174.97
90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103
Th Pa U Np Pu Am Cm Bk Cf Es Fm Md No Lr
232.04 (231) 238.03 (237) (242) (243) (247) (247) (249) (254) (253) (256) (254) (257)
cobalt-59: stable cobalt-60: radioactive
6 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Worked example 1.1A
Use the periodic table in Figure 1.6 to determine:
a the symbol for element
95
42
X
b the number of protons, nucleons and neutrons in this isotope.
Solution
a From the periodic table, the element with an atomic number of 42 is Mo, molybdenum.
b the lower number is the atomic number, so this isotope has 42 protons. the upper
number is the mass number. this indicates the number of particles in the nucleus, i.e.
the number of nucleons, so this atom has 95 nucleons. the number of neutrons can be
found by subtracting 42 from the mass number. this isotope has 53 neutrons.
Physics in action
Quarks and other subatomic particles!
Our understanding of the atom has changed greatly in the
past 100 years. It was once thought that atoms were like
miniature billiard balls: solid and indivisible. The word ‘atom’
comes from the Greek ‘atomos’ meaning indivisible. That idea
was changed forever when the first subatomic particles—the
electron, the proton and then the neutron—were discovered in
the period from 1897 to 1932.
Since World War II, further research has uncovered about
300 other subatomic particles! Examples of these include pi-
mesons, mu-mesons, kaons, tau leptons and neutrinos. For
many years, physicists found it difficult to make sense of this
array of subatomic particles. It was known that one family
of particles called the leptons had six members: electron,
electron-neutrino, muon, muon-neutrino, tau and tau-neutrino.
Then in 1964 Murray Gell-Mann put forward a simple
theory. He suggested that most subatomic particles were
themselves composed of a number of more fundamental
particles called quarks. Currently, it is accepted that there
are six different quarks, each with different properties (and
strange names!): up, down, charmed, strange, top and bottom.
The latest quark to be identified was the top quark, whose
existence was confirmed in 1995. The proton consists of
two up quarks and one down quark, while neutrons consist
of one up quark and two down quarks. Subatomic particles
that consist of quarks are known as hadrons. Leptons are
indivisible point particles; they are not composed of quarks.
A significant amount of effort and money has been
directed to testing Gel-Mann’s theory—both theoretically
and experimentally. This has involved the construction of
larger and larger particle accelerators such as Fermilab in
Chicago and CERN in Geneva. Australia built its own particle
accelerator—a synchrotron—next to Monash University. This
began operating in 2007.
While the current theory suggests that quarks and leptons
are the ultimate fundamental particles that cannot be further
divided, the nature of scientific theories and models is such
that they can change as new experimental data are obtained.
Are quarks and leptons made of smaller particles again? Time
will tell!
Figure 1.8 this particle accelerator is at the cerN european centre for high-
energy physics. It accelerates protons from
rest to 99.99995% of the speed
of light in under 20 seconds!
77 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
• Thenucleusofanatomconsistsofpositivelycharged
protons and neutral neutrons. Collectively, protons
and neutrons are known as nucleons. Negatively
charged electrons orbit the nucleus.
• The atomic number, Z, is the number of protons in
the nucleus. The mass number, A, is the number of
nucleons in the nucleus, i.e. the combined number of
protons and neutrons.
• Isotopes of an element have the same number of
protons but a different number of neutrons. Isotopes
of an element are chemically identical to each other,
but have different physical properties.
• An unstable isotope—a radioisotope—may spon­
tan eously decay by emitting a particle from the
nucleus.
• Artificialradioisotopesaremanufacturedinaprocess
called artificial transmutation. This commonly takes
place as a result of neutron bombardment in the core
of a nuclear reactor.
1.1 summary
atoms, isotopes and radioisotopes
1.1 questions
atoms, isotopes and radioisotopes
1 How many protons, neutrons and nucleons are in
the following nuclides?
a
45
20
Ca
b
197
79
Au
c
235
92
U
d
230
90
Th
2 How many protons and neutrons are in these atoms?
Use the periodic table to answer this question.
a Cobalt-60
b Plutonium-239
c Carbon-14
3 What is the difference between a stable isotope
and a radioisotope? Give three examples of stable
isotopes.
4 Can a natural isotope be radioactive? If so, give an
example of such an isotope.
5 Which of these atoms are definitely radioactive?

24
12
Mg,
59
27
Co,
195
78
Pt,
210
84
Po,
238
92
U
Explain how you made your choice.
6 a A proton has a radius of 1.07 × 10
−15
m and a mass
of 1.67 × 10
−27
kg. Using the fact that the volume of
a sphere is V =
4
3
πr
3
and density =
mass
volume
:
i calculate the volume of a proton
ii calculate the density of a proton.
b If we assume that the density of an atomic nucleus
is equal to that of a proton, determine the mass of
1 cm
3
of nuclear material.
c How many 1 tonne cars would it take to balance
1 cm
3
of nuclear material?
d What does this tell you about the density of normal
matter compared to the density of atomic nuclei?
7 The nucleus of a gold atom has a radius of 6.2 × 10
−15
m
while the atom itself has a radius of 1.3 × 10
−10
m.
Using the volume formula from the previous
question, determine the value of the fraction:
volume of nucleus
volume of atom
8 As part of a science project, a student wanted to
make a scale model of a gold atom using a marble
of radius 1.0 cm as the nucleus. Calculate the radius
of the sphere to be occupied by the electrons in this
model. Use the information in question 7 to assist
your calculations.
9 Krypton-84 is stable but krypton-89 is radioactive.
a Discuss any differences in how these atoms would
interact chemically with other atoms.
b Describe the difference in the composition of these
two atoms.
10 A particular artificial radioisotope is manufactured
by bombarding the stable isotope
27
Al with neutrons.
The radioisotope is produced when each atom of
27
Al absorbs one neutron into the nucleus. Identify
the radioisotope that is produced as a result of this
process.
8 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
R
a
d
io
a
c
tiv
ity
a
n
d
h
o
w
it is
d
e
te
c
te
d
Through the Middle Ages, alchemists had tried without success to change
lead into gold. They thought that it would be possible to devise a chemical
process that would change one element into another. We now know that it
is extremely difficult to change one element into another and that chemistry
is not the way to do it. About 100 years ago, Ernest Rutherford and Paul
Villard discovered that there were three different types of emission from
radioactive substances. They named these alpha, beta and gamma
radiation. Further experiments showed that the alpha and beta emissions
were actually particles expelled from the nucleus. Gamma radiation was
found to be high-energy electromagnetic radiation, also emanating from
the nucleus. When these radioactive decays occur, the original atom
spontaneously changes into an atom of a different element. Nature was
already doing what the alchemists had so fruitlessly tried to do!
alpha decay
4
2
α
When a heavy nucleus undergoes radioactive decay, it may eject an alpha
particle. An alpha particle is a positively charged chunk of matter. It consists
of two protons and two neutrons that have been ejected from the nucleus
of a radioactive atom. An alpha particle is identical to a helium nucleus and
can also be written as
4
2
He
2+
, α
2+
,
4
2
α or simply α.

Uranium-238 is radioactive and may decay by emitting an alpha particle
from its nucleus. This can be represented in a nuclear equation in which the
changes occurring in the nuclei can be seen. Electrons are not considered
in these equations—only nucleons. The equation for the alpha decay of
uranium-238 is:
238
92
U →
234
90
Th +
4
2
α + energy
or
238
92
U
α

234
90
Th
In the decay process, the parent nucleus
238
92
U has spontaneously emitted
an alpha particle (α) and has changed into a completely different element,
234
90
Th. Thorium-234 is called the daughter nucleus. The energy released is
mostly kinetic energy carried by the fast-moving alpha particle.
When an atom changes into a different element, it is said to have
undergone a nuclear transmutation. In nuclear transmutations, electric
charge is conserved—seen as a conservation of atomic number. In the
above example 92 = 90 + 2. The number of nucleons is also conserved:
238 = 234 + 4.
Figure 1.9 Marie curie performed pioneering
work on radioactive materials. In fact, Marie
curie coined the term ‘radioactivity’ and is the
only scientist to have been awarded two Nobel
prizes. She received one for chemistry and one
for physics.
Figure 1.10 ernest rutherford was born in New
Zealand and is considered to be one of the
greatest experimental physicists that ever lived.
his discoveries form the foundation of nuclear
physics.
Figure 1.11 When the nucleus of uranium-238 decays, it will spontaneously eject a high
speed alpha particle that consists of two protons and two neutrons. the remaining nucleus is
thorium-234. Kinetic energy, carried by the thorium-234 and alpha particles, is released as a
result of this decay.
1.2
alpha particle
thorium-234 uranium-238: unstable
99 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
A different form of beta decay occurs in
atoms that have too many protons. An
example of this is the radioactive decay
of unstable nitrogen-12. There are seven
protons and five neutrons in the nucleus,
and a proton may spontaneously change
into a neutron and emit a neutrino and
a positively charged beta particle. This is
known as a β
+
(beta-positive) decay and
the positively charged beta particle is
called a positron.
The equation for this decay is:
12
7
N →
12
6
C +
+1
0
e + ν + energy
Positrons,
+1
0
β, have the same
properties as electrons, but their
electrical charge is positive rather than
negative. Positrons are an example of
antimatter.
Physics file
In any nuclear reaction, including radioactive decay, atomic and mass numbers are
conserved. Energy is released during these decays.
!
Beta decay
–1
0
β
Beta particles are electrons, but they are electrons that have originated
from the nucleus of a radioactive atom, not from the electron cloud. A beta
particle can be written as
−1
0
e, β, β

or
−1
0
β. The atomic number of −1 indicates
that it has a single negative charge, and the mass number of zero indicates
that its mass is far less than that of a proton or a neutron.
Beta decay occurs in nuclei in which there is an imbalance of neutrons
to protons. Typically, if a light nucleus has too many neutrons to be stable,
a neutron will spontaneously change into a proton, and an electron and an
uncharged massless particle called an antineutrino ν

are ejected to restore
the nucleus to a more stable state.
Consider the isotopes of carbon:
12
6
C,
13
6
C and
14
6
C. Carbon-12 and
carbon-13 are both stable, but carbon-14 is unstable. It has more neutrons
and so undergoes a beta decay to become stable. In this process one of the
neutrons changes into a proton. As a result, the proton number increases to
seven, and so the product is not carbon. Nitrogen-14 is formed and energy
is released.
The nuclear equation for this decay is:
14
6
C →
14
7
N +
−1
0
β + ν

+ energy
The transformation taking place inside the nucleus is:
1
0
n →
1
1
p +
−1
0
e + ν

Once again, notice that in all these equations the atomic and mass
numbers are conserved. (The antineutrino has no charge and has so little
mass that both its atomic and mass numbers are zero.)
Gamma decay γ
Generally, after a radioisotope has emitted an alpha or beta particle, the
daughter nucleus holds an excess of energy. The protons and neutrons in
the daughter nucleus then rearrange slightly and off-load this excess energy
by releasing gamma radiation (high-frequency electromagnetic radiation).
Gammarays—likealllight—havenomassandareunchargedandsotheir
symbol is
0
0
γ. Being a form of light, gamma rays travel at the speed of light.
A common example of a gamma ray emitter is iodine-131. Iodine-131
decays by beta and gamma emission to form xenon-131 as shown in
Figure 1.13.
Figure 1.12 the nucleus of carbon-14 is unstable. In order to achieve stability, one neutron
transforms into a proton, and an electron and antineutrino are emitted in the process.
the emitted electron is a beta particle, and it travels at nearly the speed of light.
carbon–14:
unstable
nitrogen–14:
stable
antineutrino N
beta particle
–1
0
B
10 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
The equation for this decay is:
131
53
I →
131
54
Xe +
−1
0
e + γ
or
131
53
I
β, γ

131
54
Xe
Since gamma rays carry no charge and have almost no mass, they have no
effect when balancing the atomic or mass numbers in a nuclear equation.
The chart in Figure 1.14 identifies the 272 stable nuclides, as well as some
radionuclides and decay modes.
Worked example 1.2A
Strontium-90 decays by radioactive emission to form yttrium-90. the equation is:
90
38
Sr


90
39
Y

+ X
Determine the atomic and mass numbers for X and identify the type of radiation that is
emitted during this decay.
Solution
By balancing the equation, it is found that X has a mass number of zero and an atomic
number of −1. X is an electron and so this must be beta decay. the full equation is
90
38
Sr →
90
39
Y +
−1
0
e.
Worked example 1.2B
Iodine-131, a radioisotope that is used in the treatment of thyroid cancer, is produced in a
two-stage process. First, tellurium-130 (
130
52
te) is bombarded with neutrons inside the core
of a nuclear reactor. this results in the formation of the very unstable tellurium-131 and a
gamma ray.
a Write down the balanced nuclear equation for this process.
b tellurium-131 decays by beta emission to produce a daughter nuclide and an
antineutrino. Identify the daughter nuclide.
Solution
a
130
52

te +
1
0
n →
131
52

te + γ
b Both the atomic and mass number of the antineutrino are zero. the beta particle has a
mass number of zero and an atomic number of –1.

131
52

te →
131
53

X +
−1
0
β + ν

Balancing the nuclear equation gives the unknown element an atomic number of
53 and a mass number of 131. the periodic table reveals the daughter nuclide to be
iodine-131.
Gamma decay alone occurs when
a nucleus is left in an energised or
excited state following an alpha or beta
decay. This excited state is known as a
metastable state and it usually only
lasts for a short time. An example of this
is the radioactive decay of iodine-131,
usually a two-stage process. First, a
beta particle is emitted and the excited
nuclide xenon-131m is formed. Then, the
nucleus undergoes a second decay by
emitting a gamma ray:
13
5
1
3
I →
131
5
m
4
Xe +
−1
0
e
131
5
m
4
Xe →
13
5
1
4
Xe + γ
The ‘m’ denotes an unstable
or metastable state. Cobalt-60 and
technetium-99 also exist in metastable
states.
Physics file
Figure 1.13 In the beta decay of iodine-131, a high-energy gamma ray photon is also emitted.
this high-energy electromagnetic radiation has no electric charge—just energy. the beta
particle and xenon nucleus also carry energy.
iodine-131:
unstable
xenon-131
gamma ray
0
0
G
beta particle
–1
0
B
11 11 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Figure 1.14 From this table of stable isotopes and radioisotopes, it is evident that for larger nuclei there is a distinct imbalance between the number of
protons and neutrons. the ‘line of stability’ of the stable nuclides can be seen as a line that curves away from the N = Z line. Notice that every element, up
to and including bismuth, has stable isotopes, except for technetium and promethium. also notice that every isotope of every element beyond bismuth is
radioactive.

A

AAA

A
A
AAA
AAAA
AAAAAAA

AAAA
AAAAA
AAAAA
AAAAA AA
AAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAA

AAA
AAA
AAA
AAA
AAAA
AAAA
AAAA

A

AAAAAA
AAAA
AAAA
AAAA
AAAA
AAAA
AAAA

A
A
A
A
A

A

AAA
AAA
AAAA
AAAAAA
AAAAAA
AAAAAA
AAAAAA
AAAAAA
AAAAAA
AAAAAAA

AAAAAA
AAAAAAA
AAAAAA
AAAAA
AAAAA
AAAAA
AAA
AAA
AAA
AAA
A
A
A
AA
AA
A
A

A

AAAA
AAAA
AAAAAA
AAAAAA
AAAAAA
AAAAAA
AAAAAA
A
AA
AA
AAAA
AAA
AAA
AA
AA
AA
A
A
AA
AA
AAAA
AAA
AAA
AAA
AAA
AAA
AAA
‘Line of stability’

N = Z

A
A
140
130
120
110
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
N
u
m
b
e
r

o
f

n
e
u
t
r
o
n
s

(
N
)
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Atomic number (Z)
Bismuth, Z = 83
Promethium, Z = 61
Technetium, Z = 43
stable nuclide
B

emitter
B

emitter
A emitter
Key
12 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Why radioactive nuclei are unstable
Inside the nucleus there are two completely different forces acting. The
first is an electric force of repulsion between the protons. On its own, this
would blow the nucleus apart, so clearly a second force must act to bind
the nucleus together. This is the nuclear force, a strong force of attraction
between nucleons, which acts only over a very short range.
In a stable nucleus, there is a delicate balance between the repulsive
electric force and the attractive nuclear force. For example, bismuth-209,
the heaviest stable isotope, has 83 protons and 126 neutrons, and the forces
between the nucleons balance to make the nucleus stable. Compare this
with bismuth-211. It has two extra neutrons and this upsets the balance
between forces. The nucleus of
211
Bi is unstable and it ejects an alpha particle
in an attempt to attain nuclear stability.
Figure 1.14 shows all the stable nuclei with their proton and neutron
numbers. It is evident that there is a ‘line of stability’ along which the nuclei
tend to cluster. Nuclei away from this line are radioactive. For small nuclei
with atomic numbers up to about 20, the ratio of neutrons to protons is
close to one. However, as the nuclei become bigger, so too does the ratio
of neutrons to protons. Zirconium (Z = 40) has a neutron to proton ratio
of about 1.25, while for mercury (Z = 80) the ratio is close to 1.66. This
indicates that for higher numbers of protons, nuclei must have even more
neutrons to remain stable. These neutrons dilute the repelling forces that
act between the extra protons. Elements with more protons than bismuth
(Z = 83) simply have too much repulsive charge and additional neutrons
are unable to stabilise their nuclei. All of these atoms are radioactive.
how radiation is detected
Our bodies cannot detect alpha, beta or gamma radiation. Therefore a
number of devices have been developed to detect and measure radiation.
A common detector is the Geiger counter. These are used:
• bygeologistssearchingforradioactivemineralssuchasuranium
• tomonitorradiationlevelsinmines
• to measure the level of radiation after a nuclear accident such as the
accident at Chernobyl
• tocheckthesafetyofnuclearreactors
• tomonitorradiationlevelsinhospitalsandfactories.
A Geiger counter consists of a Geiger–Muller tube filled with argon gas
as shown in Figure 1.15. A voltage of about 400 V is maintained between the
positively charged central electrode and the negatively charged aluminium
tube. When radiation enters the tube through the thin mica window, the
argon gas becomes ionised and releases electrons. These electrons are
attracted towards the central electrode and ionise more argon atoms along
the way. For an instant, the gas between the electrodes becomes ionised
enough to conduct a pulse of current between the electrodes. This pulse is
registered as a count. The counter is often connected to a small loudspeaker
so that the count is heard as a ‘click’.
People who work where there is a risk of continuing exposure to low-
level radiation usually pin a small radiation-monitoring device to their
clothing.
Neutrinos are particles with the lowest
mass in nature, and they permeate the
universe. Neutrinos have no charge
and their mass has only recently been
discovered to be about one-billionth
that of a proton, i.e. about 10
−36
kg.
While you have been reading these
sentences, billions of neutrinos have
passed right through your body, and
continued on to pass right through
the Earth! Fortunately neutrinos
interact with matter very rarely and
so are completely harmless. It has
been estimated that if neutrinos passed
through a piece of lead 8 light-years
thick, they would still have only a 50%
chance of being absorbed!
Physics file
Figure 1.15 a radioactive emission that enters
the tube in a Geiger counter will ionise the
argon gas and cause a pulse of electrons to flow
between the electrodes. this pulse registers as a
count on a meter.
Interactive tutorial 1
atomic stability
+

thin mica
window
positively charged
electrode
argon
gas
negatively charged
aluminium tube
13 13 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
This could be either a film badge or a TLD (thermoluminescent
dosimeter). These devices are used by personnel in nuclear power plants,
hospitals, airports, dental laboratories and uranium mines to check their
daily exposure to radiation. When astronauts go on space missions, they
wear monitoring badges to check their exposure to damaging cosmic rays.
Film badges contain photographic film in a lightproof holder. The holder
contains several filters of varying thickness and materials covering a piece
of film. After being worn for a few weeks, the film is developed. Analysis of
the film enables the type and amount of radiation to which the person has
been exposed to be determined.
Thermoluminescent dosimeters are more commonly used than film
badges. TLDs contain a disk of lithium fluoride encased in plastic. Lithium
fluoride can detect beta and gamma radiation as well as X-rays and
neutrons. Thermoluminescent dosimeters are a cheap and reliable method
for measuring radiation doses.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 1
Detecting radiation with a Geiger–
Muller tube
Figure 1.16 Film badges are used by doctors,
radiologists, dentists and technicians who work
with radiation, to monitor their exposure levels.
Physics in action
how technetium is produced
Technetium-99m is the most widely used radioisotope in
nuclear medicine. It is used for diagnosing and treating
cancer. However, this radioisotope decays relatively
quickly and so usually needs to be produced close to
where it is to be used. Technetium-99m is produced in
small nuclear generators that are located in hospitals
around the country. In this process, the radioisotope
molybdenum-99, obtained from Lucas Heights, is used
as the parent nuclide. Molybdenum-99 decays by beta
emission to form a relatively stable (or metastable)
isotope of technetium, technetium-99m, as shown
below:
99
42
Mo →
99m
43
Tc +
−1
0
β + ν

Technetium-99m is flushed from the generator
using a saline solution. The radioisotope is then
diluted and attached to an appropriate chemical
compound before being administered to the
patient as a tracer. Technetium-99m is purely a
gamma emitter. This makes it very useful as a
diagnostic tool for locating and treating cancer.
Its decay equation is:
99m
43
Tc →
99
43
Tc + γ
Figure 1.17 technetium
generators are used in hospitals that require
radioisotopes. the generator has a thick lead shield that absorbs the beta
and gam
m
a radiation.
14 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
1 From which part of a radioisotope, the nucleus or the
electron cloud, are the following particles emitted?
a alpha particles b beta particles c gamma rays
2 Discuss the physical differences between α, β and γ
rays.
3 Identify each of these particles.
a
−1
0
A b
1
1
B c
4
2
C d
1
0
D
4 Determine the atomic and mass numbers for the
unknown elements, X, in these decay equations, then
use the periodic table to identify the elements.
a
218
84
Po → X + α + γ b
235
92
U
α, γ


X
c
228
88
Ra → X + β + γ d
198
79
Au
β, γ
→ X
5 Determine the mode of radioactive decay for each of
the following transmutations.
a
218
86
Rn →
214
84
Po + X + γ b
234
91
Pa
x, γ

234
92
U
c
214
82
Pb →
214
83
Bi + X + γ d
239
94
Pu
x, γ

235
92
U
e
60m
27
Co →
60
27
Co + X
6 When the stable isotope boron-10 is bombarded with
neutrons, it transmutes by neutron capture into a
different element X and emits alpha particles. The
equation for this reaction is:
10
5
B +
1
0
n → X +
4
2
He.
Identify the final element formed.
7 Identify the unknown particles in these nuclear
transmutations.
a
14
7
N + α →
17
8
O + X b
27
13
Al + X →
27
12
Mg +
1
1
H
c
14
7
N + X →
14
6
C +
1
1
p d
23
11
Na + X →
26
12
Mg +
1
1
H
8 Carbon-14 decays by beta emission to form
nitrogen-14. The equation for this is
14
6
C →
14
7
N +
−1
0
e +
ν

. It can be seen that the carbon nucleus initially has
six protons and eight neutrons.
a List the particles that comprise the decay side of
this equation.
b Analyse the particles and determine which particle
from the parent nucleus has decayed.
c Write an equation that describes the nature of this
decay.
d Energy is released during this decay. In what form
does this energy exist?
9 Use the chart in Figure 1.14 to answer these
questions.
a List all the stable nuclides of calcium, Z = 20.
b How many stable nuclides does niobium, Z = 41,
have?
c
48
19
K has a large imbalance of neutrons over protons
and so is radioactive. Find potassium-48 on the
chart and determine whether it is an alpha or beta
emitter.
d Write the decay equation for potassium-48 and
determine whether the daughter nucleus is itself
stable or radioactive.
e Calculate the ratio of neutrons to protons for each
of potassium-48 and its daughter nucleus.
f
217
87
Fr is a radioisotope. Is it an alpha or beta
emitter?
g Determine the decay processes that francium-217
undergoes before it becomes a stable nuclide;
identify this nuclide.
10 Gold has only one naturally occurring isotope,
197
Au.
If a piece of gold foil is irradiated with neutrons,
neutron capture will occur and a radioactive isotope
of gold will be produced. This radioisotope is a beta
emitter. Write an equation that describes the:
a neutron absorption process
b decay process.
• Radioactiveisotopesmaydecay,emittingalpha,beta
and gamma radiation from their nuclei.
• Analphaparticle,α, consists of two protons and two
neutrons. It is identical to a helium nucleus and can
be written as
4
2
α, α
2+
or
4
2
He.
• A beta particle, β, is an electron,
−1
0
e, that has been
emit ted from the nucleus of a radioactive atom as a
result of a neutron transmuting into a proton.
• A gamma ray, γ, is high-energy electromagnetic
radiation that is emitted from the nuclei of radioactive
atoms. Gamma rays usually accompany an alpha or
beta emission.
• In any nuclear reaction, both atomic and mass
numbers are conserved.
• Radiation can be detected using a device such as a
Geiger counter. People can monitor their exposure to
radiation with film badges and thermoluminescent
dosimeters.
1.2 questions
radioactivity and how it is detected
1.2 summary
radioactivity and how it is detected
15 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Figure 1.18 When radiation from radium passes
through a magnetic field, the radiation splits
up and takes three different paths. One path
is undeflected. the other two paths deviate in
opposite directions and to different extents. this
suggests that there are three different forms of
radiation being emitted from radium.
Figure 1.20 Gamma rays can pass through
human tissue and sheets of aluminium quite
readily. a 5 cm thick sheet of lead is needed
to stop 97% of the gamma rays in a beam. By
comparison, alpha particles are not capable of
penetrating through a sheet of paper or beyond
the skin of a person.
1.3
P
ro
p
e
rtie
s
o
f a
lp
h
a
, b
e
ta

a
n
d
g
a
m
m
a
ra
d
ia
tio
n
Alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays all originate from the same
place—the nucleus of a radioisotope. Each type of radiation has enough
energy to dislodge electrons from the atoms and molecules that they smash
into. This property is what makes radiation dangerous, but it also enables
it to be detected. The properties of alpha, beta and gamma radiation
are distinctly different from each other. During early investigations of
radioactivity, the emissions from a sample of radium were directed through
a magnetic field. As shown in Figure 1.18, the emissions followed three
distinct paths, suggesting that there were three different forms of radiation
being emitted.
alpha particles
Alpha particles, α, consist of two protons and two neutrons. Because
an alpha particle contains four nucleons, it is relatively heavy and slow
moving. It is emitted from the nucleus at speeds of up to 20 000 km s
−1

(2.0 × 10
7
m s
−1
), just less than 10% of the speed of light.
Alpha particles have a double positive charge. This, combined with their
relatively slow speed, makes them very easy to stop. They only travel a
few centimetres in air before losing their energy, and will be completely
absorbed by thin card. They have a poor penetrating ability.
Beta particles
Beta particles, β, are fast-moving electrons, created when a neutron
decays into three parts—a proton, an electron (the beta particle) and an
antineutrino. Beta particles are much lighter than alpha particles, and so
they leave the nucleus with far higher speeds—up to 90% of the speed
of light.
Figure 1.19 the relative speeds of alpha, beta and gamma radiation. (a) alpha particles are
the slowest of the radioactive emissions. typically they are emitted from the nucleus at up to
10% of the speed of light. (b) Beta particles are emitted from the nucleus at speeds up to 90%
of the speed of light. (c) Gamma radiation, being high-energy light, travels at the speed of light
(3.0 × 10
8
m s
−1
).
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 2
a model of alpha scattering
N
S
Ra
magnet
α
γ
β
α
β
γ
aluminium lead
(a)
(b)
(c)
c
~0.1c
~0.9c
4
2
A
–1
0
B
0
0
G ray
16 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Beta particles are more penetrating than alpha particles, being faster
and with a smaller charge. They will travel a few metres through air but,
typically, a sheet of aluminium about 1 mm thick will stop them.
Gamma rays
Gamma rays, γ, being electromagnetic radiation with a very high
frequency,havenorestmassandtravelatthespeedoflight—3.0× 10
8
m s
−1

or 300 000 km s
−1
. They have no electric charge. Their high energy and
uncharged nature make them a very penetrating form of radiation. Gamma
rays can travel an almost unlimited distance through air and even a few
centimetres of lead or a metre of concrete would not completely absorb a
beam of gamma rays.
the ionising abilities of alpha, beta and
gamma radiation
When an alpha particle travels through air, its slow speed and double
positive charge cause it to interact with just about every atom that it
encounters. The alpha particle dislodges electrons from many thousands of
these atoms, turning them into ions. Each interaction slows it down a little,
and eventually it will be able to pick up some loose electrons to become
a helium atom. This takes place within a centimetre or two in air. As a
consequence, the air becomes quite ionised, and the alpha particles are said
to have a high ionising ability. Since the alpha particles don’t get very far
in the air, they have a poor penetrating ability.
Beta particles have a negative charge and are repelled by the electron
clouds of the atoms they interact with. This means that when a beta particle
travels through matter, it experiences a large number of glancing collisions
and loses less energy per collision than an alpha particle. As a result, beta
particles do not ionise as readily and will be more penetrating.
Gamma rays have no charge and move at the speed of light, and so are
the most highly penetrating form of radiation. Gamma rays interact with
matter infrequently, when they collide directly with a nucleus or electron.
The low density of an atom makes this a relatively unlikely occurrence.
Gamma rays pass through matter very easily—they have a very poor
ionising ability but a high penetrating ability.
the energy of α, β and γ radiation
The energy of moving objects such as cars and tennis balls is measured
in joules. However, alpha, beta and gamma radiations have such small
amounts of energy that the joule is inappropriate. The energy of radioactive
emissions is usually expressed in electronvolts (eV). An electronvolt is the
energy that an electron would gain if it were accelerated by a voltage of
1 volt.
One …L…CTRONVOLT is an extremely small quantity of energy equal to
1.6 × 10
−19
J, i.e. 1 eV = 1.6 × 10
−19
J.
X-rays and gamma rays are ionising
radiations. They are both high-energy
forms of electromagnetic radiation
(released as high-energy photons), but
gamma rays have higher energies. This
means that gamma rays are more highly
penetrating than X-rays. The defining
distinction between X-rays and gamma
rays is the method of production.
X-rays are created from electron
transitions within the electron cloud,
whereas gamma rays are emitted
from the nuclei of radioactive atoms.
Gamma rays and X-rays have similar
properties, but X-rays are not the result
of radioactive decay.
Physics file
Some types of radiation such as radio
waves are harmless. Other types,
however, are dangerous to humans.
Known as ionising radiation, these
interact with atoms, having enough
energy to remove outer-shell electrons
and create ions. Alpha particles, beta
particles and gamma rays are all
ionising. So too is electromagnetic
radiation with a frequency above
2 × 10
16
Hz. Thus, X-rays and
ultraviolet-B radiation are ionising. When
ionising radiation interacts with human
tissue, it is the ions that it produces
that are harmful and which lead to the
development of cancerous tumours.
Lower energy electromagnetic
radiation such as radio waves,
microwaves, infrared, visible light and
ultraviolet-A are non-ionising. We are
exposed to significant amounts of such
radiation each day with no serious
consequences. Non-ionising radiation
does not have enough energy to
change the chemistry of the atoms and
molecules that make up our body cells.
Physics file
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 3
the diffusion cloud chamber
17 17 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Alpha and beta particles are ejected from unstable nuclei with a wide
range of energies. Alpha particles typically have energies of 5–10 million
electronvolts (5–10 MeV). This corresponds to speeds of about 16 000 km s
−1
,
about 5–10% of the speed of light.
Beta particles are usually ejected with energies up to a few million
electronvolts. For example, sodium-24 emits beta particles with a maximum
energy of 1.4 MeV. This is equivalent to 2.24 × 10
−13
J. These particles are
travelling at speeds quite close to the speed of light.
Gamma rays normally have less than a million electronvolts of energy.
They may even have energy as low as 100 000 electronvolts. For example, the
gamma rays emitted by the radioactive isotope gold-198 have a maximum
energy of 412 000 eV (412 keV) or 6.6 × 10
−14
J. Increasing the energy of a
gamma ray does not increase its speed; it increases the frequency of the
radiation.
table 1.1 the properties of alpha, beta and gamma radiations
Property α particle β particle γ ray
Mass heavy light none
charge +2 −1 none
typical energy ~5 MeV ~1 MeV ~0.1 MeV
range in air a few cm 1 or 2 m many metres
penetration in matter ~10
−2
mm a few mm high
Ionising ability high reasonable poor
Worked example 1.3A
Uranium-238 emits alpha particles with a maximum energy of 4.2 MeV.
a explain why a sample of this radioisotope encased in plastic is quite safe to handle yet,
if inhaled as dust, would be considered very dangerous.
b calculate the energy of one of these alpha particles in joules.
Solution
a the alpha particles have a poor penetrating ability and so would be unable to pass
through the plastic casing. however, if the radioactive uranium was on a dust particle
and was inhaled, the alpha-emitting nuclei would be in direct contact with lung tissue
and the alpha particles would damage this tissue.
b 4.2 MeV = 4.2 × 10
6
eV
= 4.2 × 10
6
× 1.6 × 10
−19
J
= 6.7 × 10
−13
J
The energy released during any nuclear
reaction (including radioactive decay) is
many times greater than that released in
a typical chemical reaction. For example
the chemical reaction of a sodium ion
capturing an electron releases about
1 eV of energy.
Na
+
+ e

→ Na + 1 eV
Nuclear reactions such as alpha,
beta and gamma decays typically
release energies of the order of
megaelectronvolts, MeV, i.e. nuclear
reactions release about a million times
more energy than chemical reactions.
Physics file
Interactive tutorial 1
atomic Stability
18 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Physics in action
Smoke detectors
Beta particles can be used to monitor the thickness of rolled
sheets of metal and plastic during manufacture. A beta
particle source is placed under the newly rolled sheet and a
detector is placed on the other side. If the sheet is being made
too thick, fewer beta particles will penetrate and the detector
count will fall. This information is instantaneously fed back
to the rollers and the pressure is increased until the correct
reading is achieved, and hence the right thickness is attained.
Would alpha particles or gamma rays be appropriate
for this task? Alpha particles have a very poor penetrating
ability, so none of them would pass through the metal. Gamma
rays usually have a high penetrating ability and so a thin
metal sheet would not stop them. Workers would also need
to be shielded from gamma radiation. You can see that the
penetrating properties of beta rays make them ideal for this
job. The thickness of photographic film and coatings on metal
surfaces are also monitored in this way.
Figure 1.22 the thickness of a sheet of metal is monitored using
a strontium-90 isotope. a beam of beta particles is directed into
the metal and those penetrating the metal sheet are counted by
a detector on the other side. this count gives an indication of the
thickness of the metal sheet. the thicker the sheet, the lower the
count in any given time period.
Physics in action
Monitoring the thickness of sheet metal
control box
β source
rollers
Geiger
counter
Each year, dozens of people in Australia die as a result of
domestic fires. Evidence has shown that the installation of a
smoke detector can reduce the risk of dying in a house fire
by about 60%. For this reason, new houses are required to
contain at least one smoke detector. Domestic smoke detectors
contain a small radioactive source. The radioisotope most
commonly used is americium-241, an artificial isotope which
is produced in the core of a nuclear reactor. Americium-241
emits alpha particles and low-energy gamma rays. The
penetrating ability of the alpha particles is so poor that they
are stopped by the case of the detector. Some gamma rays
will escape into the room, but they have such low energy
(~60 keV) that exposure to them is insignificant when
compared with the level of background radiation. As well as
this, the detectors are usually located in the ceiling, some
distance from people, and this distance further reduces the
intensity of the radiation.
A smoke detector contains a pair of oppositely charged
low-voltage metal electrodes. When the alpha particles pass
between these electrodes, they ionise the air molecules that
are present. These ions are then attracted to the electrodes.
However, when smoke (or steam) is present, the ions attach
themselves to the smoke particles. The flow of charges to the
electrodes reduces greatly because these charged smoke (or
steam) particles are much bigger and so much less mobile
than the ionised air molecules. It is this reduction in the flow
of charges reaching the electrodes that triggers the alarm.
Figure 1.21 Sm
oke detectors contain a sm
all quantity of
radioactive m
aterial. W
hen used correctly, they greatly reduce
the chances of being killed or injured in a house fire.
19 19 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
1 As part of an experiment, a scientist fires a beam of
alpha, beta and gamma radiation at a brick. If the
three radiation types are of equal energy, arrange
them in order of:
a increasing penetrating ability
b increasing ionising ability.
2 Which one of the following correctly explains how
penetrating ability relates to the ionising ability of a
radioactive emission?
A Emissions with more ionising ability have greater
penetrating ability.
B Emissions with less ionising ability have more
penetrating ability.
C There is no relationship between the ionising
ability and penetrating ability of a radioactive
emission.
3 An external source of radiation is used to treat a
brain tumour. Which type of radioactive emission is
best suited for this treatment?
4 A radiographer inserts a radioactive wire into a breast
cancer with the intention of destroying the cancerous
cells in close proximity to the wire. Should this wire
be an alpha, beta or gamma emitter? Explain your
reasoning.
5 Cancer patients being treated with an external source
of radiation have to wear lead aprons to protect their
other tissue from exposure. Which forms of radiation
is the lead apron shielding them from?
6 Calculate the energy in joules of:
a an alpha particle with 8.8 MeV of energy
b a beta particle with 0.42 MeV of energy
c a gamma ray with 500 keV of energy.
7 Alpha particles travelling through air ionise about
100 000 atoms each centimetre. Each time they ionise
an atom, the alpha particles lose about 34 eV of
energy.
a How much energy will alpha particles lose as they
pass through 1 cm of air?
b Calculate the approximate distance that an alpha
particle with 5.6 MeV will travel in air before it
loses all of its energy.
8 Which one of the following has the greatest
penetrating ability?
A An alpha particle with 5.3 MeV of energy
B A beta particle with 1.2 MeV of energy
C A gamma ray with 700 keV of energy
D A gamma ray with 0.81 MeV of energy
9 Which radiation identified in question 8 will be the
most damaging to human tissue should irradiation
occur?
10 A radioactive sample is emitting alpha, beta and
gamma radiation into the air. A Geiger counter held
about 20 centimetres from the sample would be most
likely to detect:
A alpha, beta and gamma radiation.
B gamma radiation only.
C alpha radiation only.
D beta and gamma radiation only.
• Alphaparticles,α, are ejected with a speed of about
5–10% of the speed of light. Alpha particles have a
double positive electrical charge and are relatively
heavy. They are a highly ionising form of radiation,
but their penetrating ability is poor.
• Betaparticleshaveasinglenegativeelectricalcharge
and are much lighter than alpha particles. They
are a moderately ionising and penetrating form of
radiation.
• Gamma rays are high­energy electromagnetic
radiation and so have no electrical charge. They
have a high penetrating ability, but a weak ionising
ability.
• The energy of alpha, beta and gamma radiation is
usually measured in electronvolts (eV).
• 1eV= 1.6 × 10
−19
J
1.3 questions
properties of alpha, beta and gamma radiation
1.3 summary
properties of alpha, beta and gamma radiation
20 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
H
a
lf-life
a
n
d
a
c
tiv
ity
o
f ra
d
io
is
o
to
p
e
s
Different radioisotopes will emit radiation and decay at very different rates.
For example, a Geiger counter held close to a small sample of polonium-218
will initially detect a significant amount of radiation, but the activity will
not last for very long. After half an hour or so, there will hardly be any
radiation detected at all.
Compare this with a similar sample of radium-226. A Geiger counter
directed at the radium will show a sustained but low count rate—much
lower than that of the polonium-218 sample. Furthermore, the activity will
remain relatively steady for a very long time. In fact, no change in the count
rate would be noticed for decades!
To explain this, you need to know that radionuclides are unstable but
to different degrees. Consider again the sample of polonium-218. If the
sample initially contains 100 million undecayed polonium-218 nuclei, as
shown in Figure 1.24, after 3 minutes about half of these will have decayed,
leaving just 50 million polonium-218 nuclei. A further 3 minutes later, half
of these remaining polonium-218 nuclei will decay, leaving approximately
25 million of the original radioactive nuclei, and so on.
The time that it takes for half of the nuclei of a radioisotope to decay is
known as the half-life of that radioisotope. The half-life of polonium-218
is 3 minutes.
The decay rate of a radioisotope is measured in terms of its half-life (t
1/2
).
The HALF-LIF… of a radioisotope is the time that it takes for half of the nuclei of the
sample radioisotope to decay spontaneously.
As time passes, a smaller and smaller proportion of the original radio-
isotope remains in the sample. The graph in Figure 1.25 shows this.
It is important to appreciate that although the behaviour of a large
sample of nuclei can be predicted, it is impossible to predict when any
one particular nucleus will decay. The decay of the individual nuclei in a
sample is random. It is rather like throwing dice. If 60 dice are thrown, on
average, 10 will roll up ‘6’. You just don’t know which ones!
Furthermore, the half-life of a radioisotope is constant and is largely
unaf fected by any external conditions such as temperature, magnetic field
or the chemical environment. It is related only to the instability of the
nucleus of the radioisotope.
Figure 1.25 the amount of the original isotope
halves as each half-life passes. this is an
exponential relationship and the mathematical
relationship that describes it is shown.
Figure 1.23 (a) the emissions from polonium-218
only last for a relatively short time. Its activity
decreases very rapidly. (b) the emissions from
a sample of radium-226 remain steady for a
very long time. Its activity does not change
significantly.
Figure 1.24 During one half-life, the number of nuclei of the radioisotope sample decreases by
half (i.e. by 50%). after two half-lives, only one-quarter (25%) of the original radioisotope nuclei
will remain.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 4
an analogue experiment of
radioactive decay
1.4
(a)
30 minutes later
(b)
10 years later
Ra
Ra
Po Po
P
e
r
c
e
n
t
a
g
e

r
e
m
a
i
n
i
n
g
0
Number of half-lives
100


N = N
0
( )
n 1
2
50
25
12.5
1 2 3
where n = no. of half-lives
N
0
= original amount
N = final amount
Initially:
100 million
218
Po nuclei
After 3 minutes:
~ 50 million
218
Po nuclei
After 6 minutes:
~ 25 million
218
Po nuclei
Key: 1 million
218
Po nuclei
21 21 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Try this activity to improve your
understanding of half-life and the rate of
decay of a radioactive sample.
Get 50 dice and toss them all at
once. Each die represents an atom of
a radioisotope. Let those that come up
‘evens’ (i.e. 2, 4 or 6) be the atoms that
have decayed, and remove these from
the sample. Because, on average, half of
the sample will be removed after each
roll, the half-life for this experiment will
be ‘one roll’. Now, toss the remaining
dice and once more remove the ‘decayed
atoms’. Continue this process for say
six or seven rolls until almost all of
the ‘atoms’ have decayed, and plot a
graph of the sample size against the
number of rolls—the decay curve of your
radioisotope.
Now repeat the experiment using the
same dice, but this time only those that
roll up a ‘6’ have decayed. What is the
half-life now?
You will also notice that it is
impossible to predict when a particular
die will ‘decay’—just as it is impossible
to predict when a particular atom in a
real sample will decay.
Physics file
Look at Figure 1.23 once again. It is evident that radium-226 has a very
long half-life when compared with polonium-218. In fact, the half-life
of radium-226 is about 1600 years. Clearly, a sample of radium-226 will
emit particles and decay for centuries. The half-lives of some common
radioisotopes are shown in Table 1.2. This table also illustrates that the half-
life of a radioisotope is a factor in its application. For example, most medical
applications using a radioisotope as a tracer require a short half-life. This is
so that radioactivity does not remain in the body any longer than necessary.
On the other hand, the radioisotope used in a smoke detector is chosen
because of its long half-life. The detector can continue to function for a very
long time, as long as the battery is replaced each year.
table 1.2 Some common radioisotopes and their half-lives
Isotope Emission Half-life Application
Natural
polonium-214 α 0.00016 seconds Nothing at this time.
Strontium-90 β 28.8 years cancer therapy
radium-226 α 1630 years Once used in luminous paints
carbon-14 β 5730 years carbon dating of fossils
Uranium-235 α 700 000 years Nuclear fuel, rock dating
Uranium-238 α 4.5 billion years Nuclear fuel, rock dating
thorium-232 α 14 billion years Fossil dating, nuclear fuel
Artificial
technetium-99m γ 6 hours Medical tracer
Sodium-24 γ 15 hours Medical tracer
Iodine-131 γ 8 days Medical tracer
phosphorus-32 β 14.3 days Medical tracer
cobalt-60 γ 5.3 years radiation therapy
americium-241 α 460 years Smoke detectors
plutonium-239 α 24 000 years Nuclear fuel, rock dating
activity
A Geiger counter records the number of radioactive decays occurring in a
sample each second. This is the activity of the sample.
ACTIVITY is measured in becquerels, Bq.
1 Bq = 1 disintegration per second
Over time, the activity of any sample of a radioisotope will decrease.
This is because more and more of the radioactive nuclei have decayed and
will no longer emit radiation. So, over one half-life, the activity of any
sample will be reduced by half. If the sample of polonium-218, discussed
previously, has an initial activity of 2000 Bq, then after one half-life
(i.e. 3 minutes) its activity will be 1000 Bq. After 6 minutes, the activity of
the sample will have reduced to 500 Bq and so on.
Interactive tutorial 2
radioactive decay and half-life
22 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Figure 1.26 the uranium decay series. the half-life and emissions are indicated on each of the
decays as radioactive uranium-238 is transformed into stable lead-206.
Short-lived radioisotopes have an initially high activity. Their nuclei
decay at a fast rate and so the sample lasts only for a short time. High-
activity samples are extremely dangerous and must be handled with great
caution.
Decay series
Generally, when a radionuclide decays, its daughter nucleus is not
completely stable, and is itself radioactive. This daughter will then decay
to a grand-daughter nucleus, which may also be radioactive, and so on.
Eventually a stable isotope is reached and the sequence ends. This is known
as a decay series.
TheEarthis4.5billionyearsold(4.5gigayears)—enoughtohaveonly
four naturally occurring decay series remain active. These are:
• theuraniumseriesinwhichuranium­238eventuallybecomeslead­206
• theactiniumseriesinwhichuranium­235eventuallybecomeslead­207
• thethoriumseriesinwhichthorium­232eventuallybecomeslead­208
• the neptunium series in which neptunium­237 eventually becomes
bismuth-209. (Since neptunium-237 has a relatively short half-life, it is
no longer present in the crust of the Earth, but the rest of its decay series
is still continuing.)
Geologists analyse the proportions of the radioactive elements in a
sample of rock to gain a reasonable estimate of the rock’s age. This technique
is known as rock dating.
206
208
210
212
214
216
218
220
222
224
226
228
230
232
234
236
238
82 84 86 88 90 92
Pb
Pb Bi Po
Pb Bi Po
Po
Rn
Ra
Th
Th Pa U
U
A 138 days
B 27 min A 160 Ms
B 19 min
A 3 min
A 3.8 days
A 1.6 r 10
3
years
A 8 r 10
4
years
5
A 2.5 r 10
years
B 24 days
B 6.7 h 9
A 4.5 r 10 years
B 20 years
B 2.6 r 10
6
years
Atomic number ( Z)
M
a
s
s

n
u
m
b
e
r

(
A
)
23 23 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Physics in action
radiocarbon dating
Worked example 1.4A
a sample of the radioisotope thorium-234 contains 8.0 × 10
12
nuclei. the half-life of
234
th is
24 days. how many thorium-234 atoms will remain in the sample after:
a 24 days?
b 48 days?
c 96 days?
Solution
a Initially, there were 8.0 × 10
12
thorium-234 nuclei. 24 days is one half-life, so half of
these will decay leaving 4.0 × 10
12
thorium-234 nuclei.
b 48 days is two half-lives. this means that there will be:

1
2
×
1
2
× 8.0 × 10
12
= 2.0 × 10
12
thorium-234 nuclei
c 96 days corresponds to four half-lives. In this time the number of atoms of the original
radioisotope will have halved four times. this means that:

1
2
×
1
2
×
1
2
×
1
2
=
1
16
or one-sixteenth of the original
234
th nuclei remain; i.e. 5.0 × 10
11
nuclei.
Worked example 1.4B
In 2 hours, the activity of a sample of a radioactive element falls from 240 Bq to 30 Bq.
What is the half-life of this element?
Solution
During each half-life, the activity of the radioisotope will fall by half. the activity of this
element has decreased from 240 → 120 → 60 → 30 counts per second, so it has decayed
through three half-lives in this 2 hour (120 minute) period. thus the half-life must be
120/3 = 40 minutes.
Carbon dating is a technique used by archaeologists to
determine the age of fossils and ancient objects that were
made from plant matter. In this method, the proportion of
two isotopes of carbon—carbon-12 and carbon-14—in the
specimen are measured and compared.
Carbon-12 is a stable isotope whereas carbon-14 is
radioactive. Carbon-14 only exists in trace amounts
in nature. In fact, carbon-12 atoms are about
1 000 000 000 000 (10
12
) times more prevalent than
carbon-14 atoms.
Carbon-14 has a half-life of 5730 years and decays
by beta emission to nitrogen-14. Its decay equation is:
14
6
C →
14
7
N +
−1
0
β
Both carbon-12 and carbon-14 can combine
with other atoms in the environment, for example
with oxygen to form carbon dioxide. While plants
and animals are alive, they take in carbon-based
molecules and so all living things will contain the
same percentage of carbon-14. In the environment,
the production of carbon-14 is matched by its
decay and so the proportion of carbon-14 atoms
to carbon-12 remains constant.
Figure 1.27 carbon-dating techniques were used to
show that the Shroud of turin was most probably made
around the 14th century.
24 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Physics in action
how old is the earth?
After a living thing has died, the amount of carbon-14
will decrease as these atoms decay to form nitrogen-14, and
are not replaced. The number of atoms of carbon-12 does not
change as this is a stable atom. So, over time, the proportion
of carbon-14 to carbon-12 atoms falls. By comparing the
proportion of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in a dead sample with
that found in living things, and knowing the half-life of
carbon-14 (5730 years), the approximate age of the specimen
can be determined.
Consider this example. The count rate from a 1 g sample
of carbon that has been extracted from an ancient wooden
spear is 10 Bq. A 1 g sample of carbon from a living piece
of wood gives a count rate of 40 Bq. We then assume that
this was also the initial count rate of the spear. For its count
rate to have reduced from 40 to 10 Bq, the spear must be
(40 → 20 → 10) two half-lives of carbon-14 old, i.e. about
11 500 years old.
In 1988, scientists used carbon-dating techniques to show
that the Shroud of Turin was probably a medieval forgery.
Carbon-dating tests on samples of the cloth the size of a
stamp established that there was a high probability that it
was made between 1260 and 1390 ad, not around the time of
Christ.
Radiocarbon dating is an important aid to anthropologists
who are interested in finding out about the migration patterns
of early peoples—including the Australian Aborigines. This
technique is very powerful since it can be applied to the
remains of ancient campfires. It is accurate and reliable
for samples up to about 60 000 years old. Carbon dating
cannot be used to date dinosaur bones as they are more than
60 million years old, but it can be used to determine the age
of more recently extinct mammoth fossils.
Carbon dating is useful when examining samples that were
once alive—such as wood or bones. However, this technique
cannot be used to date the age of specimens that were never
alive, such as rocks. There are a large number of dating
procedures that are now used for this purpose. The oldest
dating technique analyses remnants of uranium and lead
that are found in the rock that is being examined. Uranium
has two naturally occurring isotopes: uranium-235 and
uranium-238. As was discussed earlier in Decay Series
(p. 22), uranium-235 decays through a number of steps and
finishes up as lead-207. Uranium-238 undergoes a different
series of decays to finally become lead-206. Scientists can
compare the proportions of each isotope present using a mass
spectrometer and, knowing the half-lives involved, determine
the age of the rock. If, for example, a rock sample was quite
young (i.e. it had crystallised relatively recently), it would
contain higher levels of uranium and lower levels of lead
because there has not been time for many uranium atoms to
complete the decay process.
The oldest rocks that have been found on Earth have been
dated at almost 4 billion years. Most rocks are much younger
than this as a result of remelting and reforming over the ages.
When rocks brought back from the Moon were analysed, they
were found to be 4.2 billion years old. Furthermore, when
different meteorites were analysed, they were all found to be
exactly the same age of 4.56 billion years. These observations
can be explained by assuming that the meteorites are parts
of asteroids that have drifted into Earth’s orbit. The current
theory suggests that the solar system was formed all at once
and that the age of the asteroids gives a reliable estimate of
the age of the solar system. In other words, the age of the
Earth and the rest of the solar system is about 4.6 billion
years.
In all, there are about forty different dating techniques
and they have been found to give very consistent and reliable
results.
Figure 1.29 all meteorites have been found to be exactly
the same age—4.56 billion years. this result has enabled
scientists to fix the age of the earth and the solar system at
about 4.6 billion years.
Figure 1.28 this baby m
am
m
oth fossil was
found in northern russia in 2007. carbon
dating has shown that m
am
m
oths becam
e
extinct 11 000 years ago.
25 25 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
1 A radioactive isotope has a half-life of 1 hour. If a
sample initially contains 100 mg of this isotope,
which one of the following correctly gives the
amount of the radioisotope remaining after 2 hours
have elapsed?
A none B 50 mg C 25 mg D 100 mg
2 A radioactive element has a half-life of 15 minutes.
If you start with a 20 g sample of this element, how
much of the original radioisotope will remain after:
a 15 minutes? b 30 minutes?
c 45 minutes? d 1.5 hours?
3 A Geiger counter measures the radioactive disintegra-
tions from a sample of a certain radioisotope. The
count rate recorded is shown below.
count rate (Bq) 400 280 200 140 100 70
time (minutes) 0 10 20 30 40 50
a Plot a graph of count rate against time.
b Use your graph to estimate the activity of the
sample after 15 minutes.
c What is the half-life of this element? Use both your
graph and the table to determine your answer.
d Determine the activity of the sample after 60
minutes have elapsed.
4 The activity of a radioisotope changes from 6000 Bq
to 375 Bq over a period of 1 h. What is the half-life of
this element?
5 Gold-198 is a radioisotope with a half-life of 2.7 days.
Consider one particular nucleus in a small sample
of this substance. After 2.7 days this nucleus has not
decayed. What is the probability that it will decay in
the next 2.7 day period?
6 A hospital in Alice Springs needs 12 mg of the radio-
isotope technetium-99m, but the specimen must be
ordered from a hospital in Sydney. If the half-life
of
99m
Tc is 6 hours and the delivery time between
hospitals is 24 hours, how much must be produced
in Sydney to satisfy the Alice Springs order?
7 Radioactive materials are considered to be relatively
safe when their activity has fallen to below 0.1% of
their initial value.
a How many half-lives does this take?
b Plutonium-239 is a by-product of nuclear reactors.
It has a half-life of about 24 000 years. For what
period of time does a quantity of
239
Pu have to be
stored until it is considered safe to handle?
8 Uranium-235 has a half-life of 700 000 years, while
the half-life of uranium-238 is many times longer at
4.5 × 10
9
years.
a If you had 1 kg of each of these radioisotopes,
which one would have the greater activity?
b The uranium that is mined in Australia and other
parts of the world is 99.3%
238
U and only 0.7%
235
U.
Explain why
235
U currently exists in trace amounts
only.
9 A Geiger counter measures the radioactive disintegra-
tions from a sample of a certain radioisotope. The
graph of the count rate is shown below.
a Determine the half-life of the isotope.
b What would be the activity of the isotope after
40 min?
10 A geologist analyses a sample of uranium ore that
has been mined at Roxby Downs in South Australia.
You may refer to Figure 1.26, the decay series graph
for uranium, when answering this question.
a Explain why the sample would be expected to
contain significant traces of lead.
b Explain why the geologist would be unlikely to
find any
214
Po in the sample.
• The rate of decay of a radioisotope is measured by
its half-life. The half-life, t
1/2
, of a radioisotope is the
time that it takes for half of the nuclei in a sample of
the radioisotope to decay.
• The activity of a sample indicates the number of
radio active decays that are occurring in the sample
each second. Activity is measured in becquerels (Bq)
where 1 Bq = 1 disintegration per second.
• Theactivityofanyradioactivesamplewilldecrease
with time. Over a half-life, the activity of a sample
will halve.
1.4 questions
half-life and activity of radioisotopes
1.4 summary
half-life and activity of radioisotopes
1000
800
600
400
200
0
0 5 10 15
Time (min)
A
c
t
i
v
i
t
y

(
B
q
)
20 25 30
26 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
R
a
d
ia
tio
n
d
o
s
e
a
n
d
its

e
ffe
c
t o
n
h
u
m
a
n
s
Ionising radiation
The term radiation is widely used and widely misunderstood. There
are many different forms of radiation and the degree of danger that they
present depends on their ability to interact with atoms. Some radiation has
enough energy to interact with atoms, removing their outer-shell electrons
and creating ions. For this reason, these radiations are known as ionising
radiations. As was discussed in Section 1.3, alpha particles, beta particles
and gamma rays are all ionising.
The electromagnetic spectrum consists of a variety of electromagnetic
radiations: radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light,
ultraviolet radiation, X-rays and gamma rays. Electromagnetic radiation
with a frequency above 2 × 10
16
Hz is ionising. Thus gamma rays, X-rays
and ultraviolet B and C radiations are ionising and you would be well
advised to avoid exposure to them. When they interact with the tissue in an
organism, they create ions which can lead to the development of cancerous
tumours.
Non-ionising radiation includes radio waves, microwaves, visible
light and UV-A radiation. We are exposed to significant amounts of such
radiation each day without serious consequences. The level of exposure to
radiation from the environment is called the background level.
table 1.3 Summary of the different ionising and non-ionising types of
radiation
Ionising radiation
(high energy)
alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays, X-rays, UV-B and
UV-c radiation
Non-ionising radiation
(low energy)
radio waves, microwaves, visible light, infrared, UV-a radiation
The background level of ionising radiation to which we are continually
exposed is not a significant health problem. However, exposure to above-
average levels of ionising radiation is dangerous. It may lead to long-term
problems such as cancer and genetic deformities in future generations.
Extremely high levels of exposure can cause death, and in extreme cases
this can happen within just a few hours.
It is important that people who work with radiation in fields such as
medicine, mining, nuclear power plants and industry are able to monitor
closely the amount of radiation to which they are exposed. Furthermore,
radiologists, who administer courses of radiation treatment to cancer
patients, also need to be able to measure the amount of radiation that they
are applying.
Measuring radiation exposure
1 Absorbed dose
When a person is exposed to high-energy radiation, the energy of the
radiation acts to break apart molecules and ionise atoms in the person’s
body cells. The severity of this exposure depends on the amount of radiation
The wicks or mantles used in old-style
camping lamps are slightly radioactive.
They contain a radioisotope of thorium,
an alpha-particle emitter. They have
not been banned from sale because
they contain only small amounts of the
radioisotope and could be used safely
by taking simple precautions such as
washing hands and avoiding inhalation
or ingestion. A scientist from the
Australian National University has called
for the banning of these mantles on the
grounds that they tend to crumble and
turn to dust as they age. If this dust
were to be inhaled, alpha particles could
settle in someone’s lung tissue, possibly
causing cancers to form.
Several years ago, a schoolboy in the
United States used thousands of lamp
mantles to construct a crude nuclear
reactor. It raised the background level
of radiation in his street by a factor
of 9000!
Physics file
Figure 1.30 radiologists administer very precise
doses of ionising radiation that are designed
to destroy cancer cells. this treatment is
successful because rapidly dividing cancer cells
are more susceptible than normal body cells to
damage from ionising radiation.
1.5
27 27 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
table 1.4 Quality factors
Radiation Quality factor
alpha particles 20
Neutrons* (>10 keV) 10
Beta particles 1
Gamma rays 1
X rays 1
* radiation from neutrons is only found around
nuclear re actors and neutron bomb explosions.
energy that has been absorbed by the individual’s body. This quantity is
known as the absorbed dose. The absorbed dose is the radiation energy
that has been absorbed per kilogram of the target material.
ABSORB…D DOS… =
energy absorbed by tissue
mass of tissue

ABSORB…D DOS… is measured in joules/kilogram (J kg
−1
) or grays (Gy),
i.e. 1 Gy = 1 J kg
−1
.
To illustrate this, if a 25 kg child absorbed 150 J of radiation energy,
then the absorbed dose would be 6 Gy. This is a massive dose and would
be enough to kill the child within a few weeks. However, an adult, being
much larger, would be less severely affected by this radiation. If a 75 kg
adult absorbed 150 J of radiation energy, the absorbed dose would be just
2 Gy. This dose would give the adult a severe case of radiation sickness but
would probably not be fatal. You can think of dose in the same way as one
administers medicine. The small mass of a child means that taking just half
a tablet might be equivalent to an adult taking two tablets.
2 Dose equivalent
Different forms of radiation have different abilities to ionise, and so cause
different amounts of damage as they pass through human tissue. Alpha
particles are the most ionising form of radiation. Their low speed, high
charge and large mass mean that they interact with and ionise virtually
every atom that lies in their path. This means that an absorbed dose of
alpha radiation is much more damaging to human tissue than an equal
absorbed dose of beta or gamma radiation. In fact, it is about 20 times more
damaging. This weighting of the biological impact of the radiation is called
the quality factor. A list of quality factors is shown in Table 1.4. By way of
contrast with alpha particles, gamma rays and X-rays, having no charge
and moving at the speed of light, fly straight past most atoms and interact
only occasionally as they pass through a substance. This is reflected in their
low quality factor.
A measure of radiation dose that takes into account the absorbed dose
and the type of radiation will give a more accurate picture of the actual effect
of the radiation on a person. This is the dose equivalent. Dose equivalent
is measured in sieverts (Sv), although millisieverts (mSv) and microsieverts
(mSv) are more commonly used.
DOS… …QUIVAL…NT = absorbed dose × quality factor
Dose equivalent is measured in sieverts (Sv).
For example, an absorbed dose of just 0.05 Gy of alpha radiation is
biologically equally as damaging as an absorbed dose of 1.0 Gy of beta
radiation. While the energy carried by the alpha particles is lower than
that of beta particles, each alpha particle does far more damage. In each
case, the dose equivalent is 1 Sv, and 1 Sv of any radiation causes the same
amount of damage.
Figure 1.31 humans are exposed to radiation
from many different sources. almost 90% of
our annual exposure is from the surrounding
environment.
13% cosmic
rays
17% food
and drink
37% natural
radioactivity
in air
10.4%
medical
1.6% coal
burning
0.5% nuclear
weapons
fallout
0.5% air
travel, etc.
0.001%
nuclear
power
20% ground
and building
28 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Cosmic rays—atomic particles and
gamma rays that continually bombard
the Earth—emanate from the Sun
and from deep space. We are, to a
large extent, protected from these
by the shielding effect of the Earth’s
atmosphere and magnetosphere. Most
people receive a dose of around 300 mSv
each year due to cosmic radiation.
However, when we travel at high
altitudes, the atmosphere’s shielding
effect is diminished. Passengers taking
a return flight to Perth from Melbourne
would be exposed to a dose of about
30 mSv.
Physics file
It is important to appreciate that 1 Sv is a massive dose of radiation and,
while not being fatal, would certainly lead to a severe case of radiation
illness.
In Australia the average annual background radiation dose is about
2.0 mSv, or 2000 mSv. A microsievert is a millionth of a sievert. Use Table 1.6
to estimate your annual dose.
table 1.6 annual radiation doses in australia
Radiation
source
Average
annual
dose (mSv)
Local variations
cosmic
radiation
300 plus 200 mSv for each round-the-world flight.
plus 20 mSv for each 10° of latitude.
plus 150 mSv if you live 1000 m above sea level.
rocks, air and
water
1350 plus 1350 mSv if you live underground.
plus 1350 mSv if your house is made of granite.
Minus 140 mSv if you live in a weatherboard house.
radioactive
foods and
drinks
350 plus 1000 mSv if you have eaten food affected by the
chernobyl fallout.
Manufactured
radiation
60 plus 60 mSv if you live near a coal-burning power station.
plus 30 mSv from nuclear testing in the pacific.
plus 20 mSv if you watch 20 hours of tV on a crt
television set each week.
Medical
exposures
– plus 30 mSv for a chest X-ray.
plus 300 mSv for a pelvic X-ray.
plus 1000 mSv if you have had a ‘barium milkshake’
ulcer examination.
plus 40 000 000 mSv for a course of radiotherapy using
cobalt-60.
Worked example 1.5A
a 10 g cancer tumour absorbs 0.0020 J of energy from an applied radiation source.
a What is the absorbed dose for this tumour?
b calculate the dose equivalent if the source is an alpha emitter.
c calculate the dose equivalent if the source is a gamma emitter
d Which radiation source is more damaging to the cells in the tumour?
Solution
a absorbed dose =
energy absorbed
mass of tissue
=
0.020 J
0.010 kg
= 0.20 Gy.
b Dose equivalent = absorbed dose × quality factor = 0.20 × 20 = 4.0 Sv for the alpha
emitter.
c Dose equivalent = absorbed dose × quality factor = 0.20 × 1 = 0.20 Sv for the gamma
emitter.
d the alpha particle source is more damaging. It causes more ionisation in the cells and
so has a higher dose equivalent.
The level of background radiation varies
around the world as Table 1.5 shows.
Locations of greater latitude and greater
altitude receive a larger dose of cosmic
rays. Aberdeen has a high reading
because it is built on large deposits of
granite that release radon, a radioactive
gas. The soil in Chennai is slightly
radioactive and is responsible for the
higher than average doses received
there.
table 1.5 Background radiation
levels around the world
Location Annual background
radiation dose (mSv)
australia
(average level)
2000
New York, USa 1000
paris, France 1200
aberdeen,
Scotland
5000
chennai, India 8000
Physics file
29 29 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
3 …ffective dose
The different organs of the body have different sensitivities to radiation
doses. For example, if a person’s lung was exposed to a dose of 10 mSv,
it would be more than twice as likely that cancers would develop than if
the same 10 mSv dose was delivered to the liver. The weightings assigned
by the International Commission of Radiological Protection (ICRP) to the
various organs in shown in Table 1.7.
Effective dose is used to compare the risk of a non-uniform exposure to
ionising radiation with the risks caused by a uniform exposure of the whole
body. It is found by calculating a weighted average of the dose equivalents
to different body parts, with the weighting factors, W, designed to reflect
the different radiosensitivities of the tissues.
…FF…CTIV… DOS… = S(dose equivalent × W)
Effective dose is measured in sieverts (Sv).
Worked example 1.5B
During therapy for cancer, a patient’s lungs receive 2500 mSv and her thyroid gland
receives 1000 mSv. Use table 1.7 to calculate the effective dose of radiation to which this
woman has been exposed.
Solution
effective dose = S(dose equivalent × W) = (2500 × 0.12) + (1000 × 0.05) = 350 mSv
this means that the cancer risk as a result of her whole body receiving a uniform dose
of 350 mSv is the same as when her lungs receive 2500 mSv and her thyroid receives
1000 mSv (and her other organs receive no exposure).
the effects of radiation
If at all possible, exposure to ionising radiation should be avoided. When
alpha, beta or gamma radiation passes through a body cell, it may turn one
of the molecules in the cell into an ion pair; for example, if the radiation
ionises a water molecule, then a hydrogen ion and a hydroxide ion will be
formed. These ions are highly reactive and can attack the DNA that forms
the chromosomes in the nucleus of the cell. This can cause the cell to either
die or divide and reproduce at an abnormally rapid rate. When the latter
occurs, a cancerous tumour may form.
The effects of a dose of ionising radiation can be divided into two groups:
the somatic (short-term) effects and the long-term genetic effects.
Somatic effects
Somatic effects arise when ordinary body cells are damaged, and depend on
the size of the dose. Very high doses lead to almost immediate symptoms,
lower doses could lead to symptoms developing years later.
Genetic effects
When cells in the reproductive organs (ovaries or testes) are damaged,
the body suffers genetic effects. Cells in the reproductive organs develop
table 1.7 the Icrp weighting values, W
Body part Weighting, W
Ovaries/testes 0.20
Bone marrow 0.12
colon 0.12
Lung 0.12
Stomach 0.12
Bladder 0.05
Breast 0.05
Liver 0.05
Oesophagus 0.05
thyroid 0.05
rest of body 0.07
total 1.00
Figure 1.32 Ionising radiation has enough energy
to break the bonds within a water molecule and
create a pair of ions.
H
H
O

H
H
O
G ray
30 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
Cancers that form on the skin, testes or in the breasts can
often be detected by a simple external examination. However,
in order to diagnose the presence of cancerous growths at
specific sites inside the body, a variety of radioisotopes tagged
to particular drugs are used. The radioisotope is known as a
radioactive tracer. These drugs, radiopharmaceuticals, can be
administered by swallowing (ingestion), inhalation or injection.
The radioisotope used in the radiopharmaceutical depends
on the site of the suspected tumour. The body naturally
distributes different elements to different organs. For
example, iodine is sent to the thyroid gland by the liver. So if
a radiopharmaceutical containing radioactive iodine is taken,
most of this iodine will end up in the thyroid.
When the tracer has reached the target organ, a radiation
scan is taken with a gamma ray camera. An unusual pattern
on the scan indicates a possible cancerous tumour. The
radioisotopes used for this type of diagnosis need to be gamma
ray emitters so that the radiation has enough penetrating
ability to pass out of the body to reach the detector—the
gamma ray camera. The isotope should have a relatively short
half-life so that the patient is not subjected to any unnecessary
long-term exposure to radiation.
The most commonly used radioactive tracer is technetium-
99m. It is produced on site at hospitals with small nuclear
generators. Technetium-99m is a gamma emitter with a half-
life of 6 hours and is used to monitor the state of many organs
in the body.
Radioactive tracers are also used to monitor other bodily
functions. Some examples are shown in Table 1.9.
Physics in action
Detecting cancer with radioactive tracers
into ova and sperm, so if the DNA in the chromosomes of these cells is
damaged, this genetic change could be passed on to a developing embryo.
These changed or defective cells are known as mutations.
There are many different ways in which genetic defects can show up
in future generations, including poor limb development, harelips and
other birth abnormalities. They may surface in the next generation or lie
dormant for several generations. In other words, if you suffer damage
to your reproductive cells, your children may be quite normal but your
grandchildren may be genetically weakened.
For these reasons, when a patient is undergoing radiotherapy, it is
most important that their reproductive organs are well shielded from the
radiation. These organs are among the most radiosensitive organs (i.e.
easily damaged by radiation) in the body.
A developing foetus is also very sensitive to radiation and so pregnant
women should avoid having X-rays. For this reason foetal images are now
gathered using ultrasound techniques.
table 1.8 the somatic effects of radiation doses
Whole body dose (Sv) Symptom
<1 Non-fatal
Only minor symptoms such as nausea
White blood cell level drops
2 Death unlikely
radiation sickness, i.e. nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
Skin rashes
hair loss
Bone marrow damage
4 50% likelihood of death within 2 months
Severe radiation sickness
high probability of leukaemia and tumours
8 almost certain death within 1 or 2 weeks
acute radiation sickness—convulsions, lethargy
Our bodies can tolerate low levels of
exposure to ionising radiation, but
higher doses can affect the body in
many different ways. The International
Commission for Radiological Protection
recommends that the whole body dose
from artificial sources for members of
the general public not exceed 1000 mSv
per year. This dose is in addition to the
annual dose of about 2000 mSv that we
all receive from natural sources.
Physics file
31 31 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
table 1.9 Some radioactive tracers and their target organs
Radioactive tracer Function monitored
Iodine-123 Function of thyroid gland
Xenon-133 Function of lungs
phosphorus-32 Blood flow through body
Iron-59 Level of iron uptake by spleen
technetium-99m Blood flow in brain, lungs and heart
Function of liver
Metabolism of bones
• Exposuretobackgroundradiationisanaturalandun ­
avoid able part of our existence. Unnecessary ex pos ure
to high-energy (or ionising) radiation can be dangerous
and should be avoided.
• Absorbed dose is a measure of the radiation energy
that our bodies absorb per kilogram of irradiated
tissue. Absorbed dose is measured in grays (Gy);
1 Gy = 1 J kg
−1
.
• The quality factor of radiation is a weighting that
indicates its damaging effect on body tissue. Alpha
particles have a quality factor of 20, while beta and
gamma radiation typically have a quality factor of 1.
• Dose equivalent gives a measure of the degree of
biological damage that a dose of radiation causes.
Dose equivalent = absorbed dose × quality factor. The
units for dose equivalent are sieverts (Sv). A typical
background dose in Australia is about 2 mSv per year.
• Effectivedosetakesintoaccounttheradiosensitivityof
the organ that has been exposed to ionising radiation.
• Effectivedose= S(dose equivalent × W) and is meas-
ured in sieverts (Sv).
• Whenionisingradiationpassesthroughhumantissue,
it may ionise atoms and molecules in the body cells,
which can lead to the development of cancerous cells.
• Exposuretoionisingradiationcanleadtobothsomatic
and genetic effects. Depending on the radiation dose,
somatic effects can vary from feelings of nausea to
severe illness and even death. If a person’s reproductive
cells are damaged by radiation, genetic abnormalities
may arise in future generations.
1.5 summary
radiation dose and its effect on humans
1 a Which of following types of radiation is electro-
magnetic in nature? (One or more answers.)
A Radio waves
B Visible light
C Ultraviolet radiation
D Beta particle
E Gamma ray
b Which of the following types of radiation is ionising?
(One or more answers.)
A Radio waves
B Visible light
C Alpha particles
D X-rays
E Beta particles
1.5 questions
radiation dose and its effect on humans
Figure 1.33 a gam
ma ray camera is being used to
perform
a bone scan. this patient has been injected
with the radioisotope technetium
-99m. this isotope
is a γ em
itter with a half-life of 6 h. the camera
detects the em
itted gam
ma rays and produces an
image that can be seen on the computer screen.
32 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
chapter review
1 Determine the number of protons, neutrons and nucleons in
these isotopes.
a
35
17
cl b
226
88
ra
2 consider this list of different types of radiation: alpha particles,
X-rays, infrared radiation, beta particles, microwaves, gamma
rays. Which of these:
a is a form of electromagnetic radiation?
b has a positive electrical charge?
c consists of four nucleons?
d is a fast-moving electron?
e is able to ionise matter?
f has the greatest penetrating ability?
3 Find the value of x and y in each of these radioactive decay
equations.
a
208
81
tI →
y
x
pb + β b
180
80
hg →
y
x
pt + α
4 Identify the emitted particle in each of these radioactive
decays.
a
40
20
ca →
40
21
Sc + X b
150
70
Yb →
146
68
er + X
c
140
60
Nd →
140
59
pr + X
2 Use Table 1.4 to answer this question. Calculate the
dose equivalent from a radiation source if the absorbed
dose is 0.50 mGy and the radiation is:
a alpha radiation
b beta radiation
c gamma radiation.
3 An 80 kg tourist absorbs a gamma radiation dose of
200 mGy during a return flight to London.
a Calculate the dose equivalent that has been
received.
b Determine the amount of radiation energy that has
been absorbed.
4 a Which one of the following is the most damaging
radiation dose?
A 200 mGy of gamma radiation
B 20 mGy of alpha radiation
C 50 mGy of beta radiation
b Which one of these is the most damaging radiation
dose?
A 200 mSv of gamma radiation
B 20 mSv of alpha radiation
C 50 mSv of beta radiation
5 When in space, astronauts usually receive a radiation
dose of about 1000 mSv per day. The maximum allow-
able annual dose for people working with radiation is
50 mSv.
a The normal annual background dose per year on
Earth is 2 mSv. How many days does it take for
astronauts to exceed this dose?
b How long would astronauts have to be in space
before they exceeded the maximum annual dose for
radiation workers?
c The record for time spent in space is held by
cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who was on the Mir
and the International Space Stations for a total of
803 days (and 9 hours and 39 minutes). How much
radiation (in mSv) was the cosmonaut exposed to in
this time?
6 Discuss some strategies that you could employ to
minimise your exposure to ionising radiation.
7 In the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl accident,
29 people died and more than 200 received hospital
treatment for acute radiation sickness. Discuss the
radiation dose to which these people must have been
exposed.
8 a To treat cancer of the uterus, a radioactive source
is implanted directly into the affected region. If the
uterus receives a dose of 0.40 Gy per hour from the
source, how many hours should it be left there to
deliver a dose of 36 Gy?
b Explain why caesium-137, a beta emitter with a
half-life of 33 years, is well suited for this task.
9 Which one of the following is most appropriate for use
as a radioactive tracer to detect the presence of a brain
tumour?
A Radon-222: α emitter, half-life = 3.8 days
B Sulfur-35: β emitter, half-life = 97 days
C Cobalt-60: γ emitter, half-life = 5.3 years
D Technetium-99m: γ emitter, half-life = 6 hours
10 Calculate the effective radiation dose for a woman
whose organs received the following exposures during
a course of radiotherapy. Her ovaries and bladder each
received a dose of 35 mSv and her colon received a
dose of 50 mSv.
33 33 chapter 1 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
5 a radioactive isotope has a half-life of 8 h. Sketch the decay
curve of a 60 g sample of this radioisotope over a 2 day period.
6 a scientist has a 120 g sample of the radioisotope polonium-218.
the first three steps in the decay series of polonium-218 are an
alpha emission followed by two beta particle emissions. these
decays have half-lives of 3, 27 and 19 minutes respectively. Use
the periodic table when answering this question.
a how much polonium-218 remains after 15 minutes?
b Write the equation for the alpha particle decay.
c List the isotopes formed as a result of these three decays.
d Which of these isotopes is predominant in the sample after
15 minutes? explain your reasoning.
7 an archaeologist analyses an ancient bone and finds that it
contains 20 g of carbon. the carbon from the bone was examined
with a Geiger counter and gave a count rate of 80 disintegrations
per minute. carbon from the bones of recently deceased animals
has a count rate of 16 disintegrations per gram per minute.
a Write the decay equation for carbon-14, a beta particle
emitter.
b how many disintegrations would be detected each minute
from a 1 g sample of the carbon from the ancient bone?
c If the half-life of carbon-14 is 5730 years, what is the
approximate age of the bone?
8 the decay curve for a sample of the radioisotope technetium-99m
is shown below. It emits gamma rays with 140 keV of energy and
has an initial activity of 4.0 × 10
6
Bq.

a calculate the energy of the gamma rays in joules.
b Use the graph to determine the half-life of technetium-99m.
c What is the activity of this sample after one half-life?
d If the sample is produced in a hospital at 4 pm, what will its
activity be when it is used at 10 am the next day?
9 the radioisotope sodium-24 decays by emitting a beta particle
and a gamma ray.
a Write the decay equation for sodium-24 and identify the
nuclide that is produced.
b Discuss and compare the penetrating abilities of beta and
gamma radiation in air.
c Which of these radiations would be stopped if the sample
was stored in a steel box?
d energy is produced as a result of this decay. What form does
this energy take and which particles are carrying it?
10 a woman exposed to a large whole-body radiation dose was later
found to suffer from anaemia (low red blood cell count). Is this a
genetic or a somatic effect?
11 In the actinium decay series,
235
92
U decays to produce eventually
stable
207
82
pb. how many alpha decays and beta decays are there
in this decay series?
12 protactinium-234 is a radioactive element with a half-life of
70 s. If a sample of this radioisotope contains 6.0 × 10
10
nuclei,
how many nuclei of this element will remain after:
a 70 s? b 140 s? c 210 s? d 7 minutes?
13 a laboratory produces 60 g of a radioisotope that has a half-life
of 1 h. how much of the radioisotope will remain after 2 h?
A none B 60 g C 30 g D 15 g
14 When a sample of beryllium-9 is irradiated with protons, an alpha
particle is released and a stable isotope is formed. Determine
the identity of this isotope.
15 a Geiger counter was used to compare the activity of two
samples of the same radioisotope. Sample a had double the
activity of sample B.
a how do the half-lives of these two samples compare?
b after two half-lives have passed, how will the activity of
sample a compare with that of sample B?
16 the decay process of an atom of the radioisotope nitrogen-12 is:
12
7
N →
12
6
c + β
+
+ ν
a Discuss the changes that have taken place in the nucleus of
this atom.
b energy is produced as a result of this decay. What form does
this energy take and which particles are carrying it?
17 a small nuclear power station produces about 1000 MW of power.
two months after the reactor had been shut down, it was still
generating about 5 MW of power due to the energy released from
radioactive decay. assuming that each decay releases 1 MeV of
energy, calculate the activity of the reactor in becquerels.
18 a worker in an X-ray clinic takes an average of 10 X-ray photo-
graphs each day and receives an annual radiation dose
equivalent of 7500 mSv.
a estimate the dose that the worker receives from each X-ray
photograph.
b how does this dose compare with the normal background
radiation dose?
19 patient a receives a radiation dose of 5000 mSv to the stomach
and 4000 mSv to the colon. patient B receives a uniform whole
body radiation dose of 1000 mSv. Who is at greater risk of
developing cancer from these radiation doses—patient a or
patient B? explain.
A
c
t
i
v
i
t
y

(
M
B
q
)
Time (h)
12
4
2
1
0
3
24
x
x
x
x
x
34 Nuclear physics and radioactivity
area of study review Nuclear physics and radioactivity
1 explain what beta particles are and where they come from.
2 a small sample of radioactive material is located in a lead
container. the radioactive material emits radiation into a region
of uniform magnetic field. the radiation is deflected as shown
in the diagram. Identify the radiation (together with a brief
description) associated with each of the paths i, ii, and iii.

3 Which one of the following best describes the part of an atom
from which beta particles originate?
A the electron cloud B a decayed neutron
C a decayed proton D none of the above
4 From which part of a radioisotope—the nucleus or the electron
cloud—are the following particles emitted?
a alpha particles b beta particles
c gamma rays
5 a certain radioisotope K-40 with a half-life of 1.3 × 10
9
years
decays to a stable isotope ar-40. copy and complete the
following table.
Time
(× 10
9
years)
No. of K
nuclei
No. of Ar
nuclei
Ratio
K:Ar
0 1000 0
1.3
2.6
3.9
the following information applies to questions 6 and 7. Gold-197 is
stable but gold-198 is radioactive.
6 Discuss any differences in the chemical properties of these
atoms.
7 Describe the difference in the composition of these two atoms.
8 a
7
3
Li nucleus is bombarded with a high-speed proton resulting
in the production of two identical particles. Write the nuclear
equation that describes this reaction.
9 calculate the energy of these particles in MeV:
a an alpha particle with energy 1.4 × 10
–12
J
b a beta particle with energy 6.7 × 10
–14
J
c a gamma ray with energy 8.0 × 10
–14
J
the following information applies to questions 10–13. a Geiger
counter measures the radioactive disintegrations from a sample
of a certain radioisotope. the count rate recorded is shown in the
following table.
activity (Bq) 800 560 400 280 200 140
time (min) 0 5.0 10 15 20 25
10 plot a graph of activity versus time.
11 Use your graph to estimate the activity of the sample after
13 minutes.
12 What is the half-life of this element?
13 Determine the activity of the sample after 30 minutes have
elapsed.
14 If a particular atom in the sample has not decayed during
the first half-life, which one of the following statements best
describes its fate?
A It will definitely decay during the second half-life.
B It has a 50% chance of decaying during the second half-life.
C there is no way of determining the probability that it will
decay.
D If it does not decay during the first half-life, it will not decay
at all.
15 explain why gamma rays have very low ionising ability and
therefore high penetrating ability.
16 explain why alpha particles have very high ionising ability and
poor penetrating ability.
17 a small nuclear power station in North Dakota produced about
2.0 GW of power. Some time after had it been decommissioned,
the reactor was still generating about 8.0 MW of power due to
the energy released from radioactive decay. assuming that each
decay releases 500 keV of energy, calculate the activity of the
reactor in becquerels.
the following information applies to questions 18–21.
tritium (hydrogen-3) is radioactive and its decay equation is shown
below.
3
1
h → X +
–1
0
Y
18 how many protons and neutrons are in each tritium nucleus?
19 Which element is the daughter nuclide X?
20 Which of the following best describes the nature of Y in the
decay equation?
A It is a positron. B It is an electron.
C It is a proton. D It is a neutron.
21 One of the nucleons in tritium has spontaneously transformed
during this decay. Which one and what has it transformed into?
i
ii
iii
35 35
the following information applies to questions 22–24. Gold-185 is an
artificial radioisotope of gold. It is an alpha emitter.
22 Write a decay equation for gold-185. Use a periodic table to help
you.
23 Describe the nucleons that are in each gold-185 nucleus.
24 If you held a speck of pure gold-185 in your hand, would you
suffer from the radiation exposure? Discuss.
25 radiotherapy treatment of brain tumours involves irradiating the
target area with radiation from an external source. Why is cobalt-
60—a gamma emitter with a half-life of 5.3 years—generally
used as the radiation source for this treatment?
26 an airline pilot of mass 90 kg absorbs a gamma radiation dose
of 300 mGy during a return flight to New York. calculate the dose
equivalent that has been received.
the following information applies to questions 27–29. the graph
below shows the data obtained in an experiment to determine the
half-life of sodium-26.

27 Use the graph to work out the half-life of sodium-26.
28 If the initial sample contained 150 g of sodium-26, how much of
this radioisotope will remain after 5 minutes?
29 Sodium-26 is a beta emitter. Write the nuclear equation for its
decay.
the following information applies to questions 30 and 31. a man
received a uniform full-body radiation dose equivalent of 1200 mSv.
30 What would the somatic effects of this dose be?
31 Which organs cells would be at most risk of developing cancer
during this exposure?
32 the reason that an alpha particle has a higher quality factor than
an X-ray is:
A alpha particles travel faster than X-rays.
B alpha particles have less ionising power than X-rays.
C alpha particles have more ionising power than X-rays.
D alpha particles can penetrate flesh further than X-rays.
33 During a course of radiotherapy, a man’s bone marrow was
exposed to a radiation dose of 6000 mSv and his testes to a
dose of 4000 mSv. What is the effective dose for this man?
the following information applies to questions 34 and 35. consider
the following nuclear equation. It describes an interaction between a
beryllium-7 nucleus and an electron.
7
4
Be +
–1
0
e →
7
3
Li + γ
34 explain why it is not correct to write the electron in the equation
as a beta particle.
35 a nuclear physicist was bombarding a sample of beryllium-7
with a beam of electrons in an effort to smash the electrons into
the nuclei. Why would it be difficult for a collision between the
electrons and the nuclei to occur?
the following information applies to questions 36 and 37. a nuclear
scientist has prepared equal quantities of two radioisotopes of
bismuth,
211
Bi and
215
Bi. these isotopes have half-lives of 2 minutes
and 8 minutes respectively. assume when answering these
questions that each sample has the same number of atoms.
36 Which one of the following statements best describes the
activities of these samples?
A the samples start with an equal activity, then bismuth-211
has the greater activity.
B Bismuth-211 initially has four times the activity of bismuth-
215.
C Bismuth-215 initially has four times the activity of bismuth-
211.
D Bismuth-211 initially has twice the activity of bismuth-215.
37 how will the activity of these samples compare after
8 minutes?
38 In a major incident in a nuclear reactor, a 75 kg employee
received a full-body absorbed radiation dose of 5.0 Gy. the
radiation was gamma rays.
a calculate the amount of energy that was absorbed during
this exposure.
b calculate the dose equivalent for this person.
c Describe some of the somatic effects that this person would
experience.
the following information applies to questions 39 and 40. a worker
in an X-ray clinic takes an average of ten X-ray photographs each day
(she works 250 days a year) and receives an annual radiation dose
equivalent of 0.03 Sv.
39 estimate the dose that the worker receives from each X-ray
photograph.
40 how does this worker’s annual dose compare with the normal
background radiation dose?
area of study review
A
c
t
i
v
i
t
y

(
B
q
)
4000
Time (s)
50 100 150 200 250 300
3000
2000
1000
0
Unit
U
n
i
t
a
r
e
a

o
f

s
t
u
d
y

2
1
E
l
e
c
t
r
i
c
i
t
y
On completion of this area of study,
you should be able to investigate
and apply a basic DC circuit model
to simple battery-operated devices,
car and household (AC) electrical
systems, and describe the safe
and effective use of electricity by
individuals and the community.
outcome
Unit
U
n
i
t
1
C
o
n
c
e
p
t
s

i
n

e
l
e
c
t
r
i
c
i
t
y
C
h
A
p
t
e
R
2
2
I
n 1752 Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm and
showed that a key attached to the string became electrified.
Don’t try this yourself; the following year the German physicist
Georg Richmann was killed while doing a similar experiment!
Interestingly, the connection between lightning and electricity,
something most of us now take for granted, was not discovered
until the mid 18th century when Benjamin Franklin did his
famous experiment. Franklin had made his fortune in publishing
and inventions. his curiosity was aroused by a demonstration of
electrostatic effects which he happened upon in 1746. Fascinated,
he obtained the necessary equipment and went to work. Five years
later he had developed a theory of electricity and published a book
on the subject. It was he who introduced the idea of conservation of
charge—the notion that charge could not be created or destroyed,
only transferred from one object to another.
having found that lightning was a huge electric spark, and also
that a conductor with a sharp point lost its charge more rapidly than
one without, he put the two ideas together and produced his most
famous invention—the lightning rod. he argued:
Would not these pointed rods probably draw the electrical fire
silently out of a cloud before it came nigh enough to strike, and
thereby secure us from that most sudden and terrible mischief?
In 1752 the first ‘Franklin Rod’ was installed on Mr West’s shop in
philadelphia. Some time later, it was hit by a direct stroke of lightning
but suffered no damage, thus proving its effectiveness.
by the end of this chapter
you will have covered material from the study of
electricity including:
• theconceptsofelectricchargeandelectricforces
• theconceptsofcurrent,EMFandelectricpotential
• resistanceinohmicandnon-ohmicconductors
• electricenergyandpower.
38 electricity
When a plastic pen rubbed with a dry cloth is brought near some small
pieces of paper, the paper may ‘dance’. Some of the bits of paper may even
jump onto the pen and then jump off again, seemingly at random. The pen
has gained what we call an electrostatic charge, which creates an electric
field around it. This field will cause the paper to experience a force. Why?
As you will know, present theory suggests that all material matter in the
universe is constructed from about 100 different types of atoms. Further,
all atoms are made up of just three fundamental particles: the proton, the
electron and the neutron. You will have investigated the properties of these
particles in Chapter 1 ‘Nuclear Physics and Radioactivity’.
Atomic charge
Inside the atom, the heavier protons and neutrons reside together in an
extremely dense, positive region called the nucleus. The nucleus contains
almost all the mass of the atom, but occupies only a tiny fraction of its
volume. Orbiting at relatively large distances are the tiny negative
electrons. These particles are very light indeed. Typically, the electrons
only contribute about 1/4000 of the mass of the atom. However, their orbits
define the size of the atom, and, importantly, they balance the positive
charge of the nucleus.
Ever since the time of Benjamin Franklin’s experiments with electricity it
has been realised that electric charge appears to be indestructible. Franklin
was the first to suggest that all matter is made up of equal amounts of
positive and negative charge, normally in balance. Electrification, he
suggested, is the transfer of some of this charge from one object to the other,
resulting in an imbalance between the charges. To demonstrate this he had
two people stand on insulated stools. One used a cloth to rub a glass rod
held by the other. Afterwards, when they each took the charge from their
cloth and glass respectively and brought their fingers close, a spark jumped
between them and they both lost their charge.
This type of experiment led to the idea of conservation of charge. That
is, charge cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred from one object
to another. If, for example, a glass rod is rubbed by a cloth and the rod
acquires a positive charge, then the cloth will have acquired an equal
amount of negative charge. Overall the charge is still zero. The principle of
conservation of charge is now regarded, like conservation of energy, as one
of the central principles of modern physics.
Electric charge is conserved. This means that it cannot be created or destroyed,
only transferred from one object to another.
electrostatic charge
In all chemical reactions it is the outer electrons orbiting the atom that
are either swapped or shared between atoms. Remember that the orbiting
negative electrons are held to the nucleus by the attraction of the positive
protons. The atoms of different elements ‘hang on’ to their electrons to
varying degrees and these differences are responsible for the huge variety
of chemical reactions that occur around us.
The word ‘atom’ is derived from the
Greek word ‘atomos’ meaning indivisible.
However, during the past century,
physicists have not only shown that
there is an internal structure to the
atom, but that there is even an internal
structure to the protons and neutrons.
As well as their mass, the charge
(or lack of it) carried by these atomic
particles is an intrinsic feature of each
of them. It is impossible to remove
the charge from, say, an electron. One
cannot have an electron without negative
charge or a proton without positive
charge! It is not possible to somehow
‘charge’ a neutron. When an object
becomes charged it is because there has
been a transfer of charged subatomic
particles, normally electrons, either to or
from the object.
Physics file
Figure 2.1 the way we draw an atom is not meant
to be a representation of what it would ‘really
look like’. For a start, if it was drawn to scale both
the nucleus and electrons would be so small
they would be invisible! Always remember, this is
a model, not reality.
E
le
c
tric
c
h
a
rg
e
2.1
electron
nucleus
neutron
proton
39 39 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
When two different materials are rubbed together, this tendency for
electrons to move between atoms normally results in one of the materials
gaining electrons at the expense of the other. The one that gains electrons
will thus attain an overall negative charge and the other, now with fewer
electrons than protons, will become positively charged.
An excess of electrons causes an object to be negatively charged, and a defcit in
electrons will mean the object is positively charged.
Perspex and polythene are two common materials that are easily charged
by rubbing with cloth. In the process of rubbing, polythene tends to gain
electrons and so becomes negatively charged. However, perspex tends to
lose electrons and become positively charged.
If a charged polythene strip is brought near another charged polythene
strip, the two strips will repel. However, when a charged polythene strip is
brought near a charged perspex strip, the two strips attract. In both cases,
the effect is greater the closer the strips are to each other.
Like charges repel and unlike charges attract. The closer the charges are to each
other, the stronger the force.
The Van de Graaff generator is often used as a source of electrostatic
charge in the laboratory. In effect, it deposits the charge produced by the
contact between a plastic roller and a rubber belt onto a metal dome. While
the belt is running, the concentration of charges on the dome becomes
greater and greater. However, anyone who has watched a Van de Graaff
generator in action knows that the charge does not keep building up for
ever. Eventually the concentration of charge becomes so great that charges
start to jump off the dome—either as a bright spark across to an earthed
object or as tiny crackling sparks into the air.
A unit for charge
In order to measure the actual amount of charge on a charged object, a
‘natural’ unit would be the charge on one electron or proton. This
fundamental charge is often referred to as the elementary charge and is
given the symbol e. The proton therefore has a charge of +e and the electron
−e. Despite many experiments designed to look for smaller charges, no
charge smaller than e has ever been found in nature. All larger charges are
understood to be whole number multiples of e.
Figure 2.2 If as a result of being rubbed together
some electrons are transferred from one object
to another, the first will become positively
charged and the second negatively.
Figure 2.3 Like charges repel. Unlike charges
attract.
Figure 2.4 the Van de Graaff generator. In the base the rubber belt passes around a plastic
roller. the close contact between rubber and plastic results in electrons being transferred to the
rubber. the electrons are replaced by others which flow onto the roller from a metal foil or comb
that is electrically connected to ‘earth’. the electrons on the belt are carried to the top where
they are picked up by another foil or comb and allowed to flow onto the dome. there, because
they repel each other, they spread out over the conductive dome. A very large concentration of
charge can build up.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 5
electrostatics with a Van de Graaff
generator
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metal dome
collector brush
(connected
to dome)
metal roller
insulating column
rubber belt (carries
charge to dome)
plastic roller
charging
brush
electric motor
electricity 40
Before going further, it is interesting to reflect on the nature of the
proton and the electron for a moment. They have significantly different
mass and size. The proton can be imagined to have a radius of around
10
−15
m while the electron is so small it is meaningless to give it a size. The
mass of the proton is almost 2000 times that of the electron. Incredibly
though, while being opposite in sign, the magnitudes of their charges are
absolutely identical! Atoms containing equal numbers of both are always
exactly neutral.
The …L…M…NTARY CHARG…, e, is the magnitude of the charge on a proton or electron.
It is the smallest charge found in nature.
The elementary charge is clearly a very small unit of charge. Even
the small charge rubbed on the pen for the ‘dancing paper’ experiment
would involve many billions of electrons being either lost or gained. For
practical purposes a much larger unit of charge is used. The SI unit is the
coulomb (symbol C). It is equivalent to 6.242 × 10
18
elementary charges.
The reciprocal of this number is therefore the charge, in coulomb, on a
proton or electron.
The elementary charge, e, the charge on a proton, is equal to 1.602 × 10
−19
C.
The charge on an electron is −e.
Worked example 2.1A
a It has been stated that the charge on a rubbed pen would involve many billions of
electrons. What is the charge in coulomb carried by 10 billion electrons?
b the charge on a school Van de Graaff generator might be around −3.0 µC
(1 µC = 1 microcoulomb = 10
−6
C). how many extra electrons are on the dome?
Solution
a In coulomb, the charge on 10 billion electrons is
10 × 10
9
× 1.602 × 10
−19
= 1.6 × 10
−9
C.
this can be referred to as 0.0016 µC or as 1.6 nC (nanocoulombs).
b the number of electrons in a charge is the magnitude of the charge divided by the
charge on one electron, i.e. n
e
= q/e.
the negative 3.0 µC charge on the Van de Graaff dome consists of ne = q/e
=
3 × 10
−6
1.6 × 10
−19
= 1.9 × 10
13
electrons (19 000 billion electrons)
Any normal electrostatic charge involves huge numbers of electrons!
It is interesting to compare the number of extra charges on a Van de
Graaff dome with the number of charges in the metal itself. In Worked
example 2.1A it was found that a charged Van de Graaff dome might have
an excess of nearly 20 million million electrons (2 × 10
13
). This is a huge
number of electrons! But, assuming the aluminium dome has a mass of
about 700 g, there would be a total of about 2 × 10
26
electrons and the same
number of protons in the aluminium atoms of the dome. So the number
of extra electrons on a fully charged dome is actually an extremely small
fraction (10
−13
) of the total number of electrons in the metal of the dome!
The nuclear particles, protons and
neutrons, are thought to be made up
of fundamental particles called quarks.
The theoretical charges on quarks are
positive and negative
1
3
e and
2
3
e. While
experimental evidence for these particles
is strong, theory predicts that they
can exist only in combinations which
produce particles with exactly 1e and
not by themselves. So we are unlikely to
ever see particles with charges that are
not whole multiples of e.
Physics file
The number of elementary charges in
a coulomb (6.242 × 10
18
) is a result of
the original definition of electric current.
As we shall see, charge and current are
closely related, but in the early days
of electrical experimentation the unit
for current (the ampere) was defined
before the coulomb. When dealing with
electrostatics, the coulomb is a huge unit
of charge. For this reason smaller units
are often used:
1 mC = 10
−3
C
1 µC = 10
−6
C
1 nC = 10
−9
C
1 pC = 10
−12
C
Physics file
Chemistry students will know that,
as the atomic mass of aluminium is
27, there will be 6 × 10
23
(Avogadro’s
number) atoms in 27 g of the metal. As
there are 13 protons and electrons in
each atom, the total number in the 700 g
dome can be found from a little simple
arithmetic.
Physics file
41 41 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
You might like to confirm that this would be the equivalent of adding just a
litre or so of water to Port Phillip Bay.
electrostatic induction
Recalling the dancing pieces of paper, how then did the charged plastic pen
cause them to dance? We now know that the pen was negatively charged.
It had created around it an electric field in which negative charges will move
away from the pen and positive ones towards it. Any electrons in the paper
that are free to move will therefore move to the opposite edge of the paper,
leaving the edge closer to the pen with an excess of protons and thus a
positive charge. While the paper is still neutral overall, this positive charge
is closer to the pen than is the negative charge on the other edge and will
therefore be attracted more strongly than the negative charge is repelled.
If the pieces of paper are small enough, and the charge on the pen is great
enough, the paper will be lifted from the table and may even jump onto
the pen.
This process is called electrostatic induction. The charges in the
paper are ‘induced’ to move by the presence of the charged object, thus
creating ‘induced charges’ of opposite sign on opposite sides of the paper.
Electrostatic induction will occur regardless of the sign of the charge on
the pen. If the pen were to be made positive, electrons in the paper would
move towards it, causing the closer side to become negative and the further
side to become positive.
The ‘lightning rod’, invented by Benjamin Franklin, is a good example
of an application of the principle of electrostatic induction. A tall pointed
metal rod on the highest part of a building is well connected to the ground
by a heavy wire. When a charged thundercloud moves overhead, charges
of the opposite sign will be induced in the ground below, particularly in
taller objects. The charge concentration on the end of the lightning rod can
become so intense that the air molecules nearby become ionised and form
a conducting path towards the cloud. This normally will have the effect of
discharging the cloud sufficiently so that a lightning strike will not occur. If
a strike does occur it will be conducted to ground through the lightning rod
rather than the building, thus protecting the building and its occupants.
Conductors and insulators
Any attempt to produce an electrostatic charge by rubbing a metal rod
instead of a plastic or glass rod is normally unsuccessful. Charge transferred
to the metal rod will flow away through the rod and your hand. (If the
metal is mounted on plastic a charge can be produced.) Unlike plastic and
glass, metals are conductors: they allow the movement of charge through
their structure. The structure of metals is such that the outermost electrons
of the atoms are free to move around in the fixed crystal lattice made up of
the atoms. Any excess of electrons in one place will soon be dispersed as
the electrons flow away from each other. Materials such as plastic and glass
do not allow the flow of electrons. They are called insulators.
The effect of a lightning rod can easily
be demonstrated by placing a nail
(vertically) on top of a Van de Graaff
generator. Because of the intense electric
field at the point of the nail, the charge
dissipates into the air and the spark
from the dome will not be nearly as
impressive as that normally obtained.
Physics file
Figure 2.5 A negatively charged pen induces a
positive charge on the nearer side of the paper
and a negative charge on the opposite side.
Because the positive side is closer, the paper is
attracted.
Figure 2.6 this type of lightning rod did not
become popular!






















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– –






























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electricity 42
There is not always a clear distinction between insulators and conductors.
Wood, for example, will conduct electrostatic effects reasonably well, but
certainly cannot be used as a conductor for household appliances! Wood
can be classed as a poor conductor or a poor insulator depending on the
situation. Another important group of materials is the semiconductors.
Most notably these include silicon and germanium, the basis of the modern
electronics industry. Pure semiconductors are not nearly as conductive as
metals, but can be modified by ‘doping’ them with small amounts of certain
elements so that they will conduct quite well. They are the materials from
which transistors and integrated circuits are made.
Returning once more to the dancing paper experiment, you will probably
now realise why the paper might jump off the pen after a little while.
Because paper is not a very good insulator, it will slowly allow charge to
move through it. As it picks up some of the charge from the pen it gradually
becomes charged with the same charge as the pen. Once the charge builds
up sufficiently, the paper will be repelled by the pen and fly off.
table 2.1 Some common conductors
and insulators
Conductors Insulators
Good
All metals, especially
silver, gold, copper
and aluminium
Any ionic solution
plastics
polystyrene
Dry air
Glass
porcelain
Cloth (dry)
Moderate
Water
earth
Semiconductors, e.g.
silicon, germanium
Skin
Wood
paper
Damp air
Ice, snow
Physics in action
Robert Millikan and the elementary charge
By the late 19th century it was well established that electrons
and protons had an identical, but opposite, charge. The big
question was how this charge related to the coulomb, which
was defined in terms of large-scale electrical phenomena such
as magnetism and electrolysis. An experiment was needed
which linked the tiny forces on atomic charges to the more
macroscopic electrical measurements.
Robert Millikan, at the University of Chicago, took up the
challenge in 1907 and published his results 2 years later. His
experiment was remarkably accurate and is now famous, both
for the importance of the results and for the sheer elegance of
its design.
In essence, Millikan measured the electrostatic force on
tiny drops of oil sprayed from an atomiser. The drops acquired
an electrostatic charge simply as a result of their motion
through the air. His apparatus was basically two horizontal
plates held 1.6 cm apart which could be given opposite
charges by an 8000 V battery. The oil drops were allowed to
fall through the air in the space between these plates (they
took more than 20 seconds to fall 1 cm). The rate at which
such drops fall depends on the balance between the upward
air-resistance force and the downward weight force. As the air
resistance depends on the size, Millikan was able to calculate
the weight of the drops from measurements of their speed.
(The same theory applies to the rate at which a balloon falls
through still air.)
When the plates were charged by the battery, the speed
changed as a result of the added electric force on the drops.
Some drops fell faster, others almost stopped or even rose. As
the speed at which the drops fell was directly related to the
total force on them, he was able to calculate the strength of
the electric force.
From this force he could calculate the electric charge
on the drop. He found that this charge only came in whole
number multiples of a certain smallest amount. This charge he
assumed to be the charge on a single electron. He was able to
Figure 2.7 the distinction between insulators and
conductors was discovered by Stephen Gray in 1729.
he showed that the human body is a conductor of
electric effects. he suspended a boy from silk cords
and brought a charged glass rod near his legs. the
electric effect was transmitted through the boy’s
body to his hands and face—as shown by the dancing
paper. While the boy acted as a conductor, the silk
acted as an insulator, preventing the charge from
escaping to ground.
43 43 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
show that one elementary charge was equal to 1.64 × 10
−19
C,
which, considering the difficulties of the experiment, was very
close to the currently accepted value of 1.60219 × 10
−19
C.
In 1923 Millikan was awarded the Nobel Prize for
his work on the elementary charge, along with his later
experimental work on Einstein’s interpretation of the
photoelectric effect.
Figure 2.8 Millikan’s apparatus consisted of an atomiser which
sprayed a fine mist of oil into the chamber. Some of the drops fell into
the space between plates that could be charged via the switch from
the battery.
Physics in action
Lightning
Lightning is undoubtedly one of nature’s greatest spectacles.
No wonder it was for so long thought of as the voice of
the gods. When Benjamin Franklin showed that it was
basically the same sort of electrical phenomenon as could be
achieved by rubbing a glass rod with wool, he didn’t so much
demystify it as move the mystery into another realm. How
indeed can such enormous voltages be created in a cloud,
something normally associated with the moisture that makes
electrostatic experiments hard to perform!
A thundercloud normally has three charged regions. In
the lower centre there is a strong negatively charged region,
often less than a kilometre in thickness, but possibly several
kilometres in width. The top of the cloud is mostly positively
charged. There is normally also a smaller positively charged
region at the bottom owing to positive charges attracted up
from the ground.
There will be strong electric fields between these regions
of opposite charge. If they become sufficiently strong,
electrons can be stripped from the air molecules (they become
ionised). Because of the electric field, the free electrons and
ions will gain kinetic energy and collide with more molecules,
thus precipitating an ‘avalanche of charges’. This is the
lightning flash seen either within the cloud or between the
Earth and the cloud. Most flashes are within the cloud; only a
relatively small number actually strike the ground.
A typical lightning bolt to the ground bridges a potential
difference of hundreds of millions of volts and transfers 10
or more coulombs of negative charge to the ground in a brief
current pulse of up to 10 000 A. A moderate thundercloud
with a few flashes per minute generates several hundred
megawatts of electrical power, the equivalent of a small
power station.
The exact mechanism responsible for the charge build-
up in a cloud is still not entirely clear, but it is thought
that charge is transferred in collisions between the tiny ice
crystals that form as a result of the cooling of the upward-
flowing moist air and the larger, falling, hailstones. As a result
of small temperature differences between the crystals and
hailstones the crystals become positive and the hailstones
negative. The crystals carry their positive charge to the top of
the cloud while the negative charge accumulates in the lower
region. As a result, an electric field (a downward force on
positive charge) builds up within the cloud.
Figure 2.9 A thundercloud can be several kilometres wide and well
over 10 km high. Strong updrafts drive the electrical processes that
lead to the separation of charge. the strong negative charge will
induce positive charges on tall objects on the ground. this may lead
to a discharge, which can form a conductive path for lightning.
air
oil
switch
high voltage
oil drop
metal plates
microscope
oil spray
5 km
T = –65°C
T = –15°C
T = 10°C
12 km
2 km
electricity 44
This electric field, however, enhances the process greatly
because it then induces a charge on the hailstones, positive
at the bottom, negative at the top. This results in a greater
transfer of positive charge to the crystals as they collide
with the lower, positive part of the hailstone. Hence there is
a greater build-up of charge in the cloud and a still stronger
field. The whole process is a self-reinforcing cycle—the
stronger the field, the more effective the charging process.
Eventually the positive and negative concentrations of charge
become so great that huge voltages are formed and sparks fly!
1 Why was Benjamin Franklin’s kite-flying experiment
so dangerous?
2 What are some of the ways in which our lives would
be different if we did not have electricity?
3 List some of the electric motors in your household.
How many do you think would be found in the
average household?
4 Both simple electrostatic and magnetic experiments
show forces that act through space between two
different types of object. What similarities and
differences can you think of in the results obtained
from simple electrostatic experiments and those
performed with magnets?
5 Why do you think that early experimenters such as
Franklin concluded that there were only two types of
electric charge and not more?
6 Plastic strip A, when rubbed, is found to attract strip
B. Strip C is found to repel strip B. What will happen
when strip A and strip C are brought close together?
7 Some early theoreticians thought that electricity was
a sort of fluid that could be transferred from one
material to another. How could this model account
for the fact that there were two types of charge?
8 Why does a Van de Graaff generator have a smooth
round aluminium dome on the top rather than, say,
an aluminium cube that would be easier to make?
9 Why is it not safe to stand under an isolated tree in a
thunderstorm? What should you do if caught out in
a thunderstorm?
10 We could use the terms ‘red’ and ‘black’ to describe
the two different types of charge. What advantages
do the terms ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ have over the
use of colours as labels for charge?
• Matter is made up of vast numbers of positive and
negative charges (protons and electrons respectively).
Normally there is an equal number of each.
• Likechargesrepelandunlikechargesattract.
• Chargecannotbecreatedordestroyed,butitcanbe
transferred from one object to another.
• An electrostatic charge involves an imbalance of
positive and negative charges.
• The charges on a proton and electron are equal in
magnitude but opposite in sign. The magnitude of
this charge is referred to as one elementary charge.
• One coulomb of charge is equal to 6.242 × 10
18

elementary charges, or one elementary charge is
equal to 1.602 × 10
−19
C.
• If a charged object is placed near a conductor, an
oppo site charge will be induced on the side of the
conductor nearer the charge and a like charge on the
side further away from the charge.
2.1 summary
electric charge
2.1 questions
electric charge
Figure 2.10 (a) When falling hailstones hit ice crystals of a different
temperature, charge is transferred. (b) As the field in the cloud builds
up, electrostatic induction further enhances the process.
hailstone
ice
crystals
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45 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
Coulomb’s law
Electricity is clearly one of nature’s fundamental forces. It was Charles
Coulomb, in 1785, who first published the quantitative details of the force
that acts between two electric charges (see Physics in action page 48). The
force between any combination of electrical charges can be understood
in terms of the force between the simplest possible arrangement of
charges: two so-called ‘point charges’ separated by a certain distance. The
expression ‘point charges’ simply means that the two charges are regarded
as being very much smaller than the distance between them. Remember
that between like charges there will be repulsion and between unlike
charges attraction.
Coulomb found that the force, whether repulsive or attractive, between
two charges q
1
and q
2
a distance r apart was proportional to the product of
the two charges, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance
between them. This can be expressed by the simple equation below (where
k is the proportionality constant).
COULOMB’S LAW for the force between two charges q
1
and q
2
at a distance of r:
F =
kq
1
q
2
r
2
It is not surprising that the force between two charges depends on
the product of the two charges. Imagine that we found a force of 10 N
between two particular charges A and B. If charge A was then doubled, for
example by adding another identical charge, we would be surprised if the
force between A and B did not increase to 20 N. If charge B was then also
doubled, would we not expect the force between A and B now to increase
to 40 N?
While this argument is quite feasible, it certainly does not prove that the
force is proportional to the charge. The story of physics is full of discoveries
that were not as we might have expected! However, many experiments
have confirmed Coulomb’s law to a high degree of accuracy.
The force being inversely proportional to the square of the distance
means that, for example, if the distance between A and B is doubled,
the force will decrease to one-quarter of the previous value. There are a
number of important inverse square laws in physics. The reason for this is
suggested in the Physics file on the next page.
The constant k has a value (in SI units) close to 9.0 × 10
9
N m
2
C
−2
in
air or a vacuum. This means that the force between two charges of 1 C
each, placed 1 m apart, would be almost 10
10
N—equivalent to the weight
of about ten large battleships! This suggests that a 1 C charge is a huge
amount of charge. Imagine, for example, the repulsive force between two
halves of any 1 C charge on an ordinary sized object. It would blow itself
to pieces with enormous energy! In practice, the amount of charge that
can be placed on ordinary objects is a tiny fraction of a coulomb. Even a
highly charged Van de Graaff dome will have only a few microcoulombs
(1 µC = 10
−6
C) of excess charge.
While an understanding of the basic
nature of electrical forces and fields
may not be a specific requirement of
the curriculum, it is not really possible
to gain a satisfactory understanding
of the basic electrical concepts such
as potential (voltage), current and
resistance without it.
Physics file
2.2 E
le
c
trica
l fo
rc
e
s
a
n
d
fie
ld
s
Figure 2.11 the nature of the force, F, between
two point charges q
1
and q
2
a distance r apart
was discovered by Charles Coulomb in 1785.
F
F
F
F
q
1
q
1
q
2
q
2
r
+
+
+
+ + +
++++
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+
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++++
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electricity 46
Another way to get a feel for the magnitude of electrical forces is to
realise that all matter is held together by the electrical forces between
atoms. For example, Mount Everest is supported by the electrostatic
repulsion between the atoms underneath it. The strength of the hardest
steel is due to the electrical forces between its atoms. In comparison to the
Earth’s gravitational forces on atoms, the electrical forces between them
are totally overwhelming—by a factor of about a billion billion! In fact,
only in the last stages of collapse of a giant dying star can the gravitational
forces overwhelm the electrical forces between atoms and cause them to
collapse into the super-dense state of matter that exists in what is called a
neutron star.
Worked example 2.2A
two Van de Graaff machines are placed 50 cm apart and switched on. If they both attain a
charge of 3 µC of the same sign, what will be the force between them? (Ignore the size of
the machines for the moment.) how would this force change if:
a one of the machines sparks and loses half its charge?
b the machines are moved to a distance of 1 m apart?
c the charges were of opposite sign instead of the same?
Solution
the force between them is given by F =
kq
1
q
2
r
2
where
k = 9 × 10
9
N m
2
C
−2
, q
1
= q
2
= 3 × 10
−6
C and r = 0.5 m.
thus the force F =
9 × 10
9
× (3 × 10
−6
)
2
0.5
2
= 0.3 N, not a large force, but possibly noticeable.
As both machines have charge of the same sign the force will be a repulsive one.
a If one machine loses half its charge we do not need to repeat the calculation, we know
that the force will halve to 0.15 N.
b If the distance in an inverse square law doubles, the force will reduce to one-quarter.
Given the original charge of 3 µC, the force will decrease to 0.3/4 = 0.08 N.
c If the charges were opposite, the force would be attractive rather than repulsive. (It is
worth noting that if two Van de Graaff machines with the same sign were actually placed
this distance apart, the force would probably be less than that calculated because the
charges would repel and move to the opposite sides of the domes. On the other hand,
if the charges were opposite, they would attract and move to the closer sides of the
dome, thus increasing the force.)
electric fields
It is often very difficult to use Coulomb’s law directly to calculate the force
on a charged object because, for example, the force may originate from
many charges spread around on a conductor. However, in many cases it is
possible to measure or calculate the electric field. The electric field, like the
gravitational field, is the amount and direction of the force on one unit—
one unit of (positive) charge in the case of the electric field, one unit of mass
in the case of the gravitational field. Just as the gravitational field (g) is the
force on 1 kg, the electric field (E) is the force on 1 coulomb (C). If we find
that there is a gravitational force of 19.6 N on a 2 kg mass, we know the
gravitational field is 9.8 N kg
−1
. If we were to find a force of 10 N on a 2 C
charge, we would know that the electric field is 5 N C
−1
.
Both Coulomb’s law for the force
between electric charges and Newton’s
universal law of gravitation, for the
gravitational force between any two
masses, are examples of ‘inverse
square’ laws. Another is the law for the
intensity of light around a ‘point source’
of light. In all these cases something,
whether it is physical (light), or simply
an ‘influence’ (a force) can be imagined
to be spreading out evenly from a
point. The intensity of this ‘something’
at a certain distance will therefore be
inversely proportional to the area of the
sphere over which it is spread. As the
area of this sphere increases with the
square of the distance (A = 4πr
2
), the
intensity will therefore decrease with the
square of the distance. This, of course,
does not constitute a ‘proof’ that these
laws should be inverse square. It simply
suggests that it is reasonable that they
would be.
Physics file
Figure 2.12 the inverse square law. three
metres from a point source of light, the light
will be spread over an area nine times as
large as that at 1 m. the light will therefore
appear only one-ninth as bright.
47 47 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
The electric feld … in any region of space is defned as the electric force per unit
charge:
… =
F
q
An electric field has both direction and strength, and so is a vector
quantity. The electric field is often shown by lines that represent the
direction of the field. The closeness of the lines can normally be taken to
represent the relative strength of the field. The shape of the field around
some charged objects is shown in Figure 2.13. The shape of the field around
a small charge is radial, pointing outward in the case of a positive charge
and inward in the case of a negative charge.
The force on a charge q in an electric feld … is given by F = q….
We have used simple numbers to make
the point that the electric field is the
force per coulomb. In practice we would
never have a net charge of 1 C in one
place—the coulomb repulsive force
would be so great it would blow itself
to smithereens in a huge explosion!
The electric field is the ratio of force
to charge. The field between a pair of
parallel plates such as those illustrated
in Figure 2.13 and connected to a simple
12 V battery might be, say, 500 N C
−1
.
Any ordinary sized object, say a small
scrap of paper, that we might put in such
an arrangement would only have a static
charge of less than about 0.1 µC, and so
the force on it would be:
= q
= 0.1 × 10
−6
× 500
= 5 × 10
−5
N
This may seem insignificant, but
it could well be about the same weight
as the paper—so this simple electric
field is balancing the pull of gravity of
the entire Earth on our small piece of
paper. As we shall see later, the electric
force on an electron in such a field is a
million million times as strong as the
gravitational force on it!
Physics file
Figure 2.13 In these photographs, grass seeds
suspended in oil make the electric field around
charged objects visible. electric fields can be
represented by lines showing the direction of
the field. the closeness of the lines suggests the
strength of the field.
+
A single positive charge
+ +
Two positive charges
+ –
A positive and a negative charge
+ + + + + + + + + + + + +
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
Parallel oppositely charged plates
electricity 48
As shown in Figure 2.13, the electric field lines between two charged
parallel plates are mostly parallel and uniform. This means the strength
of the field has the same value everywhere. We will see later that there is
a very simple way to calculate the strength of the field in such a region. In
fact, a pair of parallel plates is often used as a convenient way of obtaining
a uniform electric field of known strength. Millikan used such plates in his
experiment described on page 42.
Worked example 2.2B
Robert Millikan measured the charge on an electron by finding the electric force on tiny oil
drops in a known electric field. If the force on an oil drop was due to the charge of one single
extra electron on the drop, and found to be 8.0 × 10
−14
N upwards, what was the strength
and direction of the electric field he was using?
Solution
One elementary charge, the charge on an electron, is equal to 1.6 × 10
−19
C. the strength of
the field is therefore given by:
… =
F
q

=
8.0 × 10
−14
1.6 × 10
−19

= 5.0 × 10
5
N C
−1
the direction of the field is downwards. Remember that the direction of the field is the
direction of the force on a positive charge. A negative charge experiences a force in the
opposite direction to the field. It is interesting to note that Millikan achieved this field by
connecting a battery providing 8000 V across two parallel plates 1.6 cm apart.
Physics in action
Charles Coulomb and the force between two electric charges
Charles Coulomb (1736–1806) was an engineer who
investigated variations in the Earth’s magnetic field. In order
to do this he invented a ‘torsion balance’, a device that could
measure very small forces. He adapted his device to the
problem of determining the force between two charges (Figure
2.14). The principle of a torsion balance is simple. A carefully
balanced horizontal rod is suspended by a thin fibre. First
the force required to twist the rod through a given angle is
found. Then two charges are placed, one on a small fixed
sphere as shown and the other on a similar sphere on one
end of the rod (which is an insulator). By finding the amount
of twist caused by the electric force between the charges,
the magnitude of the force can be calculated. By varying
the amount of charge on the spheres as well as the distance
between them, he was able to show that the force between
them was proportional to the amount of charge on each, and
decreased with the square of the distance between them.
Figure 2.14 A sketch of Coulomb’s original torsion balance.
the torsion force in the fibre is measured by the degree of rotation
of the knob at the top needed to compensate for the electrical force
between the fixed and movable spheres.
49 49 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
Physics in action
photocopiers
In 1938, American inventor Chester Carlson used an
electrostatic effect to transfer an image from one piece of
paper to another. He called it ‘xerography’ from the Greek
words for ‘dry’ and ‘writing’. But it wasn’t until 1959 that the
Xerox Corporation produced the first truly successful office
copier, which became the basis of the current multibillion
dollar industry.
When light is shone on some materials that have been
given an electrostatic charge, they become conductive
(‘photoconductivity’) and lose the charge. If the light is in the
form of the image of some writing, an ‘electrostatic image’ can
be formed. If fine carbon particles with the opposite charge
are then sprinkled on the image they will adhere to the places
that are charged. If they can then be ‘fixed’ in place, we have
a ‘photocopy’ of the original.
A modern photocopier is a very complex piece of
machinery, but the basis of its operation is still this same
photoelectric effect that Carlson used. At its centre is an
aluminium drum that has two very thin (about 0.05 mm)
coatings. The first is a layer of photoconductive material
such as cadmium sulfide. This is coated with an even thinner
transparent insulating film.
As the drum rotates, the various parts undergo different
processes. First, it is given an electrostatic charge from a
‘corona wire’. This is a fine wire charged to about 5000 V.
Because it is very thin, the electric field near it is intense
and it ionises the air, creating ions (charged atoms) and
free electrons. (This is the same effect that Benjamin
Franklin used for his lightning rods.) If the wire is negative,
the electrons will charge the surface of the drum and
the underside of the thin insulating layer will become
positively charged by induction as charges move through the
photoconductive layer.
Next, the image of the work to be copied is projected onto
the drum. Where it is bright, it increases the conductivity of
the photoconductive layer and allows the charge to escape.
The dark parts remain charged. Next the image is ‘developed’
by allowing positively charged toner particles to be attracted
to the still negatively charged dark parts of the image on
the drum. In order to transfer the toner powder, and hence
the image, to the paper, the paper is given a strong negative
charge from another corona wire and brought into contact
with the drum. The paper is then taken through two hot
rollers where adhesive in the toner melts and ‘fixes’ the
image on the paper. At the same time the drum is cleaned and
made ready for a fresh charge from the first corona wire.
Figure 2.15 there are several types of photocopy machine, but the basic principles are illustrated here. the drum is given an electrostatic charge before
being exposed to light from the image. the light enables the charge to dissipate. Black toner powder is attracted to the still charged dark parts of the
image. the toner is then transferred to the paper and fixed by hot rollers.
.............
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
– – – – – –
















+
+ + + +
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+ +
book
lens
strong light
– 5000 V
light from book
light area
dark area
charging
corona
discharging light
cleaning blade
cleaning roller
hot rollers
– 5000 V
transfer corona
paper
toner
blade
insulating
layer
photoconductive
layer
drum
electricity 50
1 A charge of +q is placed a distance r from another
charge also of +q. A repulsive force of magnitude F is
found to exist between them. Describe the changes, if
any, that will occur in the force when:
a one of the charges is doubled to +2q
b both charges are doubled to +2q
c one of the charges is changed to −q
d the distance between the charges is changed to
1
2
r.
2 What force would exist between them if we could
place two 1 C charges 100 m apart?
3 How practical would it be to set up the situation
described in the previous question?
4 Danielle and Daniel set up two Van de Graaff
machines exactly 80 cm apart (centre to centre) on
frictionless trolleys that allow them to measure the
force between them. They read that the manufacturer
states that it is possible to obtain a charge of 5 µC on
the domes of the machines and then proceed to use
Coulomb’s law to calculate the force they expect to
find between them.
a What force do they expect to find between the
machines?
b Assuming that the charge on each machine is
5 µC, why do they find that the measured force is
less than they expect?
5 Some small charged spheres are to be placed in an
elec tric field which points downwards and has a
strength of 5000 N C
−1
.
a What force would be experienced by charges of
+2 µC and −5 µC?
b A sphere with an unknown charge is found to
experience an upwards force of 1 × 10
−3
N in this
field. What was the charge on the sphere?
• Coulomb’slawfortheforcebetweentwochargesq
1

and q
2
at a distance of r is:
F =
kq
1
q
2
r
2
• The constant, k, in Coulomb’s law has a value of
9 × 10
9
N m
2
C
−2
, indicating that an electrostatic
charge of 1 C would be enormous.
• The electric field E in any region of space is the
electric force per unit of charge in that space: E = F/q.
Conversely, the force on a charge q in an electric field
E is given by F = qE.
2.2 summary
electrical forces and fields
2.2 questions
electrical forces and fields
51 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
When a battery is connected to a conductor (such as a torch bulb) one
end of the conductor becomes positively charged and the other end
becomes negatively charged. This sets up an electric field along the length
of the conductor. As a result, the mobile charges (electrons in a wire for
example) will move along the conductor. We call this movement of charge
along a conductor an electric current. In this section we first discuss the
measurement and nature of an electric current, and then look at the way in
which the battery supplies the energy to drive this current.
electric current
Just as a current in a river involves the flow of water, electric current is the
flow of electric charge. Any moving charge constitutes an electric current.
Whether it consists of electrons moving through the atomic structure of a
metal, or protons from the Sun flying through space, moving charges make
up a current.
The magnitude of the current is defined simply as the rate of transfer of
charge. We can think of it as the amount of charge that flows past any point
in a conductor in 1 second. A current of 1 ampere flows when 1 coulomb of
charge flows past a point in 1 second. So 1 ampere = 1 coulomb per second.
Electric current is given the symbol I.
Electric current is the rate of transfer of charge:
I =
q
t
where q is the charge transferred
t is the time taken
If the charge is measured in coulombs and the time in seconds, the current
is measured in amperes. Conversely, the charge, in coulombs, carried by a
current of I amperes in t seconds is given by q = It.
1 ampere (A) = 1 coulomb per second (C s
−1
),
so 1 coulomb (C) = 1 ampere second (A s).
Worked example 2.3A
Determine the charge that has flowed through a torch battery producing a current of
300 mA if it has been left on for 20 minutes.
Solution
I = q/t, so q = It where I = 300 × 10
−3
= 0.300 A and t = 20 × 60 = 1200 s.
thus q = 0.300 × 1200
= 360 C
The ampere is named in honour of
André Marie Ampère (1775–1836). You
may know that a magnetic force exists
between two wires carrying an electric
current. It was Ampère who first worked
out the mathematics of this force.
The ampere is actually defined as the
current which, when flowing in two long
straight parallel wires 1 metre apart,
produces a force of exactly 2 × 10
−7
N
between them. This force was typical of
that produced by the current that could
be obtained from the batteries of that
time. The coulomb was later defined
as the amount of charge carried by a
current of 1 ampere in 1 second.
Physics file
Figure 2.16 If a charge of 0.5 C passes a point in a
conductor in 1 s, a current of 0.5 A is flowing.
Figure 2.17 It is not practicable to measure the force between two very long wires 1 m apart, but,
based on the definition, the force between two current-carrying coils can be calculated and used to
set up a primary standard of current upon which other instruments can be calibrated. In a standard
current balance the magnetic force is balanced against a known weight.
2.3
E
le
c
tric
c
u
rre
n
t, E
M
F

a
n
d
e
le
c
trica
l p
o
te
n
tia
l
0.5 C of charge
I
t = 1 s
I = = = 0.5 A
q

t
0.5 C
1s
electricity 52
the direction of current
There is sometimes confusion about the direction of an electric current.
In the case of a river, the direction of the current is clear; it is the direction
of flow of the water. Unlike water, however, electric charge can be either
positive or negative. So what is the direction of an electric current? The
direction of an electric current is the direction of transfer of positive charge.
However, positive charge can be transferred to the right, let’s say, either
by moving positive charge to the right, or by moving negative charge to
the left.
To get a feel for the meaning of this, consider the situation shown in
Figure 2.19. Both objects are neutral to start with. Remember that a neutral
object comprises huge, but equal, numbers of positive and negative charges.
Imagine that a current then starts to flow from left to right as shown.
Because current is the transfer of positive charge, we expect the object on
the right to become more positive and that on the left more negative. Now
it is important to realise that this flow of positive charge to the right can
be accomplished either by moving positive charge to the right, or negative
charge to the left.
In a metal wire, for example, a positive current to the right is carried
by electrons moving to the left. On the other hand, in a fluorescent tube a
positive current to the right is carried both by positive ions moving to the
right and by electrons moving to the left.
Because the electrons in a wire actually move in the opposite direction
to the current, the terms electron current and conventional current are
sometimes used to distinguish between them. It is important to remember,
however, that current is the rate of transfer of positive charge.
table 2.2 typical values for electric
current
Situation Current
Lightning 10 000 A
Starter motor in car 200 A
Fan heater 10 A
toaster 3 A
Light bulb 400 mA
pocket calculator 5 mA
Nerve fibres in body 1 µA
Figure 2.19 (a) If two objects are electrically
connected and one is becoming more positive
while the other becomes more negative, then we
say there is a positive current flowing towards
the one which is becoming more positive. (b) this
might result either from positive charges moving in
the direction of the current, from negative charges
moving in the opposite direction, or both at once.
Figure 2.18 In an electrical circuit, an ammeter is used to measure the current. the ammeter
is connected in series with the device; that is, in such a way that the current flows through it
as well as the device. typically, a meter will require the user to select a current range. If the
current is too large it could damage the meter.
t = 0
I
–q
+q
where q = It
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+








t later
I
A current starts to flow between two
neutral objects.
A short time later the object to which the
current is flowing will become positive and
the other negative.
(a)
(b)
I




I
+
+
+
+
I


+
+
<insert aw 0227Pr>
53 53 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
eMF and electric potential
In order to drive a current around an electric circuit the charges must be
given energy. A battery or generator is the usual source of this energy.
Another increasingly common source of electrical energy is the photovoltaic
cell, or solar cell. These devices are all referred to as sources of EMF. The
letters stand for ElectroMotive Force, but that is an inaccurate term because
the EMF involves the energy given to the charges rather than the force
on them.
In order to understand the meaning of an EMF it is helpful to consider
another source of EMF, the Van de Graaff machine (see Figure 2.4). The
source of energy in this case is very obvious. The motor is pushing the
charges on the rubber belt up against the electrostatic repulsion of the
charges already on the dome. The more charge already on the dome, the
greater the force, and hence the greater the work that has to be done to
bring more charge to the dome. In fact, you may hear the motor slow down
as the concentration of charge on the dome builds up.
In many ways the EMF can be visualised as a ‘concentration of charge’.
The more charges put on the dome, the more concentrated they become and
the greater the force of repulsion between them. The work done pushing
the charges together (by the motor in this case) is stored as electrical
potential energy.
Just as the compressed spring in a jack-in-the-box contains potential
energy, so do all the ‘concentrated’ charges. And just as the spring energy
can be recovered when it is allowed to expand, so the electrical energy
can be recovered when the charges are allowed to fly apart again. When a
spark flies from the Van de Graaff generator we see the result. The potential
energy is rapidly converted into kinetic energy, and as the charges collide
with the air molecules it is turned into heat, light and sound energy.
EMF is defined as the amount of work done for each unit of charge
in this process of charge concentration. Because it is, therefore, actually
the ‘electric potential energy per unit charge’, this quantity is most often
Whenever the term ‘current’ is used in
this book, the direction is assumed to be
that of the transfer of positive charge as
defined by the equation I = q/t. This is
sometimes called conventional current.
The term electron current, which you
may also come across, is equivalent to
defining current by the equation I = −q/t
and will not be used in this book as it
may lead to confusion. Simply remember
that positive charge transfer occurs
either as a result of positive charges
moving in the direction of the current,
by negative charges moving in the
opposite direction (electrons in metals),
or by both at once.
Physics file
Figure 2.20 (a) Current flows around a circuit from the positive terminal of the battery to the
negative. In the connecting wires the current is carried by electrons travelling in the opposite
direction. In the battery itself, and in the salt solution, the current will involve the movement
both of positive ions in the direction of the current and negative ions moving in the opposite
direction. (b) the beam of electrons travelling down a cathode ray tube in a television set
produces a positive current in the opposite direction.
Figure 2.21 A Van de Graaff machine does work
pushing the charges on the belt up against the
repulsive force from those already on the dome.
If a person touches a Van de Graaff machine
while standing on an insulated chair, the charge
will spread from the dome and over them. the
charged hairs repel each other.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 6
Connecting circuits

+
+
lililililililililil
A
+
– –










+

+
...











I
I
(a) (b)
electricity 54
abbreviated simply to electric potential or just potential. The EMF is
then the electric potential given to charges by the device. A battery uses
chemical potential energy to give the charges in the circuit this potential
energy. A generator uses the kinetic energy of rotation, and solar cells use
the energy in sunlight.
The SI unit for potential is joule per coulomb. One joule per coulomb is
given the name volt, in honour of Alessandro Volta, the inventor of the first
chemical battery. It is easy to see why the terms ‘potential’ and ‘voltage’
are often used interchangeably. A normal dry cell has an EMF of 1.5 V.
This means that every coulomb of charge on the positive terminal has 1.5 J
of potential energy more than those at the negative terminal. The symbol
used for EMF is usually E (a script E). So, for a dry cell, E = 1.5 joules per
coulomb, that is, 1.5 V.
A source of EMF gives charges electrical potential energy. The EMF, E, is the energy
per unit of charge. 1 volt = 1 joule per coulomb (1 V = 1 J C
−1
).
Worked example 2.3B
the alternator of a car being driven at night with the headlights on, is producing a 50 A
current at an eMF of 12 V.
a how many coulombs of charge flow from the alternator each second?
b how many joules of energy does each coulomb of charge obtain?
c how many joules of energy does the alternator produce each second?
d Where does this energy go?
Solution
a the 50 A current means that 50 C of charge flow each second (q = It).
b the 12 V eMF means that each 1 C of charge is given 12 J of energy.
c each second, 50 C of charge each with 12 J of energy flow from the alternator, so the
energy produced is 50 × 12 = 600 J.
d this energy will go to the headlights, the ignition system and any other electrical
devices in operation. Some may also be used to recharge the battery.
electric circuits and potential difference
Any electric circuit consists of at least one source of EMF, conductors that
carry current (hopefully with very little loss of energy) and the various
circuit elements. The circuit elements are the working parts of the circuit:
light bulbs, motors, loudspeakers, heating elements and so on. In these, the
electric potential energy is converted into heat, light, motion or whatever
other form of energy is required.
A torch consists of a battery, a switch and a bulb all connected by
conductors to form an electric circuit. The battery may consist of one or
more cells. The current from the battery goes from the positive terminal to
the bulb and then via the switch back to the base of the battery, which acts
as the negative terminal.
When a battery is connected in a circuit, it produces a potential differ­
ence; that is, a difference in the potential energy of the charges in the
conductors connected to its terminals. The potential difference produced by
the battery can be imagined as a difference in ‘charge concentration’ on the
As EMF is defined as the work done in
‘concentrating’ charges, it is related
to the area under the Coulomb force–
distance graph for many pairs of charges.
In practice this would amount to adding
the area under the graphs for a huge
number of charge pairs. With the aid of
some calculus, however, it can be shown
that the potential is actually the sum
of all the kq/r terms, where r is the
separation between the charges. So the
closer the charges, and the greater the
number of them concentrated in an area,
the greater the potential. This is the
sense in which we can think of voltage as
representing ‘charge concentration’.
Physics file
The EMF of a charged Van de Graaff
generator, or any source of high voltage,
can be estimated from the length of the
spark it will produce. Between smooth
spheres, in dry air, a spark will jump
about 1 cm for every 25 000 V. Between
pointed conductors it will jump 1 cm for
every 10 000 V. Under good conditions a
Van de Graaff generator might produce a
spark of up to 15 cm, which corresponds
to nearly 400 000 V.
Physics file
Figure 2.22 A modern dry cell is a complex mixture of
chemicals designed to drive electrons from the top
(positive) terminal to the bottom (negative) one.
plastic or cardboard
outer covering
positive
end
negative
end
asphalt
seal carbon
rod
(cathode)
zinc can
(anode)
electrolyte
paste of MnO
2
and NH
4
Cl
55 55 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
conductors connected to either side of the battery. While the switch is off, all
the conductors connected to the positive terminal, including the bulb and
one side of the switch, will have a uniform positive charge concentration.
All those connected to the negative terminal will have a uniform negative
concentration. This initial distribution of charge, which ensures that there
is no electric field in the conductors, will take place in the first fraction of
a microsecond after the battery is put in place. Remember that there is no
current flowing in the conductors at this stage. All the conductors on one
side of the switch will have the same positive potential and all those on the
other side the same negative potential.
Any difference in charge concentration along a conductor will create an
electric field. So when the switch is turned on an electric field is created
around the circuit, which will cause charges to start moving. Where the
conductor is wide, the charges flow easily and there will not be much
change of charge concentration. Where the conductor is narrow, in the
light bulb filament for example, a high charge concentration difference will
occur, resulting in a stronger field. This stronger field means two things.
First, it pushes the charges harder so that the current through the filament
is the same as that in the rest of the circuit—if it isn’t, the charges build up,
the concentration difference increases, the field becomes stronger, and the
charges move faster (so the current increases). Second, the stronger field
means that the charges lose more potential energy. That is, they will gain
more kinetic energy, which they transfer to the filament as light and heat
through constant collisions with the atoms.
The EMF is the potential energy given to each unit of charge by the
battery. The potential difference across a circuit element is the potential
energy lost by each unit of charge in that element. The potential difference,
sometimes called potential drop or just p.d., across a circuit element is
written ∆V, the ∆ representing the fact that there is a change of potential. In
practice, the ∆ is often omitted as there is rarely a need to refer to anything
other than a change of potential. As ∆V is the energy lost by one unit of
charge, a charge of q coulomb will lose q∆V joules of potential energy as it
goes through a potential difference of ∆V.
A charge q moving through a potential difference ∆V will lose potential energy given
by ∆U = q∆V, or simply ∆U = qV.
Strictly speaking, the ‘dry cells’ we buy
should not be called batteries. The term
‘battery’ really refers to a group of
cells connected together, as in the torch
shown. When a battery is connected in
this way (in series) the total EMF is
equal to the sum of the EMF values of
the individual cells.
Physics file
Figure 2.24 the electric field and the potential
around a circuit are related. (a) In an open circuit
there is no potential drop around the circuit and
no electric field (except at the switch). (b) In the
closed circuit charge flows as the result of an
electric field. As it flows it loses potential. Where
the conductor is narrow the field is ‘squeezed’
and becomes stronger, thus the charges are
pushed harder. the potential also drops more
quickly through the narrow region as more work
is done and potential energy lost.
Figure 2.23 (a) A battery and light bulb connected by conductors in a torch constitute an
electric circuit. (b) this circuit can be represented by a simple circuit diagram.
(a)
(b)
+12
+12
+12
+9 +3
+2 +10
+11 +1
+8+7+6+5
+4
+ –
+12
open
switch
0
+12
+12
No E field
0
0 V
+12 + – 0 V
Higher E field
Lower E field
closed
switch
12 volts
12 volts
switch contact
ON
positive terminal negative terminal
(a) (b)
electricity 56
Worked example 2.3C
the potential difference across a torch bulb is found to be 2.7 V. the current flowing through
it is 0.2 A.
a how much charge flows through the torch in 1 minute?
b how much energy is lost by this charge?
Solution
a q = It = 0.2 A × 60 s = 12 C
b each coulomb lost 2.7 J of energy. ∆U = qV = 12 × 2.7 = 32.4 J
A useful analogy
It may be helpful to compare an electric circuit to water flowing from a high
dam or lake over a spillway or waterfall to a river below. The water in the
dam has potential energy relative to the water in the river below. The Sun
is the source of the potential energy. It caused the water to evaporate, the
water eventually raining on the hills. The energy it gave to every kilogram
of water can be seen as being rather like the ‘EMF’ of the system—but
this time it is gravitational potential energy per unit of mass, instead of
electrical potential energy per unit of charge.
As the dam fills, the water flows until it is all at the same level; that is,
it equalises the potential energy. This is rather like what happens when
batteries are put in a torch, with the switch off. Charges will flow around
the conductors until all points connected to the positive terminal have the
same (positive) potential energy and all those connected to the negative
terminal have the same (negative) potential energy. The switch is rather
like the dam wall: on one side the potential (or water level) is higher than
on the other side, in the case of the switch on our torch, by 3 V.
What happens when the switch is closed? This is somewhat like opening
the sluice gate that lets water over the dam spillway, as in Figure 2.25. As
the water flows down the spillway its potential energy is transformed into
kinetic energy. The bulb in the electrical circuit is the equivalent of the
spillway. Because the filament is very thin compared to the other connecting
wires, the charges have more trouble moving through it and give up most
of their kinetic energy to the atoms they collide with; this energy then
appearing as heat and light. The current in the other conductors is rather
like the water in the dam or river. Just as water will slowly move through
the dam itself as a result of the barely perceptible height difference created
by the loss of water over the spillway, so charge will slowly move around
the conductors as a result of the very small potential difference created
along the conductors by the movement of charge through the filament.
However, the energy lost in these conductors is very small compared to
that lost in the filament.
We can see and hear the potential energy being turned into kinetic energy
as the water falls. The charges in the circuit also gain kinetic energy as they
‘fall’ through the 3 V potential difference that the battery will maintain
across the bulb. This kinetic energy is transferred to the atoms in the
filament as the electrons collide with them. A typical incandescent light bulb
is designed so that the heat energy produced raises the temperature of the
filament to about 2200°C. At this temperature only about 5% of the energy
is actually radiated as visible light; the rest is lost as infrared radiation and
heat conducted away through the filament supports and connections.
Figure 2.25 (a) It can be useful to compare
charge going around a circuit with water in a dam.
the current in the conductors in the torch is like
the water in the dam or river, while the bulb is like
the spillway of the dam at which the potential
energy of the water becomes kinetic energy (the
noise and turbulence). (b) Just as the water will
lose its potential energy to kinetic energy, so the
electrons in a wire will lose potential energy to
kinetic energy as they go through the thin wire of
the filament. this kinetic energy appears as heat
and light (red colour).
(b)
(a)
I
57 57 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
The water that has come over the spillway will now slowly flow along
a broad river to the sea. The charges, having done their work in the bulb,
will make a leisurely return to the battery through the (relatively) broad
conductors in the torch. On reaching the sea, some of the water will gain
enough energy from the Sun to rise in the atmosphere and become a cloud.
On reaching the battery, some of the charges will eventually be given
potential energy, by the chemical reactions, and find themselves on the
positive terminal again.
It is important to remember that there are many differences between
electric currents and flowing water! Any analogy is only useful to a limited
extent. For a start there is no such thing as ‘negative water’ while there is
both positive and negative charge. As well, while the water stored in the dam
represents a large amount of gravitational potential energy, the battery does
not store up electrical potential energy. It uses its stored chemical energy to
produce an electric field that transfers energy to the charges already in the
conductors. The analogy is useful, however, in that the ‘electric potential’
of charges can be compared to the ‘height’ of the water. Just as the actual
kinetic energy released over the spillway of the dam depends on both the
height and the amount of water, so the energy produced in the filament of
the bulb, or any other device, depends on both the potential difference and
the amount of charge that flows. This is a very important concept in our
progress towards a good understanding of electrical ideas.
Physics in action
What is an electric current?
It is interesting to consider the nature of current flowing in
the different states of matter. For any current to flow, mobile
charge carriers are required. In the solid state, metals are
the best conductors owing to the presence of many ‘free’
electrons. Metals, being ductile, can be drawn into wires, and
so metal wires are the most familiar means for transferring
electricity.
Liquids in which there are free ions will also conduct an
electric current. Although water molecules themselves are
neutral, there is always a very small number of charged ions
present (both positive and negative) and these ions allow even
pure water to conduct electricity, although poorly. The addition
of impurities, such as dissolved salts, raises the number of
charged ions considerably and increases the conductivity of
water. The electrolyte in a car battery (a solution of sulfuric
acid) is an example of a good liquid conductor. In any liquid,
the current is made up both of positive ions flowing in the
direction of the current and negative ions flowing in the
opposite direction.
Gases too can carry electric current as long as enough
of the gas atoms become ionised. For example, lightning will
occur when the electric field within a charged cloud is strong
enough to strip electrons from the gas molecules in the air.
Fluorescent lamps incorporate mercury vapour, which ionises
relatively easily. A plasma is a gas heated to the point at
which it ionises and becomes conductive. Again, conduction
in gases involves both positive and negative charge carriers
moving in opposite directions.
Figure 2.26 An electric current in air! this is a
photograph of the corona from
a pin placed on the
top of a Van de Graaff machine. As well as the glow
of the ionised air molecules, many small sparks can
be seen. the bright spark (right) occurred when the
earthed dome was brought near.
electricity 58
1 What current flows in a light bulb through which a
charge of 30 C flows in:
a 10 seconds? b 1 minute? c 1 hour?
2 A car headlight may draw a current of 5 A. How
much charge will have flowed through it in:
a 1 second? b 1 minute? c 1 hour?
3 a In a solution of salt water a total positive charge of
+15 C was seen to move past a point to the right in
5 s, and in the same time a total negative charge of
−30 C was seen to move to the left. What was the
current through the solution during this time?
b Some time later it was found that in 5 seconds a
total of +5 C had moved to the right while −15 C
had moved to the right as well. What was the
current this time?
4 Using the values given in Table 2.2, find the amount
of charge that would flow through a:
a pocket calculator in 10 min
b car starter motor in 5 s
c light bulb in 1 h.
5 Do the values for the charge that you obtained in
Question 4 indicate the amount of energy required to
operate the devices for those times? Explain.
6 The dome on a fully charged Van de Graaff machine
may carry something of the order of 50 million
million extra electrons. When running well it may
take about 3 s to charge up. If we assume no loss of
charge in this time, what is the current flowing up
the belt to the dome?
7 When water runs through a hose at the rate of 0.5
litre per second, it can be calculated that 1.7 × 10
26

electrons pass any point in the hose each second.
a What electric current (in amps) does this
represent?
b Is this the actual electric current in the hose?
Explain.
8 Although you will not normally get a shock if you
put your hands on the terminals of a car battery, you
will if you touch the spark plugs while the engine is
running. Why is this?
9 a What is the EMF of a battery that gives a charge of
10 C:
i 40 J of energy in 1 second?
ii 40 J of energy in 10 seconds?
iii 20 J of energy in 10 seconds?
b What current flowed in each case?
10 The negative terminal of a 12 V car battery is
connected to the car frame, which can be regarded as
‘ground’, at a potential of 0 V. What is the potential of
the other terminal?
A 0 V B −12 V C +6 V D +12 V
11 A charge of 5 C flows from a battery through an
electric water heater and delivers 100 J of heat to the
water. What was the potential of the battery?
12 How much energy will each coulomb of charge
flowing from a 9 V transistor radio battery possess?
13 How much charge must have flowed through a 12 V
car battery if 2 kJ of energy was delivered to the
starter motor?
14 In comparing the electrical energy obtained from a
battery to the energy of water stored in a hydroelectric
system dam in the mountains, to what could the EMF
of the battery be likened?
• Abatteryestablishesanelectricfieldinaconductor
connected to its terminals. This electric field results
in the movement of charge, i.e. an electric current.
• Electriccurrentisthetimerateoftransferofcharge:
I = q/t (1 A = 1 C s
−1
)
• The direction of an electric current is the direction
of the transfer of positive charge. This can occur as a
result of positive charge movement in that direction,
negative charge movement in the opposite direction,
or both.
• Inmetalsthechargecarriersareelectronsmovingin
the direction opposite to the conventional current.
• A source of EMF gives charges electric potential
energy. The EMF, E, is the electric potential energy
per unit of charge. 1 volt = 1 joule per coulomb.
• A potential drop, V, is the loss of potential energy
(joules) per unit charge (coulomb) as charge flows
through a circuit element. The potential energy lost
is given by ∆U = qV.
2.3 summary
electric current, eMF and electrical potential
electric current, eMF and electrical potential
2.3 questions
59 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
When a potential difference is applied across an electrical device in a circuit
a current will flow. Generally speaking, the greater the potential applied,
the greater the current that will flow. The actual relationship between the
current and the potential difference applied is the subject of this section.
In order to measure the current through and the potential difference
across a circuit element we must introduce two invaluable tools for any
exploration of electric circuits: the voltmeter and the ammeter.
Ammeters and voltmeters
As its name implies, a voltmeter is used to measure the potential difference
across any circuit element or source of EMF. A voltmeter could be compared
to a pressure gauge used to measure tyre pressure. Just as the pressure
gauge measures the difference between the tyre pressure and atmospheric
pressure, the voltmeter measures the difference in electrical potential
between two points in a circuit. This is why the voltmeter connections are
always placed across the circuit element.
The ammeter could be compared to the paddle-wheel water meter you
might see on an irrigation channel. It is used to measure the current flowing
in a circuit and is therefore placed so that the current flows through the
ammeter as well as the circuit element. Never place an ammeter across a
circuit element (as you would a voltmeter) because it would effectively be a
short circuit that could damage the meter, the circuit or both.
Current–voltage graphs
Whether the device is a simple light bulb or a complex electronic component,
a knowledge of the relationship between the current and the voltage, the
so-called I–V characteristic, is necessary in order to predict the behaviour
of the device or the power it will consume. This is often given in the form
of a graph. The voltage is plotted on the horizontal axis because it is usually
Ideally a voltmeter should draw no
significant current from the circuit it is
being used to measure. In practice, just
as a pressure gauge may take a little air
out of the tyre and reduce the pressure,
a voltmeter will draw some current and
change the circuit a little. It is important
to ensure that any current drawn by the
voltmeter is much less than that flowing
in the circuit.
A water meter should not
significantly slow down the rate of
flow of the water that it is measuring.
Likewise, an ammeter should offer no
significant resistance to the current
flowing through it and so it is important
to ensure that the resistance of the
ammeter is much less than that of the
other components in the circuit.
Physics file
R
e
s
is
ta
n
c
e
, o
h
m
ic
a
n
d

n
o
n
-o
h
m
ic
c
o
n
d
u
c
to
rs
2.4
Figure 2.27 Voltmeters and ammeters come in a wide variety of shapes and forms. Some are
digital and some are analogue. Multimeters combine several functions in one meter.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 7
Using electrical meters
electricity 60
the ‘independent variable’, the quantity we set by using a certain battery or
power supply. Some examples of I–V graphs for some common electrical
devices are shown in Figure 2.29.
We can divide these devices into two groups: those that have a straight
I–V graph and those that do not. The resistor is in the first group, the light
bulb and the diode are in the second. Those with a straight I–V characteristic
are called ohmic conductors and those which don’t are (rather logically)
called non-ohmic conductors.
Resistance
Georg Ohm (1789–1854) found that if the temperature of a metal wire was
kept constant, the current flowing through it was directly proportional to
the potential placed across it: I ∝ V. This is known as Ohm’s law.
OHM’S LAW states that I ∝ V.
Rather than writing this as I = kV (where k is the slope of the I–V graph)
this relationship is normally written the other way around as V = IR,
where R is called the resistance (it is the inverse of the gradient). So Ohm
basically said that the resistance of a metal wire (at a certain temperature) is
constant. Even if the resistance of a conductor is not constant (the graph is
not straight) it is still defined as the ratio of the potential difference across a
conductor to the current flowing in it at that potential.
R…SISTANC… is the ratio of potential difference to current:
R =
V
I
or V = IR
The expression V = IR is sometimes referred to as Ohm’s law, but that
is only correct if R is constant. This expression is basically the definition
of resistance. Ohm’s law effectively says that R is constant for some types
of conductors—and they are called ohmic conductors. We can see from
Figure 2.29 that while the resistance of the resistor is constant, that of the
light bulb increases with increasing potential, whereas the resistance of the
diode decreases with increasing potential. The resistor obeys Ohm’s law,
but the others do not.
It is interesting to consider the reason
for the increase in resistance of the
light bulb. At 1 V the filament is barely
glowing dull red, if at all. At 12 V
it is shining very brightly and at a
temperature of around 2200°C. At this
temperature the atoms of the filament
are vibrating much more rapidly. It is
not surprising then that the electrons
have a more difficult time getting
through. In effect, their average drift
speed (the speed due to the current
as distinct from their thermal speed)
is slowed. As a result, more voltage is
needed to achieve the same current,
i.e. the resistance is greater.
Physics file
Figure 2.29 examples of the relationship between current and applied potential difference for
three common electrical devices.
Figure 2.28 (a) A simple circuit of one battery
and one circuit element, together with an
ammeter and voltmeter to measure the current
and potential difference. (b) Four examples of
symbols for possible circuit elements: a light
bulb, a resistor or other circuit element, an
alternative symbol for a resistor used to specify
an ohmic resistor in particular, and a diode.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 8
Resistance and temperature
+ –
lililililililililil
A
lililililililililil
light bulb
voltmeter
ammeter
(a)
(b)
light bulb
resistor or load
ohmic resistor
diode
V
2 4 6 8 10 12
4
3
2
1
V (V) V (V) V (V)
2 4 6 8
4
3
2
1
I (A) I (A) I (A)
0.5 1.0 1.5
4
3
2
1
light bulb
resistor diode
61 61 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
Figure 2.30 (a) An assortment of ohmic resistors, including a variable one. (b) Some non-ohmic devices including diodes, a light-
dependent resistor, thermistors, light-emitting diodes, a neon indicator lamp and a torch bulb.
Ohmic conductors
Many conductors do obey Ohm’s law quite closely and so their I–V
characteristic is completely specified by a single number, the resistance R.
The unit for resistance is volts per ampere and is given the name ohm (symbol
Ω, omega). It helps to think of the resistance as the number of volts needed
to make a current of 1 ampere flow through the conductor. But remember
that the resistance is a ratio—the actual resistor may go up in smoke if 1 A
actually flowed through it! Ohmic conductors are often simply referred to
as ‘resistors’:
1 ohm = 1 volt per ampere (1 Ω = 1 V A
−1
)
Worked example 2.4A
A resistor of 5 Ω is supplied with a potential that can vary from 1 V to 100 V.
a What will be the range of currents that will flow in it?
b how much energy will be dissipated in the resistor each second?
Solution
a 5 V is required to make 1 A flow in this resistor. therefore, at 1 V the current will be
1
5

A or
0.2 A. More formally:
At 1 V, I = V/R =
1
5

= 0.2 A
At 100 V, I =
100
5

= 20 A (or simply 100 times the previous answer).
b At 1 V, 0.2 C flow through the resistor each second. the energy is given by:
∆U = qV
= 0.2 × 1
= 0.2 J
At 100 V, ∆U = 20 × 100 = 2000 J.
Notice the very large increase in energy as the voltage is increased. As the voltage
increased by 100 times, the energy released each second increased by 10 000 times,
because both voltage and current increased by 100 times.
(a) (b)
electricity 62
Non-ohmic conductors
A light bulb is a common example of a non-ohmic conductor. Typically, a
car headlamp bulb may draw about 1 A at 1 V, but as the voltage increases,
the current will not increase in proportion, as you can see in Figure 2.29. At
12 V the current might be 4 A; so while the resistance at 1 V is 1 Ω, at 12 V
the resistance has increased to 3 Ω. While it may sometimes be useful to
know the resistance of the bulb at its operating voltage of 12 V, it cannot be
used to calculate the current flowing at other voltages. The bulb does not
obey Ohm’s law.
To quote the resistance of the diode in Figure 2.29 would be almost
meaningless: it decreases very rapidly once the voltage reaches about
0.5 V. The important thing to know about the diode is that once the voltage
exceeds a certain level the current increases, apparently without limit. In
practice there will be a limit to the current because the power dissipated
will reach a level at which the diode will become too hot and burn out.
Other non-ohmic conductors include devices whose resistance changes
with light or temperature. These are particularly useful as detectors in
sensors that need to respond to changes in light levels or temperature.
Worked example 2.4B
the graph represents the I–V characteristic of a 240 V, 60 W light bulb. What is the
resistance at:
a 24 V?
b 120 V?
c 240 V?
Solution
Resistance is given by R = V/I at any point on the graph. Note that the current is given in
mA (100 mA = 0.1 A).
a At 24 V
R = 24/0.10
= 240 Ω
b At 120 V
R = 120/0.20
= 600 Ω
c At 240 V
R = 240/0.25
= 960 Ω
Resistance increases as the filament becomes hotter. Notice that we cannot use the
inverse slope of the graph; resistance is simply the ratio V/I at a particular voltage.
Resistance and resistivity
What are the factors that determine the resistance of a conductor? Given
that the resistance of a piece of metal wire is a measure of the ability of
the wire to somehow impede the flow of electrons along its length, it is
reasonable to expect that:
1 If the wire is made longer there will be a greater resistance as there is
more to impede the flow of the electrons.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 9
Ohmic and non-ohmic conductors
100 200
200
100
I (mA)
V (V)
63 63 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
2 If the wire is made thicker there will be less resistance as there is more
pathway for the charge flow and so less impedance.
3 If a different metal is used it will most likely have a different structure
and so a different impedance to the current.
This would suggest a simple relationship:
R =
rL
A
where L is the length of the wire
A is the cross-sectional area
r (rho) is the proportionality constant
The value of r will depend on the particular material used. When
experiments are done it is found that this relationship does indeed hold,
at least as long as the temperature is held constant. The proportionality
constant, r, is called the resistivity, and it is seen as a measure of the inherent
resistance of the material without regard to its shape or size.
The value of r varies over a huge range, about 23 orders of magnitude
from around 10
−8
Ω m for good conductors such as copper to more than
10
15
Ω m for good insulators. Table 2.3 gives some typical values. Silver is
the best conductor, followed closely by copper and then gold.
Worked example 2.4C
Normal household wiring uses 1.8 mm diameter copper wire. What is the resistance of a
10 m long piece of this copper wire? What voltage drop will there be along it if a current of
10 A is flowing through it?
Solution
the resistivity of copper is found from table 2.3: r = 1.7 × 10
−8
Ω m.
the cross-sectional area of the wire is given by:
A = πr
2

= 3.14 × (0.9 × 10
−3
)
2

= 2.5 × 10
−6
m
2
the resistance is therefore found from:
R =
rL
A
=
1.7 × 10
−8
× 10
2.5 × 10
−6
= 0.068 Ω
If the wire is carrying a 10 A current there will be a voltage drop along the length of the wire
of V = IR = 10 × 0.068 = 0.68 V—not a serious problem in a 240 V system.
The value of r normally increases with
the temperature of the material. For
example, at 300°C the resistivity of
copper is about twice its value at room
temperature. This is because at higher
temperatures the atoms of the metal
are vibrating more vigorously and will
therefore impede the progress of the
electrons to a greater extent.
Physics file
table 2.3 Resistivity of some common
materials at 20°C
Material Resistivity, r (Ω m)
Silver 1.6 × 10
−8
Copper 1.7 × 10
−8
Gold 2.4 × 10
−8
Aluminium 2.8 × 10
−8
tungsten 5.5 × 10
−8
tungsten (2000°C) 70 × 10
−8
Nichrome 100 × 10
−8
Doped silicon* 1 × 10
−3
pure silicon 3 × 10
3
pure water 5 × 10
3
Soils and rock 10
3
→ 10
7
Wood 10
8
→ 10
11
Glass 10
10
→ 10
14
Fused quartz 10
16
* Doped silicon is used for transistors and
integrated circuits.
Physics in action
What really travels along a wire?
It is worth reflecting for a moment on the nature of an
electric current in a metal. If it were actually possible to see
all the atoms and electrons in a metal wire we would see a
constant blur of activity. The atoms would be vibrating madly
and the free electrons would be rushing around at random
with enormous speeds—rather like a game of air hockey gone
wild! Now imagine that a current suddenly starts to flow in
this wire. What difference would it make? The answer is none
at all! At least not to any perceptible extent. However, if we
could watch a single electron for a few seconds we would
notice that, on top of its wild random dance, it had moved a
few millimetres in one direction. If you think you might have
noticed that, consider that in those few seconds of its random
dance that same electron would have collided with millions of
billions of atoms and covered thousands of kilometres!
electricity 64
If the electrons travel so slowly around the wires, why
does the light come on almost instantaneously? In fact,
electricity travels along a wire at close to the speed of light.
Less than a millisecond after the switch is closed at the power
station in the Latrobe Valley, the voltage appears on the power
line in Melbourne!
What travels down the power line is not really charge,
but a wave of electric field. This wave of electric field pushes
the charges a little closer (or a little further apart). It is this
change in the concentration of the charges that gives rise
to the potential, the voltage, that travels down the wire so
quickly.
A simple analogy can be drawn with a garden hose.
Provided it is full of water to begin with, water will come out
the other end virtually as soon as the tap is turned on. The
actual water that goes into the hose when the tap is turned on
may take quite a few seconds to emerge from the other end.
Again, what travels so quickly down the hose is a pressure
pulse, not the actual water. The water then flows because the
pressure at the tap end of the hose is higher than that at the
other end. Likewise, if the potential at one end of a wire is
greater than that at the other, a steady current will flow along
the wire.
Resistance and the electric field in a wire
We can gain some insight into the nature of resistance from
our simple model of the mechanism of charge movement in
wires. For a current to flow in a wire, an electric field must be
established in order to produce a force on the electrons in the
wire. This electric field is set up by the source of EMF, which
produces a different ‘charge concentration’ (potential) at one
end of the wire relative to that at the other end. This is shown
diagrammatically in Figure 2.32.
The concentration of charge along the length will
gradually change from being strongly positive at one end
to strongly negative at the other end. It is this changing
concentration that establishes the uniform electric field. At
any point an electron ‘sees’ more positive charge to the left
than to the right and will therefore experience a force to the
left. (Remember that an electron experiences a force in the
direction opposite to the field.) If in fact the field was stronger
at one place than another, electrons would move more quickly
there and this would weaken the field until it became uniform.
It is this electric field that ‘drives’ the current. It creates
a steady force on the free electrons that results in their slow
movement along the conductor. In an average conductor the
electrons might take around a minute to move a millimetre.
Don’t forget, however, that there are huge numbers of
electrons moving and so the number passing any point in
1 second will also be huge. In a current of 1 A there will be
6.2 × 10
18
electrons flowing past any point each second.
The reason the electrons move so slowly is simple: they
keep colliding with the atoms in the wire and giving up their
energy (which is why the temperature of the wire rises). The
stronger the field, the faster the electrons move, however, and
therefore the larger the current. Not surprisingly, it turns out
that the speed is directly proportional to the strength of the
field and that the field is directly proportional to the potential
difference applied. Thus the current is proportional to the
potential difference, as Georg Ohm discovered.
Why is the electric field proportional to the potential
difference between the ends of the wire? If we imagine a small
positive test charge, +q, moving along the wire in a steady
field , it will lose potential energy given by ∆U = qE∆x (work
= force × distance) where ∆x is the distance it has travelled. If
it travels the whole length, l, the energy lost will be ∆U = qEl.
Note that the kinetic energy gained by the electron is given up
almost immediately to the atoms the electron collides with.
Now the energy transferred per unit of charge is just
what is meant by the potential difference, V. That is,
V = ∆U/q. From the previous expression we see therefore
that V = El. This is the electrical equivalent of the expression
‘work = force × distance’. We simply need to remember that V
represents the ‘work per unit charge’ and is the ‘force per
unit charge’. In this context remember that the work done is
equal to the change of potential energy.
Rearranging, we can write E = V/l. The electric field can
thus be expressed as the ‘potential gradient’ along a wire.
Indeed it is usually given units of volts per metre.
It is now easy to see why the simple relationship between
resistance, length and cross-sectional area of a conductor
holds. The longer the wire (with a constant potential
difference), the weaker the electric field and hence the lower
the current that will flow. The field created in the wire is
dependent on the potential difference and the length, not
on its width, and so if one piece of wire has twice the cross-
sectional area of another it will carry twice the current. The
resistance will therefore decrease with increasing cross-
sectional area.
Figure 2.31 this diagram represents the path of an individual electron
in a wire as it might appear without (AB) and with (AB′) an electric field
(…). the motion due to the field, however, has been greatly exaggerated.
Drawn to scale it would be impossible to notice any difference.
Figure 2.32 A potential difference applied to the ends of the metal
conductor creates an electric field along the length of the conductor.
B`
B
A
E
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+
+



















E
65 65 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
1 Andy wishes to measure the I–V characteristic of a
light bulb. He has set up a circuit as shown. In which
of the positions, shown M1–M4, can he place:
a a voltmeter?
b an ammeter?
2 A student obtains a graph of the current–voltage
characteristics of a piece of resistance wire.
a What current flows in this wire at a voltage of
7.5 V?
b What voltage would be required to make a current
of 20 A flow in this wire?
c What assumptions did you make in answering
part b?
d What is the resistance of this wire at 5 V, and at
20 V?
3 A student finds that the current through a resistor is
3.5 A while a voltage of 2.5 V is applied to it.
a What is the resistance?
b The voltage is then doubled and the current is
found to increase to 7.0 A. Is the resistor ohmic or
not?
4 Rose and Rachel are trying to find the resistance of
an electrical device. They find that at 5 V it draws
a current of 200 mA and at 10 V it draws a current
of 500 mA. Rose says that the resistance is 25 Ω, but
Rachel maintains that it is 20 Ω. Who is right and
why?
5 Nick has an ohmic resistor to which he has applied
5 V. He measures the current at 45 mA. He then
increases the voltage to 8 V. What current will he find
now?
6 Lisa finds that when she increases the voltage
across an ohmic resistor from 6 V to 10 V the current
increases by 2 A.
a What is the resistance of this resistor?
b What current does it draw at 10 V?
7 The resistance of a certain piece of wire is found to be
0.8 Ω. What would be the resistance of:
a a piece of the same wire twice as long?
b a piece of wire of twice the diameter?
• The current–potential difference (I–V) relationship
for an electrical device describes the electrical
behaviour of the device.
• A device with a linear I–V graph is known as an
ohmic conductor. It obeys Ohm’s law: the current is
directly proportional to the voltage.
• While the current in a non-ohmic conductor will
be dependent on the voltage, it is not directly
proportional to it.
• Theresistanceofaconductor,whetherohmicornot,
is defined as the ratio of the potential difference to the
current (1 Ω = 1 V A
−1
). Thus V = IR. The resistance of
an ohmic conductor is constant.
• Acurrentflowsinametalbecauseofanelectricfield
established by a potential difference along it. The
amount of current depends on the field, the cross-
sectional area and the length as well as the nature
and temperature of the material.
• Theresistanceofaconductorisgivenby
R =
rL
A

where r is the resistivity, a characteristic of the
material. The resistivity normally depends on the
temperature.
2.4 summary
Resistance, ohmic and non-ohmic conductors
2.4 questions
Resistance, ohmic and non-ohmic conductors
lililililililililil
M1
lililililililililil
M4
lililililililililil
M2
lililililililililil
M3
10
8
6
4
2
0
C
u
r
r
e
n
t

(
A
)
Voltage (V)
0 5 10 15 20 25
electricity 66
8 A strange electrical device has the I–V characteristic
shown.
a Is it an ohmic or non-ohmic device? Explain.
b What current is drawn when a voltage of 10 V is
applied to it?
c What voltage would be required to double the
current drawn at 10 V?
d What is the resistance of the device at:
i 10 V? ii 20 V?
9 Two students have measured the I–V characteristics
of two electrical resistors and have found them to be
straight lines with different slopes. Elsa says that the
one with the steeper slope has a greater resistance,
but Cathryn says the one with the lower slope has
the greater resistance. Who is right and why?
10 In Worked example 2.4C the resistance of a piece of
copper wire 1.8 mm in diameter and 10 m long was
found to be 0.068 Ω.
a What would be the resistance of a piece of
aluminium wire of the same dimensions? (The
resistivity of copper is 1.7 × 10
−8
Ω m, aluminium
is 2.8 × 10
−8
Ω m.)
b What voltage drop would occur along the
aluminium wire if 10 A were flowing in it?
1.5
1.0
0.5
10 20
V (V)
I (A)
0
67 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
Anyone who has been anywhere near a lightning strike knows the enormous
electrical energy that nature can unleash in a fraction of a second. You are
quite likely using a tamed version of that energy by which to read this
book. One only needs to look around at all the devices that rely on it, in
one form or another, to be reminded that electrical power is central to our
modern way of life.
electrical energy
Electrical potential energy is produced whenever charges are pushed
close together. This energy can be transmitted long distances from power
stations or simply produced on demand from the chemical energy stored
in batteries.
The EMF, or voltage, of a power source is a measure of the number of
joules of energy stored for each coulomb of charge. As the charges move
through the circuit they lose the energy given to them by the source. The
potential energy lost by a charge q moving through a potential difference V
is given by ∆U = qV. This energy is released in the circuit as heat or some
other useful form of energy E and so:
E = qV
As the current is the rate at which charge is moving, the total charge q
can be expressed as q = It. The total energy produced is therefore given by:
Electrical energy (joules) = potential drop (volts) × current (amps) × time (seconds)
… = VIt
Worked example 2.5A
how much energy is used in 1 h by a 240 V heater drawing 5 A?
Solution
each coulomb of charge gives 240 J of heat energy, and in 1 h the number of coulombs
used is given by q = 5 A × 3600 s.
the total energy used is thus … = VIt = 240 × 5 × 3600 = 4.3 × 10
6
J = 4.3 MJ.
electric power
Power is the rate of energy use: P = E/t. (Remember that the SI unit for
power is the watt, where 1 watt = 1 joule per second.) Dividing the previous
expression by t gives:
E/t = VIt/t or P = VI
This is an important expression. A simple example might help you see
what it really means—as distinct from simply knowing the formula! Think
of the energy delivered to a 12 V headlight bulb drawing 5 A from a car
battery. Each second, 5 C of charge pass through the lamp filament. Each
of these coulombs carries 12 J of energy from the battery. This means that
every second 12 × 5 = 60 J of energy is delivered to the lamp. The power is
2.5 E
le
c
trica
l e
n
e
rg
y
a
n
d
p
o
w
e
r
electricity 68
the energy delivered per second and so this lamp is operating at a power of
60 J per second, that is, 60 watts. This can be summarised:
Total energy
supplied to bulb
each second
=
Energy provided
by each unit of
charge
×
Number of
charges supplied
each second
For the car bulb:
60 J s
–1
= 12 J C
–1
× 5 C s
–1
, which is the same as 60 W = 12 V × 5 A.
Power (watts) = voltage (volts) × current (amps)
P = VI
This relationship applies in all electrical situations. Fundamentally it is
another expression of the principle of conservation of energy: the energy
we can obtain from an electric current (each second) is equal to that put into
it by the source of the voltage.
Worked example 2.5B
two different torch bulbs are rated as 2.8 V, 0.27 A, and 4.2 V, 0.18 A.
a Which will be the brightest?
b Could they be interchanged?
c What are the resistances of the two bulbs at their operating voltages?
Solution
a the brightness is indicated by the power used—although only about 5% becomes light
energy. P = VI and so their powers are 2.8 × 0.27 = 0.76 W (or 760 mW) and 4.2 × 0.18
= 0.76 W. the bulbs will be the same brightness.
b Although the power of the bulbs is similar, using them in the wrong torch will either
result in the bulb burning out or running dim. the bulbs are designed to work at a
certain voltage. If a greater voltage is used, too much current will flow in the bulb, which
will result in it burning out.
c the resistance is given by R = V/I = 2.8/0.27 = 10.4 Ω for the first bulb and
R = 4.2/0.18 = 23 Ω for the second bulb. Clearly, if the first bulb was subject to 4.2 V
much more than the 0.27 A would flow—and more power than it could handle would
be produced. the higher resistance of the second bulb would mean that insufficient
current would flow at 2.8 V.
Another unit for electrical energy
The total amount of energy used by an appliance depends on the time for
which it is switched on. The total energy is given by the product of the
power and the time: E = Pt (1 joule = 1 watt × 1 second).
When discussing domestic appliances, time is more likely to be measured
in hours than seconds. Just as one ‘watt second’ is one joule, a ‘watt hour’
is also a unit of energy and will be equal to 3600 joules (as there are 3600
seconds in an hour). Similarly one ‘kilowatt hour’ will be 3 600 000 joules
(3.6 MJ). The watt hour (W h) and kilowatt hour (kW h) are the amounts of
energy used in one hour by a device using a power of 1 watt or 1 kilowatt
respectively.
It is easy to confuse the energy and
power units for electricity because of the
presence of the ‘kW’ in both. Remember:
Units of energy
1 MJ = 10
3
kJ = 10
6
J
1 kW h = 10
3
W h = 3.6 MJ
Units of power
1 MW = 10
3
kW = 10
6
W
Physics file
69 69 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
Worked example 2.5C
how much energy does a 100 W light bulb use in half an hour?
Solution
here P = 100 W and t = 0.5 h.
So … = 100 W × 0.5 h = 50 W h or 0.05 kW h
this could also be given as 100 W × 1800 s = 180 000 J = 180 kJ.
Electricity supply companies install a meter in every home which
measures the power consumed in kW h. We are charged around 15 cents
for each kW h used on the normal tariff. In homes where off-peak electricity
is used, for example for a storage hot water heater that is only on in the
early hours of the morning, off-peak electricity is charged at a lower rate.
A typical power bill is shown in Figure 2.33.
Figure 2.33 Although we often refer to our ‘power bill’, it is really an ‘energy bill’. Note that in this
case, while a total of 299 kW h was used from the grid, 317 kW h (that is, 410 – 93) was generated
by photovoltaic (pV) panels on the roof. the power company will only credit up to the amount
used, and so the credit is for only 299 kW h. the amount paid for the solar electricity is a little more
than that charged for grid electricity, but service charges are added. In some countries, all solar
electricity generated is paid for at a rate of up to four times that charged for grid electricity.
Interactive tutorial 3
Kilowatt hours
electricity 70
Worked example 2.5D
At a rate of 15 cents per kW h, how much will it cost each week to run a 200 W television set
for 4 hours per day? Compare this to the cost of running an electronic clock rated at 5 W.
Solution
the energy required for the television set each day is … = Pt = 200 × 4 = 800 W h = 0.8 kW h.
In one week the total will be seven times this, or 5.6 kW h. that will cost 84 cents. the clock
will use 5 × 24 × 7 = 840 W h, or 0.84 kW h in 1 week. this will cost 13 cents.
electric power production and transmission
When electric power is generated on a large scale it is almost always AC, or
alternating current power. What does this mean?
A battery, a solar cell and a Van de Graaff generator all produce what
is known as a DC EMF. The letters stand for direct current but could
just as easily mean direct voltage in many situations. In fact, although
it is something of a contradiction in terms, the expression ‘DC voltage’
is commonly used. A DC source of EMF always pushes charges in one
direction. The top (red or +) terminal of a dry cell is always positive, as
the chemicals inside push electrons from the top terminal to the bottom.
In any device connected to the dry cell, current will flow from the positive
terminal of the cell to the negative terminal.
As the name suggests, an alternating current continually changes
direction. The AC mains voltage we use in our homes reverses direction
50 times every second. The active terminal (often coloured red or brown)
might have a positive potential at one moment, but it will have a negative
potential 0.01 s later. A detailed study of alternating current remains for
Year 12, but for most purposes we can assume that the mains 240 V AC
power will have the same effect as a 240 V DC source.
Most of the power used in cities is generated by large power stations a
long way from where it is eventually used. The power is generated at about
20 kV (20 000 V) but then ‘transformed’ to a much higher voltage, typically
500 kV, for transmission to the city. There it is transformed down to 22 kV for
distribution. Transformers on the poles along our streets reduce it further
to 240 V for domestic use. We won’t be studying the internal operation of
transformers this year, but the law of conservation of energy tells us that
all the power that goes into them must come out. In fact, a little will be
converted into heat, but in a good transformer more than 99% continues on
as electrical energy but at a different voltage.
Figure 2.34 A typical old-style household
electricity energy meter. the dial on the right
reads the number of unit kW h while each one
to the left reads one power of ten higher. When
reading a meter, be careful to note that each
alternate dial turns in the opposite direction and
to read the number which the pointer has most
recently passed. the small dial reads tenths of
a kilowatt hour and the large horizontal disk,
which drives the meter, spins at a rate which you
will find stated on the meter (400 revs per kW h
in this case). these meters are gradually being
replaced by new ‘smart meters’ that, among
other things, can be read remotely.
Figure 2.36 In a wire carrying a DC current, the electric field (…) always points in the same
direction and the electrons are slowly drifting in the opposite direction. In an AC current
the field is alternating in direction 50 times per second and the electrons hardly move at
all—they just vibrate back and forth.
In fact, the potential of the active
terminal of an Australian AC supply
varies between +340 V and −340 V
during one cycle. The neutral terminal
remains at zero potential. The 240 V
quoted as ‘mains voltage’ is actually an
average potential. It is the DC potential
that would be required to provide the
same amount of power.
Physics file
Figure 2.35 Voltage of Australian AC supply.
t
+340
240 V DC
V (V)
2
4
0

V

A
C
–340
e
e
e
E
Direct current
e
e
e
E
Alternating current
71 71 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
The power relation P = VI tells us that if a transformer changes the voltage
but does not alter the power, the current must also change. If the voltage
was doubled, for example, the current would halve. This is exactly why the
voltage is changed. At 500 000 V the current needed to transmit power is
clearly far less than the current needed at lower voltages. As the size of the
cables needed to transmit power depends on the current, considerable cost
savings are achieved by using high voltages.
For a transformer: P
in
= P
out
so V
in
I
in
= V
out
I
out
or I
out
/I
in
= V
in
/V
out
In other words, if the voltage is increased by a certain ratio, the current
decreases by the same ratio.
Worked example 2.5E
If the power from a generator operating at 20 kV and producing a current of 10 000 A is
transformed up to 500 kV, what current will flow at the higher voltage? how much power
is being produced? (Assume the transformer is 100% efficient.)
Solution
the output voltage of 500 kV is 25 times higher than the input voltage of 20 kV. this means
that the output current will be 25 times lower than the input current of 10 000 A. the output
(high voltage) current will therefore be 10 000/25 = 400 A. the power can be calculated at
either voltage:
P = VI = 20 kV × 10 000 A = 200 MW (megawatts) or 500 kV × 400 A = 200 MW
table 2.4 typical values for daily domestic electrical energy consumption
Appliance Typical power
(W)
Average use
(h day
–1
)
Energy use
(average W h day
–1
)
Min. Max. Min. Max. Min. Max.
Kitchen
Lights 15 100 1.0 3.0 15 300
Refrigerator 100 260 6.0 12.0 600 3120
electric stove 800 3000 0.25 1.00 200 3000
Microwave oven 650 1200 0.2 0.3 120 360
toaster 600 600 0.03 0.1 18 60
Laundry
Lights 15 100 0.3 1.0 5 100
Iron 500 1000 0.1 0.4 50 400
Washing machine 500 900 0.2 0.3 100 300
Dryer 1800 2400 0.2 0.5 360 1200
Sewing machine 15 75 0.07 0.07 1 5
Living
Lights 15 200 1.0 4.0 15 800
television 25 200 0.5 5.0 13 1000
Video recorder 100 100 0.5 5.0 50 500
Stereo 60 200 0.5 5.0 30 1000
Radio 10 40 0.3 3.0 3 120
Vacuum cleaner 100 1000 0.1 0.3 10 300
Computer 100 300 1.0 5.0 100 1500
electricity 72
Appliance Typical power
(W)
Average use
(h day
–1
)
Energy use
(average W h day
–1
)
Min. Max. Min. Max. Min. Max.
Bedrooms
Lights 11 100 0.5 2.0 6 200
Bathroom
Lights 11 100 0.2 1.0 2 100
Garage/external
Lights 11 100 0.2 2.0 2 200
power tools 200 800 0.2 0.2 20 160
hot water
electric storage 1750 2500 4.0 6.0 7000 15 000
electric heating*
Fan heaters 2000 7000 6.0 12.0 12 000 84 000
Strip heaters 500 1500 0.5 1.0 250 1500
Oil-filled heaters 1000 3000 8.0 14.0 8000 42 000
*During winter months
Physics in action
electric power and greenhouse gases
In 1960 the average Victorian used about 8 kW h of electrical
energy each day (including industry and commerce). Today,
that figure is about 29 kW h. Every kilowatt-hour of electric
energy we use results in the release of about 1.4 kg of
carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is because 85% of
our electricity is generated by burning brown coal, one of the
worst fossil fuels for CO
2
emission—but a fuel of which Victoria
has plentiful supplies. As electricity generation accounts for
a little over half of our primary energy use, the problem of
reducing greenhouse emissions from electricity production is a
very significant one.
Figure 2.38 the largest user of electricity in Victoria is the
manufacturing industry, with commerce and residential using about
20% each. As you can see, a significant proportion of the electric
power generated is actually used, or lost in transmission, by the
electricity industry itself.
Figure 2.37 By far the largest source of primary energy in Victoria,
brown coal is almost entirely used to generate electricity. Some
gas is also used for electricity, but as you can see, the amount of
renewable energy used is very small.
Brown coal 49%
Oil 32%
Biogas 0.2%
Hydroelectricity 0.2%
Biomass 2%
Natural gas 17%
Solar energy 0.1%
Wind energy 0.1%
Manufacturing 38%
Agriculture 1%
Residential 21%
Commerce 20%
Electricity
generation
& distribution
16%
Mining 2%
Water etc. 1%
Transport 1%
73 73 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
The next generation ‘advanced pressurised
fluid bed’ power stations may be able to reduce
the CO
2
emissions from 1.4 kg per kW h down
to about 0.8 kg per kW h, but the only hope of
a sizeable reduction in emissions from
coal-burning power stations is to capture and
bury the CO
2
(geosequestration) before it is
released into the atmosphere. However, neither
of these advances is likely before the 2020s.
Likewise, even if nuclear energy was approved,
it would be well over a decade before it could
begin generating power. Serious attention to
greenhouse gas emission requires action on
a much faster timescale if we are to avoid
dangerous climate change.
Fortunately, there are ways in which
electricity can be generated with little CO
2

produced. Wind and solar energy are widely
used in Europe, with Denmark, for example,
generating about 20% of its electricity
from wind farms. Solar electricity from
photovoltaic (PV) panels is becoming more
cost-effective and also has the advantage
that it supplies energy when the peak
demand from air-conditioners is greatest.
It is often said that the problem of
supplying ‘base-load’ electricity means
that these renewable energy sources
will remain marginal. However, when
different systems (including hydro,
geothermal and tidal) are linked
over large distances by high voltage
DC transmission lines, a very large
proportion of our electrical energy
could be supplied by sustainable means.
Figure 2.39 One proposal for producing solar energy is the ‘power tower’. A vast,
glass-roofed greenhouse captures the Sun’s energy in dark-coloured rocks. the hot
air produced rushes up the 1 km tall chimney in the centre, driving turbines which
generate electricity. Because the rock stores heat during the day, electricity can
still be produced at night.
electricity 74
• The potential energy stored when charge is
concentrated can be converted into other forms of
energy in nature or in man-made devices.
•Therateatwhichthisenergyisreleased(thepower)
is given by the product of the potential (voltage)
and the current, P = VI. In SI units, 1 watt is equal to
1 volt × 1 ampere (1 W = 1 A V).
•TotalenergyproducedisgivenbyE = Pt (1 J = 1 W s).
The kilowatt hour (kW h) is an alternative energy
unit and is equal to 3.6 MJ.
•The direction of an EMF may be either constant or
alternating. A constant EMF gives rise to a direct
current (DC) and an alternating EMF gives rise to
alternating current (AC).
•Power is transmitted to cities at high voltages in
order to keep the current needed relatively low.
2.5 summary
electrical energy and power
Matter is made up of huge
numbers of positive and
negative charges.
Charge cannot be created
or destroyed.
An electrostatic charge is
the result of transfer of
charge from one object to
another.
Some charges are free to
move in conductors but not
in insulators.
Like charges repel, unlike
charges attract.
Electrostatic effects are
transmitted by conductors
but not by insulators.
The current depends on the
resistance of the particular
conductor. In ohmic
conductors the resistance is
constant, V = IR.
As charges move through a
circuit they lose their potential
energy. Energy released
E = qV.
The power produced as a
current I flows in an
electrical device with a
potential V across it is
given by P = VI.
The coulomb force between
charges is given by
F = .
kq
1
q
2
r
2
Systems of charges will
create an electric field:
E = .
F
q
A source of EMF will create
an electric field in a
conductor which will result
in a current, I = .
q
t
A source of EMF gives
charges electric potential
energy (U) by ‘concentrating’
them: EMF = .
∆U
q
75 75 Chapter 2 Concepts in electricity
1 A 4.5 V battery is used to power the motor of a toy car.
a How much energy (in joules) is given to each
coulomb of charge that flows through the battery?
b How much electrical potential energy is released
in the motor by each coulomb of charge that flows
through it?
c Will all of the electrical potential energy released
in the motor appear as kinetic energy of the car?
Explain.
2 How much energy does one electron receive when it
travels through a 1.5 V cell?
3 What is the power used by a:
a 3 V torch bulb drawing 0.2 A?
b car starter motor which takes 200 A from a 12 V
battery?
c mains-powered (240 V) toaster rated at 3 A?
4 How much current is used by a:
a 60 W, 240 V light globe?
b 1200 W mains-powered heater?
c 90 W car windscreen wiper motor?
5 What is the voltage of a:
a 100 W spotlight which draws 4 A?
b 200 mW radio operating with a current of 23 mA?
c 7500 W (10 HP) industrial motor using 18 A?
6 A large power station generator is rated as 500 MW with
a 24 kV output. What current would it be generating?
7 How much energy is used by a 5 W digital clock in
1 week? Answer in kW h as well as in joules. If electric
energy costs 15 cents per kW h, how much will it cost to
run the clock for a year?
8 A step-down transformer is used to run a 12 V model
railway from the 240 V mains. If the model engine
operates at a power of 18 W, and the transformer can be
assumed to be 100% efficient, what is:
a the current used by the engine?
b the input current to the transformer from the
mains?
9 Briefly describe the difference between AC and DC
electric power. Give examples of some sources of each.
10 Why is electric power transmitted to cities at very
high voltages?
2.5 questions
electrical energy and power
chapter review
1 Matter is said to be made up of huge, but equal, numbers of
negative and positive particles. What are these particles called,
where are they normally located, and how can matter become
charged?
2 Before the nozzle of the fuel pump is inserted into the fuel tank
of an aircraft, an ‘earth wire’ is always connected to the metal
frame of the plane. Why do you think this is done?
3

i two metal blocks A and B are in contact and near a positively
charged object C.
ii the blocks are then separated while C remains present.
iii C is then removed.
iv Finally the blocks are brought together again.
Describe the charge present on the two blocks (A and B) at each
stage (i–iv) of this process.
4 Would it be possible for lines of electric field, such as those
shown in Figure 2.13, to cross each other?
5 Do you think a world in which like charges attracted and unlike
charges repelled would be possible?
6 What would be the force between two 100 µC charges placed
1 m apart?
7 If the two 100 µC charges in the last question were then moved
together until they were 10 cm apart, how would the force
change?
i
ii
iii
iv
A B
C
C
A B
A B
A B
electricity 76
8 A charge of 5 µC is placed near a system of charges and
experiences a force of 2 N. What is the strength of the electric
field at that point?
9 It was stated that a lightning bolt can transfer 10 C of charge
to the ground with a current of up to 10 000 A. On the basis of
these values, how long does the lightning bolt last? In fact, it is
said that a lightning bolt may last up to half a second. Can you
find an explanation for this apparent discrepancy?
10 Wood is sometimes regarded as a conductor and yet in other
circumstances is referred to as an insulator. Why is this? Give
some examples to illustrate your answer.
11 how much electrical energy can be obtained from each coulomb
of charge taken from a 240 V mains power point?
12 A torch like that in Figure 2.23 has two fresh 1.5 V cells in place
but is switched off. What is the potential difference between:
a the bulb and the spring at the bottom?
b the bulb and the positive terminal of the battery?
c the bulb and the metal strip that makes contact with the
bulb when the torch is turned on?
13 When the torch shown in Figure 2.23 is turned on, in what part
of the circuit would you find the:
a most abrupt change of potential?
b strongest electric field?
14 A 3 V torch with a 0.3 A bulb is switched on for 1 minute.
a how much charge has travelled through the filament in this
time?
b how much energy has been used?
c Where has this energy come from?
15 the resistance of a certain heating element when tested with
a multimeter is found to be 40 Ω. It is then used as a heater
supplied with 240 V and the current is found to be 5 A.
a What is the resistance of the element when used as a
heater?
b Why is this resistance greater than the 40 Ω obtained with
the meter?
c What is the power of this heating element?
16 An electrical extension cord used to run a 2400 W mains-
powered heater is found to have the I–V characteristics shown
in this graph.

a What is the resistance of the extension cord?
b how much voltage drop will occur in the cord while the
heater is running?
c how much power will be dissipated in the extension cord?
17 the graph shows the I–V characteristic of a device known as a
thermistor.

a Is this an ohmic device? explain your answer.
b What is the resistance of the thermistor at voltages of 8 and
16 volts?
c What power would be dissipated in the thermistor at these
voltages?
18 the power from a 10 000 V (10 kV), 200 A generator is
transformed up to 400 kV by a loss-free transformer for
transmission.
a What is the power being produced by the generator?
b What current will flow in the power line?
19 An underground aluminium power cable specified for a house is
to be 20 m long with a diameter of 3 mm, giving a cross-sectional
area of 7.1 mm
2
. the electrician finds that a new alloy is available
which has half the resistivity of aluminium and so decides to
use a 1.5 mm diameter cable of the new alloy. (Resistivity of
aluminium = 2.8 × 10
−8
Ω m.)
a What would be the resistance of the cable specified
originally?
b Will the new cable have the same resistance as the one
specified? explain.
20 It is found that on an average day a refrigerator motor, rated at
200 W, comes on for 15 minutes every hour. how much energy
does it use in a year? Give your answer in kilowatt hours as well
as in joules.
10
8
6
4
2
0
0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8
Voltage (V)
C
u
r
r
e
n
t

(
A
)
1.0
0.8
0.6
0.4
0.2
10 20
V (V)
I (A)
c
h
a
p
t
e
r
3
3 I
f you have ever looked inside a radio or other electronic device
you will realise that electric circuits can be quite complex.
however, the basic principles that apply to these circuits are the
same as those that apply to a simple torch, or for that matter to an
electric train using megawatts of power. an understanding of these
basic principles will prepare us for whatever electrical or electronic
device might come our way.
perhaps more importantly, once we have developed an insight
into the nature of electrical circuits and devices, we will have gained
a feeling for the essential nature of a technology without which most
of our modern lifestyle would be impossible. Whether we ever again
tackle a circuit with a soldering iron, or even look inside an electrical
device, a good understanding of electricity and its uses can help us
to gain an awareness of the underlying nature of our technological
world.
Many questions can be asked about the wise use of much modern
technology. For example, the use and generation of electricity involve
fundamental questions for both developed and developing societies.
there is a lot of talk of ‘alternative’ forms of energy, but much of
it is ill informed. this discussion needs to be taken seriously by a
well-informed public. an understanding of the basics of electrical
technology is a very good place to start for anyone who wishes to
help find sensible answers to these questions.
E
l
e
c
t
r
i
c

c
i
r
c
u
i
t
s
by the end of this chapter
you will have covered material from the study of
electricity including:
• seriesandparallelcircuits
• characteristicsofcells,batteriesandpowersupplies
• householdelectricitysupply,circuitsandappliances
• electricshocksandsafety
• electricityincarsandinisolatedsituations.
78 electricity
Any electric circuit consists of one or more sources of EMF connected by
good conductors to various combinations of circuit elements. By ‘good
conductors’ we mean that any potential drop (p.d.) in them will be very
small compared with the potential drops across the circuit elements. Only
in a superconductor is there no p.d. at all. For example, the p.d. along an
extension cord used to run a 240 V heater might amount to 2 or 3 V.
In order to draw clear diagrams of electrical circuits, a range of more or
less standard symbols and conventions is used. Some of these are given in
Figures 3.1 and 3.2.
two circuit rules
The principle of conservation of charge and the principle of conservation of
energy can be used to establish two very important rules that apply to all
electric circuits.
In any electric circuit the sum of all currents fowing into any point is equal to the
sum of the currents fowing out of it.
For example, if at a junction of three wires there is 2 A flowing in on one
wire and 3 A flowing in on another, then there must be a current of 5 A
flowing out on the third. As current is simply flowing charge, this ‘rule’ is
basically a consequence of the principle of conservation of charge.
Superconductors are materials that
have zero resistance at very low
temperatures. Mercury and lead become
superconducting at temperatures of
4.2 K and 7.2 K respectively. Curiously,
most metals that are good conductors
at normal temperatures, gold and
copper for example, do not become
superconducting at all.
In 1986 a new class of so called
‘warm superconductors’ was discovered.
It was found that various obscure
compounds of metal oxides with rare
earths became superconducting around
the relatively high (but still rather cold!)
temperature of liquid nitrogen (77 K).
The significance of this was that liquid
nitrogen is about as cheap as milk and
so it made practical applications look
much more feasible.
So far, the applications are mainly in
the production of very strong magnets.
This is because once an electric current
is set up in a superconductor it simply
keeps going as there is no resistance to
absorb its energy. As you will probably
know, a strong electric current creates a
strong magnetic field.
Physics file
The symbols for the circuit devices
shown in Figure 3.1 are commonly
used, but are not the only ones you will
see representing these devices. There
is no ‘official’ set of symbols, although
widespread usage of symbols such as
these tends to mean that they become
the unofficial standard. It is important,
however, to keep a flexible approach and
interpret symbols in the context of the
particular circuit.
Physics file
Figure 3.1 Some commonly used electrical devices and their symbols.
S
im
p
le
e
le
c
tric
c
irc
u
its
3.1
wires crossed
not joined
or
wires joined,
junction of conductor
filament lamp
diode
earth or ground
cell
(DC supply)
battery of cells
(DC supply)
AC supply
ammeter
voltmeter
fuse
switch
V
resistor or
other load
A
fixed resistor
Device Symbol Device Symbol
79 chapter 3 electric circuits 79
Sometimes this rule is abbreviated simply to ‘the sum of all currents
at a point is zero’. Remember that currents flowing into the point will be
positive and those flowing away from the point negative.
The second rule is an expression of the principle of conservation of
energy.
The total potential drop around a closed circuit must be equal to the total EMF in
the circuit.
In the torch, for example, if the battery supplies an EMF of 3.0 V and we
measure a 2.8 V p.d. across the bulb, there must be a 0.2 V drop somewhere
else in the circuit—possibly across the switch contacts if they are a little
dirty. As the EMF is the energy given to each unit of charge and the total
potential drop is the energy obtained from each unit of charge, they must
be equal.
These two rules are known as Kirchhoff’s laws after Gustav Kirchhoff
who first stated them in 1845. In terms of our water cycle analogy (Section
2.3) the first rule is equivalent to saying that the total water flowing into
a river junction is the same as that flowing out from it. The second is
equivalent to saying that the height gained by water evaporated by the Sun
is equal to the distance it falls as it returns to the sea. While the first might
be a little questionable for water, as a result of some evaporation or seepage
Figure 3.3 the current flowing into any junction
must be equal to the current flowing out of it.
each little symbol could be imagined as the
movement of 1 c of positive charge in 1 s.
Figure 3.4 the little creatures represent
coulombs of charge loaded with various amounts
of energy from the battery, which they give up
as they travel around the circuit. they will use up
a little in the conductors, but that would be very
small compared with the amount given to the
light bulbs.
Figure 3.2 Some electrical devices and their circuit diagrams. (a) a torch. (b) a single bar
radiator. (c) a car starter motor.
2 A
3 A
5 A
5 volts
+
2 volts 3 volts
switch
bulb
switch
(a)
(b)
(c)
element
switch
AC
element
mains
lead
switch
starter
motor
battery
motor
12 V
80 electricity
into the ground, the second obviously has to be exactly true. As electric
charge does not ‘evaporate’ or seep into the insulation, both laws are very
accurate for electric circuits. These two simple rules, or ‘laws’, are the basis
for the analysis of any electrical circuit. In the rest of this chapter we will
use them to look at some practical circuits.
two ways of connecting circuits
No matter how complex a circuit, it can always be broken up into sections
in which circuit elements are combined either in series or in parallel; that is,
one after another, or beside each other.
Charge flowing in a series circuit flows through one element and then
through the other. Charge flowing through a parallel circuit flows through
one element or the other. Christmas tree lights are often wired in series.
Normal house lights and power points are wired in parallel. We will
consider series circuits in this section and parallel circuits in the next.
Series circuits
Consider the case of a battery in a circuit with a torch bulb and a resistor in
series, as in Figure 3.7. The current flowing in this circuit will pass through
both the bulb and the resistor. The current that flows through the bulb will
also flow through the resistor. Notice that, as Kirchhoff’s first law tells us,
no current is ‘lost’ as it goes around the circuit. What is ‘lost’ is the potential
energy carried by the charges. This energy is converted to heat, light and so
on in the various devices in the circuit. This will result in a potential drop
across each device and, as Kirchhoff’s second law tells us, the sum of the
potential drops will be equal to the total EMF supplied from the battery.
So what characterises a series circuit is that the same current flows
through each device, and the total of the voltage drops across the devices
adds up to the total EMF in the circuit. Note that when adding the EMFs
it is important to take into account the direction. If one cell is reversed, for
example, that EMF is counted as negative.
It is the I–V characteristics (see Section 2.4) that define the electrical
behaviour of a circuit. For an ohmic resistor the I–V characteristic can be
given simply by its resistance. For any other circuit device, such as the
bulb in this circuit, the I–V graph is usually needed. If the characteristic
is known then it is possible to determine the current and power at any
particular voltage. The question, then, is if the I–V characteristics of the
two individual devices are known, can the I–V characteristic of the series
combination be found?
When circuit elements are placed in series, because the charge has to
be ‘pushed’ through one element and then the next, common sense would
lead us to expect that a greater total voltage would be needed to achieve a
particular current flow. This is indeed the basis for finding the combined
characteristic. As the current in both must be the same, we find the voltages
required to cause that current to flow in each of them, and then add them to
find the total required voltage. If the two individual I–V characteristics are
drawn on a graph (see Figure 3.8) this can be done, in effect, by adding the
two graphs ‘sideways’. That is, choose several current values and for each
find the two voltages and add them to obtain the I–V characteristic for the
series combination. This is best explained by an example.
Figure 3.5 two circuit elements (a) in series and
(b) in parallel.
Figure 3.6 Mains-powered christmas tree lights
are usually wired in series so that lower voltage
globes can be used. If 20 globes are used in
series the voltage across each is just 12 V. the
problem is that, if one globe burns out, all the
bulbs go out, although some bulbs are made
to short circuit when they burn out so that the
current continues to flow.
Figure 3.7 In a series circuit the sum of the two
potential drops V
1
and V
2
will be equal to the total
supplied potential difference.
(b)
(a)
V
1
V
2
EMF
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 10
Series circuits
81 chapter 3 electric circuits 81
Worked example 3.1A
the resistor and the light bulb whose I–V characteristics are given in the graphs in Figure
3.8 are to be combined in series.
a What is the resistance of the resistor?
b Draw the I–V characteristics of the series combination.
c the light bulb is designed to operate at a current of 4 a. It is necessary to run the
light bulb from a power supply that can only produce voltages between 15 V and 25 V.
Suggest a way in which this could be done using the resistor in conjunction with the
bulb.
Solution
a the resistance is found from V = IR, that is:
R =
V
I
=
10
5
= 2 Ω
b In order to find the characteristics of the series combination the graphs are added
sideways; that is, the voltages are added at constant currents. For example, to obtain
a current of 1.0 a in the circuit requires 2.0 V across the resistor, but 0.5 V across the
bulb; a total of 2.5 V is required. a table of values obtained this way follows.
Current (A) V
resistor
(V) V
light bulb
(V) V
tot
(V)
0 0 0 0
1.0 2.0 0.5 2.5
2.0 4.0 2.0 6.0
3.0 6.0 4.0 10.0
4.0 8.0 9.5 17.5
these values are graphed in Figure 3.9.
c the bulb requires 9.5 V to operate at 4 a. In order to operate it from a power supply
greater than that, a resistor will be required in series to lower the potential across the
bulb to 9.5 V. as can be seen from the graph of the series combination, to obtain a
current of 4 a through both, the total voltage needs to be set at 17.5 V. at this point there
is a p.d. of 8 V across the resistor and 9.5 V across the bulb.
resistors in series
When ohmic resistors are placed in series with each other the situation is
somewhat simpler. Because the I–V characteristic of a resistor is a straight
line, they will add together to give a combined characteristic with another
straight line. The use of Kirchhoff’s laws enables us to find the effective
resistance of a combination of resistors in series. The effective resistance is
the value of the single resistor that would have the same I–V characteristic
as the two in series.
If two resistors are placed in series, we expect the effective resistance
to be higher than that of either resistor separately. (Remember that the
resistance can be thought of as the number of volts required to achieve a
current of 1 A.)
Figure 3.10 shows two resistors of values R
1
and R
2
in series and another
resistor of value R
e
, the value of the single resistor that could replace the
Figure 3.8 the I–V characteristics of a fixed
resistor and a light bulb.
Figure 3.9 the resistor and light bulb graphs
have been added at constant current, that is,
sideways. the voltage of the series graph at any
current is the sum of the two individual voltages.
Figure 3.10 R
e
is the value of the single resistor
that could replace the series combination of R
1

and R
2
.
While the term ‘potential drop’ is
more strictly correct, the simpler term
‘voltage’ is very commonly used. In
either case, remember that the term
always refers to the difference in
potential across a circuit element or
source of EMF.
Physics file
V (V)
I

(
A
)
0
1
2
3
4
5
2 4 6 8 10
r
e
s
i
s
t
o
r
l
i
g
h
t

b
u
l
b
V (V)
I

(
A
)
0
1
2
3
4
5
2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18
s
e
rie
s
l
i
g
h
t

b
u
l
b
r
e
s
i
s
t
o
r
V
1
V
R
1
R
e
V
2
R
2
I
I
82 electricity
series combination of the first two. As the two resistors are in series, the
sum of the voltages across them must add to the total voltage, that is the
voltage across R
e
. (V
1
is the voltage across R
1
and V
2
that across R
2
.) The
voltage across R
e
is V, the sum of V
1
and V
2
. That is:
V = V
1
+ V
2
For two resistors in series the current, I, through each is the same. As the
voltage across a resistor is always given by V = IR we can write:
IR
e
= IR
1
+ IR
2
Dividing both sides by I we have:
R
e
= R
1
+ R
2
Not surprisingly, the effective resistance is simply the sum of the two
resistances. If there are more than two resistors in series it is easy to show
that the effective resistance is simply the sum of all of them:
R
e
= R
1
+ R
2
+ R
3
+ …
Worked example 3.1B
two pieces of nichrome wire (as used in heater elements) have resistances of 10 Ω and
20 Ω.
a What current would flow through them, and what power will be produced in them, if
they are separately connected to a 12 V battery?
b If they are connected in series what is their total resistance?
c When placed in series across the 12 V battery, what current will flow through them and
what power will be produced?
Solution
a the current will be given by I = V/R, so for the two wires separately the currents will be
12/10 = 1.2 a and 12/20 = 0.6 a.
the power is found from P = VI and so will be 12 × 1.2 = 14.4 W and 12 × 0.6 = 7.2 W,
a total of 21.6 W.
b When connected in series the total resistance will be 10 + 20 = 30 Ω.
c the current that flows from the 12 V battery will be
I =
V
R
=
12
30
= 0.4 a
the total power will be 12 × 0.4 = 4.8 W, considerably less than the previous situation.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 11
resistance in a combination circuit
83 chapter 3 electric circuits 83
1 State the two circuit rules (Kirchhoff’s laws) that
apply to all circuits. What are the two basic principles
that they are based upon?
2 An autoelectrician finds that while the EMF of the car
battery is 12 V there is only 10 V across one of the
taillight bulbs in a car. Can you suggest a reason for
this?
3 Emily has found a point in her car where four wires
are attached together. She finds currents of +2.5 A
and +1.0 A in two of the wires, and −4.2 A in a third
(+ means current into the point and – means current
out of the point). What is the current in the fourth
wire?
4 Two torch bulbs are placed in series with each other
and a 4.5 V battery. The current through one bulb is
found to be 0.25 A and the voltage across it is 2.1 V.
a What is the current through the other bulb?
b What is the voltage across the other bulb?
5 Bill has bought two 12 V headlamps for his truck but
finds that it has a 24 V battery. He decides that the
simplest way to overcome the problem is to wire them
in series.
a Will the headlamps work correctly?
b Do you see any problem with his scheme?
6 Two equal resistors are placed in series and found
to have a combined resistance of 34 Ω. What is the
resistance of each one?
7 A 10 V power supply is used across two separate
resistors. The current through one is found to be 0.4 A
and through the other 0.5 A. When they are combined
in series, what current will flow through them and
what is their effective resistance?
8 A 400 Ω resistor and a 100 Ω resistor are placed in
series across a battery with an EMF of 5 V.
a How much current will flow from the battery?
b What will be the voltage across each resistor?
9 Two ohmic resistors, whose I–V graphs are shown,
are to be combined in series.
a Draw a sketch graph of the I–V characteristic of the
two resistors combined in series.
b What is the effective resistance of the combination?
10 It is found that there is 60 V across one resistor of a
pair in series and 20 V across the other. If the smaller
resistance of the two is 5 Ω, what is the value of the
other resistor?
• AnelectriccircuitnormallyconsistsofasourceofEMF,
conductors to carry current with little loss of energy,
and circuit elements that turn the potential energy of
the charges into some form of useful energy.
• Circuitdiagramsaredrawnusingasetofconventions
(see Figure 3.1).
• Kirchhoff’stworulesenableustoanalyseanycircuit:
1 In any electrical circuit the sum of all currents
flowing into any point is equal to the sum of the
currents flowing out of it.
2 The sum of all EMF values around a circuit is equal
to the sum of all potential drops around the circuit.
• All circuits are combinations of circuit elements in
series (one after another) or in parallel (beside each
other).
• In a simple series circuit the same current goes
through each element in turn. The total voltage drop
is the sum of the individual drops.
• ThecombinedI–V characteristics of a series com bin­
ation of circuit elements can be found by adding the
individual characteristics ‘sideways’, i.e. adding the
voltages at constant currents.
• Forohmicresistorsinseriestheeffectiveresistanceis
given by R
e
= R
1
+ R
2
+ …
3.1 summary
Simple electric circuits
3.1 questions
Simple electric circuits
2
5 10 15 20
4
6
0
I

(
A
)
V(V)
R
2
R
1
84 electricity
When two circuit elements (resistors, light bulbs etc.) are put in parallel, as
in Figure 3.11, the charges moving around the circuit will go through one
or the other. This is in contrast to the series circuit where the charges go
through one and then the other. In other words, the current divides at some
point. The total current remains the same, but some of it flows through one
element and the rest through the other. Because the ends of the two devices
are connected together, the voltage across both of them is the same.
What characterises a parallel circuit is that the same voltage is across each
circuit element and the total of the currents through them adds up to give
the total current flowing in the circuit. So putting two elements in parallel
increases the paths available to the current and will therefore increase the
total current in the circuit. This is in contrast to a series circuit where adding
more elements in series decreases the current that can flow.
the I–V graph of parallel circuit elements
When circuit elements are placed in parallel, the charge can flow through
either conductor, so common sense would suggest that a greater total
current will flow at any particular voltage. This is indeed the basis for
finding the combined characteristic: as the voltage across each conductor
is the same, we find the current flowing in each and add them to find the
total current flowing. This time, the I–V characteristic for the combination
is obtained by adding the individual characteristics ‘upwards’. That is, for
several different voltages add the two currents together to obtain the total
current that will flow in the circuit and plot that point on the graph to obtain
the I–V characteristic for the parallel combination. Here is an example.
Worked example 3.2A
the resistor and the light bulb whose I–V characteristics were given in Figure 3.8 (and
repeated in Figure 3.12) are to be combined in parallel.
a Draw the I–V characteristics of the two elements in parallel.
b the light bulb is designed to operate at a current of 4 a. If the two are placed in parallel
across a power supply, what voltage setting will be required and what total current will
flow from the power supply?
Solutions
a to find the parallel characteristic requires that the graphs are added upwards; that is,
the currents at a particular voltage are added.
at 2.0 V, for example, the total current is given by 1.0 + 2.0 = 3.0 a. the other values are
given below:
Voltage (V) I
resistor
(A) I
light bulb
(A)
I
tot
(A)
0 0 0 0
2.0 1.0 2.0 3.0
4.0 2.0 3.0 5.0
6.0 3.0 3.5 6.5
8.0 4.0 3.8 7.8
10.0 5.0 4.0 9.0
the combined characteristics are shown in Figure 3.12.
Figure 3.11 the total current flowing through a
parallel circuit is the sum of the two currents in
the individual elements: I
tot
= I
1
+ I
2
.
Figure 3.12 the resistor and light bulb graphs
have been added at constant voltage. the current
of the parallel graph at any voltage is the sum of
the two individual currents.
C
irc
u
it e
le
m
e
n
ts
in
p
a
ra
lle
l
3.2
EMF
I
2
I
1
I
tot
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 12
parallel circuits
V (V)
I

(
A
)
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18
s
e
rie
s
lig
h
t b
u
lb
p
a
r
a
l
l
e
l
r
e
s
i
s
t
o
r
85 chapter 3 electric circuits 85
b the bulb requires 10 V to operate at 4 a. In a parallel circuit the same voltage is applied
across both elements; therefore, the voltage should be set at 10 V. as can be seen from
the graph (or the table) this will mean that there is also 5 a flowing in the resistor,
giving a total current drawn from the power supply of 9 a.
resistors in parallel
When ohmic resistors are placed in parallel with each other we can expect
a greater flow of current in the circuit at any particular voltage. This is
because adding each resistor adds a new path for the current without
affecting the other paths. So adding more resistors (in parallel) actually
decreases the total effective resistance in the circuit. The effective resistance
of a combination of two parallel resistors will therefore be less than that of
either of them alone.
The combined characteristic will again be a straight line. As was the
case with the series combination of resistors, the effective resistance of two
resistors in parallel can be found by using Kirchhoff’s laws and a little
algebra. Remember that the effective resistance is the value of the single
resistor that would have the same characteristics as the parallel combination
of the two. If the two resistors are placed in parallel it is the sum of the two
currents that must add to get the total current:
I = I
1
+ I
2
Again, by re­expressing this relationship in terms of the voltages and
resistances we can find what we are looking for. This time, replace I by
V/R, so I = I
1
+ I
2
becomes:
V
R
e
=
V
R
1
+
V
R
2
Dividing both sides by V we have:
I
R
e
=
I
R
1
+
I
R
2
This time it is the reciprocals of the resistances that are to be added. Again,
this is what might be expected. R
e
will always be somewhat smaller than
either of the other two. If, for example, both resistances are the same, say
R, the above expression yields
I
R
e
=
2
R
or R
e
=
1
2
R. As might be expected,
putting two similar resistances in parallel halves the total resistance in the
circuit—as it has doubled the available paths for the current.
If there are more than two resistors in parallel the effective resistance is
found by adding all the reciprocals:
I
R
e
=
I
R
1
+
I
R
2
+
I
R
3

Worked example 3.2B
as in Worked example 3.1B, two pieces of nichrome wire (as used in heater elements) are
found to have resistances of 10 Ω and 20 Ω.
a If they are connected in parallel what is their effective resistance?
b What total current will flow through them and what power will be produced if the
combination is placed across a 12 V battery?
Figure 3.13 R
e
is the value of the single resistor
that could replace the parallel combination of R
1

and R
2
.
The reciprocal of the resistance is
sometimes called the ‘conductance’ for
the simple reason that a large value
would mean a good conductor. It is given
the symbol G, i.e. G = 1/R. The unit
is then Ω
−1
, sometimes called a ‘mho’
(ohm backwards). The expression for
two resistors in parallel then becomes
G = G
1
+ G
2
. It is not surprising that
the total conductance of two conductors
in parallel is simply the sum of the
individual conductances. (Combining two
conductances in series yields
an effective conductance given by
1/G = 1/G
1
+ 1/G
2
.) In most circuits we
deal with, the resistances have values
in the hundreds or thousands of ohms
and so it is normal to use resistance
rather than the corresponding very
small values of conductance. On the
other hand, electric power engineers
sometimes deal with conductance
because their cables need to have very
low resistances.
Physics file
V
R
1
I
1
I
2
R
1
R
e
I
I
86 electricity
Solution
a the effective resistance is found from

I
R
e
=
I
R
1
+
I
R
2
=
1
10
+
1
20
=
3
20
thus R
e
=
20
3
= 6.7 Ω
b the total current is given by
I =
V
R
=
12
6.7
= 1.8 a
the power is therefore
P = VI
= 12 × 1.8
= 21.6 W
(You will find that this answer was also obtained in part a of Worked example 3.1B.
can you see why?)
power in ohmic resistors
Quite often we need to calculate the power dissipated in an ohmic resistor.
In some cases the resistor may be a heating element specifically designed
to produce heat. Because the temperature may affect the resistance, it is
important to measure the resistance at the appropriate temperature. In
other situations the power (and therefore heat) may be a nuisance, in the
confined space of a compact electronic device for example. The power lines
that carry electricity from the power stations to the city are ohmic resistors
(with very low values of resistance). The power lost in them represents not
only wasted generating capacity but extra fuel used and extra greenhouse
gases produced.
We have already seen (in Chapter 2) that the power dissipated in any
electrical device is given by P = VI. This is true whatever the characteristics
of the device. The power may appear as any form of energy: kinetic energy
from a motor, sound energy from a loudspeaker or heat from a simple
resistance wire.
In the case of an ohmic resistor the power will produce heat. Because
of the simple relationship between current, voltage and resistance, it is
possible to find two simple relationships between the power produced and
these quantities. By substituting either V = IR or I = V/R into the power
equation P = VI, we can find the following expressions.
The power produced in a resistor is given by:
P = VI or P = I
2
R or P =
V
2
R
87 chapter 3 electric circuits 87
Physics in action
high power—low power
Worked example 3.2C
In Worked examples 3.1B and 3.2B the two wires with resistance 10 Ω and 20 Ω were
placed in series and in parallel across a 12 V battery. Use these two new expressions for
power to find the power produced in each wire when they are:
a in series
b in parallel.
Solution
a When the wires were in series a current of 12/30 = 0.4 a flowed. the power in each can
be found directly from the expression P = I
2
R.
For the first wire P = 0.4
2
× 10 = 1.6 W, and for the second P = 0.4
2
× 20 = 3.2 W. the
total power is thus 4.8 W as found in Worked example 3.1B, part c.
b When in parallel the expression P = V
2
/R can be used to find the power without the
need to find the current first. For the first wire P = 12
2
/10 = 14.4 W, and for the second
P = 12
2
/20 = 7.2 W, as was found in Worked example 3.2B, part a.
Of course we can obtain all these answers without the use of these new expressions. they
are simply useful short-cuts in certain situations.
• In a simple parallel circuit the same voltage drop
occurs across both elements. The total current that
flows is the sum of the two individual currents.
• The combined I–V characteristics of a parallel
combination of circuit elements can be found by
adding the individual characteristics ‘upwards’; that
is, adding the currents at constant voltages.
• Forohmicresistorsinparallel,theeffectiveresistance
is given by:
I
R
e
=
I
R
1
+
I
R
2
+ …
• The power produced in an ohmic resistance can be
expressed as P = VI or P = I
2
R or P =
V
2
R
.
3.2 summary
circuit elements in parallel
Simple heaters of various sorts often have a ‘three heat’
switch. An electric blanket will usually have ‘low’, ‘medium’
and ‘high’ settings, for example. Rather than making three
different heating elements the manufacturer can use two
elements in different series and parallel combinations to
obtain the three heat settings. If the two elements are placed
in series the total resistance is relatively high and therefore
the power will be a minimum (as P =
V
2
R
). For the medium
setting one of the elements will be used by itself. The high
setting is then achieved by placing both elements in parallel.
It is a simple matter to work out the relative power being
used for the three settings. If it is assumed that the resistance
of both elements is the same (R) and does not change
appreciably with temperature, the effective resistance in the
three cases will be given by:
Low heat (two elements in series): R
e
= R + R = 2R
Medium heat (one element only): R
e
= R
High heat (both in parallel): R
e
=
1
2
R
As the power is inversely proportional to the resistance
(P =
V
2
R
), if we call the high setting 100%, then the others will
be 50% and 25%.
Figure 3.14 an example of the use of series and parallel combinations
of resistors to achieve three heat settings for an electric blanket.
To obtain the various settings the following circuits are used:
OFF Not connected to power
Resistors connected in series, R = 960 Ω, I = 0.25 A,
P = 60 W
Only one resistive element is connected, R = 480 Ω,
I = 0.5 A, P = 120 W
Resistors connected in parallel, R = 240 Ω, I = 1.0 A,
P = 240 W
O
F
F
element 1 resistance 480 Ω
element 2 resistance 480 Ω
A
N
240 V
88 electricity
1 Two torch bulbs are placed in parallel with each
other across a 3.0 V battery. The current through
the battery is 0.55 A. The current through one of the
bulbs is 0.25 A.
a What is the current through the other bulb?
b What is the voltage across the other bulb?
2 What is the effective resistance of two 10 Ω resistors
placed in:
a series?
b parallel?
3 Two ohmic resistors, whose I–V graphs are shown,
are to be combined in parallel.
a Draw a sketch graph of the I–V characteristic of
the two resistors combined in parallel.
b What is the effective resistance of the
combination?
4 Two equal resistors are placed in parallel and found
to have a combined resistance of 34 Ω. What is the
resistance of each one?
5 A 10 V power supply is used across two separate
resistors. The current through one is found to be
0.4 A and through the other 0.5 A. When they are
combined in parallel, what current will flow through
them and what is their effective resistance?
6 A current of 3 A is found to be flowing through two
resistors of 20 Ω and 10 Ω in parallel as shown.
a What is the effective resistance of the
combination?
b What is the voltage across the pair of resistors?
c How much current will flow in each resistor?
7 How much power will be dissipated in each of the
two resistors in the previous question?
8 Three resistors of 900 Ω, 1.5 kΩ and 2.0 kΩ are to be
used in a circuit. What is their effective resistance if
they are all placed:
a in series?
b in parallel?
9 Two resistors and three ammeters are arranged as
shown in the circuit diagram. The battery is 10 V.
a What are the readings on each of the three
ammeters?
b How much power will be produced in each of the
resistors?
c What is the total effective resistance in the circuit?
d What power would be produced if a single resistor
of the value determined in part c replaced the two
resistors?
10 While overseas Ann has bought a hair dryer labelled
220 V, 800 W, and she is going to use it on the
Australian 240 V mains. She tells her flatmate Betty
that as the voltage difference is less that 10% it will
only produce about 10% more heat and that should
not matter. Betty, however, claims that it is more
likely to produce about 20% more heat, which may
cause it to burn out. Who is correct and why?
3.2 questions
circuit elements in parallel
20 7
10 7
3 A
2
5 10 15 20
4
6
0
I

(
A
)
V (V)
R
2
R
1
5 Ω
2 Ω
A
3
A
1
A
2
10 V
The potential that a good Van de Graaff
generator can develop is limited mainly
by the size of the dome. The smaller the
dome, the more intense the electric field
in the air around it and the greater the
possibility of ionisation that allows the
charges to escape. For the same reason,
any sharp points or projections on the
dome will reduce the potential. A good
school Van de Graaff generator can
reach 400 000 volts!
Physics file
89 electric circuits
The source of the energy that the charges on the dome of a Van de Graaff
machine obtain is obvious. The motor that drives the belt is literally doing
work on the charges by pushing them up closer to other like charges.
Although it is a source of EMF, in practice the power it can deliver is limited
by the extremely small current it can maintain. Like the Van de Graaff
generator, any source of EMF uses some form of energy to create electrical
potential energy.
chemical cells
In a battery, or cell as we should say, the source of EMF is the chemical
energy stored in the materials used. As we saw at the beginning of the last
chapter, atoms have varying abilities to attract electrons—chemists call it
electronegativity. A cell basically consists of two materials with different
electronegativities, between which there is what we shall call a ‘go­between’
material. Such a cell is represented in Figure 3.15.

The chemistry of electrical cells can be very complex, but for our purpose
it is sufficient to realise that electrons will flow from the material of lower
electronegativity (for example zinc) to the one of higher electronegativity
(for example copper) through the external circuit connected to the
terminals.
In the diagram material A has the highest tendency to attract electrons
and material C the lowest. Material B acts as the ‘go­between’. It is
effectively a conducting material that allows the other two materials to
‘trade’ electrons by undergoing a chemical reaction with each of them
which either replaces the electrons lost (material C) or takes up the
electrons gained (material A). In the course of this process the positive
and negative ions in material B migrate towards A and C respectively.
As a result of these reactions, material B is eventually used up and the
product of the reactions replaces it. At this stage the cell stops working
and we say it has gone ‘flat’.
3.3
Figure 3.15 a cell consists of two materials that attract electrons to different degrees, along
with a ‘go-between’ that acts as a conductor. In this diagram material a attracts electrons
most (high electronegativity) and material c attracts electrons least. Material B acts as the
go-between.
C
e
lls
, b
a
tte
rie
s
a
n
d

o
th
e
r s
o
u
rc
e
s
o
f E
M
F
high
electronegativity
low
electronegativity
A B C
+


+

+
ions
migrating
I I
e

90 electricity
The properties of the materials chosen for A, B and C are very important.
Materials A and C must have as different electronegativities as possible
but also undergo suitable reactions with material B. Material B must allow
the migration of the ions (charged atoms) formed in the reaction and so
is normally a liquid or a moist paste. In a dry cell, C is the outer zinc
casing, and B is a paste of ammonium chloride and other special substances
(see Figure 2.22). Material A is not actually a metal but manganese dioxide
powder, which is mixed with the ammonium chloride paste. The carbon
rod in the centre of the cell is there to collect the current. In a charged car
battery, A is lead dioxide coated on a lead plate, B is a solution of sulfuric
acid and C is a lead plate. As current from the car battery is used, lead from
the lead plate is converted into lead sulfate, which remains as a coating
on the plate. The lead dioxide is also converted into lead sulfate, which
remains on the other plate. Fortunately this process can be reversed by
forcing an electric current through the battery in the opposite direction,
and so the battery can be recharged. This is one of the functions of the car’s
alternator.
There are many other types of cells in use. Some are single use and
some (so­called ‘Ni­Cads’ for example) can be recharged. There is now
con siderable incentive for manufacturers to develop smaller, more efficient
rechargeable batteries for use in electric cars and portable electronic
devices.
Batteries in series and parallel
Cells can be combined in series, parallel or both in order to provide a battery
with the required characteristics. The EMF of a set of cells joined in series,
‘head­to­tail’, will be equal to the sum of the individual EMF values. In this
case each cell takes the potential of the previous cell and adds to it its own
potential. One could imagine each cell taking the charges from the previous
cell and pushing them a little closer—’concentrating’ them as we said in the
last chapter—in particular, giving them more and more potential energy.
Cells combined in parallel must have the same EMF and be joined + to
+ and − to −. In this case, charge moving around the circuit will go through
either one or the other of the cells but not both. As a result, the EMF will
not be increased, but each battery will only need to provide half of the total
current and so they will last twice as long.
Figure 3.16 two car batteries are connected in
parallel when jumper leads are used to start a car
with a flat battery. It is very important to ensure
that the batteries are in parallel (+ to + and − to −)
and not series in this situation!
91 chapter 3 electric circuits 91
Notice that if, in an attempt to combine the cells in parallel, they were
actually joined head­to­tail, instead of head–head and tail–tail, it would
create a closed circuit with two cells in series and no significant resistance.
This is what is referred to as a short circuit. The batteries would run flat very
quickly and could even become hot enough to cause a fire. When jumper
leads are used to connect two car batteries in parallel, it is particularly
important to ensure that they are not inadvertently connected in series.
If they were, an extremely large current could flow and burn the leads or
even cause a battery to explode.
Internal resistance of cells
Any chemical cell will have a certain amount of internal resistance due
to the fact that the current must flow through the various chemicals and
the electrodes. Although the chemical reactions always give the charges a
certain amount of energy (the EMF of the cell), some of this energy will be
lost as the charges move through the cell. As the cell gets ‘flat’ this loss of
energy shows up as an increase in internal resistance. If the battery is fresh
and being used in a situation in which the current drawn does not exceed
its design limits, the internal resistance can be assumed to be negligible
relative to the other resistances in the circuit. Generally, to make a battery
with a very low internal resistance, the battery has to be large in order to
provide plenty of ‘reaction surface’ for many chemical reactions to take
place at the same time. A 12 V car battery, for example, might have an
internal resistance of about 0.01 Ω. On the other hand, the small 9 V batteries
often used in electronic devices have an internal resistance of about 10 Ω.
When a current is flowing through the battery there will be a voltage
drop across the internal resistance. This results in the actual voltage at
the terminals of the battery being somewhat less than the EMF. A battery
can be represented as in Figure 3.17; that is, as a source of EMF in series
with a resistor. The EMF can be measured by a voltmeter, which draws no
significant current, as then there will be no voltage drop across the internal
resistance R
i
. However, when the battery is in use and a current is flowing,
the actual voltage at the terminals will be lower than the EMF by the drop
occurring across R
i
. This drop will depend on both the current drawn
and the value of R
i
. The terminal voltage will therefore be given by the
expression V = E − IR
i
. As the battery becomes flat the value of R
i
rises and
so the terminal voltage decreases.
Another advantage of using cells in parallel to make up a battery will
now become clear. Because of the lower current in each cell, less energy is
wasted in warming the battery (remember that P = I
2
R) and the voltage at
the terminals is closer to the EMF of the cells.
Almost any source of EMF will involve some internal resistance. In
designing a generator, for example, there is always a compromise between
making the wire in the coils thin enough to keep the overall size manageable
and the added internal resistance that this will result in.
Worked example 3.3A
Michael and Mary-ann have made small model electric motors. Mary-ann is using two D
cells in series to drive her motor. Michael, not to be outdone, decides to use a 9 V battery
from a transistor radio, thinking that it should get better results than the 3 V battery
Figure 3.17 a battery is represented in a circuit
diagram as an ‘ideal’ source of eMF in series with
a resistor (called the internal resistance R
i
). the
terminal voltage is given by V = E − IR
i
, where I is
the current drawn by the rest of the circuit. If no
current is being drawn V will be equal to E.
Figure 3.18 as the current drawn (I) from a
battery increases, the voltage drop across the
internal resistance increases, leading to a lower
terminal voltage, V. as the battery goes flat the
internal resistance increases, leading to a lower
available current, I
max
.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 13
Internal resistance of a dry cell
V
load resistor
single cell battery
R
i
IR
i
I
V (V)
I

(
A
)
I
max
I
max u
s
e
d
b
a
tte
ry
f
r
e
s
h

b
a
t
t
e
r
y
92 electricity
Mary-ann is using. Unfortunately Michael finds that his motor hardly turns with the 9 V
battery and yet when he uses Mary-ann’s battery it goes well. he tests the two batteries
with a voltmeter and finds that they do indeed read 3 V and 9 V as expected. Mary-ann then
suggests reading the voltage while the motor is operating and they find that the voltage
of her battery reads 2.5 V while Michael’s reads only 2.0 V. Both motors were found to be
drawing 0.5 a while this reading was taken.
a Why did Michael’s battery not drive his motor properly despite the higher voltage?
b What was the value of the internal resistance of each battery?
c When he placed the 9 V battery back into the radio it worked perfectly, the battery
showing a voltage of 8.0 V. how much current was the radio using?
Solution
a Michael’s battery had a relatively high internal resistance and the motor was drawing
too much current. as a result, the voltage drop across the internal resistance was very
large.
b a current of 0.5 a caused a voltage drop of 0.5 V in Mary-ann’s battery (3.0 V − 2.5 V)
and 7 V (9 V − 2.0 V) in Michael’s battery. the internal resistance is given by R
i
= ∆V/I
= 0.5/0.5 = 1 Ω (Mary-ann’s) or R
i
= 7.0/0.5 = 14 Ω (Michael’s).
c When used in the radio the voltage drop across the 14 Ω resistance was 1.0 V. thus the
current drawn was
I =
∆V
R
=
1.0
14
= 0.071 a
= 71 ma
Other sources of eMF
By far the most common source of EMF is a generator or alternator (they are
much the same for our present purposes). Very large generators at power
stations can produce hundreds of megawatts of power at about 20 000 V.
The alternator in a modern car is capable of producing about 500 W of
power at 12 V. They both convert kinetic energy into electrical energy. We
shall look at the means by which they convert this energy into electrical
energy in Heinemann Physics 12.
Figure 3.19 an electric ray can deliver a brief 600 W
electric pulse to stun or kill its prey. It is also a very
effective defence against predators!
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 14
electrical power
93 chapter 3 electric circuits 93
There are a number of other interesting sources of EMF. Perhaps the most
curious are animals such as the electric ray (Torpedo nobilinia) and the South
American electric eel (Electrophorus). They can stun or even kill their prey
with pulses of EMF reaching several hundred volts producing a current
of up to 1 A. Electric eels use large numbers of cells called electroplaques,
each producing 0.15 V at 1 mA. They have about 4 million of these cells
arranged as 1000 parallel sets of about 4000 in series along the length of
their bodies, giving a total of 1 A at 600 V.
A thermocouple simply consists of two different metal wires joined at
both ends. Iron and constantan (a copper–nickel alloy) are commonly used.
When two different metals are in contact, electrons will have a tendency
to move from one to the other. Normally this effect cannot be used as a
source of EMF because any circuit will require two such joins and the
two electromotive forces generated will oppose each other. However, this
effect is temperature dependent and so if the two joins are held at different
temperatures, one EMF will be greater than the other. This will result in
a current flowing around the circuit. Indeed, this effect is often used to
measure temperature, particularly where the temperature is too high for
normal thermometers.
By arranging many such joins in a series, a useable EMF can be produced.
Such a device is called a thermopile and is used in situations where a reliable
source of electric power is required and where a source of heat is available.
Spacecraft that travel a long way from the Sun use the heat generated by
a strong radioactive source to drive a thermopile to power their electrical
systems. Gas­powered thermopiles were once used widely to power remote
weather stations and the like, but solar cells have almost completely taken
over that role.
Solar cells
Solar cells, or more correctly photovoltaic cells, have been used widely
to produce electricity from sunlight in areas where it is impractical or too
expensive to use mains power. Producing electrical energy from solar cells
on the roofs of our houses would be an ideal solution to many of the world’s
energy problems.
Figure 3.20 (a) an array of silicon photovoltaic cells. (b) Most of the cell is p-type silicon, but
the very thin upper layer has n-type doping material diffused into it. Metal fingers on the top
and a metal base collect the current.
n-type region
p-type region
silicon base
material
~ 0.2 Mm
~ 300 Mm
metal base
metal current
collector fingers
diffused layer
(b)
(a)
94 electricity
Electrically, a photovoltaic cell is somewhat like a semiconductor diode.
Both comprise two layers of silicon that is ‘doped’ with very small amounts
of elements that either tend to add extra ‘free’ electrons to the structure or
to leave a gap, thus creating ‘holes’ that can move as electrons move into
them (rather like the bubbles of air from a fish tank aerator are moving
‘holes’ in the water). The layer with the extra electrons is called an n­type
semiconductor and that with the holes a p­type semiconductor. At the
junction of the two layers, electrons from the n­type tend to fall into the
holes in the p­type. But this means that electrons have been lost from the
n­type layer and gained by the p­type layer, making the p­type layer in the
region a little negative relative to the n­type layer.
When a photon of light falls on the cell it may knock an electron out of
place thus forming a new free electron and hole pair. If this occurs near
the junction, because of their relative charges, the electron will tend to
go towards the now positive n­type layer and the hole towards the more
negative p­type layer. This charge movement results in the p­type region
gaining an overall positive potential, while the n­type region gains a
negative potential. If an external resistance (a so called ‘load resistance’)
is now connected, current will flow through it from the p­type region to
the n­type. As long as the light keeps creating the electron–hole pairs the
process continues.
The overall effect is that the charges are given potential energy by the
Sun and the cell acts as a source of EMF. The characteristics of a typical
cell are shown in Figure 3.21. The voltage and current obtained depend on
the load being used. The power obtained is the product of the voltage and
current. If the cell is being used as a source of energy it is important to try
to operate the cell at the point where this product is a maximum. If the load
resistance is too low, a high current will be obtained but with little voltage.
On the other hand, if the load resistance is too high the full voltage will be
obtained but with little current.
Inherently, solar cells produce low­voltage DC power, but many
applications require 240 V AC power. Fortunately, very efficient electronic
‘invertors’ have been developed in the last few years, which are able to
take the low­voltage DC and convert it into ‘mains’ power. They are called
invertors because electronic devices often require low­voltage DC and need
to transform the 240 V AC down and convert it to DC with a combination
of a transformer and so called ‘rectifier’. Invertors perform an operation
that is the ‘inverse’ of this process.
Figure 3.21 the characteristics of a typical 8 cm
diameter solar cell. the three points shown (P
m
)
represent the operating conditions for maximum
power in three different levels of sunlight.
1.6
1.4
1.2
1.0
0.8
0.6
0.4
0.2
0
0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.8
O
u
t
p
u
t

c
u
r
r
e
n
t

(
A
)
Output voltage (V)
cloudy
winter Sun
bright summer Sun
P
m
95 chapter 3 electric circuits 95

























Physics in action (extension)
Solar electricity: the big picture
The Sun’s energy falls on the Earth’s surface at the rate of
about 1 kW on each square metre. This means that an average
roof of about 200 m
2
receives 1000 kW h of energy in 5 hours
of sunlight. Given that an average household might use
around 20 kW h of electrical energy in a day, you can see the
possibilities! Commercially available solar cells can convert
about 15–25% of the energy falling on them into electricity
and so a whole roof of solar cells could feasibly produce well
over 100 kW h of energy per day.
The bad news
The obvious problem for solar energy is that it is not available
at night and it is hard to store electrical energy. Cost is
another problem. Most cells are made from single crystals
of very high-purity silicon. The cost to produce these cells
is around $5 per watt. To collect 20 kW h of energy over an
average period of 4 hours of full sun would require solar
panels capable of producing 5 kW. That would cost about
$25 000. Added to that, there is the cost of storing the energy
and converting it into a useful voltage. Although the cost is
high, for people in areas well away from mains power it is
feasible.
Another question is the energy cost. In order to produce
the very pure silicon crystals very high temperatures are
needed and so considerable energy is used in the manufacture.
At present it is estimated that it takes about 2–4 years for
the cells to ‘pay back’ this energy. However, given that the
cells should last at least 25 years, this cost seems reasonable.
Further developments promise to reduce this period to well
under 2 years.
The good news
There is good news, however. Scientists are developing ‘thin
film PV’. For example, at the University of New South Wales,
a very thin layer of silicon is deposited on glass—so called
CSG (crystalline silicon on glass) technology. This reduces
the energy (and dollar) cost of production considerably as
it avoids the need for high temperatures to make large pure
crystals. The layer is very thin and can be vacuum deposited.
Although these cells are less efficient, a little below 10% at
present, the lower production costs should reduce the cost of
solar electricity to less than $2.50 per watt. This cost is still
more than coal-produced electricity, but if the carbon cost
of coal energy is taken into account it is a very attractive
proposition—and eventually the cost should fall further.
While the normal household demand for power is greater
at night (except in hot weather), the total demand from
industry and commerce is greater during the day. So rather
than trying to store the electricity produced from solar
cells, the more feasible alternative for a household is to sell
electricity back to the grid during the day and buy it back at
night. As well as reducing the total demand from coal-fired
generators, this has the great advantage of evening out the
demand on those ‘base load’ generators. It is estimated that
each household producing 10 kW h of electricity from the Sun
each day would save about 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide from
entering the atmosphere each year.
When enough solar power is generated, excess power
produced during the day could be stored for use at night—for
example by pumping water back up into hydro power station
dams. This is already done as a way of storing the excess
energy generated by coal-fired stations when demand is low.
Over the last decade it has become clear that if we are to
avoid dangerous climate change we need a huge reduction in
the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.
When combined with other forms of renewable energy such
as wind and geothermal power, solar electricity could be the
key to a safer future. If our transport needs could be met by
a much improved electric train and tram system, as well as
electric-powered cars, we may yet see the end of the ‘fossil
fuel era’.
Figure 3.22 Once solar electricity is cheap
enough, each household roof could be used to
collect it during the day. Most of it would be sold
to the power companies and then bought back
at night. Many households are already installing
such schemes.
96 electricity
1 Why could we not use zinc for both terminals of a
dry cell?
2 In order to start a car with a flat battery sometimes
another car battery is connected to the flat battery.
How must this connection be made and what could
happen if it was done the wrong way around?
3 What is meant by a ‘short circuit’? What are the
consequences of connecting batteries in such a way
that they short circuit?
4 If a set of four 1.5 V dry cells was placed in series
with a small 9 V battery what would be the total EMF
of the combination?
5 Some torches use a battery of eight D cells (1.5 V
each) arranged as two parallel sets of four cells in
series.
a What is the EMF of the battery?
b What is the advantage of this arrangement over
one with four cells in series?
6 Can you explain why the headlights of a car dim
when the starter motor is in operation?
7 When being used to start a car, a 12 V battery with
an internal resistance of 0.02 Ω is supplying a current
of 100 A. What will be the actual voltage across the
terminals of the battery?
8 A 1.5 V torch battery is found to provide only 1.3 V
when connected to a bulb that is drawing 0.2 A. What
is the internal resistance of the cell?
9 What is the maximum possible current that a battery
of EMF 6.0 V and internal resistance 0.5 Ω could
provide, even if short circuited?
10 While using a solar cell with characteristics such as
that shown in Figure 3.21, a student attempts to get
more power from it by lowering the load resistance.
Unfortunately she finds that this only lowers the
power available. Can you explain why she obtains
this result?
11 Another student using the solar cell of Figure 3.21
in winter sunlight to operate a small electric motor,
finds that he is drawing a current of 0.8 A.
a What power is the motor using?
b He then uses a different motor (same winter
sunlight) and finds that it is using 1.2 A, but only
producing the same amount of power as the first
one. What is the voltage across the motor?
c Are either of these motors using the power
available from the cell in the most efficient way?
Explain.
12 A student tests a dry cell under different loads. He
obtains the points shown on the graph.
a What is the EMF of this cell?
b What is the internal resistance of the cell?
c How much power is available from this cell at
1.5 V, 1.0 V and 0.5 V?
d How much power is being wasted in the cell at
each of these voltages?
• A source of EMF uses some other form of energy
to produce electrical potential energy. Batteries
use chemical energy, generators and Van de Graaff
machines use mechanical energy, solar cells use the
energy in sunlight, and thermopiles convert heat
directly into electricity.
• IfseveralsourcesofEMFarecombinedinseries,the
total EMF will be given by the sum of the individual
sources.
• OnlysourcesofEMFthatprovidethesamevoltage
should be combined in parallel. Cells in such a
battery only need to provide half the current they
would otherwise.
• Theactualvoltageontheterminalsofacellisoften
less than the ideal EMF because the cell will have
some internal resistance. The terminal voltage is
given by V = E − IR
i
.
3.3 summary
cells, batteries and other sources of eMF
3.3 questions
cells, batteries and other sources of eMF
V (V)
I

(
m
A
)
100
0.5 1.0 1.5
200
300
97 electric circuits
A modern house without electricity is virtually unthinkable. The electrical
wiring is always installed as the house is built, and electrical appliances are
often built in as well. Building codes specify the type of wiring, the number
of fuses and much more to ensure our safety. However, while electricity is
a very safe form of energy when used wisely, it does have the potential to
kill.
As we saw in the last chapter, electricity is supplied to our homes as an
alternating voltage (AC) that varies between +340 and −340 V. The figure of
240 V is the voltage of a DC supply that would provide the same average
power to a resistor such as a light globe or heater element. There are many
things that a 240 V DC supply could not do, however. Transformers, for
example, will not work on DC, so any device that relies on one could not
be used on DC. Many electric motors are designed to be used on AC and
would not work at all on a DC supply; in fact they would burn out! Any
circuit containing coils, such as those in transformers and motors, will
behave very differently on AC and DC voltages.
house wiring
There are normally two cables carrying the electricity from the power lines
in the street to our houses. One of these is the so­called ‘active’ wire, the
other is the ‘neutral’. The potential of the active varies between +340 V
and −340 V at a frequency of 50 times per second (50 Hz). The neutral will
be very close to zero potential. It is electrically connected to the ground at
every house and at every street transformer.
At the meter box the active wire goes to the meter and the main switch
and then to the circuit breakers (or fuses). The neutral is connected to a brass
strip, called the neutral bar, which you can sometimes see in the meter box.
The cables running through the walls carry an active wire, a neutral wire
and an earth wire. The active wire comes from the fuse, while the neutral
and earth wires come from the neutral bar. Each fuse will supply a group of
lights or power points (but not both).
At the power point the active wire first goes to the switch and then to the
upper left terminal. This is so that when the switch is off there is no active
Figure 3.23 the mains power from the street
poles comes into the house via the meter box
and then is distributed to power points and lights
through cables carrying three conductors.
3.4 H
o
u
s
e
h
o
ld
e
le
c
tric
ity
The reason for the difference in
behaviour of circuits containing coils on
AC and DC is to do with the magnetic
effects of electric currents. A current-
carrying wire wound around an iron
rod will cause it to become a magnet.
Faraday discovered that the converse is
true: a moving magnet, or a changing
magnetic field, near a conductor will
induce a voltage (and hence current)
in it. In a transformer, the changing
field from the AC in the ‘primary’
coil induces changing voltages in the
‘secondary’ coil, the voltage depending
on the ratio of the number of turns in
each coil. The changing fields also induce
a ‘back EMF’ in the primary coil which
opposes the mains voltage. This reduces
the current flowing in the primary coil.
If DC was used this effect would not be
present and too much current would
flow—burning out the coil. A similar
effect is true of AC motors.
Physics file
active
240 V AC
mains supply
neutral
copper
stake
earth
neutral bar
meter
fuses
switch
red
green/yellow
black
meter box
power point
main
switch
A N
E
98 electricity
voltage in the terminal sockets. The neutral and earth are connected to the
upper right and lower terminals respectively. The plug on an appliance
cord must be wired so that the correct conductors are connected to their
appropriate terminal sockets. Figure 3.24 shows the colour code used to
identify the three conductors. Note that the fixed wiring in the house uses
different colours: red (active), black (neutral) and green/yellow for earth.
The wiring of a typical appliance, a toaster, is shown in Figure 3.25.
The element is connected between the active and neutral conductors.
The earth wire is connected to the metal case. Ideally the switch should
break both active and neutral conductors as near as possible to where they
enter the appliance. Often, however, the switch will only break the active
wire, or worse, only the neutral wire. If the switch only breaks the neutral
conductor it means that the element of the appliance remains ‘live’ even if
it is not switched on. This is one reason why an appliance should always
be completely unplugged before any work (including cleaning) is done on
it. Even if the appliance was designed to have the switch in the active, the
cable could have been wired incorrectly by a careless or ill­informed home
handyperson and the active and neutral conductors interchanged.
electrical safety
A number of basic safety features are built into our mains electric supply
system.
1. The fuse or circuit breaker In the event of a short circuit, for example
as the result of a broken active conductor coming into contact with
a neutral or earth, a large current will flow through all conductors,
switches and plugs. This can easily cause them to become hot and
even burn. To prevent this the fuse is designed to be the thinnest piece
of conductor in the system. If the current becomes too large the fuse
will melt and disconnect the rest of the circuit from the active. Circuit
breakers automatically switch off an excessive current by detecting its
magnetic field. It is important to realise that these devices will not save
a person from electrocution if they touch a live wire. Household fuses
will blow only when more than 8 A (light circuits) or 16 A (power­point
circuits) flows. However, a current of even 0.1 A flowing through a
person can be fatal.
2. Switches Power­point switches and those on appliances should always
cut the active conductor, but as we have seen this is not always the
case. Although a switch in the neutral will turn the element off, it will
leave the element connected to the active wire. This can be dangerous
if the element is touched by someone believing the appliance to be safe
because it is off. For this reason, never touch any inner part of an electrical
appliance unless it is unplugged completely. Don’t try to remove burnt
toast until the toaster plug is out of the power point!
3. The earth wire The separate earth wire, which parallels the neutral wire,
is purely to provide protection against a fault occurring in the appliance.
If, for example, the active wire breaks and contacts the case, the whole
case would become active—with dire consequences for anyone who
touched it. Provided the earth wire is connected to the case, however,
this condition will cause a short circuit that will blow the fuse and
disconnect the circuit.
Figure 3.25 the element of this toaster is
connected between the active and neutral
conductors. For safety the switch breaks both
active and neutral conductors. the metal case is
permanently connected to the earth wire.
Figure 3.26 a very dangerous situation! the
toaster has been wired with the switch in
the neutral instead of the active. It will work
perfectly, but the element is still live when the
switch is off. the person will receive a very bad
shock as he is contacting the active with one
hand and the earthed case with the other.
Figure 3.24 this three-pin plug shows the correct
colour code used: brown for active, blue for
neutral and green/yellow for earth.
earth
neutral
active
element
switch
e
a
rth
n
e
u
tra
l
a
c
tiv
e
99 chapter 3 electric circuits 99
As well as these basic safety features which are an inherent part of the
household wiring system, there are a number of others that have been
introduced over the last decades.
4. Double insulation Many appliances are now designed so that there are
two effective barriers between the active wire and a person using the
appliance. If, as well as the active wire being insulated and protected
inside the appliance, the case is made of plastic, there is very little chance
of the user touching an active part. This is actually safer than using an
earthed case as it is still possible for the case to become live if damage to
the cable also breaks the earth wire and it then comes into contact with
the active wire. Double­insulated appliances have no earth wire and are
characterised by their two­pin plugs and special symbol.
5. Earth leakage system (also known by the less enlightening term
residual current device or RCD) In a properly operating system the
current in the active and the neutral conductors should be exactly equal
(but in opposite directions). An RCD is designed to detect any current
lost from the active–neutral circuit. The most likely reason for such a loss
is that it is going to earth through a fault or a person! The RCD uses the
magnetic effects of an electric current to detect any difference between
the active and neutral currents. In general, the magnetic effects of two
equal currents flowing in opposite directions will cancel each other. If,
however, the currents are not equal a magnetic effect will occur. The RCD
uses this effect to switch off the supply within about 20 milliseconds.
Undoubtedly, the installation of these devices in households, schools
and factories has saved many lives. In modern houses, regulations
require that they be used.
electric shock
Because our bodies are controlled by electrical impulses along the nerves,
any current from an external source that flows in the body may interfere
with our vital functions. In particular, any current flowing from one arm
to the other may cause the chest muscles to contract and breathing to stop.
Current through the heart region can cause ventricular fibrillation, which
means that the muscles become uncoordinated and the heart function
stops. Depending on the actual path of the current through the body, even
a brief current greater than 80 mA may cause fibrillation, which is the main
cause of electrical fatalities.
Despite all the safety features of modern electrical systems and
appliances, each year approximately 50 Australians are killed in electrical
accidents. About half of these are the result of industrial accidents and the
others are domestic or commercial. Many of these accidents could have
been prevented either by the use of residual current devices or by other
simple precautions such as keeping equipment well maintained.
The unavoidable fact is that the amount of current that will flow through
the body if it is in good contact with a 240 V source is well above the level
that will cause death. That some people do survive an electric shock is
because it was very brief, the contact was not good or the current flowed
through ‘non­essential’ parts of the body. The amount of current that
will flow depends on the total resistance between the active wire and the
neutral or earth. A person who touches a live wire while standing on carpet
Figure 3.27 the double square symbol indicates
that this appliance has double insulation and
does not use an earth connection.
100 electricity
has considerably more resistance than someone standing barefoot on wet
concrete or grass. Hot sweaty hands or skin will conduct better than cold
dry skin.
One square centimetre of skin will have a resistance that can vary
from about 100 kΩ if it is dry, to less than 1 kΩ if it is wet. As a rough
guide, 1.5 kΩ can be taken as the resistance from one hand to the other
of a normal perspiring worker. At 240 V this means that a current of 240
V/1.5 kΩ = 160 mA will flow across the chest and heart region of the body.
As you can see from Table 3.1 this would have very serious consequences.
A multimeter with a resistance scale can be used to get an idea of the
resistance of skin and the body. Indeed, the so called lie detector is often no
more than a resistance meter connected to terminals held by the subject.
The theory is that if the person is lying he or she will sweat more and
conduct a (harmless) current better.
The time for which the current flows is crucial. The shock from a Van de
Graaff machine charged to 100 000 V is harmless because it only lasts for
about a microsecond. On the other hand the shock from a voltage source of
only 100 V can be fatal if the contact is good and it lasts for a few seconds.
Table 3.2 shows the effect of a 50 mA current for various times.
Another potentially fatal result of the interference with nerve function
of an electric current is that involuntary contraction of muscles may make
it impossible to let go of the object causing the shock. This can occur at
currents as small as 10 mA, which means that situations that otherwise
might be harmless may become very dangerous. If there is any suspicion
at all about an electrical appliance do not touch it with an open hand;
use the back of the hand so that any contraction will pull the hand away.
Another wise precaution is to keep one hand well away from any possible
earth, so as to avoid providing a good path to earth through your arms and
chest. Normally shoes will provide some resistance and so a shock from
one hand to earth through the feet may not be quite as dangerous. It would
be particularly dangerous, for example, to hold the earthed case of a toaster
with one hand while trying to extract burnt toast with a metal knife held in
the other hand! Always unplug the toaster before doing anything like that.
Never try to repair any active part of an electrical appliance or install
household wiring. Not only is it illegal, it could be potentially fatal. Many
deaths from accidental electrocution have occurred as the result of faulty
wiring. Any suspect electrical device should be unplugged and taken to a
qualified electrician.
Worked example 3.4A
It has been stated that the resistance of 1 cm
2
of skin could vary from 1 kΩ to 100 kΩ.
assuming contact over this area, what voltages would be needed to produce a current of
50 ma?
Solution
the voltage required is found from V = IR. With the low resistance contact (1000 Ω) the
voltage needed is 0.05 × 1000 = 50 V. the high resistance value is 100 times as great, so
100 times the voltage would be needed, i.e. 5 kV.
table 3.1 the likely effect of a half-
second electric shock. the actual
current that flows will depend on the
voltage and skin resistance
Current (mA) Effect on the body
1 able to be felt
3 easily felt
10 painful
20 Muscles paralysed—cannot
let go
50 Severe shock
90 Breathing upset
150 Breathing very difficult
200 Death likely
500 Serious burning, breathing
stops, death inevitable
table 3.2 the likely effect on the
human body of a 50 ma shock for
various times
Time of 50 mA current Likely effect
Less than 0.2 s Noticeable but usually
not dangerous
0.2–4 s Significant shock,
possibly dangerous
Over 4 s Severe shock,
possible death
101 chapter 3 electric circuits 101
• Mains electricity is an alternating (AC) voltage
varying between +340 V and −340 V. A 240 V DC
supply would produce the same power.
• The two cables coming into our houses from the
street are the ‘active’ (±340 V) and the neutral (0 V)
cables.
• Eachpower-pointcircuitandlightcircuitissupplied
by an active, a neutral and an earth. The neutral and
the earth are connected together at the meter box.
• The element of an electrical appliance is connected
between the active and neutral. The case is connected
to the earth for safety.
• Severeelectricshockwillbeexperiencedbyaperson
if a current of more than about 50 mA flows through
them for more than a second or so. The current will
depend on the voltage and their contact resistance.
3.4 summary
household electricity
Physics in action
preventing electric shocks
With wise use, electrical equipment can be
perfectly safe. The reasons for the following
precautions will be obvious when one
understands the nature of electricity and the
body’s response to it.
• Neveruseelectricalapplianceswhen
barefoot, particularly when outdoors.
• Beextremelycarefulwithanyelectrical
appliance anywhere near water. Never use a
hair dryer while wet or near a bath.
• Ifthereisanyreasontosuspectanappliance,
touch it only with the back of the hand and
keep the other hand well away from it.
• Atthefirstsignofanyshock,nomatterhow
small, have the appliance checked by a qualified
electrician.
• Nevertamperwithelectricalequipment.Keep
it in good order and have any damaged cords or
elements repaired by a qualified person.
If the worst happens
In the event that you find a person who has suffered
an electric shock:
• Lookforthereasonfortheshockandpulloutany
plugs or turn off any switches.
• Ifthatcan’tbedonetrytopushthepersonaway
from the source by using an insulating object such
as a wooden pole or thick wad of dry clothing.
• Donottouchthepersonuntilyouaresurethatthe
source of voltage has been removed. Check with the
back of one hand before making good contact.
• Ifpowerlineshavefallen,keepwellawayfrom
them. If the lines have fallen on a car, do not touch
the car and tell the occupants to stay inside it until you
can be sure it is not live. The occupants will be safe as
long as they stay right inside. They will be at a high
potential, but there will be no potential difference across
them unless they touch something at earth potential.
• Checktoseeifthevictimisconsciousbytalkingloudly
or gentle shaking. If so, reassure them and treat any
burns with cold water. If the person is not conscious, place
them in the coma position (see Figure 3.28) and check for
breathing and pulse.
• Ifeitherismissing,sendforurgentmedicalaidandbegin
resuscitation procedures. Ideally everyone should learn
basic first-aid techniques. St John Ambulance and the Red
Cross run regular courses.
Figure 3.28 the coma position. check that the air passages are clear by opening the
mouth and tilting the head back.
102 electricity
1 Australian houses are supplied with 240 V AC. The
240 V is the:
A the maximum value of the alternating voltage.
B the average value of the alternating voltage.
C the value of a DC voltage that would supply the
same power.
D none of these.
2 Why is it that there are only two cables coming
into the house from the street and yet power points
always have three connections?
3 The function of a fuse is to burn out, and thus turn
off the current, if the circuit is overloaded. Why is
it always placed in the active wire at the meter box
rather than the neutral one, given that this function
could be fulfilled if it was in either?
4 What is the function of the ‘earth stake’ that will
normally be found near a meter box?
5 A toaster cable with conductors coloured red, black
and green is to be joined to another cable with brown,
blue and green/yellow conductors. Peter has joined
the red and blue, black and brown, and green and
green/yellow. Will the toaster work normally when
it is plugged in and turned on? Why is the way he
has connected the cables dangerous?
6 An appliance was mistakenly wired between the
active and earth instead of between the active and
neutral. Explain why that is a very dangerous thing
to do, even though the appliance will appear to work
normally.
7 What is the main advantage of a ‘double­insulated’
electrical appliance over a normal earthed one?
8 Why is the shock received when a finger touches
a live wire likely to be less severe than the shock
received by a person who touches a live wire with a
pair of uninsulated pliers?
9 How much current would flow through a person
with dry hands and a total contact resistance of
100 kΩ when they touch a 240 V live wire?
10 Why is it normally more dangerous to use an electric
device outdoors? What precautions are particularly
necessary outdoors?
3.4 questions
household electricity
chapter review
1 Many of the electrical devices in a car appear to have only one
electric cable attached to them. Why is this when we know that
all electric devices require a closed circuit to operate?
2 a set of 20 christmas tree lights which are wired in series is to
be operated from the 240 V mains. What voltage rating will each
bulb need?
3 celeste finds that at a junction of three wires, two of the wires
have currents of +3 a and −6 a (+ means towards the junction).
the third has an 8 a fuse in it. Is the fuse likely to burn out?
4 two identical heater elements are connected in series in a 240 V
fan heater. In this configuration they produce a total power of
480 W.
a What current is flowing through each element?
b What is the resistance of each element?
c What power will be produced if the elements are connected
in parallel instead of series?
the following information applies to questions 5–8. the I–V
characteristics of a diode and a resistor to be used in a simple circuit
with a variable voltage power supply are shown in the graphs.
200
1 2 3 4
400
600
800
0
I

(
m
A
)
V (V)
resistor
103 chapter 3 electric circuits 103
5 What is the resistance of the resistor?
6 a voltage of 1.5 V is applied across the diode.
a What current will flow through it?
b What is its effective resistance at this voltage?
c Why is it meaningful to speak of the effective resistance of
the diode at 1.5 V and yet not at 2 V or at 3 V?
7 the diode and resistor are then placed in parallel and a variable
voltage applied to them.
a If a voltage of 1.0 V is applied to the combination, what will
be the total current flowing?
b If the voltage is increased to 2.0 V will the current double?
explain.
8 the diode and resistor are then placed in series and a variable
voltage applied to them.
a If a voltage of 4.0 V is applied to the combination, what
current will flow through them both?
b If the voltage is increased to 6.0 V what current will flow?
c What current will flow if a voltage of 10 V is applied?
9 Jo has two resistors labelled 27 kΩ and 36 kΩ. What will the
effective resistance of the two be if she combines them:
a in parallel?
b in series?
10 What is the conductance of a 10 Ω resistor? If it is placed in
parallel with another identical resistor, what will be the combined
conductance?
11 a particular 9 V battery has an internal resistance of 2 Ω. What
is the maximum possible short-term current that could be
obtained from it?
12 Josh wires up a circuit as shown in the diagram. he places a
voltmeter in position M
1
and an ammeter at position M
2
. When
he presses the switch he finds that the voltmeter reads 1.5 V
but the ammeter reads 0 and the lamp doesn’t light.
a explain why he gets this result.
b he then removes the voltmeter (M
1
) from the circuit and
replaces it with a direct connection. What is likely to happen
when he presses the switch this time?
c how should he connect the two meters correctly so that
they each perform their appropriate function?
the following information applies to questions 13–16. a student
sets up the circuit shown. a
1
and a
2
are ammeters and V
1
and V
2
are
voltmeters. X, Y and Z are various circuit elements. the reading on a
1

is initially found to be 4.5 a and that on V
1
is 6.0 V. a
2
gives a reading
of 1.3 a while V
2
reads 4.9 V. (assume ‘ideal’ meters.)
13 What is the current through:
a X?
b Y?
c Z?
14 What is the potential difference across element:
a X?
b Y?
c Z?
15 Now element Y is taken out of the circuit and not replaced by
any other conductor. Meter V
1
is still found to read 6.0 V. What
are the readings on the other three meters?
16 element Y is replaced and this time element X is taken out and
not replaced (V
2
is left in place). What will the four meters read
this time?
switch
M
1
M
2
A
1
A
2
V
1
V
2
Z
X Y
I

(
m
A
)
200
1 2
400
600
800
0
V (V)
diode
104 electricity
17 What is the effective resistance of the two combinations of 10 Ω
resistors shown in the diagram?
18 two resistors are connected in parallel across a battery. It is
found that there is a total current through the battery of 9 a. One
of the resistors is 10 Ω and the voltage across the other is 40 V.
a What is the current in the 10 Ω resistor?
b What is the resistance of the second resistor?
19 a farmer is designing a power line to carry current from a
240 V diesel generator to a farm house. he calculates that the
maximum current required will be 40 a and that the minimum
satisfactory voltage at the house is 230 V. What is the maximum
value for the total resistance of the power line in order to achieve
this?
20 the farmer in the previous question was able to buy a power line
cable which had a total resistance of 0.20 Ω. When under the
full load of 40 a, with the generator producing 240 V, what was:
a the power lost as heat in the power line?
b the voltage at the house?
area of study review electricity
1 When a voltmeter is used to measure the potential difference
across a circuit element it should be placed:
A in series with the circuit element.
B in parallel with the circuit element.
C either in series or in parallel with the circuit element.
D neither in series nor in parallel with the circuit element.
2 When an ammeter is used to measure the current through a
circuit element it should be placed:
A in series with the circuit element.
B in parallel with the circuit element.
C either in series or in parallel with the circuit element.
D neither in series nor in parallel with the circuit element.
3 the following figure describes a simple electric circuit in
which a length of resistance wire is connected to a battery
(e = 1.60 × 10
−19
c).
a how many electrons pass through the wire every second?
b how much electrical energy does each electron lose as it
moves through the wire?
c What happens to the electrical energy of the electrons as
they move through the wire?
d the eMF of the battery is quoted as being 100 V. What does
this mean?
e how much power is being dissipated in the resistance
wire?
f What is the total energy being supplied to all the electrons
passing through the wire each second?
g Determine the power output of the battery.
h Discuss the significance of your answers to parts e and g.
4 In discussing what is meant by the eMF of a battery, alf claims
that a battery only has an eMF if it is connected in a circuit, as
otherwise the charges in it are not moving and therefore have no
energy. Bert, on the other hand, claims that the eMF is greater
when the battery is not connected as the charges are not losing
energy as they move through it. they are both wrong. can you
explain why?
5 assume that when the dome of a Van de Graaff generator is fully
charged it is at a potential of +400 000 V and that the current
from the belt onto the dome is a continuous 2 µa.
a explain why the potential of the dome remains at 400 000 V
even though the belt continues to supply charge at the rate
of 2 µa.
b how many electrons is the belt moving each second? are
these electrons being carried onto or off the dome?
c at what power must the motor be working to keep supplying
the current to the fully charged dome?
d If the dome is at a potential of 400 kV, what is the potential
energy (in J) of each elementary charge on it?
10 7 10 7
10 7 10 7
(a)
10 7
10 7 10 7
10 7
(b)
R = 50 Ω
= 100 V +
105 105
6 the diagram shows the current–voltage graph for a section
of platinum wire. a potential difference of 9.0 V is established
across the section of wire.




a Determine the resistance of the section of wire.
b how much energy does an electron lose in travelling through
the wire?
c calculate the power dissipated in the wire.
d how many electrons pass through the wire in 10 s?
7 When two circuit elements are placed in series:
A the power produced in both must be the same.
B the current in both must be the same.
C the voltage across both must be the same.
D the resistance of the combination will double.
8 consider the circuit shown in which three resistors—R
1
= 80 Ω,
R
2
= 10 Ω and R
3
= 8.0 Ω—are connected in series with a battery
of eMF E = 100 V and internal resistance R
i
= 2.0 Ω.
a What is the total or effective resistance, R
t
, in the circuit
(including the internal resistance of the battery)?
b Determine the current, I, in the circuit.
c calculate the potential difference across:
i R
1
ii R
2
iii R
3
d What is the terminal voltage, V
t
, of the battery?
e calculate the total power produced by the battery.
9 When two circuit elements are placed in parallel:
A the power produced in both must be the same.
B the current in both must be the same.
C the voltage across both must be the same.
D the resistance of the combination will halve.
10 three resistors—R
1
= 100 Ω, R
2
= 200 Ω and R
3
= 600 Ω—in a
circuit are connected in parallel with a battery of E = 120 V and
zero internal resistance.

a calculate the total resistance in the circuit.
b Determine the total current in the circuit.
c calculate the branch currents: I
1
, I
2
, and I
3
.
d Determine the power output of the battery.
e calculate the total power consumed by all the resistors in
the circuit.
11 a student needs to construct a circuit in which there is a voltage
drop of 5.0 V across a resistance combination, and a total
current of 2.0 ma flowing through the combination. She has a
4.0 kΩ resistor which she wants to use and proposes to add
another resistor in parallel with it.
a What value should she use for the second resistor?
b Determine the effective resistance of the combination.
12 Belinda needs to operate a portable tape recorder requiring 12 V
at 100 ma. She has some 1.5 V dry cells which each have an
internal resistance of 0.3 Ω, and a small 9 V battery with an
internal resistance of 5 Ω. Belinda decides to connect two of the
dry cells in series with the 9 V battery to provide an eMF of 12 V
for her tape recorder. assume the batteries are all fresh.
a She measures the voltage of her new battery with a voltmeter
to check that it will be satisfactory. What does she find?
b She then connects the battery to the tape recorder and again
measures the voltage at the terminals and finds that while
it operates the recorder satisfactorily it is less than she had
hoped. What voltage does she find?
c What problems do you see with Belinda’s arrangement?
13 a In some ways the energy released in a light bulb in an
electric circuit can be compared to the energy released as
water falls down a waterfall. What power would be released
by water falling 0.6 m down a garden waterfall at the rate of
20 litres (20 kg) per minute?
b What current would need to flow through a 3 V torch bulb
to produce the same amount of power as the waterfall in
part a?
area of study review
50
0
2.5
V (V)
I

(
m
A
)
R
i
= 2 Ω
= 100 V
R
2
R
1
R
3
R
1
I
1
I
2
I I
I
I
3
R
2
R
3
E = 120 V
106 electricity
the following information applies to questions 14–17. a heater
element is found to have the I–V characteristic shown in the graph.


14 What current flows if a p.d. of 100 V is applied to the element?
15 What is the resistance of the element at 50 V, 100 V, 150 V and
200 V?
16 What power will be produced at 150 V?
17 Why do you think that the resistance at 200 V would be greater
than at 100 V?
18 the circuit shown contains a battery with E = 400 V and internal
resistance R
i
= 2.0 Ω. the switch S is closed initially.








a calculate the total resistance (including R
i
) in the circuit.
b Determine the reading on the ammeter.
c Determine the reading on the voltmeters V
1
, V
2
, V
3
, and V
4
.
d Determine the power produced by the battery.
e calculate the power consumed by the three resistors in the
circuit.
f What is the terminal voltage of the battery?
g What is the terminal voltage of the battery if S is open?
19 the I–V characteristics of a small flashlight globe are shown in
the graph.

a What current will flow in the globe when 2 V is applied to it?
Would you expect twice the current to flow if the voltage is
increased to 4 V?
b What is the resistance of the globe at 1 V and at 3 V?
c explain why this graph tells us that the globe is not an ohmic
device.
d how much power is the globe using when it is operating at
3 V?
20 a special type of circuit device X has the volt–amp characteristics
depicted in the following graph.
the circuit device X is connected into the circuit as shown in the
next diagram, in which the reading on the milliammeter is 2.0 ma.

a how would you describe the device X and what is its
purpose?
b Describe the resistance of such a device in the voltage
range 60–100 V.
c Determine the readings on voltmeters V
1
and V
2
.
d how much power is being consumed by the circuit
device X?
e how much power is being consumed by r?
f What is the power output of the 250 V battery?
the following information applies to questions 21 and 22. a student
performs an experiment in which an electric motor is used to lift a
200 g weight through 2 m, thus increasing its potential energy by
4 J. From measurements of the rate at which the weight is lifted the
efficiency of the motor is to be determined. two different voltages
were used and the current was measured.
21 In the first experiment at 6 V, a current of 0.25 a was measured
and the weight took 5 s to rise the 2 m. What was the efficiency
of the motor?
1
100 200
2
3
4
0
I
(
A
)
V (V)
V
1
V
2
V
4
V
3
R
i
= 2.0 Ω
R
1
= 100 Ω R
2
= 80 Ω
S
A
R
3
= 18 Ω
0
1 2 3
0.1
0.2
0.3
V (V)
I

(
A
)
2.5
2.0
1.5
1.0
0.5
0.0
I

(
m
A
)
20 40 60
V (V)
80 90 100
I
X R 50 k7
V
1
V
2
250 V
mA
107 107
22 In the next experiment the voltage was increased to 8 V. the
current was found to be 0.30 a and the efficiency worked out
to be 60%. how long did the motor take to lift the weight the 2 m
this time?
the following information applies to questions 23–25. the 240 V
supply cables to a certain house have a total resistance of 0.5 Ω.
the maximum likely power use at any one time is estimated to be
10 kW, while the normal minimum load is estimated at 120 W.
23 What is the maximum current likely to be used by the
household?
24 What will the voltage drop along the supply cables be under
minimum load?
25 What will the voltage at the house switchboard be under
maximum load?
the following information applies to questions 26–28. Bill and Mary
are discussing the lighting for their living room. at present they have
four 60 W, 240 V light bulbs in parallel. Bill suggests that it might be
cheaper to replace these with four bulbs wired in series.
26 If this was to be done, what would be the voltage and power
rating of each of the new bulbs they would need in order to
produce the same amount of power?
27 What would be the total current flowing in the circuit and how
would this compare to the total current flowing when the original
parallel bulbs were used?
28 Bill says that they would save on electricity bills because the
current is going through all four bulbs and therefore being used
more effectively. Mary says this is not right and that the power
bill would be exactly the same. Who is correct and why?
29 What is the effective resistance of the four resistors shown in
this diagram?
30 a light bulb rated as 6 W and 0.5 a is to be operated from a 20 V
supply using a dropping resistor, r.
a What voltage is required to operate the light bulb correctly?
b how many volts will there be across r when the circuit is
operating correctly?
c What is the required value of r?
the following information applies to questions 31–36. three
identical light-emitting diodes (LeDs) L
1
, L
2
, and L
3
, are connected
into the circuit as shown in the diagram. the battery has an eMF of
3.0 V and zero internal resistance. all LeDs are operating normally.
the brightness of an LeD increases when the current through it
increases. the voltage–current characteristics for the LeDs are
shown in the following graph. assume that all connecting wires have
negligible resistance.


31 When switch S is closed, the brightness of L
1
will:
A be greater than previously.
B be less than previously but greater than zero.
C remain the same.
D be equal to zero.
32 When switch S is closed, the brightness of L
3
will:
A be greater than previously.
B be less than previously but greater than zero.
C remain the same.
D be equal to zero.
33 When switch S is closed, the reading on voltmeter V will:
A be greater than previously.
B be less than previously but greater than zero.
C remain the same.
D be equal to zero.
area of study review
3 7 4 7
5 7 6 7
R
20 V
6 W
0.5 A
L
1
L
3
L
2
V
S
E = 3.0 V
120
100
80
60
40
20
0
0.5 1 1.5 2
V (V)
I

(
m
A
)
108 electricity
34 When switch S is closed, the power output of the battery will:
A be greater than previously.
B be less than previously but greater than zero.
C remain the same.
D be equal to zero.
35 What is the effective resistance of an LeD at a voltage of:
a 1.0 V?
b 1.5 V?
36 Determine the current in the circuit when:
a the switch is open
b the switch is closed.
the following information applies to questions 37–39. In the circuit
shown, the current through r
1
= I
1
and the current through ammeter
a = I
a
. the voltmeter V has extremely high resistance and the
ammeter a has negligible resistance.
37 Which of the following statements is true?
A I
1
= I
a
B I
1
> I
a
C I
1
R
1
= I
a
(R
1
+ R
2
)
D I
1
R
1
= I
a
R
2
38 If another resistor r
3
was connected between X and Y, what
would happen to the meter readings?
A the reading on V would increase; the reading on a would
decrease.
B the reading on V would decrease; the reading on a would
increase.
C they would both decrease.
D they would both increase.
39 If another resistor r
3
was connected between X and Y, what
would happen to the power output of the battery?
A It would increase.
B It would decrease.
C It would remain the same.
40 a car battery has an eMF of 12.0 V and an internal resistance of
0.050 Ω. the resistance of the leads between the battery and
the starter motor is 0.009 Ω. When the starter motor is running
it draws a current of 80 a.
a Determine the terminal voltage of the battery.
b calculate the voltage across the terminals of the starter
motor.
R
1
R
2
A
X Y
V
U
n
i
t
a
r
e
a

o
f

s
t
u
d
y

1
Unit
M
o
t
i
o
n
2
On completion of this area
of study, you should be able
to investigate, analyse and
mathematically model motion
of particles and bodies in terms
of Aristotelian, Galilean and
Newtonian theories.
outcome
A
s
p
e
c
t
s

o
f

m
o
t
i
o
n
c
h
A
p
t
e
r
4
4
p
ilots of fighter planes sometimes have to bail out of their aircraft
at high altitude. Should this happen today, they would usually
reach the ground safely. this has not always been the case,
however. About 40 years ago, the United States Air Force conducted
a series of experiments to investigate the design of parachutes that
would return high-altitude pilots safely to the ground. Joe Kittinger,
a US Air Force captain, was part of this experiment. his contribution
involved jumping out of a balloon from a height of 31 km!
In August 1960, after 18 months of preparations, Joe Kittinger took
off in a helium balloon from New Mexico. he ascended for one and a
half hours, eventually reaching a height of 31 km. At this altitude, there
was no air to breathe, the temperature was 35° below zero, the sky
above was pitch black and he was virtually in space. he then waited at
this altitude for the instruction to jump. It came after 12 minutes.
When he stepped out of the balloon’s gondola, it was like falling
through space. there was no sound or sensation of wind or air
resistance because the atmosphere was so thin. As he rolled over
to look upwards, he was amazed at how quickly he was accelerating
away from the balloon. he free-fell for about four and a half minutes,
reaching a maximum speed of 1150 km h
−1
. In doing so, he became
the first person to break the sound barrier without an aeroplane! Soon
after this, he started to notice the effects of the atmosphere which
began to slow him down. he then opened the main parachute and
reached the ground 13 minutes and 45 seconds after stepping out
of the gondola. A number of space entrepreneurs and extreme-sport
groups are currently planning to break Kittinger’s record. they hope to
bail out from the nose cone of a purpose-built rocket at the apex of its
flight and freefall to earth. the first of these ‘space dives’ was planned
for 2009 from a height of 37 km.
the motion of Joe Kittinger as he fell—his speed, acceleration due
to gravity, and the effects of air resistance—are some of the ideas that
will be covered in this and subsequent chapters.
by the end of this chapter
you will have covered material from the study of
movement including:
• agraphicaldescriptionofmotion
• instantaneousandaveragevelocities
• motionwithconstantaccelerationdescribedusing
graphs and equations of motion
• verticalmotionundergravity.
111 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
Motion, from the simple to the complex, is a fundamental part of everyday
life. The motion of a gymnast performing a routine and that of a mosquito
trying to avoid your desperate attempts to swat it would be considered
complex forms of motion. Far simpler examples are a tram travelling in
a straight line along a road, and a swimmer doing a length of a pool. In
this chapter, the simplest form of motion—straight line motion—will be
analysed.
In this section, terms that are useful in describing the motion of an
object—position, distance, displacement, speed, velocity and acceleration—
will be discussed.
centre of mass
When analysing motion, things are often more complicated than they first
seem. For example, as a freestyle swimmer travels at a constant speed of
2 m s
−1
, the trunk of his body will move forwards with this speed. The
motion of his arms is much more complex: at times they move forwards
faster than 2 m s
−1
and at other times they are actually moving backwards
through the water. It is beyond the scope of this course to analyse such a
complex motion, but we can simplify this by treating the swimmer as a
simple object located at a single point—his centre of mass. The centre of
mass is the balance point of an object. For a person, the centre of mass is
located near the waist. The centres of mass of some everyday objects are
shown in Figure 4.1.
position and distance travelled
Consider a swimmer, Sophie, doing laps in a 50 m pool. To simplify this
situation, we will treat Sophie as a simple point object. The pool can be
treated as a one-dimensional number line with the starting blocks chosen
to be the origin. The right of the starting blocks is taken to be positive.
The position of Sophie is her location with respect to the origin. For
example, her position as she is warming up behind the starting block in
Figure 4.4a is −10 m. The negative sign indicates the direction from the
origin, i.e. to the left. At the starting block Sophie’s position is 0 m, then
after half a length she is +25 m or 25 m to the right of the origin.
table 4.1 World record distances
2008
Activity Record (m)
Men’s pole vault 6.14
Women’s javelin 72.3
paper plane flight (indoors) 58.8
Golf drive 419
Ski jump 239
Bungee jump 1012
paper clip chain 1628
Physics file
The centre of mass of Formula 1 cars
is very close to the ground. This makes
them very stable and means that they
can turn corners at high speeds; speeds
at which normal cars would roll over.
Physics file
Figure 4.1 the centre of mass of each object is indicated by a cross. When analysing their
motion, the total mass of each object can be considered to be located at these points.
4.1 D
e
s
c
rib
in
g
m
o
tio
n
in
a
s
tra
ig
h
t lin
e
Figure 4.2 Formula 1 racing cars have a low centre of mass.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 15
Locating the centre of mass
(a) (b) (c) (d)
Figure 4.3 Australia’s Kym howe won the commonwealth pole vault gold
medal at Melbourne in 2006 with a leap of 4.62 metres.
112 Motion
Distance travelled
Distance travelled is a measure of the actual distance covered during the
motion. For example, if Sophie completes three lengths of the pool, the
distance travelled during her swim will be 50 + 50 + 50 = 150 m.
DISTANC… TRAV…LL…D, d, is how far a body travels during motion. Distance travelled
is measured in metres (m).
The distance travelled does not distinguish between motion in a positive
or negative direction. For example, if Sophie completes one length of the
pool travelling from the starting block, i.e. in a positive direction, the
distance travelled will be 50 m. If she swam one length from the far end
back to the start, the distance travelled will also be 50 m.
Displacement
Displacement is a term related to position and distance travelled, but it has
a different meaning. Displacement, x, is defined as the change in position of
an object. Displacement takes into account only where the motion starts
and finishes; whether the motion was directly between these points or took
a complex route has no effect on its value. The sign of the displacement
indicates the direction in which the position has changed.
DISPLAC…M…NT is defned as the change in position of a body in a given direction.
Displacement x = fnal position − initial position
Displacement is measured in metres (m).
Consider the example of Sophie completing one length of the pool.
During her swim, the distance travelled is 50 m, and the displacement is:
x = final position − initial position
= 50 − 0
=50 m, i.e. 50 m in a positive direction
Figure 4.4 In this situation, the position of the swimmer is given with reference to the starting
block. (a) While warming up, Sophie is at −10 m. (b) When she is on the starting block, her
position is zero. (c) After swimming for a short time, she is at a position of +25 m.
Figure 4.5 In completing the 2008 Melbourne
marathon, the athletes started just west of the
McG and ran down Beach rd to Sandringham.
they turned around and returned along Beach
rd to the McG. their distance travelled was more
than 42 km, but their displacement was just a
few hundred metres east.
-10 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 m
position
-10 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 m
position
-10 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 m
position
(a)
(b)
(c)
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 16
the ticker timer
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 17
Introduction to the air track
113 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
If Sophie swims two lengths, she will have travelled a distance of 100 m,
i.e. 50 m out and 50 m back. However, her displacement during this swim
will be:
x = final position − initial position
= 0 − 0
= 0
Even though she has swum 100 m, her displacement is zero because the
initial and final positions are the same. Displacement only considers the
starting and finishing positions of the motion; it does not indicate anything
about the route taken by the person or object in getting from the initial to
the final position.
Scalars and vectors
Physical quantities requiring a number only to fully describe them are
known as scalars. Distance is a scalar quantity. Other scalar quantities
include mass, time, speed and refractive index.
Some physical quantities require a number (magnitude) and a direction
to fully describe them. These are called vectors. Displacement is a vector
quantity. Other vector quantities are velocity, acceleration and force. Vectors
are represented in bold italic type; for example, x, v, a. Scalars and vectors
are discussed in detail in Appendix A.
Speed and velocity
For thousands of years, humans have tried to travel at greater speeds.
This desire has contributed to the development of all sorts of competitive
activities, as well as to major advances in engineering and design. The
records for some of these pursuits are given in Table 4.2.
Speed and velocity are both quantities that give an indication of how
fast an object moves or, more precisely, of how quickly the position of an
object is changing. Both terms are in common use and are often assumed
to have the same meaning. In physics, however, these terms are defined
differently.
• Speed is defined in terms of the distance travelled and so, like distance,
speed is a scalar. Thus, a direction is not required when describing the
speed of an object.
• Velocity is defined in terms of displacement and so is a vector quantity.
The SI unit for speed and velocity is metres per second (m s
−1
); kilometres
per hour (km h
−1
) is also commonly used.
Instantaneous speed and velocity
Instantaneous speed and instantaneous velocity give a measure of how fast
something is moving at a particular moment or instant in time. If the
speedometer on a car shows 60 km h
−1
, it is indicating the instantaneous
speed of the car. If another car is detected on a police radar gun and
registers 120 km h
−1
, it indicates that this car’s instantaneous speed is above
the speed limit.
table 4.2 Some world speed records
(2008)
Speed activity Record speed
(m s
–1
) (km h
–1
)
Luge 39 140
train 160 575
tennis serve 68.4 246
Waterskiing 63.9 230
cricket delivery 44.7 161
horse racing 19 70
Figure 4.6 In 2003, patrick Johnson became the
first Australian to break the 10-second barrier for
the 100-m sprint.
114 Motion
Average speed and velocity
Average speed and average velocity both give an indication of how fast an
object is moving over a time interval. For example, the average speed of
a car that takes 1 hour to travel 30 km from Dandenong to St Kilda is
30 km h
−1
. However, this does not mean that the car travelled the whole
distance at this speed. In fact, it is more likely that the car was moving at
60 km h
−1
for a significant amount of time, but some time was also spent
not moving at all.
AV…RAG… SP……D v
av
=
distance travelled
time taken
=
d
Dt

Speed is measured in metres per second (m s
−1
).
AV…RAG… V…LOCITY v
av
=
displacement
time taken

=
x
Dt
Velocity is measured in metres per second (m s
−1
) and requires a direction.
A direction (such as north, south, up, down, left, right, positive, negative)
must be given when describing a velocity. The direction will always be the
same as that of the displacement.
Worked example 4.1A
consider Jana, an athlete performing a training routine by running back and forth along
a straight stretch of running track. She jogs 100 m north in a time of 20 s, then turns and
walks 50 m south in a further 25 s before stopping.
a calculate Jana’s average speed as she is jogging.
b What is her average velocity as she is jogging?
c What is the average speed for this 150 m exercise?
d Determine the average velocity for this activity.
e What is the magnitude of Jana’s average velocity in km h
−1
?
Solution
a her average speed when jogging is:
v
av
=
distance travelled
time taken
=
d
Dt
=
100 m
20 s
= 5.0 m s
−1
Figure 4.7 the instantaneous velocity at point A is the gradient of the tangent at that point. the
average velocity between points B and C is the gradient of the chord between these points on
the graph.
C
B
A
Time
D
i
s
p
l
a
c
e
m
e
n
t
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 18
the kinematics of a student
100 m
finish start
50 m
finish start
S N
0
20
0
45
115 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
b her average velocity when jogging is:
v
av
=
displacement
time taken
=
x
Dt
=
100 m north
20 s
= 5.0 m s
−1
north
Note that speed has been treated as a scalar and velocity as a vector.
c Jana has covered a distance of 150 m in 45 s. her average speed is:
v
av
=
distance travelled
time taken
=
150 m
45 s
= 3.3 m s
−1
d She has finished 50 m to the north of where she started, i.e. her displacement is 50 m
north. her average velocity is:
v
av
=
x
Dt
=
50 m north
45 s
= 1.1 m s
−1
north
Jana could have ended up at the same place in the same time by travelling with this
average velocity.
e her average velocity is:
1.1 m s
−1
north =
11 × 3600
1000
= 4.0 km h
−1
north
the magnitude is 4.0 km h
−1
.
Acceleration
If you have been on a train as it has pulled out of the station, you will have
experienced an acceleration. Also, if you have been in a jumbo jet as it
has taken off along a runway, you will have experienced a much greater
acceleration. Acceleration is a measure of how quickly velocity changes.
Consider the following velocity information for a car that starts from
rest at an intersection as shown in Figure 4.8.
Each second, the velocity of the car increases by 10 km h
−1
. In other
words, its velocity changes by +10 km h
−1
per second. This is stated as an
acceleration of +10 kilometres per hour per second or +10 km h
−1
s
−1
.
More commonly in physics, velocity information is given in metres per
second. The athlete in Figure 4.9 takes 3 s to come to a stop at the end of
a race.
When converting a speed from one unit
to another, it is important to think about
the speeds to ensure that your answers
make sense.
100 km h
−1

is a speed that you should be familiar
with as it is the speed limit for most
freeways and country roads. Cars that
maintain this speed would travel 100 km
in 1 hour. Since there are 1000 m in
1 km and 60 × 60 = 3600 s in 1 hour,
this is the same as travelling 100 000 m
in 3600 s.
100 km h
−1
= 100 × 1000 m h
−1
= 100 000 m h
−1

= 100 000 ÷ 3600 m s
−1

= 27.8 m s
−1
So km h
−1
can be converted to m s
−1

by multiplying by 1000/3600 (i.e. ÷ 3.6).
A champion
Olympic sprinter can run at an
average speed of close to 10 m s
−1
,
i.e. each second the athlete will travel
approximately 10 metres. At this rate, in
1 hour the athlete would travel
10 × 3600 = 36 000 m, i.e. 36 km.
10 m s
−1
= 10 × 3600 m h
−1

= 36 000 m h
−1

= 36 000 ÷ 1000 km h
−1

= 36 km h
−1
So m s
−1
can be converted to km h
−1

by multiplying by 3600/1000 (i.e. × 3.6).
Physics file
Figure 4.8 the velocity of the car increases by 10 km h
−1
each second, and so its acceleration is
said to be +10 kilometres per hour per second.
Figure 4.9 the velocity of the athlete changes by −2 m s
−1
each second. the acceleration is
−2 m s
−2
.
v = 6 m s
–1
4 m s
–1
2 m s
–1
0 m s
–1
t = 0 s 1 s 2 s 3 s
t = 0 s 1 s 2 s 3 s
v
3.6
r
3.6
km h
–1
m s
–1
116 Motion
Each second the velocity of the athlete changes by −2 m s
−1
, and so the
acceleration is −2 metres per second per second. This is usually expressed
as −2 metres per second squared or −2 m s
−2
.
Acceleration is defined as the rate of change of velocity. Acceleration is a
vector quantity whose direction is that of the velocity change.
A negative acceleration can mean that the object is slowing down in the
direction of travel as is the case with the athlete above. What would happen
to the athlete in the next few seconds if the trend continued? The athlete’s
velocity would be –2 m s
−1
, –4 m s
−1
and so on. This too is a negative
acceleration, which can also mean speeding up in the opposite direction.
AV…RAG… ACC…L…RATION is the rate of change of velocity:
a
av
=
change in velocity
time taken
=
Dv
Dt
=
v − u
Dt
where v is the fnal velocity (m s
−1
)
u is the initial velocity (m s
−1
)
Dt is the time interval (s)
Acceleration is measured in metres per second squared (m s
−2
).
Worked example 4.1B
A cheetah running at 20 m s
−1
slows down as it approaches a stream. Within 3.0 s, its
speed has reduced to 2 m s
−1
. calculate the average acceleration of the cheetah.
Solution
the average acceleration of the cheetah is:
a
av
=
Dv
Dt
=
v − u
Dt

=
2 − 20
3.0
= −
18
3.0
= −6.0 m s
−2
that is, each second, the cheetah is slowing down by 6.0 m s
−1
.
Finding velocity changes
When finding the change in any physical quantity, the initial value is taken
away from the final value. Thus, a change in velocity is the final velocity
minus the initial velocity:
D = −
In algebra, a subtraction is equivalent to the addition of a negative term,
e.g. x − y = x + (−y). The same rationale can be used when subtracting
vectors. Vector subtraction is performed by adding the opposite of the
subtracted vector:
D = − = + (− )
The negative of a vector simply points in the opposite direction, i.e. if u is
5 m s
−1
north, then −u is 5 m s
−1
south.
Worked example 4.1C
A golf ball is dropped onto a concrete floor and strikes the floor at 5.0 m s
−1
. It then rebounds
at 5.0 m s
−1
.
a What is the change in speed for the ball?
b calculate the change in velocity for the ball.
117 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
Physics in action
Breaking the speed limit!
Solution
a Both the initial and final speed of the ball are 5.0 m s
−1
, so the change in speed for the
ball is:
Dv = v − u = 5.0 − 5.0 = 0
As speed is a scalar quantity, the direction of motion of the ball is not a consideration.
b to determine the change in velocity of the ball:
Dv = v − u = 5.0 m s
−1
up − 5.0 m s
−1
down
Let up be the positive direction, so:
Dv = +5.0 − (−5.0) = +5.0 +5.0 = 10 m s
−1
up
As can also be seen in the diagram, a vector subtraction gives the change in velocity
of the ball, in this case, 10 m s
−1
up. Velocity is a vector quantity and the change in
direction of the ball is responsible for its velocity change.
u = 5 m s
–1
v = 5 m s
–1
Dv = v – u
= 5 – 5
= 5 + 5
= 10 m s
–1

= 10 m s
–1
up
Figure 4.10 In 2007, Markus Stoeckl of Austria set a new speed
record for mountain biking. he reached a speed of 210 km h
–1

racing down a ski slope in chile.
Over the past 100 years, advances in engineering and technology
have led to the development of faster and faster machines. Today
cars, planes and trains can move people at speeds that were
thought to be unattainable and life-threatening a century ago.
The 1-mile land speed record is 1220 km h
−1
(339 m s
−1
).
This was set in 1997 in Nevada by Andy Green driving his
jet-powered Thrust SSC. The fastest combat jet is the Sr-71
Blackbird. It reached a speed of 3900 km h
−1
in 1976, which is
more than three times the speed of sound.
The fastest speed recorded by a train is 575 km h
−1

(160 m s
−1
) by the French TGV Atlantique in 2007, although
it does not reach this speed during normal operations.
The world record speed for racing dragsters is almost as
fast as this, although dragsters only race 400 m. A piston
engine (as opposed to rocket-powered!) dragster can
cover the 400 m in 4.4 s and reach a maximum speed of
475 km h
−1
. It can achieve a peak acceleration of 56 m s
−2

during its trip and a parachute has to be used to slow it
down.
In the 1950s, the United States Air Force used a
rocket sled to determine the effect of extremely large
accelerations on humans. It consisted of an 800 m
long railway track and a sled with nine rocket motors.
One volunteer—Lieutenant Colonel John Stapp—was
strapped into the sled and accelerated to speeds of over
1000 km h
−1
in a very short time. Then water scoops
were used to stop the sled in just 0.35 s. This equates
to a deceleration of 810 m s
−2
.
118 Motion
A variety of methods can be used to determine the speed
of an object in a motion experiment. Common techniques
include ticker timers, ultrasound transducers, photogates and
multiflash photography.
A ticker timer has a hammer that vibrates with a
frequency of 50 Hz and produces a series of dots on a piece of
ticker tape that is being dragged along by a moving body.
Since the hammer strikes the paper at regular intervals,
the distance between the dots gives an indication of the speed
of the body. Where the dots are widely spaced, the body is
moving faster than when the dots are close together. Precise
values of speed can be determined by measuring the

Physics in action
Measuring speed in the laboratory
Figure 4.12 ticker tape was commonly used to analyse the motion
of objects. If the frequency of the timer is known and the distance
between the dots has been measured, the average speed of the
object can be determined.
Table 4.3 World record times and speeds for men and women in 2008
Event Distance
(m)
Time
(h:min:s)
Average
speed
Men
running 100 0:9.69 10.3 m s
−1
200 0:19.30 10.4 m s
−1
400 0:43.18 9.1 m s
−1
800 1:41.11 7.9 m s
−1
1500 3:26.00 7.2 m s
−1
Marathon
(42.2 km)
2:04:26 5.6 m s
−1

Swimming 50 freestyle 0:21.28 2.3 m s
−1
1500 freestyle 14:34:56 1.7 m s
−1
cycling 56.4 km 1:00.00 56.4 km h
−1
Downhill skiing 251 km h
−1
*
Event Distance
(m)
Time
(h:min:s)
Average
speed
Women
running 100 0:10.49 9.5 m s
−1
200 0:21.34 9.4 m s
−1
400 0:47.60 8.4 m s
−1
800 1:53.28 7.1 m s
−1
1500 3:50.46 6.5 m s
−1
Marathon 2:15:25 5.2 m s
−1
Swimming 50 freestyle 0:23.97 2.1 m s
−1
1500 freestyle 15:42.54 1.6 m s
−1
cycling 46.1 km 1:00.00 46.1 km h
−1
Downhill skiing 243 km h
−1
*
*Instantaneous speed.
distances between the dots. Consider the section of tape shown
in Figure 4.12. The tape had been attached to a student to
measure walking speed.
A B C D E F
1 cm 2 cm 3 cm 3 cm 3 cm
Figure 4.11 these photos show the face
of Lieutenant colonel John Stapp while
he was travelling in a rocket-powered
sled. As the sled blasted off, it achieved an
acceleration of 120 m s
−2
. the effect of this
is evident on his face.
119 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
The average speed of the student is calculated by
measuring the distance travelled and taking account of the
time elapsed. Since the hammer strikes the tape 50 times per
second, each interval between the dots represents 1/50 s (i.e.
0.02 s). Thus the average speed between A and F, a distance
consisting of five intervals, is:
v
av
=
distance travelled
time taken
=
12 cm
5 × 0.02 s
= 120 cm s
−1
or 1.2 m s
−1
The instantaneous speed gives a measure of the speed at
one particular time. This can be estimated with reasonable
accuracy by calculating the average speed for the interval one
dot either side of the point being analysed. For example, the
instantaneous speed at point B can be estimated by calculating
the average speed between points A and C:
v
inst
(B) ≈ v
av
(A to C) =
distance travelled
time taken
=
3 cm
2 × 0.02 s

= 75 cm s
−1
or 0.75 m s
−1
Multiflash photography is a useful method for analysing
more complex motion. A photograph is taken by a camera
with the shutter open and a strobe light that flashes at a
known frequency. This is analysed in a similar manner to
ticker tape. If the frequency of the flash is known, the time
between each flash (i.e. the period of the flash, T) is easily
found using . For example, a flash with a frequency of 20 Hz
has a period of 0.05 s. By measuring the appropriate distance
on the photograph, average speed can be calculated and
instantaneous speed estimated.
A photogate consists of a light source and sensor that
triggers an electronic timing device when the light beam
is broken. Photogates are designed to measure time to
millisecond accuracy, and so give very accurate speed data.
Some are calibrated to give a direct reading of speed. Others
will simply give a measure of the time interval between two
light beams being broken. The average speed of a falling mass
that passes between two photogates can be calculated by
considering the distance between the photogates and the time
that the mass took to pass between them.
An ultrasonic motion sensor gives a direct and
instantaneous measure of the speed of a body. These devices
emit a series of high-frequency sound pulses that are reflected
from the moving object, giving an indication of its position.
The data are then processed to give a measure of the speed.
Ultrasonic sensors allow complex motions such as a sprinter
starting a race, or a ball bouncing several times, to be
analysed in great detail.
Figure 4.14 Ultrasonic motion sensors can
be used to analyse the movement of an
object. high-frequency sound impulses are
emitted from the sensor, reflected from the
object and received by the sensor. A display
of the motion of the object can then be
seen on a computer screen.
Figure 4.13 A multiflash photograph of this golf swing allows the
motion of the club and ball to be analysed in detail. three images of
the ball in flight can be seen. Given that the flash frequency is 120 hz,
and the scale of the photograph is 1:50, you should be able to show
that the initial speed of the golf ball is approximately 100 m s
−1
.
120 Motion
• The average speed of a body, v
av
, is defined as the
rate of change of distance and is a scalar quantity:
v
av
=
distance travelled
time taken
=
d
Dt
• Theaveragevelocityofabody,v
av
, is a vector and is
the rate of change of displacement:
av
=
displacement
time taken
=
Dt
• TheSIunitforbothspeedandvelocityismetresper
second (m s
−1
).
• Instantaneousvelocityisthevelocityataparticular
instant in time.
• The average acceleration of a body, a
av
, is defined
as the rate of change of velocity. Acceleration is a
vector:
a
av
=
D
Dt
• Positiondefinesthelocationofanobjectwithrespect
to a defined origin.
• Distance travelled, d, tells how far an object has
actually travelled. Distance travelled is a scalar.
• Displacement, , is a vector and is defined as the
change in position of an object in a given direction.
Displacement = final position − initial position.
• Vectorquantitiesrequireamagnitudeandadirection,
whereas scalar quantities can be fully described by a
magnitude only.
4.1 summary
Describing motion in a straight line
1 A somewhat confused ant is moving back and forth
along a metre ruler.
Determine both the displacement and distance
travelled by the ant as it moves from:
a A to B b C to B
c C to D d C to E and then to D
2 During a training ride, a cyclist rides 50 km north
then 30 km south.
a What is the distance travelled by the cyclist during
the ride?
b What is the displacement of the cyclist for this
ride?
3 A lift in a city building carries a passenger from the
ground floor down to the basement, then up to the
top floor.
a Determine the displacement as the passenger
travels from the ground floor to the basement.
b What is the displacement of the lift as it travels
from the basement to the top floor?
c What is the distance travelled by the lift during
this trip?
d What is the displacement of the lift during this
trip?



4 Which of these physical quantities are vectors: mass,
displacement, density, distance, temperature?
5 If
1
is 20 m south and
2
is 10 m north, which of the
vectors A–E represents:
a
1
+
2
? b
2
+
1
? c 3
2
? d −
1
?

4.1 questions
Describing motion in a straight line
50 m
10 m
top floor
ground
floor
basement
N
A B C D E
20 m 20 m 30 m
10 m 10 m
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
A B C D E
cm
121 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
6 Liam, aged 7, buried some ‘treasure’ in his backyard
and wrote down these clues to help find it: start at
the clothes line, walk 10 steps south, then four steps
east, 15 steps north, five steps west, and five steps
south.
a What distance (in steps) is travelled when tracing
the ‘treasure’?
b Where is the ‘treasure’ buried?
c What is your displacement (in steps) after you
have followed the instructions?
7 Estimate the speed:
a at which you walk
b of a snail crawling
c of an elite 100 m sprinter
d of a ten-pin bowling ball.
8 Toni rides her bicycle to school and travels the 2.5 km
distance in a time of 10 min.
a Calculate her average speed in kilometres per
hour (km h
−1
).
b Calculate her average speed in metres per second
(m s
−1
).
c Is Toni’s average speed a realistic representation
of her actual speed? Explain.
9 A sports car, accelerating from rest, was timed over
400 m and was found to reach a speed of 120 km h
−1

in 18.0 s.
a What was the average speed of the car in m s
−1
?
b Calculate the average acceleration of the car in
km h
−1
s
−1
.
c What was its average acceleration in m s
−2
?
d If the driver of the car had a reaction time of 0.60 s,
how far would the car travel while the driver
was reacting to apply the brakes at this speed of
120 km h
−1
?
10 A squash ball travelling east at 25 m s
−1
strikes the
front wall of the court and rebounds at 15 m s
−1
west.
The contact time between the wall and the ball is
0.050 s. Use vector diagrams, where appropriate, to
calculate:
a the change in speed of the ball
b the change in velocity of the ball
c the magnitude of the average acceleration of the
ball during its contact with the wall.
11 A bus travelling north along a straight road at
60 km h
−1
slows down uniformly and takes 5.0 s to
stop.
a Calculate the magnitude of its acceleration in
km h
−1
s
−1
.
b Calculate its acceleration in m s
−2
.
12 During a world record 1500 m freestyle swim, Grant
Hackett completed 30 lengths of a 50 m pool in a
time of 14 min 38 s.
a What was his distance travelled during this race?
b What was his average speed (in m s
−1
)?
c What was his displacement during the race?
d What was his average velocity during his
record-breaking swim?
122 Motion
At times, even the motion of an object travelling in a straight line can be
complicated. The object may travel forwards or backwards, speed up or
slow down, or even stop. Where the motion remains in one dimension,
the information can be presented in graphical form. The main advantage
of a graph compared with a table is that it allows the nature of the motion
to be seen clearly. Information that is contained in a table is not as readily
accessible nor as easy to interpret as information presented graphically.
Graphing position
A position–time graph indicates the position of an object at any time for
motion that occurs over an extended time interval. However, the graph can
also provide additional information.
Consider once again Sophie swimming laps of a 50 m pool. Her position–
time data are shown in Table 4.4. The starting point is treated as the origin
for this motion.
table 4.4 positions and times of a swimmer completing 1.5 lengths of a pool
Time (s) 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60
Position (m) 0 10 20 30 40 50 50 50 45 40 35 30 25
An analysis of the table reveals several features of the swim. For the
first 25 s, Sophie swims at a constant rate. Every 5 s she travels 10 m in
a positive direction, i.e. her velocity is +2 m s
−1
. Then from 25 s to 35 s,
her position does not change; she seems to be resting, i.e. is stationary,
for this 10 s interval. Finally, from 35 s to 60 s she swims back towards the
starting point, i.e. in a negative direction. On this return lap, she maintains
a more leisurely rate of 5 metres every 5 seconds, i.e. her velocity is −1 m s
−1
.
However, Sophie does not complete this lap but ends 25 m from the start.
These data can be shown conveniently on a position–time graph.
The displacement of the swimmer can be determined by comparing the
initial and final positions. Her displacement between 20 s and 60 s is, for
example:
x = final position − initial position = 25 − 40 =−15 m
By further examining the graph in Figure 4.16, it can be seen that during
the first 25 s, the swimmer has a displacement of +50 m. Thus her average
velocity is +2 m s
−1
, i.e. 2 m s
−1
to the right. This value can also be obtained
by finding the gradient of this section of the graph.
V…LOCITY is given by the gradient of a position–time graph. A positive velocity
indicates that the object is moving in a positive direction, and a negative velocity
indicates motion in a negative direction.
If the position–time graph is curved, the velocity will be the gradient of
the tangent to the line at the point of interest. This will be an instantaneous
velocity. Dimensional analysis can be used to confirm that the gradient of a
position–time graph is a measure of velocity:
gradient =
rise
run
=
D
Dt
The units of this gradient are metres per second (m s
−1
), i.e. gradient is a
measure of velocity.
Figure 4.15 this swimmer will travel to the 50 m
mark, then return to the 25 m mark. her position
is shown in table 4.4.
Figure 4.16 this graph represents the motion of
a swimmer travelling 50 m along a pool, then
resting and swimming back towards the starting
position. the swimmer finishes halfway along
the pool.
Figure 4.17 From the units of the rise and run, it can
be seen that the units for the gradient are m s
−1
,
confirming that this is a measure of velocity.
G
ra
p
h
in
g
m
o
tio
n
: p
o
s
itio
n
,
v
e
lo
c
ity
a
n
d
a
c
c
e
le
ra
tio
n
4.2
0 10 20 30 40 50 m
Position
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
45
50
P
o
s
i
t
i
o
n

(
m
)
5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60
Time (s)
P
o
s
i
t
i
o
n

(
m
)
Time (s)
$t
$x
gradient velocity
123 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
Worked example 4.2A
A car driven by a learner driver travels along a straight driveway and is initially heading
north. the position of the car is shown in the graph.
a Describe the motion of the car in terms of its position.
b What is the displacement of the car during the first 10 s of its motion?
c What distance has the car travelled during the first 10 s?
d calculate the average velocity of the car during the first 4 s.
e calculate the average velocity of the car between t = 6 s and t = 20 s.
f calculate the average velocity of the car during its 20 s trip.
g calculate the average speed of the car during its 20 s trip.
h calculate the magnitude of the instantaneous velocity of the car at t = 18 s.
Solution
a the car initially travels 10 m north in 4 s. It then stops for 2 s. From t = 6 s to t = 20 s, the
car travels towards the south, i.e. it reverses. It passes through its starting point after
14 s, and finally stops 2 m south of this point after 20 s.
b the displacement of the car is given by its change in position. From the graph, we can
see that the car started from zero, and after 10 s its position is 5 m, so its displacement
is +5 m or 5 m north.
c the distance travelled is an indication of the ground covered by the car. During the first
10 s the car travels 10 m north, then 5 m south. the distance travelled is 15 m.
d the average velocity is given by the gradient during the first 4 s:
gradient =
rise
run
=
10
4
= +2.5 m s
−1
or 2.5 m s
−1
north
e Again, the average velocity is given by the gradient:
gradient =
rise
run
= −
15
14
= −1.1 m s
−1
or 1.1 m s
−1
south
f the average velocity for the 20 s can be found by calculating the gradient of the line
from the start to the end of the motion:
v
av
=
x
t
=
−5
20
= −0.25 m s
−1
or 0.25 m s
−1
south
g the car travels a distance of 10 m + 10 m + 5 m = 25 m in 20 s.
Its average speed v
av
=
distance
time
=
25
20
= 1.25 m s
−1
≈ 1.3 m s
−1
h the graph is curved at this time, so to find the instantaneous velocity it is necessary to
draw a tangent to the line and calculate the gradient of the tangent:
gradient =
rise
run
=
−5
9
= = −0.56
i.e. v
inst
= 0.56 m s
−1
south
the magnitude of the instantaneous velocity is 0.56 m s
−1
.
Graphing velocity
A graph of velocity against time shows how the velocity of an object
changes with time. This type of graph is useful for analysing the motion
of an object moving in a complex manner, for example a ball bouncing up
and down. A velocity–time graph can also be used to obtain additional
information about the object.
Consider the example of a small girl, Eleanor, running back and forth
along an aisle in a supermarket. A study of the velocity–time graph in
Figure 4.18 reveals that Eleanor is moving with a positive velocity, i.e. in a
positive direction, for the first 6 s. Between the 6 s mark and the 7 s mark,
0
5
10
–5
–10
P
o
s
i
t
i
o
n

(
m
)
Time (s)
2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 19
Analysing motion with a motion
sensor
124 Motion
she is stationary, then she runs in the reverse direction, i.e. has negative
velocity, for the final 3 s.
The graph in Figure 4.18 shows Eleanor’s velocity at each instant in
time. She moves in a positive direction with a constant speed of 3 m s
−1
for
the first 4 s. From 4 s to 6 s, she continues moving in a positive direction but
slows down, until 6 s after the start she comes to a stop. Then during the
final 3 s, when the line is below the time axis, her velocity is negative; she is
now moving in a negative direction.
A velocity–time graph can also be used to find the displacement of the
body under consideration. In the first 6 s of Eleanor’s motion she moves
with a constant velocity of +3 m s
−1
for 4 s, then slows from 3 m s
−1
to zero
in the next 2 s. Her displacement during this time can be determined from
the v–t graph:
=
Dt
, so
x = v × Dt = height × base = area under v–t graph.
From Figure 4.19, the area under the graph for the first 4 s gives the
displacement of the girl during this time, i.e. +12 m. The displacement from
4 s to 6 s is represented by the area of the shaded triangle and is equal
to +3 m. Thus the total displacement during the first 6 s is +12 m + 3 m
= +15 m.
DISPLAC…M…NT is given by the area under a velocity–time graph (or the area
between the line and the time axis). It is important to note that an area below the
time axis indicates a negative displacement, i.e. motion in a negative direction.
The acceleration of an object can also be found from a velocity–time
graph. Consider the motion of the girl in the 2 s interval between 4 s and
6 s. She is moving in a positive direction but slowing down from 3 m s
–1
to
rest. Her acceleration is:
a =
Dv
Dt
=
(v − u)
Dt
=
(0 − 3)
2
= −1.5 m s
−2
Since acceleration is the velocity change divided by time taken, it is also
given by the gradient of the v–t graph. As can be seen from Figure 4.19 once
again, the gradient of the line between 4 s and 6 s is −1.5 m s
−2
.
Figure 4.18 this graph shows the straight line
motion of a girl running back and forth along a
supermarket aisle.
Figure 4.19 the displacement of the girl is given by the area under the graph. During the first
6 s, her displacement is +15 m.
V
e
l
o
c
i
t
y

(
m

s

1
)
–1
0
1
2
3
Area
= +12 m
= displacement
Area =
_
x 2 x 3
1
2
∴ x = +3 m
gradient =
_
= –1.5 m s
–2
–3
2
Time (s)
= acceleration
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
–2
–1
0
1
2
3
V
e
l
o
c
i
t
y

(
m

s

1
)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Time (s)
_
+
125 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
AV…RAG… ACC…L…RATION is the gradient of a velocity–time graph of the object over
the time interval. If the acceleration is changing, the velocity–time graph will be
curved, and so the gradient of the tangent will give an instantaneous acceleration.
Worked example 4.2B
the motion of a radio-controlled car travelling in a straight line across a driveway is
represented by the graph below.
Use this graph to help you to:
a describe the motion of the car in terms of its velocity
b calculate the displacement of the car during the first 4 s
c calculate the average velocity of the car during the first 4 s
d determine the displacement for the 9 s shown
e find the acceleration during the first 4 s
f find the acceleration from 4 s to 6 s.
Solution
a the car is initially moving in a positive direction at 8 m s
−1
. It slows down and comes to
a stop after 4 s, then reverses and travels in a negative direction. From 4 s to 6 s the car
gains speed in the negative direction, then maintains a constant velocity of −4 m s
−1

for the final 3 s.
b the displacement is given by the area under the graph; in this case the triangular area
as shown. the car’s displacement during the first 4 s is +16 m.
c Average velocity v
av
=
Dx
t
=+
16
4.0
= +4.0 m s
–1

In this situation, since the car had a constant acceleration for the first 4 s, it would also
be appropriate to simply find the average of the initial velocity u and final velocity v
using:
v
av
=
(u + v)
2
=
(8 + 0)
2
= +4 m s
–1

d the displacement for the complete motion is given by the total area under the graph:
+16 − 4 − 12 = 0, i.e. the car finishes where it started.
e the acceleration is given by the gradient of the line. For the first 4 s, this is −2 m s
−2
.
this indicates that the car is slowing down by 2 m s
−1
each second while travelling in a
positive direction.
To determine the area under a graph,
there are a number of techniques
available. These can involve some degree
of estimation.
1. If the graph area is a combination
of simple shapes such as rectangles
and triangles, use your mathematical
skills to combine these areas,
remembering that areas under the
horizontal axis are negative.
2. A useful technique of finding the
area under a complex or curved
graph is that of ‘counting squares’.
To determine the area under a graph
by counting squares:
• calculatetheareaofonegrid
square
• useapenciltocheckoffthe
number of complete squares under
the graph
• ifthegraphiscurvedorcontains
part squares, estimate the
combined total of these incomplete
squares
• addthesetwoamountsto
determine the total number of
squares
• multiplythisvaluebytheareaof
each square to determine the area
under the graph.
For example, in the graph in Worked
example 4.2B, the area of each grid
square is 2 ×1 = 2 m.
Up to 4 s, in the shaded triangular
area, the complete and part squares
combine to make 8 squares. The
total displacement during this time is
8 squares ×2 m =+16 m.
Physics file
V
e
l
o
c
i
t
y

(
m

s

1
)
–2
–4
0
2
4
6
8
gradient = –2 m s
–2
gradient = –2 m s
–2
Time (s)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Area = +16 m
Area = –4 m
Area = –12 m
126 Motion
f the gradient of the line from 4 s to 6 s is also −2 m s
−2
. this now indicates that the car
is speeding up by 2 m s
−1
each second while travelling in a negative direction.
Graphing acceleration
An acceleration–time graph simply indicates the acceleration of the object
as a function of time. The area under an acceleration–time graph is found
by multiplying an acceleration and a time value:
Area = a × Dt = D
The area will give the change in velocity (Dv) of the object. In order
to establish the actual velocity of the object, its initial velocity must be
known.
Consider the toy car from Worked example 4.2B once again. The change
in velocity during the first 6 s can be determined from the acceleration–time
graph. As shown in Figure 4.21, the velocity changes by −12 m s
−1
. This can
be confirmed by looking at the velocity–time graph in Worked example
4.2B. It shows that the car slows down from +8 m s
−1
to −4 m s
−1
, a change of
−12 m s
−1
, during this time.
Until 1964, all timing of events at the Olympic Games
was recorded by handheld stopwatches. The reaction
times of the judges meant an uncertainty of 0.2 s for
any measurement. An electronic quartz timing system
introduced in 1964 improved accuracy to 0.01 s, but in
close finishes the judges still had to wait for a photograph
of the finish before they could announce the placings.
Currently the timing system used is a vertical line-
scanning video system (VLSV). Introduced in 1991, this
is a completely automatic electronic timing system. The
starting pistol triggers a computer to begin timing. At
the finish line, a high-speed video camera records the
image of each athlete and indicates the time at which
the chest of each one crosses the line. This system
enables the times of all the athletes in the race to be
precisely measured to one-thousandth of a second.
Another feature of this system is that it indicates
when a runner ‘breaks’ at the start of the race.
Physics in action
timing and false starts in athletics
Figure 4.21 the acceleration–time graph for the toy car travelling across the driveway. It was
drawn by taking account of the gradient values of the velocity–time graph. the change in the
car’s velocity is given by the area under the graph.
The area under a velocity–time graph
is a measure of displacement. When the
units on the axes are multiplied when
finding the area, a displacement unit
results. From Figure 4.20a:
area units = m s
−1
× s = m
i.e. a displacement
The gradient of a velocity–time
graph is the acceleration of the object.
When finding the gradient, the units are
divided. From Figure 4.20b:
gradient units = m s
−1
/s = m s
−2
,
i.e. an acceleration.
Physics file
Figure 4.20 (a) the units on the axes of a
v–t graph confirm that the area under the
graph represents a displacement. (b) the
gradient of the line is the acceleration.
A
c
c
e
l
e
r
a
t
i
o
n

(
m

s

2
)
–1
–2
0
1
2
Time (s)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Area = –12 m s
–1

= $v
area = displacement
gradient = acceleration
v

(
m

s


1
)
t (s)
(a)
v

(
m

s


1
)
t (s)
(b)
run
rise
Figure 4.22 At the 1960 rome Olympic Games, the judges used handheld
stopwatches to measure the times of swimmers and athletes.
127 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
Figure 4.25 these charts show the pressure readings from the
starting blocks for the eight sprinters in the heat. the sprinters in
lanes 4 and 5 were both disqualified for false starts, although the
sprinter in lane 4, Jon Drummond, did not break the 100 ms limit.
The most controversial false start of recent times
occurred at the World Athletics championships in 2003.
It was a quarter-final heat. American Jon Drummond
was in lane 4 and Asafa Powell of Jamaica was in lane 5.
Australia’s Patrick Johnson was in lane 6. There had
already been a false start in this heat and, since 2002,
the rule for false starts in athletics events has been that
after one false start, the next athletes to false start are
disqualified. The athletes went under starter’s orders a
second time and again it was a false start. The officials
examined the computer read-out from the pressure pads
on the blocks and determined that both Drummond and
Powell were to be disqualified. Asafa Powell immediately
left the track. Jon Drummond protested his innocence and
proceeded to lie and sit down on the track for the next
20 minutes. He was widely criticised for his actions, but
an analysis of the pressure pad readings reveal that he
may have been a little unlucky.
Lane 1
0.158 s
MEN 100 m Quarter-Final Heats 2 Attempts 2
Lane 2
0.131 s
Lane 3
0.151 s
Lane 4
0.052 s
Fault
Lane 5
0.086 s
Fault
Lane 6
0.144 s
–0.4 –0.3 –0.2 –0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9
Each starting block is connected by electronic cable to
the timing computer and a pressure sensor indicates
if a runner has left the blocks early. Since 2002, to
ensure that a runner has not anticipated the pistol, a
reaction time of 0.10 s is incorporated into the system.
This means that a runner can still commit a false start
even if their start was after the pistol. A start that is
less than 0.10 s after the pistol has fired is registered
as being false.
Figure 4.24 A pressure pad in each starting block
registers the starting time of each athlete. the cable
leading from each starting block connects to a computer which instantly indicates the false start.
the loudspeakers ensure that all the athletes hear the
starting pistol simultaneously.
Figure 4.23 Jon Drummond of the USA false started in
the 100 m sprint quarter-final at the World Athletics
championships in 2003 and was disqualified.
he protested by lying on the track for 20 minutes!
128 Motion
• Aposition–timegraphcanbeusedtodeterminethe
location of a body directly. Additional information
can also be derived from the graph.
• Displacementisgivenbythechangeinpositionofa
body.
• Thevelocityofabodyisgivenbythegradientofthe
position–time graph.
• If the position–time graph is curved, the gradient
of the tangent at a point gives the instantaneous
velocity.
• Velocity–timeandacceleration–timegraphscanalso
be analysed to derive further information relating to
the motion of a body.
• The gradient of a velocity–time graph is the
acceleration of the object.
• The area under a velocity–time graph is the
displacement of the object.
• The area under an acceleration–time graph is the
change in velocity of the object.
4.2 summary
Graphing motion: position, velocity and acceleration
1 The graph shows the position of a dancer moving
across a stage.



a What was the starting position of the dancer?
b In which of the sections (A–D) is the dancer at
rest?
c In which of the sections is the dancer moving in a
positive direction?
d In which of the sections is the dancer moving with
a negative velocity?
e Calculate the average speed of the dancer during
the first 20 s.
The following information relates to questions 2–6. The
graph represents the straight line motion of a radio-
controlled toy car.

2 Describe the motion of the car in terms of its
position.
3 What was the position of the car after:
a 2 s?
b 4 s?
c 6 s?
d 10 s?
4 When did the car return to its starting point?
5 What was the velocity of the car:
a during the first 2 s?
b after 3 s?
c from 4 s to 8 s?
d at 8 s?
e from 8 s to 9 s?
6 During its 10 s motion, what was the car’s:
a distance travelled?
b displacement?
7 This position–time graph is for a cyclist travelling
along a straight road.

4.2 questions
Graphing motion: position, velocity and acceleration
4
0
8
12
Time (s)
P
o
s
i
t
i
o
n

(
m
)
5 10 15 20 25
A B C D
50
100
150
200
250
300
350
400
450
500
Time (s)
P
o
s
i
t
i
o
n

(
m
)
0 10 20 30 40 50
–2
–4
0
2
4
6
8
Time (s)
P
o
s
i
t
i
o
n

(
m
)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
129 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
a Describe the motion of the cyclist in terms of speed
and distance.
b What was the velocity of the cyclist during the
first 30 s?
c What was the cyclist’s velocity during the final
10 s?
d Calculate the cyclist’s instantaneous velocity at
35 s.
e What was the average velocity of the cyclist
between 30 s and 40 s?
8 Which of the velocity–time graphs A–E best repre-
sents the motion of:
a a car coming to a stop at a traffic light?
b a swimmer moving with constant speed?
c a cyclist accelerating from rest with constant
acceleration?
d a car accelerating from rest and changing through
its gears?

The following information relates to questions 9–12.
The graph shows the motion of a dog running along
a footpath. In this problem, north is considered to be
positive.
9 Describe the motion of the dog in terms of its velocity
during these sections of the graph.
a A
b B
c C
d D
e E
f F
10 Calculate the displacement of the dog after:
a 2 s
b 7 s
c 10 s
11 What is the average velocity of the dog between:
a t = 2 s and t = 4 s?
b t = 2 s and t = 7 s?
12 Plot a position–time graph of the dog’s motion.
13 The straight line motion of a high speed intercity
train is shown in the graph.
a How long does it take the train to reach its cruising
speed?
b What is the acceleration of the train 10 s after
starting?
c What is the acceleration of the train 40 s after
starting?
d What is the displacement (in km) of the train after
120 s?
14 The velocity–time graphs for a bus and a bicycle
travelling along the same straight stretch of road are
shown below. The bus is initially at rest and starts
moving as the bicycle passes it.
a Calculate the initial acceleration of the bus.
b When does the bus first start gaining ground on
the bicycle?
c At what time does the bus overtake the bicycle?
d How far has the bicycle travelled before the bus
catches it?
e What is the average velocity of the bus during the
first 8 s?
15 a Draw an acceleration–time graph for the bus
discussed in question 14.
b Use your acceleration–time graph to determine
the change in velocity of the bus over the
first 8 s.
v
t
A
v
t
B
v
t
C
v
t
D
v
t
E
–1
–2
0
1
2
3
V
e
l
o
c
i
t
y

(
m

s

1
)
B C D E F A
Time (s)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
10
0
20
30
40
50
60
V
e
l
o
c
i
t
y

(
m

s

1
)
Time (s)
10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 110 120
4
0
8
12
V
e
l
o
c
i
t
y

(
m

s

1
)
2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24
bus
bicycle
Time (s)
130 Motion
equations for uniform acceleration
A graph is an excellent way of representing motion because it provides
a great deal of information that is easy to interpret. However, a graph is
time-consuming to draw and, at times, values have to be estimated rather
than precisely calculated. The previous section used the graph of a motion
to determine the different quantities needed to describe the motion of a
body. In this section, we will examine a more powerful and precise method
of solving problems involving constant or uniform acceleration. This method
involves the use of a series of equations that can be derived from the basic
definitions developed earlier.
Consider a body moving in a straight line with an initial velocity u and
a uniform acceleration a for a time interval t. After time t, the body is
travelling with a final velocity v. Its acceleration will be given by:
=
D
Dt
=
( − )
Dt
This can be rearranged as:
v = u + at . . . . . . (i)
The average velocity of this object is:
av
=
displacement
time taken
=
t
When acceleration is uniform, average velocity v
av
can also be found as the average
of the initial and fnal velocities, i.e.
v
av
=
(u + v)
2
So:
x
t
=
(u + v)
2
This gives:
x =
(u + v)
2
t . . . . . . (ii)
A graph describing this particular motion is shown in Figure 4.26. The
displacement x of the body is given by the area under the velocity–time
graph. The area under the velocity–time graph in Figure 4.26 is given by
the combined area of the rectangle and the triangle:
Area = x = ut +
1
2
× t × Dv
As a =
Dv
t
then D = at, and this can be substituted for Dv:
x = ut +
1
2
× t × at
x = ut +
1
2
at
2
. . . . . . (iii)
Now making u the subject of equation (i) gives: u = v − at.
You might like to derive another equation yourself by substituting this
into equation (ii). You should get:
x = vt −
1
2
at
2
. . . . . . (iv)
Rewriting equation (i) with t as the subject gives:
t =
(v − u)
a
4.3
E
q
u
a
tio
n
s
o
f m
o
tio
n
Figure 4.26 the area of the shaded rectangle and
triangle represents the displacement x of the
body for each time interval.
V
e
l
o
c
i
t
y
v
u
t
t
u
Time
0
Area = ut
Area =
_
(v – u)t
1
2
v – u
131 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
Now if this is substituted into equation (ii):
x =
(u + v)
2
t =
(u + v)
2
×
(v − u)
a
=
v
2
− u
2
2a

Finally, transposing this gives:
v
2
= u
2
+2ax . . . . . . (v)
Equations (i)–(v) are commonly used to solve problems in which
acceleration is constant. They are summarised below.
v = u + at
x =
(u + v)
2
t
x = ut +
1
2
at
2

x = vt −
1
2
at
2

v
2
= u
2
+ 2ax
These equations can also be used with the scalar quantities speed and
distance.
When solving problems using these equations, it is important that
you think about the problem and try to visualise what is happening. The
following steps are advisable.
Step 1 Draw a simple diagram of the situation.
Step 2 Neatly write down the information that has been given in the
question, using positive and negative values to indicate directions.
Convert all units to SI form.
Step 3 Select the equation that matches your data.
Step 4 Use the appropriate number of significant figures in your answer.
Step 5 Include units with the answer and specify a direction if the quantity
is a vector.
Worked example 4.3A
A snowboarder in a race is travelling at 10 m s
−1
as he crosses the finishing line. he then
decelerates uniformly until coming to rest over a distance of 20 m.
a What is his acceleration as he pulls up?
b how long does he take to come to rest?
c calculate the average speed of the snowboarder as he pulls up.
Solution
a Draw a simple diagram of the situation (see graph). When the snowboarder stops, his
velocity is zero.
u = 10 m s
−1
, v = 0, x = 20 m, a = ?
v
2
= u
2
+ 2ax
0 = 10
2
+ 2 × a × 20
a = −2.5 m s
−2
b u = 10 m s
−1
, v = 0, a = −2.5 m s
−2
, x = 20 m, t = ?
v = u +at
0 = 10 − 2.5 × t
t = 4.0 s
c v
av
=
distance
time
=
20
4.0
= 5.0 m s
−1
As the snowboarder’s acceleration is uniform, this could also have been determined
using:
v
av
=
(u + v)
2
=
(20 + 0)
2
= 5.0 m s
−1
10
Time (s)
average
speed
4
Velocity (m s
–1
)
5
132 Motion
Physics in action
how police measure the speeds of cars
Road accidents account for the deaths of about 1600 people
in Australia each year. Many times this number are seriously
injured. Numerous steps have been taken to reduce the
number of road fatalities. Some of these include random
breath and drug testing, speed cameras, mandatory wearing
of bicycle helmets and the zero alcohol level for probationary
drivers.
One of the main causes of road trauma is speeding. In
their efforts to combat speeding motorists, police employ a
variety of speed-measuring devices.
Speed camera radar
Camera radar units are usually placed in parked, unmarked
police cars. These units take flash photographs of speeding
vehicles, and also emit a radar signal of frequency 24.15 GHz
(2.415 × 10
10
Hz). The radar antenna has a parabolic
reflector that enables the unit to produce a directional
radar beam 5° wide, thus allowing individual vehicles to be
targeted. The radar signal allows speeds to be determined
by the Doppler principle, whereby the reflected radar signal
from an approaching vehicle has a higher frequency than the
original signal. Similarly, the reflected signal from a receding
vehicle has a lower frequency. This change in frequency or
‘Doppler shift’ is processed by the unit and gives an instant
measurement of the speed of the target vehicle.
Camera radar units are capable of targeting a single
vehicle up to 1.2 km away. In traffic, the units can distinguish
between individual cars and take two photographs per second.
The photographs and infringement notices are then mailed to
the offending motorists.
Laser speed guns
These devices are used by police to obtain an instant measure
of the speed of an approaching or receding vehicle. The
unit is usually handheld and is aimed directly at a vehicle
using a target sight. It emits a pulse of infrared radiation of
frequency 331 THz (3.31 × 10
14
Hz). As with camera radar
units, speed is determined by the Doppler shift produced by
the target vehicle. The infrared pulse is very narrow and
directional—just one-sixth of 1° wide. This allows vehicles to
be targeted with great precision. Handheld units can be used
at distances up to 800 m. If the speed registers as over the
limit, the police are then likely to apprehend the offending
driver.
(b)
field of vision of the camera
radar range
(a)
(c)
Figure 4.27 (a) A speed camera radar unit. (b) the
unit em
its a radar beam
5° wide which reflects from
a
target car and gives a measure of its speed. (c) When
the film
is developed, the time of day, the num
ber
plate and the speed of the offending vehicle are
clearly indicated.
133 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
• Equationsofmotioncanbeusedtoanalyseproblems
involving constant acceleration. These equations are:

av
=
( + )
2
x = ut +
1
2
at
2
v = u + at x = vt −
1
2
at
2
x =
(
u + v
2
)
t v
2
= u
2
+ 2ax
where is displacement (m)
u is the initial velocity (m s
–1
)
v is the final velocity (m s
–1
)
a is the acceleration (m s
–2
) and
t is time (s).
4.3 summary
equations of motion
Fixed speed cameras
Victoria’s first fixed speed cameras were located on the
Monash Freeway and in the Domain and Burnley tunnels.
These cameras obtain their readings by using a system
of three strips with piezoelectric sensors in them across
the road. The strips respond to the pressure as the car
drives over them and create an electrical pulse that is
detected. By knowing the distance between the strips and
measuring the time that the car takes to travel across
them, the speed of the car can be determined. When a
speeding car is detected, a digital photograph is taken and
a fine is issued.
Point-to-point cameras
The first point-to-point cameras in Victoria were installed
on the Hume Freeway between Craigieburn and Broadford.
These towns are about 50 km apart and there are several
camera sites along the freeway between them. These do
not measure the instantaneous speed of the car like the
other cameras do. They record the time at which a vehicle
passes the camera at, say, Craigieburn and then compare
the time at which it passes the next camera about 10 km
away. This allows the average speed of the vehicle to
be determined. If this is higher than the speed limit, a
penalty is issued. It is likely that point-to-point cameras
will be placed on many more roads in the future.
Figure 4.28 Fixed speed cameras record the speed of a car twice by
measuring the time the car takes to travel over a series of three sensor
strips embedded in the roadway.
Set distance
1st sensor 2nd sensor 3rd sensor
134 Motion
4.3 questions
equations of motion
1 A Prius hybrid car starts from rest and accelerates
uniformly for 8.0 s. It reaches a final speed of
16 m s
−1
.
a What is the acceleration of the Prius?
b What is the average velocity of the Prius?
c Calculate the distance travelled by the Prius.
2 A new model Subaru can start from rest and travel
400 m in 16 s.
a What is its average acceleration during this time?
b Calculate the final speed of the car.
c What is its final speed in km h
−1
?
3 During its launch phase, a space-rocket accelerates
uniformly from rest to 160 m s
−1
in 4.0 s, then travels
with a constant speed of 160 m s
−1
for the next 5.0 s.
a Calculate the initial acceleration of the rocket.
b How far does the rocket travel in this 9 s period?
c What is the final speed of the rocket in km h
−1
?
d What is the average speed of the rocket during the
first 4.0 s?
e What is the average speed of the rocket during the
9.0 s motion?
4 A diver plunges headfirst into a diving pool while
travelling at 28.2 m s
−1
. Upon entering the water, the
diver stops within a distance of 4.00 m. Consider
the diver to be a single point located at her centre of
mass and assume her acceleration through the water
to be uniform.
a Calculate the average acceleration of the diver as
she travels through the water.
b How long does the diver take to come to a stop?
c What is the speed of the diver after she has dived
through 2.00 m of water?
5 When does a car have the greatest ability to accelerate
and gain speed: when it is moving slowly or when it
is travelling fast? Explain.
6 A stone is dropped vertically into a lake. Which one
of the following statements best describes the motion
of the stone at the instant it enters the water?
A Its velocity and acceleration are both downwards.
B It has an upwards velocity and a downwards
acceleration.
C Its velocity and acceleration are both upwards.
D It has a downwards velocity and an upwards
acceleration.
7 While overtaking another cyclist, Cadel increases
his speed uniformly from 4.2 m s
−1
to 6.3 m s
−1
over a
time interval of 5.3 s.
a Calculate Cadel’s acceleration during this time.
b How far does he travel while overtaking?
c What is Cadel’s average speed during this time?
8 A car is travelling along a straight road at 75 km h
−1
.
In an attempt to avoid an accident, the motorist has
to brake to a sudden stop.
a What is the car’s initial speed in m s
−1
?
b If the reaction time of the motorist is 0.25 s, what
distance does the car travel while the driver is
reacting to apply the brakes?
c Once the brakes are applied, the car has an
acceleration of −6.0 m s
−2
. How far does the car
travel while pulling up?
d What total distance does the car travel from the
time the driver first notices the danger to when
the car comes to a stop?
9 A billiard ball rolls from rest down a smooth ramp
that is 8.0 m long. The acceleration of the ball is
constant at 2.0 m s
−2
.
a What is the speed of the ball when it is halfway
down the ramp?
b What is the final speed of the ball?
c How long does the ball take to roll the first 4.0 m?
d How long does the ball take to travel the final
4.0 m?
10 A cyclist, Anna, is travelling at a constant speed of
12 m s
−1
when she passes a stationary bus. The bus
starts moving just as Anna passes, and it accelerates
uniformly at 1.5 m s
−2
.
a When does the bus reach the same speed as
Anna?
b How long does the bus take to catch Anna?
c What distance has Anna travelled before the bus
catches up?
135 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
theories of motion: Aristotle and Galileo
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who lived in the 4th century bc. He
was such an influential individual that his ideas on motion were generally
accepted for nearly 2000 years. Aristotle did not do experiments as we
know them today, but simply thought about different bodies in order to
arrive at a plausible explanation for their motion. He had spent a lot of
time classifying animals, and so adopted a similar approach in his study
of motion. His theory gave inanimate objects, such as rocks and rain,
similar characteristics to living things. Aristotle organised objects into four
terrestrial groups or elements: earth, water, air and fire. He said that any
object was a mixture of these elements in a certain proportion.
According to Aristotle, a body would move because of a tendency that
could come from inside or outside the body. An internal tendency would
cause ‘natural’ motion and result in a body returning to its proper place.
For example, if a rock, which is an earth substance, is held in the air and
released, its natural tendency would be to return to Earth. This explains
why it falls down. Similarly, fire was thought to head upwards in an
attempt to return to its proper place in the universe.
An external push that acts when something is thrown or hit was the
cause of ‘violent’ motion in the Aristotelian model. An external push acted
to take a body away from its proper place. For example, when an apple
is thrown into the air, a violent motion carries the apple away from the
Earth, but then the natural tendency of the apple takes over and it returns
to its home. Aristotle’s theory worked quite well and could be used to
explain many observed types of motion. However, there were also many
examples that it could not successfully explain, such as why some solids
floated instead of sinking.
Aristotle explained the behaviour of a falling body by saying that its
speed depended on how much earth element it contained. This suggested
that a 2 kg cat would fall twice as fast and in half the time as a 1 kg cat
dropped from the same height. Many centuries later, Galileo Galilei noticed
that at the start of a hailstorm, small hailstones arrived at the same time as
large hailstones. This caused Galileo to doubt Aristotle’s theory and so he
set about finding an explanation for the motion of freely falling bodies.
Figure 4.29 (a) the Aristotelian
terrestrial world consisted
of earth, water, air and fire.
According to this model, any
type of matter has an inherent
and natural tendency to return
to its own state. (b) An artist’s
representation of Aristotle’s view
of the universe.
V
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4.4
(a) (b)
fire
air
water
earth
136 Motion
A famous story in science is that of Galileo dropping different weights
from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This story may or may not be true, but
Galileo did perform a very detailed analysis of falling bodies. Galileo used
inclined planes because freely falling bodies moved too fast to analyse. He
completed extensive and thorough experiments that showed conclusively
that Aristotle was incorrect.
By using a waterclock to time balls as they rolled down different inclines,
he was able to show that the balls were accelerating and that the distance
they travelled was proportional to the square of the time, i.e. d ∝ t
2
.
Galileo found that this also held true when he inclined the plane at
larger and larger angles, allowing him to conclude that freely falling bodies
actually fall with a uniform acceleration.
Analysing vertical motion
Even today, many people think that heavy objects fall faster than light ones.
The cause of confusion is usually related to the effects of air resistance.
Some falling objects are greatly affected by air resistance, for example a
feather and a balloon. This is why these objects do not speed up as they fall.
However, if air resistance can be ignored, all free-falling bodies near the
Earth’s surface will move with an equal downwards acceleration. In other
words, the mass of the object does not matter. This is clearly shown in the
multiflash photograph in Figure 4.31 where a baseball of mass 0.23 kg can
be seen to fall at the same rate as a shotput of mass 5.4 kg. Given that the
flash rate is 15 Hz and the markings are 10 cm apart, you should be able
to calculate the acceleration of these objects and obtain a value close to
9.8 m s
−2
. This value of 9.8 m s
−2
is the acceleration of bodies falling due to
gravity and is commonly represented as g.
At the Earth’s surface, the acceleration due to gravity is g = 9.8 m s
−2
down.
Free fall simply implies that the motion of the body is affected only by
gravity, i.e. there is no air resistance and there are no rockets firing. It is also
important to note that the acceleration of a freely falling body is always
9.8 m s
−2
down, and does not depend on whether the body is falling up
or down. For example, a coin that is dropped from rest will be moving
at 9.8 m s
−1
after 1 s, 19.6 m s
−1
after 2 s, and so on. Each second, its speed
increases by 9.8 m s
−1
.
Figure 4.30 (a) Up until the 17th century, it was commonly thought that a heavy object would
fall faster than a light object. (b) After research by Galileo Galilei it was shown that if air
resistance can be ignored, all bodies fall with an equal acceleration.
Figure 4.31 this multiflash photograph is taken
with a frequency of 15 hz and the scale markings
are 10 cm apart. the photograph shows the
relative motions of a baseball and a shotput in
free-fall. even though the shotput is over 20
times heavier than the baseball, both objects
fall with an acceleration of 9.8 m s
−2
down. the
increasing speed of both objects is also evident.
In 1971, David Scott went to great
lengths to show that Galileo was correct.
As an astronaut on the Apollo 15 Moon
mission, he took a hammer and a
feather on the voyage. He then stepped
onto the lunar surface, held the feather
and hammer at the same height and
dropped them together. As Galileo would
have predicted 400 years earlier, in
the absence of any air resistance, the
two objects fell side by side as they
accelerated towards the ground.
Physics file
(a) (b)
Aristotelian view Galilean view
137 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
However, if the coin was launched straight up at 19.6 m s
−1
, then after
1 s its speed would be 9.8 m s
−1
, and after 2 s it would be stationary (Figure
4.32) . In other words, each second it would slow down by 9.8 m s
−1
.
Since the acceleration of a freely falling body is constant, it is appropriate
to use the equations for uniform acceleration. It is often necessary to specify up
or down as the positive or negative direction when doing these problems (see
Physics file).
Worked example 4.4A
A construction worker accidentally knocks a brick from a building so that it falls vertically a
distance of 50 m to the ground. Using g = 9.8 m s
−2
, calculate:
a the time the brick takes to fall the first 25 m
b the time the brick takes to reach the ground
c the speed of the brick as it hits the ground.
Solution
Down will be treated as the positive direction for this problem since this is the direction of
the displacement.
a u = 0, x = 25 m, a = 9.8 m s
−2
, t = ?
x = ut +
1
2
at
2
25 = 0 +
1
2
× 9.8 × t
2
t
2
= 5.1
t = 2.3 s
b u = 0, a = 9.8 m s
−2
, x = 50 m, t = ?
x = ut +
1
2
at
2
50 = 0 +
1
2
× 9.8 × t
2
t
2
= 10.2
t = 3.2 s
Notice that the brick takes less time, only 0.9 s, to travel the final 25 m. this is because
it is accelerating.
c u = 0, a = 9.8 m s
−2
, x = 50 m, t = 3.2 s, v = ?
v = u + at
v = 0 + 9.8 × 3.2 = 31 m s
−1
Figure 4.32 these coins are both
moving with an acceleration of
9.8 m s
−2
down. (a) the speed of a
coin falling vertically increases by
9.8 m s
−1
each second, i.e. it has an
acceleration of 9.8 m s
−2
down.
(b) the speed of a coin thrown
upwards decreases by 9.8 m s
−1

each second. It too has an
acceleration of 9.8 m s
−2
down.
It is important that simple diagrams be
used with vertical motion problems and
that you clearly show whether up or
down is the positive direction. You need
to decide this.
You could simply use the
mathematical convention of up being
positive, which would make the
acceleration of the object in free-fall
negative 9.8 m s
–2
. Alternatively, you
may wish to use the direction of the
initial displacement as positive. For
example, where an object is dropped,
this would result in down being the
positive direction, which would make the
object’s acceleration positive 9.8 m s
–2
.
Physics file
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 20
A reaction timer
v = 0 t = 0: at rest v = 0 2 s
9.8 m s
–1
1 s
9.8 m s
–1
1 s
19.6 m s
–1
2 s
19.6 m s
–1
t = 0
138 Motion
Worked example 4.4B
On winning a tennis match the victorious player, Michael, smashed the ball vertically into
the air at 30 m s
−1
. In this example, air resistance can be ignored and the acceleration due
to gravity will be taken as 10 m s
−2
.
a Determine the maximum height reached by the ball.
b calculate the time that the ball takes to return to its starting position.
c calculate the velocity of the ball 5.0 s after being hit by Michael.
d Determine the acceleration of the ball at its maximum height.
e Draw an acceleration–time graph of the ball’s motion.
f Draw a velocity–time graph of the ball’s motion.
Solution
In this problem, up will be taken as positive since it is the direction of the initial
displacement.
a At the maximum height, the velocity of the ball is momentarily zero.
u = 30 m s
−1
, v = 0, a = −10 m s
−2
, x = ?
v
2
= u
2
+ 2ax
0 = (30)
2
+ 2(−10)x
∴ x = +45 m, i.e. the ball reaches a height of 45 m.
b to work out the time for which the ball is in the air, it is often necessary to first calculate
the time that it takes to reach its maximum height.
u = 30 m s
−1
, v = 0, a = −10 m s
−2
, x = 45 m, t = ?
v = u +at
0 = 30 + (−10 × t)
∴ t = 3.0 s
the ball takes 3.0 s to reach its maximum height. It will therefore take 3.0 s to fall from
this height back to its starting point and so the whole trip will last for 6.0 s.
c u = 30 m s
−1
, a = −10 m s
−2
, t = 5.0 s, v = ?
v = u + at
v = 30 +(−10 × 5.0) = −20 m s
−1
the ball is travelling downwards at 20 m s
−1
.
d the ball moves with an acceleration of 10 m s
−2
down throughout its entire flight. thus
at its highest point, where its velocity is zero, its acceleration is still 10 m s
−2
down.
e Since the acceleration of the ball is a
constant −10 m s
−2
, its acceleration–
time graph will be as shown.
f the velocity–time graph shows an
initial velocity of 30 m s
−1
reducing
to zero after 3 s, then speeding up to
–30 m s
−1
after 6 s. the gradient of this
graph is constant and is equal to −10,
i.e. the acceleration of the ball.
The acceleration of a falling object near
the Earth’s surface is approximately
9.8 m s
−2
. This value, denoted , can be
used when describing large accelerations.
For example, an acceleration of
19.6 m s
−2
is 2 . An astronaut will
experience an acceleration of about
4 (39.2 m s
−2
) at take-off. The forces
involved give a crushing sensation
as if the astronaut had four identical
astronauts lying on top of him or her!
Space missions are designed so that the
acceleration does not exceed 6 .
Sustained accelerations greater than
this can lead to the astronauts losing
consciousness. Have a look at Figure 4.11
to see the effect of a 12 acceleration!
Physics file
The acceleration due to gravity on Earth
varies according to location. The strength
of gravity is different on different bodies
in the solar system depending on their
mass and size.
table 4.5 the acceleration due to
gravity at various locations around
the solar system
Location Acceleration due to gravity
(m s
−2
)
Melbourne 9.800
South pole 9.832
equator 9.780
Moon 1.6
Mars 3.6
Jupiter 24.6
pluto 0.67
Physics file
+
_
–5
–10
0
5
10
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1 2 3 4 5 6
–15
–20
–30
0
10
20
30
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139 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
For these questions, ignore the effects of air resistance
and assume that the acceleration due to gravity is
9.8 m s
−2
down.
1 Vickie holds a paper clip in one hand and a brick in
the other. She raises both objects so that they are 2 m
above the ground and drops them at the same time.
a What would Aristotle have predicted about the
subsequent motion of the objects?
b What would Galileo have predicted about the
subsequent motion of the objects?
c What actually happens as the objects are
released?
2 Phung is swimming in his pool. He dives to the
bottom of the pool and exhales the air from his lungs,
noticing that the bubbles of air rise to the surface of
the water. How would Aristotle have explained the
motion of the bubbles?
3 An ostrich inadvertently lays an egg while standing
up and the egg falls vertically towards the ground.
Which one of the following statements is correct? As
the egg falls:
A its acceleration increases.
B its acceleration is constant.
C its velocity is constant.
D its acceleration decreases.
4 Chris is an Olympic trampolinist and is practising
some routines. Which one or more of the following
statements correctly describes Chris’ motion when
he is at highest point of the bounce? Assume that his
motion is vertical.
A He has zero velocity.
B His acceleration is zero.
C His acceleration is upwards.
D His acceleration is downwards.
5 A builder working at the MCG knocks a large bolt off
a scaffold. The bolt falls 50 m vertically towards the
ground.
a Without using a calculator, determine the speed of
the bolt after:
i 1.0 s
ii 2.0 s
iii 3.0 s
b Calculate the speed of the bolt after it has fallen:
i 10 m
ii 20 m
iii 30 m
c What is the bolt’s average speed during a fall of
30 m?
6 A golf ball is thrown vertically into the air and returns
to the thrower’s hand a short time later. Assume that
up is the positive direction. Ignoring air resistance,
sketch the following graphs for the ball’s motion.
a Distance–time
b Displacement–time
c Speed–time
• Ideasaboutmotionhavechangedthroughtheages.
Aristotle’s model of the universe organised objects
into combinations of four elements: earth, water, air
and fire.
• According to Aristotle, an object would have a
natural tendency to return to its place in the universe
according to which element it was composed of.
He also stated that heavy objects would fall to the
ground faster than light objects.
• Galileoconductedexperimentsanddeterminedthat
falling objects move with constant acceleration. He
also showed that the acceleration of a falling object
did not depend on its mass.
• If air resistance can be ignored, all bodies falling
freely near the Earth will move with the same
constant acceleration.
• The acceleration due to gravity is represented by g
and is equal to 9.8 m s
−2
in the direction of the centre
of the Earth.
• Theequationsforuniformaccelerationcanbeusedto
solve vertical motion problems. It is often necessary
to specify a positive and negative direction.
4.4 summary
Vertical motion under gravity
4.4 questions
Vertical motion under gravity
140 Motion
d Velocity–time
e Acceleration–time
7 A book is knocked off a bench and falls vertically to
the floor. If the book takes 0.40 s to fall to the floor,
calculate:
a its speed as it lands
b the height from which it fell
c the distance it falls during the first 0.20 s
d the distance it falls during the final 0.20 s.
8 While celebrating her 18th birthday, Bindi pops the
cork off a bottle of champagne. The cork travels
vertically into the air. Being a keen physics student,
Bindi notices that the cork takes 4.0 s to return to its
starting position.
a How long does the cork take to reach its maximum
height?
b What was the maximum height reached by the
cork?
c How fast was the cork travelling initially?
d What was the speed of the cork as it returned to its
starting point?
e Describe the acceleration of the cork at each of
these times after its launch:
i 1.0 s
ii 2.0 s
iii 3.0 s
9 At the start of a football match, the umpire bounces
the ball so that it travels vertically and reaches a
height of 15.0 m.
a How long does the ball take to reach this maximum
height?
b One of the ruckmen is able to leap and reach to a
height of 4.0 m with his hand. How long after the
bounce should this ruckman endeavour to make
contact with the ball?
10 A hot-air balloon is 80 m above the ground and
travelling vertically downwards at 8.0 m s
−1
when
one of the passengers accidentally drops a coin over
the side. How long after the coin reaches the ground
does the balloon touch down?
chapter review
For the following questions, the acceleration due to gravity is
9.8 m s
−2
down and air resistance is considered to be negligible.
the following information relates to questions 1–3. During a game
of mini-golf, a girl putts a ball so that it hits an obstacle and travels
straight up into the air, reaching its highest point after 1.5 s.
1 Which one of the following statements best describes the
acceleration of the ball while it is in the air?
A the acceleration of the ball decreases as it travels upwards,
becoming zero as it reaches its highest point.
B the acceleration is constant as the ball travels upwards,
then reverses direction as the ball falls down again.
C the acceleration of the ball is greatest when the ball is at the
highest point.
D the acceleration of the ball is constant throughout its
motion.
2 What was the initial velocity of the ball as it launched into
the air?
3 calculate the maximum height reached by the ball.
4 theories, such as those put forward by Aristotle and Galileo,
are not usually replaced unless the theory no longer works
or a better theory is proposed. Discuss some of the problems
with Aristotle’s theories that led to them being replaced by new
theories proposed by Galileo and, later, by Isaac Newton.
the following information relates to questions 5–8. the graph
shows the position of a motorbike along a straight stretch of road
as a function of time. the motorcyclist starts 200 m north of an
intersection.

5 During what time interval is this motorcyclist:
a travelling in a northerly direction?
b travelling in a southerly direction?
c stationary?
P
o
s
i
t
i
o
n

(
m
)
–100
–200
0
100
200
300
400
500
Time (s)
10 20 30 40 50 60
141 chapter 4 Aspects of motion
6 When does the motorcyclist pass back through the
intersection?
7 calculate the instantaneous velocity of the motorcyclist at each
of the following times.
a 15 s
b 35 s
8 For the 60 s motion, calculate the:
a magnitude of the average velocity of the motorcyclist
b average speed of the motorcyclist.
the following information relates to questions 9 and 10. A skier is
travelling along a horizontal ski run at a speed of 10 m s
−1
. After
falling over, the skier takes 10 m to come to rest.
9 Which one of the following best describes the average
acceleration of the skier?
A −1 m s
−2
B −10 m s
−2
C −5 m s
−2
D zero
10 calculate the time it takes the skier to come to a stop.
the following information relates to questions 11 and 12. An athlete
in training for a marathon runs 15 km north along a straight road
before realising that she has dropped her drink bottle. She turns
around and runs back 5 km to find her bottle, then resumes running
in the original direction. After running for 2.0 h, the athlete reaches
20 km from her starting position and stops.
11 calculate the average speed of the athlete in km h
−1
.
12 calculate her average velocity in:
a km h
−1
b m s
−1
.
13 A jet-ski starts from rest and accelerates uniformly. If it travels
2.0 m in its first second of motion, calculate:
a its acceleration
b its speed at the end of the first second
c the distance the jet-ski travels in its second second of
motion.
the following information relates to questions 14 and 15. A student
performing an experiment with a dynamics cart obtains the ticker
tape data as shown below. the ticker timer has a frequency of
50 hz.

14 calculate the average speed of the cart during:
a section A
b section B
c its total journey.
15 a What was the instantaneous speed of the cart when dot X
was made?
b calculate the magnitude of the acceleration of the cart
during section A.
the following information relates to questions 16 and 17. two physics
students conduct the following experiment from a very high bridge.
thao drops a 1.5 kg shot-put from a vertical height of 60.0 m while at
exactly the same time Benjamin throws a 100 g mass with an initial
downwards velocity of 10.0 m s
−1
from a point 10.0 m above thao.
16 calculate the time that:
a the shot-put takes to reach the ground
b the 100 g mass takes to reach the ground.
17 At what time will the 100 g mass overtake the shot-put?
the graph relates to questions 18–20. the velocity–time graph is for
an Olympic road cyclist as he travels north along a straight section
of track.

18 What is the average velocity of the cyclist during this 11 s
interval?
19 Which one or more of the following statements correctly
describes the motion of the cyclist?
A he is always travelling north.
B he travels south during the final 2 s.
C he is stationary after 8 s.
D he returns to the starting point after 11 s.
20 calculate the acceleration of the cyclist at each of the following
times.
a 1 s
b 5 s
c 10 s
A B
1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 2 cm
x
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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
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5
a
lthough he did not know it at the time, Isaac Newton’s work
in the 17th century signalled an end to the transition in the
way the world was conceived and understood. the transition
was begun by copernicus and Galileo, but Newton was able to
use mathematics to develop laws and theories that could account
for the motion of the heavens. these showed the universe to be a
mechanism that could readily be understood, one that was regulated
by simple natural laws. the universe taught by aristotle, and
accepted up until the time of Newton, was one in which objects were
classified into categories and their motion depended the category to
which they belonged.
Isaac Newton was born in rural england in 1642, the year Galileo
died. he so impressed his mentors that he was made professor
of Mathematics at cambridge University at the age of 26. his
interests spanned light and optics, mathematics (he invented the
calculus), astronomy and the study of mechanics. his greatest
achievement was the formulation of the law of universal gravitation.
this, along with a complete explanation of the laws that govern
motion, is laid out in his book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia
Mathematica (Mathematical principles of Natural philosophy),
which was published in 1687. the Principia is one of the most
influential publications in natural science. Newton’s framework for
understanding the universe remained intact right up to the advent of
einstein’s relativity more than 200 years later.
Newton died in 1727 a famous man. he remained self-critical
and shy. that he could ‘see so far’ was only because he was ‘able to
stand on the shoulders of giants’. In saying this, he was referring to
the work of Galileo, copernicus and many others who had paved the
way for his discoveries.
by the end of this chapter
you will have covered material from the study of
movement including:
• vectortechniquesintwodimensions
• forcesintwodimensions
• Newton’slawsofmotion
• problemsinmechanicsincludingweightandfriction.
143 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
5.1 Fo
rc
e
a
s
a
v
e
c
to
r
Figure 5.1 (a)Atthemomentofimpactbyatennisracquet,atennisballisdistortedtoa
significant extent. (b) the rock climber is relying on the frictional force between his hands and
feetandtherock-face.(c)Acontinualforcecausestheclaytodeformintotherequiredshape.
(d) the gravitational force between the earth and the Moon is responsible for two high tides
each day. (e) the globe is suspended in mid-air because of the magnetic forces of repulsion
and attraction.
The previous chapter developed the concepts and ideas needed to
describe the motion of a moving body. This branch of mechanics is called
kinematics.
In this chapter, rather than simply describe the motion, we will consider
the forces that cause the motion to occur. Treating motion in this way falls
within the branch of mechanics called dynamics. In simple terms, a force
can be thought of as a push or a pull, but forces exist in a wide variety of
situations in our daily lives and are fundamental to the nature of matter
and the structure of the universe. Consider each of the photographs in
Figure 5.1 and identify each force—push or pull—that is acting.
In each of the situations depicted in Figure 5.1, forces are acting. Some
are applied directly to an object and some act on a body without touching
it. Forces that act directly on a body are called contact forces, because the
body will only experience the force while contact is maintained. Forces that
act on a body at a distance are non-contact forces.
Contact forces are the easiest to understand and include the simple
pushes and pulls that are experienced daily in people’s lives. Examples of
these include the forces between colliding billiard balls, the force that you
exert on a light switch to turn it on, and the forces that act between you and
your chair as you sit reading this book. Friction and drag forces are other
contact forces that you should be familiar with.
Non-contact forces occur when the object causing the push or pull is
physically separated from the object that experiences the force. These forces
are said to ‘act at a distance’. Gravitation, magnetic and electric forces are
examples of non-contact forces.
The action of a force is usually recognised through its effect on an object
or body. A force may do one or more of a number of things to the object.
It may change its shape, change its speed or change only the direction of its
motion. The tennis racquet in Figure 5.1a has applied a force to the tennis
ball, and, as a consequence, the speed of the ball changes along with its
direction. The ball also changes shape while the force acts!
(c) (b)
(d)
(e)
(a)
144 Motion
Figure 5.2 the netball will only go through the hoop
if a force of the right magnitude and direction is
applied. Force is a vector; it can only be completely
specified if both the direction and magnitude are
given.
Figure 5.3 When drawing force diagrams, it is
important that the force is shown to be acting at
the correct location. In this example, the force on
the ball acts at the point of contact between the
ball and the foot.
The amount of force acting can be measured using the SI unit called
the newton, which is given the symbol N. The unit, which will be defined
later in the chapter, honours Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727), who is still
considered to be one of the most significant physicists to have lived. A force
of one newton, 1 N, is approximately the force you have to exert when
holding a 100 g mass against the downward pull of gravity. In everyday
life this is about the same as holding a small apple. Table 5.1 provides a
comparison of the magnitude of some forces.
table 5.1 a comparison of the magnitude of various forces
Force Magnitude (N)
Force on the electron in a hydrogen atom 10
−7
holding a small apple against gravity 1
Opening a door 10
pedalling a bicycle 300
thrust of a Boeing 747 at take-off 10
6
Gravitational force between the earth and the Sun 10
22
Force:avectorquantity
In Chapter 4, quantities associated with motion were classified as being
either vectors or scalars. Scalar quantities such as time and mass do not
have a direction. Only their size or ‘magnitude’ should be given. Quantities
that require a direction as well as a magnitude are called vectors. Force
is a vector quantity because the direction in which a force acts is always
significant. In this text, vectors are set in bold italics.
FORC… is measured in newtons (N) and is a vector quantity. It requires a magnitude
and a direction to describe it fully.
If a question only requires the magnitude of a vector, the direction can be
ignored. In this text, italics will be used to show this.
In a diagram, a force is usually shown as an arrow whose length
represents the magnitude of the force and whose direction is indicated by
the arrow.
Consider the case of a soccer player who kicks the ball horizontally with
a force of 95 N towards the east. The horizontal forces acting on the ball can
be illustrated by a vector diagram as shown in Figure 5.3.
If there are two or more forces acting on the same object, these forces can
be shown on the same diagram. If one force is larger, it should be represented
by a longer vector. If, for example, the soccer ball just discussed was sitting
in thick mud so that a frictional force of 20 N towards the west was acting
as it was kicked, this could be represented as shown in Figure 5.4.
The subsequent motion of the soccer ball will be different in the two
situations described above. When there is a large frictional force acting on
the ball, its speed will be significantly reduced. The muddy ground will
act to make the ball travel more slowly as it leaves the boot. To analyse the
horizontal motion of the ball, it is necessary to add all the horizontal forces
W E
95 N
145 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
Figure 5.4 the two forces being considered are
acting at different locations and have different
strengths. the larger force is shown as a longer
vector.
Figure 5.6 (a) two perpendicular forces are acting on the trolley. (b) the vector addition of
these two forces gives the resultant force (ΣF) that is acting on the trolley to be 100 N at
127°t. the trolley is treated as a point mass located at its centre of mass.
Remember, when adding vectors, the
tail of the second vector is placed at
the head of the first. The resultant
vector is from the tail of the first
vector to the head of the second. A full
explanation of one-dimensional and two-
dimensional vector addition is included
in Appendix A.
Physics file
Figure 5.5 When the forces (95 N acting towards the east and 20 N acting to the west) are
added, the resultant or net force is 75 N towards the east. the ball will move as though this
resultant force is the only force acting on it.
that are acting on it at this instant. The ball is simply treated as a point mass
located at its centre of mass.
If more than one force acts on a body at the same time, the body behaves
as if only one force—the vector sum of all the forces—is acting. The vector
sum of the forces is called the resultant or net force, ΣF (shown as a double-
headed arrow).

The N…T FORC… acting on a body experiencing a number of forces acting
simultaneously is given by the vector sum of all the individual forces acting:
ΣF = F
1
+ F
2
+ ... + F
n
Because force is a vector quantity, the addition of a number of forces
must be undertaken with the directions of the individual forces in mind.
Vector addition is shown in Figure 5.5.
If the forces that are acting are perpendicular (or any other angle) to each
other, the resultant force must still be found by performing a vector addition.
Consider the example of a shopping trolley that is being simultaneously
pushed from behind by one person and pushed from the side by another.
This situation is illustrated in Figure 5.6.
To find the magnitude of the resultant force, Pythagoras’s theorem must
be used:
ΣF = √80
2
+ 60
2
= √10 000 = 100 N
W E
20 N
95 N
95 N
+
20 N
=
95 N
20 N 3F= 75 N
60 N
80 N
North
80 N
(a)
+ 60 N =
80 N
View from above
3F = 100 N
60 N
(b)
Person 1
Person 2
146 Motion
Figure 5.7 the golf ball moves in the direction of
the applied force and is in the direction of the
line joining the centre of the club-head with the
centre of the ball. the force will be very large.
There are two methods for describing
the direction of a vector in a two-
dimensional plane. In each case, the
direction has to be referenced to a
known direction.
A ‘full circle bearing’ describes north
as ‘zero degrees true’—written as 0°T. In
this convention, all directions are given
as a clockwise angle from north. 90°T is
90° clockwise from north, i.e. due east.
A force acting in a direction 220°T is
acting in a direction of 220° clockwise
from north. This is the method most
commonly used in industry.
An alternative method is to provide
a quadrant bearing, where all angles
are between 0° and 90° and so lie within
one quadrant. The particular quadrant is
identified using two cardinal directions,
the first being either north or south.
In this method, 220°T becomes S40°W,
literally ‘40° west of south’.
Physics file
Figure 5.8 the direction 220ºt lies 220º
clockwise from north. this direction can also
be written as S40ºW meaning 40º west of
south.
To find the direction of the resultant force, trigonometry must be used:
tanθ =
60
80
= 0.75
θ = 37°
This is a direction of 37° south of east, which is equivalent to a bearing
of 127°T.
Hence, the net force acting on the trolley is 100 N at a bearing of 127°T.
Worked example 5.1A
a motorboat is being driven west along the Yarra river. the engine is providing a driving
force of 560 N towards the west. a frictional force of 180 N from the water and a drag force
of 60 N from the air are acting towards the east as the boat travels along.
a Draw a force diagram showing the horizontal forces of this situation.
b Determine the resultant force acting on the motorboat.
Solution
a
b For the vector addition, treat the boat as a point mass located at its centre of mass.
the resultant or net force acting on the motorboat is ΣF = 320 N due west.
Worked example 5.1B
While playing at the beach, Sally and Ken kick a stationary beachball simultaneously
with forces of 100 N south and 150 N west respectively. the ball moves as if it were only
subjected to the net force. In what direction will it travel, and what is the magnitude of the
net force on the ball?
Solution
the net force is found by treating the beachball as a point mass and is given by:
ΣF = F
Sally
+ F
Ken
220°T
or S40°W
F
N
W E
S
60 N
180 N 560 N
W E
F
560 N
= +
180 N
60 N
+
560 N
180 N
60 N
F = 320 N
=
3
3
100 N +
150 N
=
Σ F
100 N
150 N
F
147 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
Figure 5.9 the pulling force acting on the cart has
a component in the horizontal direction and a
component in the vertical direction.
Figure 5.10 the magnitudes of the vector
components F
h
and F
v
can be calculated using
trigonometry.
ΣF = √100
2
+ 150
2
= 180 N
tan θ =
150
100
= 1.5
θ = 56°
This is a quadrant bearing of 56° west of south, which is equivalent to a true bearing of
236°t. hence, the net force acting on the beachball is 180 N in the direction 236°t.
Vector components
It is often helpful to divide a force acting in a two-dimensional plane into
two vectors. These two vectors are called the components of the force. This
can be done because the force can be considered to act in each of the two
directions at once. Consider, for example, the pulling force of 45 N acting
on the cart shown in Figure 5.9.
This pulling force is acting through the rope and is known as tension
or a tensile force. The force is acting at an angle of 20° to the horizontal, so
it has some effect in the horizontal direction and some effect in the vertical
direction. The amounts of force acting in each direction are the components
of the force.
It is usual to construct a right-angled triangle around the force vector.
The force vector is the hypotenuse of the triangle, and the adjacent and
opposite sides become the components of the force. The horizontal and
vertical components of the pulling force can then be determined using
trigonometry. It is important to remember that there is only one pulling
force acting on the cart, but this force can be treated as two component
forces.
So, the cart will move as though a horizontal force of 42 N pulling the
cart along and a vertical pulling force of 15 N upwards were acting on
it simultaneously. When the components are added together, the original
45 N force is the resultant force.
Is this the most effective way of using a 45 N force to move the cart
forwards? No, it would be slightly more effective if the 45 N force was
acting in the horizontal direction. This would make the cart travel faster,
but it may be impractical or inconvenient to apply the force in this way.
Worked example 5.1C
a stationary hockey ball is struck with a force of 100 N in the direction N30°W. What are the
northerly and westerly components of this force?
Solution
F

= 45 N
20°
F
v
= 45 sin 20°
= 15 N
F
h
= 45 cos 20°
= 42 N
20°
45 N
30n
30n
N
S
E
W
westerly component of
the force = 50 N
northerly
component of
the force = 87 N
force from
the hockey
stick = 100 N
148 Motion
F
W
= 100sin30° = 50 N
F
N
= 100cos30° = 87 N
the ball moves as though forces of 50 N west and 87 N north were acting on it
simultaneously.
Worked example 5.1D
When walking, a person’s foot pushes backwards and downwards at the same time. While
playing basketball, Kate’s foot pushes back along the court with a force of 400 N, and down
with a force of 600 N. What is the actual force applied by Kate’s foot?
Solution
400 N horizontally and 600 N vertically downwards are the components of the force
supplied by Kate’s foot. therefore, the force she supplies will be F = F
horizontal
+ F
vertical
and a
vector diagram is needed.
Using pythagoras’ theorem:
F = √F
h
2
+ F
v
2
= √400
2
+ 600
2
= √520 000 = 721 N
θ = tan
−1

600
400
= tan
−1
1.5 = 56°
So Kate supplies a force of 721 N backwards at 56° down from the horizontal.
• Aforceisapushorapull.Someforcesactoncontact
while others can act at a distance.
• Force is a vector quantity whose SI unit is the
newton (N).
• A vector can be represented by a directed line
seg ment whose length represents the magnitude of
the vector and whose arrowhead gives the direction
of the vector.
• The net force acting on a body that experiences a
number of forces acting simultaneously is given by
the vector sum of all the individual forces acting:
ΣF = F
1
+ F
2
+ … + F
n
• A vector addition may be calculated using a
sketch vector diagram that can be solved using
trigonometry.
• A force F acting at an angle θ to a given direction
will have components F cos θ parallel to the reference
direction, and F sin θ perpendicular to that reference
direction.
5.1 summary
Force as a vector
F
v
= 600 N down
F
Q
Q
F
h
= 400 N
149 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
1 a Which one or more of the following quantities are
vectors?
A mass B velocity
C temperature D force
b Calculate the resultant force in each of the
following vector additions:
i 200 N up and 50 N down
ii 65 N west and 25 N east
iii 10 N north and 10 N south
iv 10 N north and 10 N west
2 If the force you have to exert when holding a small
apple is about 1 N and holding a kilogram of sugar is
10 N, estimate the force required for:
a using a stapler
b kicking a beachball
c lifting your school bag
d doing a chin-up exercise.
3 Estimate the maximum force that you can exert
when pulling horizontally on an anchored rope.
What would be the approximate force that could be
exerted by a ten-person tug-of-war team?
4 Which one or more of the following directions are
identical?
A 40°T and S40°E B 140°T and S40°E
C 200°T and S20°W D 280°T and N80°W
5 Convert the following into full circle bearings (i.e. °T).
a N60°E b N40°W
c S60°W d SE
e NNE
6 Use the vectors below to determine the forces rep-
resented in the following situations. Scale: 1 cm
represents 20 N
7 Use trigonometry if necessary to add the following
forces:
a 3 N east and 4 N west
b 60 N east and 80 N south
8 A small car is pulled by two people using ropes. Each
person supplies a force of 400 N at an angle of 40°
to the direction in which the car travels. What is the
total force applied to the car?

9 Resolve the following forces into their perpendicular
components around the north–south line. In part d,
use the horizontal and vertical directions.
a 100 N south 60° east
b 60 N north
c 300 N 160°T
d 3.0 × 10
5
N 30° upward from the horizontal
10 What are the horizontal and vertical components of
a 300 N force that is applied along a rope at 60° to the
horizontal used to drag a Christmas tree across the
backyard?
5.1 questions
Force as a vector
40°
40°
400 N
400 N
a
F
b
F
c
F
150 Motion
5.2
N
e
w
to
n
’s
f
rs
t la
w
o
f m
o
tio
n
aristotle and Galileo
The first attempt to explain why bodies move as they do was made more
than 2000 years ago by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. As discussed in
Chapter 4, Aristotle and his followers felt that there was a natural state
for matter and that all matter would always tend towards its natural place
where it would be at rest. Aristotle’s thesis was based on the everyday
observation that a moving body will always slow down and come to rest
unless a force is continually applied. Try giving this book a (gentle) push
along a table top and see what happens.
Aristotle’s ideas were an attempt to explain the motion of a body as it was
seen, but they do not help to explain why a body moves as it does. It was
not until the early 17th century that Galileo Galilei was able to explain
things more fully. Galileo performed experiments that led him to conclude
that the natural state of a moving body is not at rest. Significantly, Galileo
introduced the idea that friction was a force that, like other forces, could
be added to other forces. A generation later, Newton developed Galileo’s
ideas further to produce what we now call the first law of motion.
To understand Newton’s first law, follow the logic of this thought
experiment, similar to one used by Galileo. Consider a steel ball and a
smooth length of track. In Figure 5.11a, the ball is held at one end of an
elevated track; the other end of the track is also elevated. When the ball is
released, it will roll downhill, then along the horizontal section and then up
the elevated section. In reality, it will not quite reach the height it started at,
due to friction.
Now, imagine there were no friction. The ball, in this ideal case, would
slow down as it rolled uphill and finally come to rest when it reached the
height at which it started.
Now consider what would happen if the angle of the elevated section
was made smaller as in Figure 5.11b. The ball would now roll further along
the track before coming to rest because the track is not as steep. If we could
again imagine zero friction, the ball would again slow down as it rolls
uphill and reach the same height before stopping, but travelling further in
the process.
What would happen if we made the angle of this elevated section
progressively smaller? Logically, we would expect that, if we had enough
track, the ball would travel even further before stopping.
Now consider Figure 5.11c. Here the end of the track is not elevated at
all. As the ball rolls along, there is nothing to slow it down because it is not
going uphill. If we can ignore friction, what will the ball do as it rolls along
the horizontal track? Galileo reasoned that it would not speed up, nor
would it slow down. Ideally, the ball should keep travelling horizontally
with constant speed and never reach its starting height. According to
Galileo, the natural state of a body was to keep doing what it was doing. This
tendency of objects to maintain their original motion is known as inertia.
As the ball travels along the horizontal track, there is no driving force,
nor is there any retarding force acting. The net force on the ball is zero and
so it keeps moving with a constant velocity. This is the breakthrough in
Figure 5.11 Galileo used a thought experiment to
derive his law of inertia. this became Newton’s
first law and stated that the natural state of
bodies was to maintain their original motion.
this contradicted aristotle’s idea that the natural
state of bodies was at rest.
Ideally you would expect the
ball to reach this height.
Ball ideally would roll further
and reach this position.
The ball ideally will keep
moving with a constant velocity.
(a)
(b)
(c)
151 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
understanding that Newton was able to make. Any body will continue
with constant velocity if zero net force (ΣF = 0) acts upon it.
N…WTON’S FIRST LAW OF MOTION states that a body will either remain at rest or
continue with constant speed in a straight line (i.e. constant velocity) unless it is
acted on by an unbalanced force.
A good example of inertia and Newton’s first law is illustrated by the
air-track. With the air turned on, give a glider a gentle push along the
track. It will travel along the track with a constant velocity as described by
Newton’s first law. There are no driving or retarding forces acting on the
glider, so it simply maintains its original motion. Aristotle’s laws would
not be able to explain the motion of the glider.
The motion of a spacecraft cruising in deep space is another good
example of a body moving with constant velocity as required by Newton’s
first law. As there is no gravitational force, and no air in space to retard its
motion, the spacecraft will continue with constant speed in a straight line.
The absence of air explains why there is no need to make a space probe
aerodynamic in shape.
Figure 5.12 an air-track glider moves with a constant velocity because there is zero net
force acting on it. this is an example of inertia.
Figure 5.14 two Voyager spacecraft were launched from cape canaveral in 1977 with the
mission to investigate the outer planets of the solar system at close hand. Both craft completed
the mission successfully, passing Saturn in 1981, Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989.
Voyager 1 and 2 have now left the solar system and since they have effectively zero net force
acting on them, they continue to travel away from the earth with a constant velocity.
Several decades before Newton, Galileo
Galilei had concluded that objects tended
to maintain their state of motion. He
called this tendency inertia, so this
conclusion is also known as Galileo’s
law of inertia. Inertia is not a force; it
simply describes the property of bodies
to continue their motion.
Physics file
At the time of the Roman Empire some
2000 years ago, it cost as much money
to have a bag of wheat moved 100 km
across land as it did to transport it
across the whole Mediterranean Sea. One
of the reasons for this stemmed from
the enormous friction that acted between
the wheel and the axle in the cart of
the day. Some animal fats were used
as crude lubricants, but the effect was
minimal. It has only been during the last
century that engineering has provided a
mechanical solution.
Today’s wheels are connected to the
axle by a wheel bearing. An outer ring
is attached to the wheel, and an inner
ring is attached to the axle. Separating
the rings are a number of small ball
bearings, which are able to roll freely
between the rings. In this way, the area
of contact and the friction between the
wheel and axle is reduced dramatically.
Physics file
Figure 5.13 Ball bearings reduce
friction and enable wheels to work
very efficiently.
152 Motion
Forcesinequilibrium
Newton’s first law states that a body will travel with a constant velocity (or
remain at rest) when the vector sum of all the forces acting on it is zero, i.e.
when the net force is zero. When the net force is zero, the forces are said to
be in equilibrium or balance.
• Ifabodyisatrestandzeronetforceactsonit,itwillremainatrest.This
applies to any stationary object such as a parked car or a book resting
on a desk, as shown in Figure 5.15. In these cases, the velocity is zero
and it is constant. The forces that are acting are balanced and so the net
force is zero.
• Ifabodyismovingwithaconstantvelocityandzeronetforceactson
it, it will continue to move with the same constant velocity. An example
of this is a spacecraft with its engines off travelling at a great distance
from the Earth. If gravitation is ignored, there is nothing to slow the
craft down or to speed it up, and so it will continue with a constant
velocity. The net force acting on the spacecraft is zero, so it will move
with a constant velocity. Similarly, if a car is travelling along a road with
a constant velocity, the vector sum of the forces acting on the car must be
zero. The driving forces must balance the retarding forces, i.e. ΣF = 0.
Worked example 5.2A
During a car accident, a passenger travelling without a fastened seatbelt may fly through
the windscreen and land on the road. explain, using Newton’s first law of motion, how this
will occur.
Solution
During the accident, the car is brought to rest suddenly. any occupants of the car will
continue to travel with the original speed of the car until a force acts to slow them down. If
the seatbelt were fastened, this would provide the necessary force to slow the passenger
within the car. In the absence of an opposing force, the passenger continues to move—
often crashing through the windscreen.
(The injuries received as a consequence of not wearing a seatbelt are usually far more
serious than those received if the person were fixed in the car during an accident. this is
whylawsrequireseatbeltstobeworn.)
Figure 5.15 the forces acting on this book are
balanced—i.e. ΣF = 0—so the velocity of the
book will not change; the book will continue to
stay at rest. that is, the book’s velocity will be
constant at 0 m s
−1
.
Friction had a lot to do with Australia’s
Stephen Bradbury winning a surprise
gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
His opponents did not experience enough
friction as they skated around the home
turn. Their inertia, in the absence of any
horizontal forces, sent them crashing
into the side wall. Stephen stayed
upright, his skates cutting into the ice
and producing enough friction to allow
him to turn the corner and win the gold
medal.
Physics file
Figure 5.17 (a) there are no forces acting on the spacecraft. the net force is zero and so it
continuestomovewithconstantvelocity.(b)Theforcesactingonthecarareinequilibrium,so
the net force is zero. the car continues to move with constant velocity.
Figure 5.16 Stephen Bradbury won the
gold medal as his opponents learned
first-hand about inertia and friction (or
rather a lack of friction!).
F
T
F
g
Σ F

= 0
velocity doesn’t
change
(a) (b)
F
d
F
g
F
f
F
r
no forces acting
<3F

= 0
velocity doesn’t
change
forces are balanced
<3F

= 0
velocity doesn’t
change
153 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
Worked example 5.2B
a cyclist keeps her bicycle travelling with a constant velocity of 8.0 m s
−1
east on a
horizontal surface by continuing to pedal. a force (due to friction and air resistance) of 60 N
acts against the motion. What force must be supplied by the rear wheel of the bicycle?
Figure 5.18 Intheseexamples,theforcesactingontheobjectsareinequilibrium—thenetforceiszero.Thebodywilleitherremainatrest,likethepicture
hanging on the wall, or continue with constant velocity, like the aircraft. a more complex situation involves the groundsman pushing the heavy roller with
constant velocity. the horizontal component of the force he applies along the handle exactly balances the frictional force that opposes the motion of the
roller in the horizontal direction. the vertical component of the applied force acts downwards, and adds to the weight of the roller, but these two downward
forces are balanced by an upward force provided by the ground.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 21
Forceandequilibrium
Solution
If the cyclist is to continue at a constant 8.0 m s
−1
east, then the forces that act on the
bicyclemustbeinequilibrium,i.e.ΣF = 0. this means that the forces due to air resistance
and friction are exactly balanced by the pedalling force. a force of 60 N east must be
produced at the rear wheel.
(the cyclist will actually have to produce more than 60 N as the gearing of the bike is
designed to increase speed, not reduce the force that has to be applied.)
v = 8 m s
–1
F
drag
= 60 N
F
applied
= 60 N
ΣF = F
applied
+ F
drag
= 0
lift
weight, F
g
F
g
drag
F
thrust
F
thrust
F
drag
F
lift
F
2
F
2
F
1
F
1
F
g
F
g
applied
force
weight of roller
friction
upwards
force from
ground on
roller
applied push
upward force
from ground
weight of roller
friction
F
g
+ F
1
+ F
2
= 0 F
thrust
+ F
g
+ F
drag
+ F
lift
= 0
154 Motion
• Aristotle theorised that the natural state of matter
was to be at rest in its natural place.
• Galileo performed experiments and from these
developed the idea of inertia.
• Newton developed Galileo’s ideas further and
devised the first law of motion, stated as ‘A body
will either remain at rest or continue with constant
velocity unless it is acted on by a non-zero net force
(or an unbalanced force).’
• Where the net force on a body is zero, i.e. ΣF = 0,
the forces are said to be balanced and are in
equilibrium.
5.2 summary
Newton’s first law of motion
Galileo Galilei was born into an academic family in Pisa, Italy,
in 1564. Galileo made significant contributions to physics,
mathematics and the scientific method through intellectual
rigour and the quality of his experimental design. But more
than this, Galileo helped to change the way in which the
universe was understood.
Galileo’s most significant contributions were in
astronomy. Through his development of the refracting
telescope he discovered sunspots, lunar mountains and
valleys, the four largest moons of Jupiter (now called the
Galilean moons) and the phases of Venus. In mechanics, he
demonstrated that projectiles moved with a parabolic path
and that different masses fall at the same rate (the law of
falling bodies).
These developments were most important because
they changed the framework within which mechanics
was understood. This framework had been in place since
Aristotle had constructed it in the 4th century bc. By
the 16th century, the work of the Greek philosophers
had become entrenched, and it was widely supported
in the universities. It was also supported at a political
level. In Italy at that time, government was controlled
by the Catholic Church. Today one would think
that Galileo would have been praised by his peers
for making such progress, but so ingrained and
supported was the Aristotelian view that Galileo
actually lost his job as a professor of mathematics
in Pisa in 1592.
Galileo was not without supporters, though, and he was
able to move from Pisa to Padua where he continued teaching
mathematics. At Padua, Galileo began to use measurements
from carefully constructed experiments to strengthen his
ideas. He entered into vigorous debate in which his ideas
(founded as they were on observation) were pitted against
the philosophy of the past and the politics of the day. The
most divisive debate involved the motion of the planets. The
ancient Greek view, formalised by Ptolemy in the 2nd century
ad, was that the Earth was at the centre of the solar system
and that all the planets, the Moon and the Sun were in orbit
around it. This view was taught by the Church and was also
supported by common sense. As such, it was accepted as
the establishment view. In 1630 Galileo published a book
in which he debated the Ptolemaic view and the new Sun-
Physics in action
Galileo Galilei—revolutionary
centred model proposed by Copernicus. On the basis of his
own observations, Galileo supported the Copernican view of
the universe. However, despite the book having been passed
by the censors of the day, Galileo was summoned to Rome
to face the Inquisition for heresy. The finding went against
Galileo, and all copies of his book had to be burned and he was
sentenced to permanent house arrest for the term of his life.
Galileo died in 1642 in a village near Florence. He
had become an influential thinker across Europe and the
scientific revolution he had helped start accelerated in
the freer Protestant countries in northern Europe. For its
part, the Catholic Church under Pope John Paul II began an
investigation in 1979 into Galileo’s trial, and in 1992 a papal
commission reversed the Church’s condemnation of him.
Figure 5.19 Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) was a short, active man with
red hair. Galileo made significant contributions to our understanding
of the forces that act on moving bodies. In his book Principia,
NewtonwasquicktoacknowledgehisdebttoGalileo’sgenius.
this portrait was drawn 8 years before Galileo’s trial.
155 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
1 In just a few sentences, distinguish between the
understandings held by Aristotle and Newton about
the natural state of matter. Describe an experiment
that might help support each of these views.
2 A billiard ball is rolling freely across a smooth
horizontal surface. Ignore drag and frictional forces
when answering these questions.
a Which of the following force diagrams shows the
horizontal forces acting on the ball according to
the theories of Aristotle?
b Which of the following force diagrams is correct
for the ball according to the theories of Newton?
c Which force diagram correctly describes this
situation?
3 If a person is standing up in a moving bus that stops
suddenly, the person will tend to fall forwards. Has
a force acted to push the person forwards? Use
Newton’s first law of motion to explain what is
happening.
4 What horizontal force has to be applied to a wheelie
bin if it is to be wheeled to the street on a horizontal
path against a frictional force of 20 N at a constant
1.5 m s
−1
?
5 When flying at constant speed at a constant altitude,
a light aircraft has a weight of 50 kN down, and the
thrust produced by the engines is 12 kN to the east.
What is the lift force required by the wings of the
plane, and what drag is acting?
6 A young boy is using a horizontal rope to pull his
go-kart at a constant velocity. A frictional force of
25 N also acts on the go-kart.
a What force must the boy apply to the rope?
b The boy’s father then attaches a longer rope to the
kart because the short rope is uncomfortable to
use. The rope now makes an angle of 30° to the
horizontal. What is the horizontal component of
the force that the boy needs to apply in order to
move the kart with constant velocity?
c What is the tension force acting along the rope
that must be supplied by the boy?
7 Use Newton’s first law of motion to help explain the
reasons for wearing a seatbelt in a car or aircraft.
8 Consider the following situations, and name the
force that causes each object not to move in a straight
line.
a The Earth moves in a circle around the Sun with
constant speed.
b An electron orbits the nucleus with constant
speed.
c A cyclist turns a corner at constant speed.
d An athlete swings a hammer in a circle with
constant speed.
9 A magician performs a trick in which a cloth is pulled
quickly from under a glass filled with water without
the glass falling over or the water spilling out.
a Explain the physics principles underlying this
trick.
b Does using a full glass make the trick easier or
more difficult? Explain.
10 Which of these objects would find it most difficult
to come to a stop: a cyclist travelling at 50 km h
−1
, a
car travelling at 50 km h
−1
or a fully laden semitrailer
travelling at 50 km h
−1
? Explain.
5.2 questions
Newton’s first law of motion
F F
F F
A B
C D
156 Motion
Figure 5.20 this sprinter is about to leave the
starting blocks. the starting blocks stop his foot
from slipping backwards, increasing the size of
the forward force acting on him and increasing
his forward acceleration.
Newton’s first law of motion states that when all the forces on a body
are balanced, the body can only remain at rest or continue with constant
velocity. Newton’s second law of motion deals with situations in which a
body is acted on by a non-zero net force, i.e. ΣF ≠ 0; in other words, when
the forces are unbalanced.
When there is a non-zero net force acting on a body, the body will
accelerate in the direction of the net force. Newton explained that the rate of
this acceleration will depend on both the size of the net force and the mass
of the body. Experiments show that the acceleration produced is directly
proportional to the size of the net force acting:
a ∝ ΣF
Experiments also show that the acceleration produced by a given net
force depends on the mass of the body. We know that a greater mass has
a greater inertia, so it will be more difficult to accelerate. Not surprisingly,
experiments reveal that the acceleration produced by a particular force is
inversely proportional to the mass of the body:
a ∝
1
m
If the two relationships are combined, we get:
a ∝ ΣF ×
1
m

or
a ∝
ΣF
m

The relationship can be converted into an equality by including a constant
of proportionality, so:
a = k
ΣF
m
By definition, 1 newton is the force needed to accelerate a mass of 1 kg at
1 m s
−2
. In the SI system of units, this makes the constant k equal to 1. The
relationship is therefore simplified to ΣF = ma, a mathematical statement of
Newton’s second law of motion.
N…WTON’S S…COND LAW OF MOTION states that the acceleration of a body, a, is
directly proportional to the net force acting on it, ΣF, and inversely proportional to
its mass, m:
ΣF = ma
The SI unit, the newton (N), will be required for force when the mass
of the accelerating body is given in kilograms (kg) and its acceleration is
provided in metres per second squared (m s
−2
).
ΣF = ma is a vector equation in which the direction of the acceleration is
in the same direction as the net force. If only one force acts, the acceleration
will be in the direction of that force.
Worked example 5.3A
Determinethesizeoftheforcerequiredtoacceleratean80kgathletefromrestto12ms
−1

in a westerly direction in 5.0 s.
From Newton’s second law, it can be
seen that the unit of a newton (N) is
equivalent to the product of the mass
unit (kg) and the acceleration unit
(m s
−2
). In other words: N = kg m s
−2
.
When writing the value of a force,
either unit is correct; but newton is the
SI unit and is obviously more convenient
to use!
Physics file
N
e
w
to
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’s
s
e
c
o
n
d
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f m
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5.3
157 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
Solution
First, determine the acceleration of the athlete:
v = u + at
a =
v - u
t

=
(12 - 0)
5.0
a = 2.4 m s
−2
west
the net force can now be found using Newton’s second law:
ΣF = ma
= 80 × 2.4
= 190 N west
If more than one force acts on a body, the acceleration will be in the direction
of the net force, i.e. the vector sum of all of the forces.
Worked example 5.3B
a swimmer whose mass is 75 kg applies a force of 350 N as he begins a race. the
water opposes his efforts to accelerate with a drag force of 200 N. What is his initial
acceleration?
Solution
the net force on the swimmer in the horizontal direction will be:
ΣF = F
applied
+ F
drag
a vector addition gives ΣF = 150 N forwards.
So,
a =
ΣF
m
=
150
75

= 2.0 m s
−2
in the direction of the applied force
(It is worth noting that the drag applied by the water will increase with the swimmer’s
speed.)
Worked example 5.3C
a 150 g hockey ball is simultaneously struck by two hockey sticks. If the sticks supply a
force of 15 N north and 20 N east respectively, determine the acceleration of the ball, and
the direction in which it will travel.
Solution
remember to work in kilograms. calculate the net force acting on the ball by performing a
vector addition:
ΣF = F
1
+ F
2
ΣF = √F
1
2
+ F
2
2

= √15
2
+ 20
2
= √225 + 400 = √625 = 25 N
a =
ΣF
m
=
25
0.15

= 170 m s
−2
Looking at the vector diagram showing the addition of the forces, we can see that θ will be
given by:
tan θ =
F
2
F
1
=
20
15
= 1.33
so θ = tan
−1
1.33 = 53°
the ball will travel in the direction N53°e or (053ºt).
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 22
Newton’s second law
350 N
200 N
150 N
+
F
applied
F
drag
ΣF
F
1
= 15 N north
F
2
= 20 N east
F
2
F
1
N
S
W E
ΣF
θ
158 Motion
Mass and weight
Mass of a body
To this point, the idea of the mass of an object has been taken for granted.
However, the concept of a body’s mass is rather subtle and, importantly
in physics, the mass of a body is a fundamentally different quantity from
its weight—even though people (even physics teachers) tend to use these
expressions interchangeably in everyday life.
In earlier science courses, mass may have been defined as ‘the amount
of matter in an object’. To understand what mass really is, this description
says very little. The international standard for the kilogram is not very
helpful either. Since the time of the French Revolution (late 1700s), the
kilogram has been defined in terms of an amount of a standard material. At
first, 1 litre of water at 4°C was used to define the kilogram. More recently
an international mass standard has been introduced. This is a 1 kg cylinder
of platinum–iridium alloy that is kept in Paris. Copies are made from the
standard and sent around the world.
Newton’s second law can help to provide a better understanding of
mass through the effect of a force on a massive body. Think about a mass
resting on a frictionless surface. If a force is applied to the mass in the
horizontal direction, an acceleration is produced that is given by a =
ΣF
m
.
The greater the mass, the smaller will be the acceleration. If the mass is
reduced, the acceleration will increase. Here the mass can be seen as the
property of the body resisting the force. Mass is the closest quantity in
physics to the concept of inertia.
If the above experiment is repeated at another location, the same net
force acting on the body will give the same acceleration regardless of where
the experiment is performed. This is because—on Earth, on the Moon, in
space—the mass of the body remains the same. Mass is a property of the
body, and is not affected by its environment. In fact, for any situation at this
level in physics, the mass of a body will be a constant value. As discussed
in the adjacent Physics file, Albert Einstein was able to show in his theory
of relativity that the mass of an object does change as its speed changes.
The (inertial) MASS of a body is its ability to resist acceleration when the body is
acted on by a net force. Mass is a constant property of the body.
Mass is usually considered to be an
unchanging property of an object. This is
true in Newtonian mechanics where the
speed with which an object is considered
to travel matches everyday experience.
However, at very high speeds, Newton’s
laws of motion do not apply, and the
theory of relativity must be used. In
1905, Albert Einstein showed that a
body with a rest mass m
0
(i.e. mass
when stationary) will experience an
increase in mass as it gets faster. This
increase is usually undetectable except
when the object nears the speed of light.
At these very high speeds, the mass
will become greater and greater, tending
to infinity as the speed approaches the
speed of light.
Table 5.2 gives the mass of a 1 kg
block if it were to travel at speeds of
0.1c (10% of the speed of light or
3 × 10
7
m s
−1
), 0.8c and 0.99c.
table 5.2 the mass of a 1 kg block
at different speeds
Speed Mass
0.1c 1.0050 kg (i.e. 5 g increase)
0.8c 1.6667 kg (667 g increase)
0.99c 7.1 kg (over 700% increase)
Relativistic mass increase provides
the reason why no object can travel at
the speed of light. To do so would require
an infinite quantity of energy, since the
mass of the body would itself be infinite.
Only objects with no rest mass (such as
light ‘particles’) can travel at the speed
of light.
Physics file
Figure 5.22 Regardlessoftheexternalconditions,theinertialqualitiesofamassremainthe
same. a net force of 1 N will always produce an acceleration of 1 m s
−2
for a 1 kg mass. In this
way, mass can be understood as the resistance to a force. the greater the mass of the body,
the smaller the acceleration caused by the force.
Figure 5.21 Scientists working at the australian synchrotron in clayton have to take account of these relativistic effects on the electrons they accelerate to extreme speeds.
1 kg
on Earth in deep space
a = 1 m s
–2
a = 1 m s
–2
F = 1 N
F = 1 N
1 kg
159 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
Weight of a body
In the late 1500s, Galileo was able to show that all objects dropped near
the surface of the Earth accelerate at the same rate, g, towards the centre of
the Earth. The force that produces this acceleration is the force of gravity.
In physics, the force on a body due to gravity is called the weight of a body,
F
g
or W.
Consider a television of mass 50 kg and a banana of mass 0.10 kg that
are dropped together from several metres above the surface of the Earth.
The TV and the banana will fall with a uniform acceleration that is
equal to 9.8 m s
−2
. The acceleration of a freely falling object (i.e. one where
the only force that is acting is gravity) does not depend on the mass of
the object.
If we took the TV and the banana to the Moon and dropped them, they
would fall with an acceleration of just 1.6 m s
−2
. Gravity is weaker on the
Moon because it is much less massive than Earth.
The acceleration of a freely falling object due to gravity is known as g.
Figure 5.23 If air resistance is ignored, the tV and banana will fall side by side with an
acceleration of 9.8 m s
−2
towards the earth.
Figure 5.24 the tV and banana will fall side by side with a uniform acceleration of 1.6 m s
−2

towards the Moon.
a = 9.8 m s
–2
a = 9.8 m s
–2
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 23
Newton’s second law II
a = 1.6 m s
–2
a = 1.6 m s
–2
160 Motion
We will now use Newton’s second law to analyse the motion of the TV
as it falls to the Earth. The only force acting on the TV is the force of gravity
or weight, F
g
. Hence:
ΣF = F
g
ma = F
g
The acceleration of the TV is 9.8 m s
−2
or g, so F
g
= mg.
The W…IGHT of a body, W or F
g
, is defned as the force of attraction on a body due to
gravity:
W = F
g
= mg
where m is the mass of the body (kg)
g is the acceleration due to gravity (m s
−2
)
g is also known as the GRAVITATIONAL FI…LD STR…NGTH. The unit of the gravitational
feld strength is newton/kg or N kg
−1
.
The acceleration of a mass due to gravity is numerically identical to the
gravitational field strength, g. These two quantities have different names
and different units but are numerically equal. It can be shown that 1 m s
−2

is equal to 1 N kg
−1
.
As a consequence of this, the weight of a body will change as it is
placed in different gravitational fields. On the Earth a 50 kg TV will have
a weight of 50 × 9.8 = 490 N downwards. On the Moon, the gravitational
field strength is lower at 1.6 N kg
−1
, and so the TV will be easier to lift since
its weight is now only 50 × 1.6 = 80 N. In deep space, far from any stars or
planets, where g = 0, the TV would be truly weightless, although its mass
would still be 50 kg.
Why do heavy and light objects fall with equal acceleration?
While Galileo was able to show that heavy and light objects fell at the same
rate, he was not able to explain why. Newton, however, after stating his
laws of motion, was able to show why this happens. We can use Newton’s
second law to analyse the motion of the TV and the banana as they fall
towards Earth.
Figure 5.26 the force dragging the tV to the ground is much larger than the force that is acting
on the banana. however, the mass of the tV is much greater than the mass of the banana. the
acceleration that results in both cases is identical: 9.8 m s
−2
down.
Figure 5.25 the tV is in free-fall. the only force
acting on it is gravity, F
g
, and it accelerates at
9.8 m s
−2
towards the ground.
a = 9.8 m s
–2
F
g
F
g
= 490 N
F
g
= 490 N
50 kg
0.10 kg
161 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
The force of gravity acting on the 50 kg TV is:
W = F
g
= mg = 50 × 9.8 = 490 N down
This is the only force acting on the TV so the net force, ΣF, is also 490 N
down.
The acceleration of the TV can be calculated:
a =
ΣF
m
=
490
50
= 9.8 m s
−2
down
The force of gravity acting on the 0.10 kg banana is:
W = F
g
= mg = 0.10 × 9.8 = 0.98 N down
This is the only force acting on the banana so the net force, ΣF, is also
0.98 N down.
The acceleration of the banana can be calculated:
a =
ΣF
m
=
0.98
0.10
= 9.8 m s
−2
down
The TV has a large force dragging it towards the ground, but this large
force is acting on a large mass. The banana has a small force acting on it,
but this small force is moving a small mass. The acceleration produced in
each case is exactly the same: 9.8 m s
−2
down.
Worked example 5.3D
a 1.5 kg trolley cart is connected by a cord to a 2.5 kg mass as shown. the cord is placed
over a pulley and allowed to fall under the influence of gravity.
a assuming that the cart can move over the table unhindered by friction, determine the
acceleration of the cart.
b If a frictional force of 8.5 N acts against the cart, what is the magnitude of the
acceleration now?
Solution
a The cart and mass experience a net force equal to the weight of the falling mass. So
ΣF = F
g
= mg = 2.5 × 9.8 = 24.5 N down. this force has to accelerate not only the cart
but the falling mass, and so the total mass to be accelerated is 1.5 + 2.5 = 4.0 kg.
a =
ΣF
m

=
24.5
4.0
= 6.1 m s
−2
to the right
b In analysing the forces that now act on the cart, the net force is:
ΣF = 24.5 - 8.5 = 16 N to the right,
and a =
ΣF
m
=
16
4.0
= 4.0 m s
−2
to the right.
Figure 5.27 the weight of this boulder is the force
it experiences due to gravity given by F
g
= mg.
this is approximately 2.5 × 10
5
N directed to the
centre of the earth. the mass of the boulder is
approximately 25 000 kg. If the boulder were
taken to outer space where the gravitational field
strength was zero, the boulder would still have
the same mass but no weight.
1.5 kg
2.5 kg
8.5 N
24.5 N
162 Motion

Galileo was able to show more than 400 years ago that the
mass of a body does not affect the rate at which it falls
towards the ground. However, our common experience is
that not all objects behave in this way. A light object, such
as a feather or a balloon, does not accelerate at 9.8 m s
−2
as
it falls. It drifts slowly to the ground, far slower than other
dropped objects. Parachutists and skydivers also eventually
fall with a constant speed. Why is this so?
Skydivers, base-jumpers and air-surfers are able to use
the force of air resistance to their advantage. As a base-
jumper first steps off, the forces acting on him are drag
(air resistance),
a
, and gravity,
g
. Since his speed is low,
the drag force is small (Figure 5.28a). There is a large net
force downwards, so he experiences a large downwards
acceleration of just less than 9.8 m s
−2
, causing him to speed
up. This causes the drag force to increase because he is
colliding harder with the air molecules. In fact, the drag force
increases in proportion to the square of the speed:
a
∝ v
2
. This results in a smaller net force downwards
(Figure 5.28b). His downwards acceleration is therefore
reduced. It is important to remember that he is still speeding
up, but at a reduced rate.
As his speed continues to increase, so too does the
magnitude of the drag force. Eventually, the drag force
becomes as large as the weight force (Figure 5.28c). When
this happens, the net force is zero and the base-jumper
will fall with a constant velocity. Since the velocity is now
constant, the drag force will also remain constant and the
motion of the jumper will not change (Figure 5.28d). This
velocity is commonly known as the terminal velocity.
For skydivers, the terminal velocity is usually around
200 km h
−1
. Opening the parachute greatly increases the air
resistance force that is acting, resulting in a lower terminal
velocity. This is typically around 70 km h
−1
.
Physics in action
terminal velocity
Figure 5.28 as the base-jumper falls, the force of gravity does not
change, but the drag force increases as he travels faster. eventually
thesetwoforceswillbeinequilibriumandhewillfallwithaconstant
or terminal velocity.
ΣF
ΣF
F
a

F
g

F
a

F
g

v
v
v
v
F
a

F
g

F
a

F
g

(a)
(b)
(c)
(d)
ΣF

= 0
ΣF

= 0
Figure 5.29 Skydivers can change their speed by changing their body profile. If they assume a tuck position they will fall faster and if they
spreadeagle they will fall slower. this enables them to meet and form spectacular patterns as they fall.
163 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
Use g = 9.8 m s
−2
when answering these questions.
1 State whether the forces are balanced (B) or
unbalanced (U) for each of these situations.
a A netball falling towards the ground
b A stationary bus
c A tram travelling at a constant speed of 50 km h
–1
d A cyclist slowing down at a traffic light
2 During a tennis serve, a ball of mass 0.060 kg is
accelerated to 30 m s
–1
from rest in just 7.0 ms.
a Calculate the average acceleration of the ball.
b What is the average net force acting on the ball
during the serve?
3 Use Newton’s laws to explain why a 1.0 kg shot-put
can be thrown further than a 1.5 kg shotput.
4 In a game of soccer, the ball is simultaneously kicked
by two players who impart horizontal forces of 100 N
east and 125 N south on the ball. Determine:
a the net force acting on the ball
b the direction in which the ball will travel
c the acceleration of the ball if its mass is 750 g.
5 When travelling at 100 km h
−1
along a horizontal
road, a car has to overcome a drag force due to air
resistance of 800 N. If the car has a mass of 900 kg,
determine the average force that the motor needs to
apply if it is to accelerate at 2.0 m s
−2
.
6 Mary is paddling a canoe. The paddles are providing
a constant driving force of 45 N south and the
frictional forces total 25 N north. The mass of the
canoe is 15 kg and Mary has a mass of 50 kg.
a What is Mary’s mass?
b Calculate Mary’s weight.
c Find the net horizontal force acting on the canoe.
d Calculate the magnitude of the acceleration of the
canoe.
7 On the surface of the Earth, a geological hammer has
a mass of 1.5 kg. Determine its mass and weight on
Mars where g = 3.6 m s
−2
.
8 What is the average force required of the brakes
on a 1200 kg car in order for it to come to rest from
60 km h
−1
in a distance of 150 m?
9 Consider a 70 kg parachutist leaping from an aircraft
and taking the time to reach terminal velocity before
activating the parachute. Draw a sketch graph of the
net force against time for the parachutist in the period
from the start of the jump until terminal velocity has
been reached. Explain your reasoning.
10 A 0.50 kg metal block is attached by a piece of string
to a dynamics cart as shown below. The block is
allowed to fall from rest, dragging the cart along.
The mass of the cart is 2.5 kg.

a If friction is ignored, what is the acceleration of
the block as it falls?
b How fast will the block be travelling after 0.50 s?
c If a frictional force of 4.3 N acts on the cart, what is
its acceleration?
• Newton’s second law of motion states that the
acceleration a body experiences is directly pro-
portional to the net force acting on it, and inversely
proportional to its mass:
ΣF = ma
where m is measured in kilograms (kg), a is
measured in metres per second squared (m s
−2
), and
ΣF in newtons (N).
• The mass of a body can be considered to be its
ability to resist a force. Mass is a constant property
of the body and is not affected by its environment or
location.
• TheweightofabodyW or F
g
is defined as the force
of attraction on a body due to gravity. This will be
given by W = F
g
= mg where m is the mass of the body
and g is the strength of the gravitational field.
5.3 summary
Newton’s second law of motion
5.3 questions
Newton’s second law of motion
2.5 kg
0.50 kg
164 Motion
5.4
N
e
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to
n
’s
th
ird
la
w
o
f m
o
tio
n
Newton’s first two laws of motion describe the motion of a body resulting
from the forces that act on that body. The third law is easily stated, and seems
to be widely known by students, but is often misunderstood and misused!
It is a very important law in physics, and assists our understanding of the
origin and nature of forces.
Newton realised that all forces exist in pairs and that each force in the
pair acts on a different object. Consider the example of a hammer gently
tapping a nail. Both the hammer and nail experience forces during this. The
nail experiences a small downwards force as the hammer hits it and this
moves it a small distance into the wood. The hammer experiences a small
upwards force as it hits the nail causing the hammer to stop. These forces
are known as an action–reaction pair and are shown in Figure 5.31(a).
Now consider what will happen if the hammer is smashed into the nail.
The nail now experiences a large downwards force as the hammer smashes
into it and this moves it a larger distance into the wood. The hammer itself
experiences a large upwards force as it hits the nail, again causing the
hammer to stop. You should notice that the forces acting on the hammer
and nail are both larger, as shown in Figure 5.31b. This is what Newton
realised. If the hammer exerted a downwards force of 25 N on the nail, the
nail would exert an upwards force of 25 N on the hammer.
N…WTON’S THIRD LAW OF MOTION states that for every action force (object A on B),
there is an equal and opposite reaction force (object B on A):
F(A on B) = -F(B on A)
When body A exerts a force F on body B, body B will exert an equal and opposite
force –F on body A.
It is important to recognise that the action force and the reaction force in
Newton’s third law act on different objects and so should never be added
together. Figure 5.32 shows some examples of action–reaction forces.
It is also important to understand that even though action–reaction forces
are always equal in size, the effect of these forces may be very different. A
good example of this is the collision between the bus and the car shown
in 5.32c. Because of the car’s small mass, the force acting on the car will
Figure 5.30 a hammer hitting a nail is a good
example of an action–reaction pair and Newton’s
third law.
Figure 5.31 (a) as the hammer gently taps the nail, both the hammer and nail experience small
forces. (b) When the hammer smashes into the nail, both the hammer and nail experience large
forces.
force that
nail exerts
on hammer
force that
hammer exerts
on nail
force that
nail exerts
on hammer
force that
hammer exerts
on nail
(a) (b)
165 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
cause the car to undergo a large acceleration backwards. The occupants
may be seriously injured as a result of this. The force acting on the bus
is equal in size, but is acting on a much larger mass. The bus will have
a relatively small acceleration as result and the occupants will not be as
seriously affected.
Worked example 5.4A
In each of the following diagrams, one of the forces is given.
i Describe each given force using the phrase ‘force that exerts on ’.
ii Describe the reaction pair to the given force using the phrase ‘force that
exerts on ’.
iii Draw each reaction force on the diagram, carefully showing its size and location.
Figure 5.32 Some action–reaction force pairs. Notice that these can be contact or non-contact
forces.(a)Thegirlexertsadownwardsforceonthefloorandthefloorexertsanequalupwards
forceonthegirl.(b)Thefootexertsaforwardsforceontheballandtheballexertsanequalsize
backwards force on the foot. (c) the bus exerts a backwards force on the car and the car exerts
anequalsizeforwardsforceonthebus.(d)TheEarthexertsadownwardsgravitationalforceon
thebrickandthebrickexertsanequalsizeupwardsforceontheEarth.
Figure 5.33 the soccer ball and the player’s head
exertequalforcesoneachotherduringthis
collision, but only the player will experience pain!
(a) (b) (c)
force that foot
exerts on ball
force that floor
exerts on girl
force that girl
exerts on floor
force that bus
exerts on car
gravitational force
that Earth exerts
on brick (F
g
)
force that car
exerts on bus
force that ball
exerts on foot
gravitational force
that brick exerts
on Earth
(a) (b)
(c) (d)
166 Motion
Solution
a i force that bat exerts on ball
ii force that ball exerts on bat
iii see diagram at right
b i force that ball exerts on floor
ii force that floor exerts on ball
iii see diagram at right
c iii gravitational force that earth exerts on astronaut
ii gravitational force that astronaut exerts on earth
iii see diagram at right
Motion explained
Newton’s third law also explains how we are able to move around. In fact,
the third law is needed to explain all locomotion. Consider walking. Your
leg pushes backwards with each step. This is an action force acting on the
ground. As shown in Figure 5.34, a component of the force acts downwards
and another component pushes backwards horizontally along the surface
of the Earth. The force is transmitted because there is friction between your
shoe and the Earth’s surface. In response, the ground then pushes forwards
on your leg. This forwards component of the reaction force enables you
to move forwards. In other words, it is the ground pushing forwards on
your leg that moves you forwards. It is important to remember that in
Newton’s second law, ∑F = ma, the net force ∑F is the sum of the forces
acting on the body. This does not include forces that are exerted by the body
on other objects. When you push back on the ground, this force is acting on
the ground and may affect the ground’s motion. If the ground is firm, this
effect is usually not noticed, but if you run along a sandy beach, the sand is
clearly pushed back by your feet.
The act of walking relies on there being some friction between your shoe
and the ground. Without it, there is no grip and it is impossible to supply
the action force to the ground. Consequently, the ground cannot supply the
reaction force needed to enable forward motion. Walking on smooth ice is
a good example of this, and so mountaineers will use crampons (basically
a rack of nails) attached to the soles of their boots in order to gain purchase
in icy conditions.
The situation outlined above is fundamental to all motion.
Figure 5.34 Walking relies on an action and
reaction force pair in which the foot will push
down and backwards with an action force. In
response, the ground will push upwards and
forwards. the forward component of the reaction
force is actually friction. this is responsible for
the body moving forward as a whole, while the
back foot remains at rest.
θ
θ
θ
F
up
F
forwards

F (reaction)
F (reaction)
F (action)
167 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
table 5.3 all motion can be explained in terms of action and reaction
force pairs
Motion Action force Reaction force
Swimming hand pushes back on water Water pushes forwards on hand
Jumping Legs push down on earth earth pushes up on legs
Bicycle/car tyre pushes back on ground Ground pushes forwards on tyre
Jet aircraft and
rockets
hot gas is forced backwards out
of engine
Gases push craft forwards
Skydiving Force of gravitation on the
skydiver from earth
Force of gravitation on earth
from skydiver
Worked example 5.4B
a front-wheel drive car of mass 1.2 tonne accelerates from traffic lights at 2.5 m s
–2
.
a Discuss and identify the horizontal force that enables the car to accelerate forwards.
b Draw this force on the diagram at right. Label it force a.
c carefully draw the reaction pair to this force as described in Newton’s third law. Label it
force B.
d Discuss and identify the reaction force that you have drawn.
Solution
a this is the forwards force that the road exerts on the front tyre and could be called a
frictional force.
b c
d this is the backwards force that the front tyre exerts on the road. If the road surface
was ice, both of the forces in (b) and (c) would be very small and the car would not be
able to drive forwards.
the normal force
When an object, say a rubbish bin, is allowed to fall under the influence of
gravity, it is easy to see the effect of the force of gravity. As shown in Figure
5.35a, the only force acting is the weight, so the net force is the weight, and
the bin therefore accelerates at g.
When the bin is at rest on a table, the force of gravity (F
g
= W = mg) is
still acting. Since the bin is at rest, there must be another force (equal in
magnitude and opposite in direction) acting to balance the weight. This
upwards force is provided by the table. Because of the weight of the bin,
the table is deformed a little, and being elastic, it will push upwards. The
elastic force it provides is perpendicular to its surface and is called a normal
reaction force F
N
or N, (often abbreviated to the normal force).
The NORMAL FORC… is a reaction force supplied by a surface at 90° to its plane.
1200 kg
force A force B
168 Motion
This means that there are two forces that act on the bin which will
completely balance each other so that the net force is zero. In Figure 5.35b,
the bin is empty so its weight is small and the normal force is also small.
However, when the bin fills up, its weight increases and so too does the
normal force.
The normal force and the weight force in these examples are equal and
opposite. However, this does not mean that they are an action–reaction pair
as described by Newton’s third law! The weight force and the normal force
act on the same body (the bin) so they cannot be an action–reaction force
pair. Remember that in Newton’s third law, one force acts on one object and
the other force acts on the other object. Let us identify the reaction pair to
each of the forces shown in Figure 5.36.
In Figure 5.36a the action force shown is the force of gravity F
g
on the
bin. This is the attractive force that the Earth exerts on the bin. The reaction
force, therefore, is the attractive force that the bin exerts on the Earth. This is
shown as F
G
. In Figure 5.36b, the action force shown is the normal force on
the bin, F
N
. This is the force that the table exerts on the bin. So the reaction
force is the force that the bin exerts on the table. This is shown as F
T
.
Worked example 5.4C
an 8.0 kg computer rests on a table.
a Identify the forces that act on the computer.
b Determine the magnitude and direction of the force that the computer exerts on the
table.
c If a 3.0 kg monitor is placed on the computer box, determine the new normal force
acting on the computer.
Solution
a the weight of the computer will be F
g
= mg = 8.0 × 9.8 = 78 N down, so that if the net
force on the computer is zero, the normal force supplied by the table must be 78 N
upwards: ΣF = F
g
+ F
N
= 0.
Figure 5.35 (a) When the bin is in mid-air, there is
an unbalanced force acting on it so it accelerates
towards the ground. (b) When the empty bin is
resting on the table, there is a small upwards force
from the table acting on it. the bin remains at rest,
so the forces are balanced. (c) the forces acting
on the full bin are also balanced. the weight of the
bin is greater, so the normal force exerted by the
table is larger than for the empty bin.
Figure 5.36 (a) the reaction force pair to the
weight of the bin is the gravitational force of
attraction that the bin exerts on the earth.
(b) the reaction force pair to the normal force
on the bin is the force that the bin exerts on the
table.Theforcepairsareequalandopposite
but they do not cancel out because they are not
acting on the same object.
F
N

F
N

F
g

F
g

F
g

(a) (c) (b)
F
N
=
F
G
=
F
g
=
F
T
=
force Earth
exerts on bin
(a)
force table
exerts on bin
force bin
exerts on Earth
force bin exerts
on table
(b)
F
N
F
g
ΣF

= F
g
+ F
N
= 0
169 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
b Since the force that the table exerts on the computer has been found to be 78 N up,
then, according to Newton’s third law, the force that the computer exerts on the table
must be 78 N down.
c If a 3.0 kg monitor is placed on top of the computer, the table must supply a further
3.0 × 9.8 = 29 N, bringing the total normal force to 107 N. (the computer will also have
to provide a normal force of 29 N upwards to balance the weight of the monitor.)
the inclined plane
The Guinness Book of Records identifies the steepest road in the world as
being at an angle of 20° to the horizontal. It is located in Dunedin, New
Zealand. Living on such a road requires the residents to ensure that the
handbrake in their car is always in good repair! To determine the force
required by the handbrake of a car parked on this steep road, the physics of
forces acting on a body on an inclined plane must be used.
Start by thinking of a body at rest on a horizontal surface. Two forces act
on the body: the weight of the body F
g
and the normal force F
N
supplied
by the surface. The weight force always acts downwards and is given by
F
g
= mg. The normal force is supplied by the surface and will vary depending
on the situation, but it will always act upwards and perpendicular to the
surface. This means that the net force on the body will be the sum of these
two forces, and in this case it has to be zero since the body does not move.
If the surface is tilted so that it makes an angle to the horizontal, the weight
force remains the same: F
g
= mg. However, the normal force continues to act
at right angles to the surface and will change in magnitude, getting smaller
as the angle increases. If there is no friction between the body and the
surface, the two forces will not balance and a non-zero net force will be
directed down the incline as shown in Figure 5.37.
From the vector diagram of the forces:
ΣF = F
g
+ F
N
= F
g
sin θ = mg sin θ
From Newton’s second law, the net force is:
ΣF = ma
so,
ma = mg sin θ
or
a = g sin θ
This means that the acceleration down an incline is a function of the angle
of the incline alone, and not the mass of the body. Ignoring any friction, a
car rolling down the steep street in Dunedin will accelerate at a = g sin θ
= 9.8 × sin 20° = 3.4 m s
−2
—quite a rate!
You may have observed that the mass
of an object can be used in two different
contexts. First, mass is a measure of
the ability of an object to resist being
accelerated by a force. This mass can be
determined from Newton’s second law
and is known as inertial mass. Second,
mass can give an indication of the
degree to which an object experiences a
gravitational force when in the presence
of a gravitational field. This mass is
known as gravitational mass. Some
very accurate experiments have shown
that the inertial and gravitational
masses are equal, although there is no
theoretical reason why this should be
the case.
Physics file
Figure 5.37 (a) Where the surface is
perpendicular to the weight force, the normal
force will act directly upwards and cancel the
weight force. (b) On an inclined plane, F
N
is at an
angle to F
g
and as long as no friction acts, there
will be a net force down the incline. the body
will accelerate.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 24
acceleration down an incline
ΣF

= F
g
+ F
N

= 0
ΣF

= F
g
+ F
N
ΣF
θ
θ
F
N

F
N

F
N

F
N

F
g

F
g

F
g

F
g

body remains
at rest
170 Motion
Worked example 5.4D
Driver error allows a 5 tonne truck to roll down a steep road inclined at 30° to the horizontal.
as it is a high-technology vehicle, there is negligible friction between the wheels of the
truck and the wheel bearings. Find the acceleration of the truck if the acceleration due to
gravity is taken as 9.8 m s
−2
.
Solution
ΣF = F
g
+ F
N

From the vector diagram:
ΣF = F
g
sin θ
So, ma = mg sin θ
a = g sin 30°
= 9.8 × sin 30°
= 4.9 m s
−2
down the road
If friction exists between a body on an inclined plane and the surface, its
direction will be along the incline but against the motion. If a frictional force
is great enough to balance the sum of the normal force and the weight of
the body, the net force is zero and the body will either travel with a constant
velocity or remain stationary. Worked example 5.4E illustrates this.
Worked example 5.4E
Kristie is a 60 kg skier. at the start of a ski slope which is at 35° to the horizontal, she
crouches into a tuck. the surface is very icy, so there is no friction between her skis and the
ice.Ignoreairresistancewhenansweringthesequestions.
a If Kristie starts from rest, what is her speed after travelling a distance of 80 m on
the ice?
b the snow conditions change at the end of the ice patch so that Kristie continues down
the slope with a constant velocity. What is the force due to friction that must be acting
between Kristie’s skis and the snow?
Solution
a the net force on Kristie will be ΣF = F
g
+ F
N
. this is a vector addition. From the vector
diagram:
ΣF = F
g
sin θ
So, a = g sin 35°
= 9.8 sin 35°
= 5.6 m s
−2
In February 2003, a train driver pulled
into Broadmeadows station and went
for a toilet break. Unfortunately, he
forgot to put on the handbrake. When
he returned, the train was rolling
away from the platform, heading for
Jacana. It is a slight downhill incline
from Broadmeadows to Jacana and the
train simply rolled off down the hill,
accelerating gradually. After Glenroy,
the incline of the track is greater and
the train’s acceleration increased. It
is estimated that it reached speeds of
around 100 km h
–1
at times. Fortunately,
no-one was injured as it hurtled through
level crossings and stations on its
way into the city. At Spencer Street, it
crashed into a stationary V/Line train at
around 60 km h
−1
. The express trip from
Broadmeadows to Spencer Street took
about 16 minutes.
Physics file
Figure 5.38 an empty three-carriage train
took 16 minutes to roll downhill from
Broadmeadows to Spencer Street (now
Southern cross) station. the track was
like a long inclined plane and the train
accelerated along it after the driver forgot to
put the handbrake on!
Jacana
Glenroy
5 km
Oak Park
Pascoe Vale
Strathmore
Moonee Ponds
Glenbervie
Broadmeadows
Essendon
Ascot Vale
Newmarket
Kensington
North Melbourne
Spencer Street Station
0
80 m
ice patch
35n
35n
F
g F
N
F
g
F
N
3F
30n
30n
3F

= F
g
+ F
N

F
N

F
N

F
g

F
g

171 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
If this acceleration continues over 80 m, Kristie’s final speed would be:
v
2
= u
2
+ 2ax
so v
2
= 0 + 2 × 5.6 × 80 = 900
v = 30 m s
−1
(110 km h
−1
)
b Kristie is travelling with a constant velocity, so ΣF = 0, i.e. the force of friction F
f
would
balance the component of the weight force parallel to the incline.
So F
f
= F
g
sin 35 = 340 N up the incline.
tension
Another force that is experienced in everyday life is the tension force that
is found in stretched ropes, wires, cables and rubber bands. If you stretch
a rubber band, it will exert a restoring force on both your hands. This force
is known as a tensile force and is present in any material that has been
stretched.
Consider the situation in which a person hangs from a cable that is tied
to a beam as shown in Figure 5.39a. We will assume that the mass of the
cable is negligible.
At the top end of the cable, the tension force F
T
pulls down on the beam.
At the other end, the cable exerts an upwards force F
T
on the person, holding
them in mid-air. In other words, the same size tension force acts at both
ends of the cable, but in opposite directions. If a second identical person
also hung from the cable, the tension acting at both ends of the cable would
double and the cable would become tauter (and more likely to snap!)
If the mass of the person in Figure 5.39a is known, the size of the tension
can be determined. If the mass of the person is 50 kg, then the forces acting
on them are, as shown in Figure 5.39b, an upwards tension force and the
downwards pull of gravity of 490 N. If the person is at rest, the forces acting
are balanced and so the upwards tensile force acting from the cable must
also be 490 N.
Calculations involving tension are illustrated in the following example.
A naughty monkey of mass 15 kg has escaped backstage in a circus. Nearby
is a rope threaded through an ideal (frictionless and massless) pulley.
Attached to one end of the rope is a 10 kg bag of sand. The monkey climbs
a ladder and jumps onto the free end of the rope.
Figure 5.39 (a)Thestretchedcableexertsanupwardsforceonthepersonandanequal
size downwards force on the beam. (b) the forces acting on the person are balanced, so the
tensionforceisequalinmagnitudetotheweightforce(490N).
tension F
T
tension F
T
F
T
= 490 N
F
g
= 490 N
M

= 50 g
3F

= 0
(a) (b)
172 Motion
The system of the rope and the monkey is now subjected to a net
force of:
ΣF = 15 × 9.8 - 10 × 9.8 = 49 N down on the side of the monkey.
As a consequence, both objects and the rope will accelerate at:
a =
ΣF
m
=
49
25
= 2.0 m s
−2
While all of this is occurring, the rope is under tension. To find the
amount, we look at the forces acting on one of the masses (Figure 5.40c).
Take the monkey: the net force on the monkey will be ΣF = F
g
+ F
T
.
So, F
T
= ΣF - F
g

= 15 × 2.0 down - 15 × 9.8 down
= 30 N down + 147 N up = 117 N up
To check, find the tension acting on the sandbag.
Again, ΣF = F
g
+ F
T
So, F
T
= ΣF - F
g
= 10 × 2.0 up - 10 × 9.8 down
= 20 N up + 98 N up = 118 N up
Note that the small difference between the two results is due to rounding
error. The tension is equal on both sides of the pulley, regardless of how the
masses are arranged (provided the pulley is frictionless).
Intuitively, you might have thought that the tension would have been
(15 + 10) × 9.8 = 245 N since the two weights are pulling in opposite
directions. This is not the case because the system is allowed to accelerate,
causing a reduction in tension.
Figure 5.40 the monkey has a greater weight than the sandbag, and so the rope will accelerate in the direction of the monkey. the tension in the rope is
found by considering the forces that act on each weight.
147 N
98 N
10 kg
15 kg
a
F
g
=147 N F
g
= 98 N
ΣF = 49 N
ΣF = 15 × 2.0
ΣF = 10 × 2.0
F
T
= 117 N F
T
= 118 N
= 30 N
= 20 N
(a) (b) (c)
173 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
Physics in action
Frictional forces
Friction is a force that opposes movement. Suppose you
want to push your textbook along the table. This simple
experiment can reveal a significant amount of information
about the nature of friction. As you start to push the book,
you find that, at first, the book does not move. You then
increase the force that you apply, and suddenly, at a
certain critical value, the book starts to move relatively
freely.
The maximum frictional force resists the onset of
sliding. This force is called the static friction force,
s
. Once the book has begun to slide, a much lower force
than
s
is needed to keep the book moving. This force
is called the kinetic friction force, and is represented
by
k
.
This phenomenon can be understood when it is
realised that even the smoothest surfaces are quite
jagged at the microscopic level. When the book is
resting on the table, the jagged points of its bottom
surface have settled into the valleys of the surface of
the table, and this helps to resist attempts to try to slide the
book. Once the book is moving, the surfaces do not have any
time to settle into each other, and so less force is required
keep it moving.
Another fact that helps to explain friction arises from
the forces of attraction between the atoms and molecules of
the two different surfaces that are in contact. These produce
weak bonding between the particles within each material;
before one surface can move across the other, these bonds
must be broken. This extra effort adds to the static friction
force. Once there is relative motion between the surfaces, the
bonds cannot re-form.
In everyday life, there are situations in which friction is
desirable (e.g. walking) and others in which it is a definite
problem. Consider the moving parts within the engine of a
car. Friction can rob an engine of its fuel economy and cause
it to wear out. Special oils and lubricants are introduced in
order to prevent moving metal surfaces from touching. If the
moving surfaces actually moved over each other they would
quickly wear, producing metal filings that could damage the
engine. Instead, both metal surfaces are separated by a thin
layer of oil. The oils are chosen on the basis of their viscosity
(thickness). For example, low viscosity oils can be used in
the engine while heavier oils are needed in the gear box and
differential of the car where greater forces are applied to the
moving parts.
At other times, we want friction to act. When driving to
the snowfields, if there is any ice on the road, drivers are
required to fit chains to their cars. When driving over a patch
of ice, the chain will break through the ice, and the car is
again able to grip the road. Similarly, friction is definitely
required within the car’s brakes when the driver wants to
slow down. In fact modern brake-pads are specially designed
to maximise the friction between the pads and the brake
drum or disk.
When a car is braking in a controlled fashion, the brake-
pads grip a disk that is attached to the wheel of the car. The
retarding force, applied through friction, slows the disk and
hence the car will come to rest. If the brakes are applied
too strongly they may grab the disk, locking up the wheels
in the process. The car then slides over the road, with two
undesirable consequences. First, the car usually takes about
20% longer to come to rest. This is because the car is relying
on the kinetic frictional force between the tyres and the road
to stop. As was seen when pushing the book over the desk,
this force is less than the static friction force. The other
consequence is that the car has lost its grip with the road,
and so the driver can no longer steer the car. Most cars now
employ anti-lock braking systems (ABS) to overcome the
possibility of skidding. This is achieved by using feedback
systems that automatically reduce the pressure applied by the
brake-pads regardless of the pressure applied by the driver to
the brake pedal.
Figure 5.42 to get things moving, the static friction between an object
andthesurfacemustbeovercome.Thisrequiresalargerforcethan
that needed to maintain constant velocity.
maximum
static friction
kinetic friction
Applied force
Time
overcoming friction constant velocity
motion
F
s
F
s
F
k
F
k
PHYSICS
11
PHYSICS
11
Figure 5.41 this magnetic levitation train in china rides 1 cm above the
track, so the frictional forces are negligible. the train is propelled by a
magnetic force to a cruising speed of about 430 km h
−1
.
174 Motion
• Newton’s third law of motion states that for every
action force, there is an equal and opposite reaction
force:
F(A on B) = -F(B on A)
• Action and reaction forces act on different objects
and so should never be added together.
• Whenever a force acts against a fixed surface, the
surface provides a normal force, F
N
or N, at right
angles to the surface. The size of the normal force
depends on the orientation of the surface to the
contact force.
• Alllocomotionismadepossiblethroughtheexistence
of action and reaction force pairs.
• On smooth inclined planes at an angle of θ to the
horizontal, objects will move with an acceleration of
a = g sin θ.
• Materials that have been stretched, such as ropes,
cables and rubber bands, exert tensile forces on the
objects to which they are attached. These forces are
equal and opposite.
5.4 summary
Newton’s third law of motion
5.4 questions
Newton’s third law of motion
1 Determine the action and reaction forces involved
when:
a a tennis ball is hit with a racquet
b a pine cone falls from the top of a tree towards the
ground
c a pine cone lands on the ground
d the Earth orbits the Sun.
2 A 70 kg fisherman is quietly fishing in a 40 kg dinghy
at rest on a still lake when, suddenly, he is attacked
by a swarm of wasps. To escape, he leaps into
the water and exerts a horizontal force of 140 N on
the boat.
a What force does the boat exert on the fisherman?
b With what acceleration will the boat move
initially?
c If the force on the fisherman lasted for 0.50 s,
determine the initial speed attained by both the
man and the boat.
3 A 100 kg astronaut (including the space suit)
becomes untethered during a space walk and drifts
to a distance of 10 m from the mother ship. To get
back to the ship, he throws his 2.5 kg tool kit away
with an acceleration of 8.0 m s
−2
that acts over 0.50 s.
a How does throwing the tool kit away help the
astronaut in this situation?
b How large is the force that acts on the tool kit and
the astronaut?
c With what speed will the astronaut drift to the
mother ship?
d How long will it take for the astronaut to reach the
ship?
4 A 2.0 kg bowl strikes the stationary ‘jack’, which
has a mass of 1.0 kg, during a game of bowls. It is a
head-on collision, and the acceleration of the jack is
found to be 25 m s
−2
north. What is the acceleration
of the bowl?
5 a A ball rolls down an incline as shown in diagram
(a). Which one of the following best describes the
speed and acceleration of the ball?

A The speed and acceleration both increase.
B The speed increases and the acceleration is
constant.
C The speed is constant and the acceleration is
zero.
D The speed and acceleration are both constant.
b A ball rolls down the slope shown in diagram
(b). Which one of the following best describes its
speed and acceleration?
A Its speed and acceleration both increase.
B Its speed and acceleration both decrease.
C Its speed increases and its acceleration
decreases.
D Its speed decreases and its acceleration
increases.
(a) (b)
175 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
6 During the Winter Olympics, a 65 kg competitor in
the women’s luge has to accelerate down a course
that is inclined at 50° to the horizontal.
a Name the forces acting on the competitor.
b Ignoring friction (because it’s an icy slope), deter-
mine the magnitude and direction of the forces
that act.
c Determine the magnitude of the net force on the
competitor.
d What acceleration will the competitor experience?
7 A cyclist is coasting down a hill that is inclined at
15° to the horizontal. The mass of the cyclist and her
bike is 110 kg, and for the purposes of the problem,
no air resistance or other forces are acting. After
accelerating to the speed limit, she applies the brakes
a little. What braking force is needed for her to be
able to travel with a constant velocity down the hill?
8 Discuss and compare the size of the normal force
that acts on the skater as he travels down the half-
pipe from A to B to C as shown.
9 Two students, James and Tania, are discussing the
forces acting on a lunchbox that is sitting on the
laboratory bench. James states that a weight force
and a normal force are acting on the lunchbox and
that since these forces are equal in magnitude but
opposite in direction, they comprise a Newton’s third
law action–reaction pair. Tania disagrees saying that
these forces are not an action–reaction pair. Who is
correct and why?
10 A rope is allowed to move freely over a ‘frictionless’
pulley backstage of a theatre. A 30 kg sandbag,
which is at rest on the ground, is attached at one
end. A 50 kg work-experience student, standing on
a ladder, grabs onto the other end of the rope to
lower himself.
a What is the net external force on the rope?
b With what acceleration will the system move?
c What is the tension in the rope?
chapter review
1 a boxer receives a punch to the head during a training session.
his opponent is wearing boxing gloves. Which of the following is
correct?
A the force that the glove exerts to the head is greater than
the force that the head exerts on the glove.
B the force that the glove exerts to the head is less than the
force that the head exerts on the glove.
C Theforcethatthegloveexertstotheheadisalwaysequalto
the force that the head exerts on the glove.
D None of the above is correct.
2 When pushing a shopping trolley along a horizontal path, James
has to continue to provide a force of 30 N just to maintain his
speed. If the trolley (and shopping) has a mass of 35 kg, what is
the total horizontal force that he will have to provide to accelerate
the cart at 0.50 m s
−2
?
3 a force of 25 N is applied to a 15 kg ten-pin bowling ball for 4.0 s.
If the ball was initially at rest, what is its final speed?
4 Identify the action and reaction pairs for three situations that
involve Newton’s third law.
5 Jane has a mass of 55 kg. She steps into a lift which goes up
to the second floor. the lift accelerates upward at 2.0 m s
−2
for
2.5 s, then travels with constant speed.
a What is the maximum speed that the lift attains as it travels
between floors?
b What is Jane’s weight:
i when the lift is stationary?
ii when the lift is accelerating upwards?
6 a What is the mass of an 85 kg astronaut on the surface of
earth where g = 9.8 m s
−2
?
b What is the mass of an 85 kg astronaut on the surface of the
Moon where g = 1.6 m s
−2
?
A
B
C
x
x
x
176 Motion
c What is the weight of an 85 kg astronaut on the surface of
Mars where g = 3.6 m s
−2
?
7 the series of photographs shows a stack of smooth blocks in a
tall pile. One of the blocks in the pile is struck by a hammer and
the blocks above it fall onto the block below, and the pile remains
standing. explain this in terms of Newton’s laws of motion.
8 a force of 120 N is used to push a 20 kg shopping trolley along
the line of its handle—at 20° down from the horizontal. this is
enough to cause the trolley to travel with constant velocity to
the north along a horizontal path.
a Determine the horizontal and vertical components of the
force applied to the trolley.
b What is the value of the frictional force acting against the
trolley?
c how large is the normal force that is supplied by the ground
on which the trolley is pushed?
d Why is it often easier to pull rather than push a trolley?
9 a 100 g glider is at rest on a horizontal air track, and a force is
applied to it as shown in the following graph. What will be its
speed at the end of the time interval?

10 the following diagrams show force vectors on a puck travelling
at constant speed across an air table in a games arcade. the
puck experiences no friction as it moves across its cushion of
air. Which diagram a–D correctly shows the forces that act on
the puck?

11 two shopping trolleys with masses 30 kg and 50 kg stand
together. a force of 120 N is applied to the 30 kg trolley.

Applied
force
(N)
0.5
0.2
0
2 1
t (s)
120 N
30 kg 50 kg
A B
C D
direction
of travel
air
direction
of travel
air
direction
of travel
air
direction
of travel
air
F
g
F
g
F
g
F
g
F
N
F
N
F
N
F
f
F
F
177 chapter 5 Newton’s laws
a With what acceleration will the trolleys move?
b calculate the size of the contact force that the 30 kg trolley
exerts on the 50 kg trolley.
12 a young girl of mass 40 kg leaps horizontally off her stationary
10 kg skateboard. assuming that no frictional forces are
involved, determine the following ratios:
a
horizontal force on the girl
horizontal force on the skateboard
b
acceleration of the girl
acceleration of the skateboard
c
final velocity of the girl
final velocity of the skateboard
13 a rope has a breaking tension of 100 N. how can a full bucket
of mass 12 kg be lowered using the rope, without the rope
breaking?
14 the force diagram below shows the forces acting on a full
water tank.

a are these forces an action–reaction pair as described by
Newton’s third law?
b Justify your answer to part a.
15 a car begins to roll down a steep road that has a grade of 1 in
5 (i.e. a 1 m drop for every 5 m in length). If friction is ignored,
determine the speed of the car in km h
−1
after it has travelled a
distance of 100 m if it begins its journey at rest.
16 a small boy’s racing set includes an inclined track along which a
car accelerates at
1
2
g (i.e. 4.9 m s
−2
). at what angle is the track
to the horizontal?
17 When skiing down an incline, eddie found that there was a
frictional force of 250 N acting up the incline of the mountainside
due to slushy snow. the slope was at 45° to the horizontal, so if
eddie had a mass of 70 kg, what was his acceleration?
18 On a sketch, draw vectors to indicate the forces that act on a
tennis ball:
a at the instant it is struck
b an instant after it has been struck.
19 two masses, 5.0 kg and 10.0 kg, are suspended from the ends
of a rope that passes over a frictionless pulley. the masses
are released and allowed to accelerate under the influence of
gravity. What is the acceleration of the system, and what is the
tension in the rope?
20 Kevin and therese are discussing a couple of physics problems
over dinner.
a First, they discuss a collision between a marble and a
billiard ball. Kevin argues that since the billiard ball is much
heavier than the marble, it will exert a larger force on the
marble than the marble exerts on it. therese thinks that the
marbleandbilliardballwillexertequalforcesoneachother
as they collide. Who is correct? explain.
b then they discuss a basketball as it bounces on a concrete
floor. Kevin claims that the ball must exert a smaller force on
the floor than the floor exerts on it, otherwise the ball would
not rebound. therese thinks that the ball and the floor will
exertforcesoneachotherthatareequalinmagnitude.Who
is correct this time? explain.
F
N
F
g
c
h
a
p
t
e
r
6
6
M
o
m
e
n
t
u
m
,

e
n
e
r
g
y
,

w
o
r
k

















a
n
d

p
o
w
e
r
I
s skydiving on your list of things to do in your future? Base-
jumping? Mountain boarding? are you a person who would love to
experience the exhilaration of taking that leap out of a plane, or do
you question why someone would choose to jump out of a perfectly
safe aeroplane in mid-flight? When an aeroplane is climbing to the
required height for the thrill-seekers, we say that the aeroplane’s
engines are doing work against gravity. When the parachutist takes
the jump, we say that gravity is doing work on the parachutist. the
search for the ultimate extreme-sport thrill is often about ‘taking
on gravity’. Whether it is snowboarding, base-jumping, or bungee
jumping, the participant is experimenting with the conversion of
gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy.
throughout this chapter you will be able to see the common
thread of energy conversion that is present in so many of our
activities. In our everyday lives we try to harness and transform
various forms of energy as efficiently and cleverly as possible. We
burn up our own personal energy stores as we climb up the steps
to the classroom. We make sure the tennis ball hits the ‘sweet spot’
on our racquet when we hit it back to our opponent. In more thrill-
seeking adventures we also make the most of our understanding
of energy transformations. converting lots of gravitational potential
energy into kinetic energy can be an extreme experience and great
fun, as shown in the photograph. Don’t be deceived though, the laws
of physics cannot be switched off!
by the end of this chapter
you will have covered material from the study of
movement including:
• momentumandimpulse
• workdoneasachangeinenergy
• Hooke’slaw
• kinetic,gravitationalandelasticpotentialenergy
• energytransfers
• power.
179 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
Consider a collision between two footballers on the football field. From
Newton’s second law, each force can be expressed as:
Σ
net
= m
and using the relationship for acceleration:
=

Dt
Σ =
m( − )
Dt
where a is the acceleration during the collision (m s
−2
)
Dt is the time of contact (s)
u is the velocity of either one of the footballers before the collision (m s
−1
)
v is the velocity of the footballer after the collision (m s
−1
).
Rearranging:
Σ Dt = m( − )
or:
Σ Dt = mD
This relationship introduces two important ideas.
• The product of net force and the contact time is referred to as impulse,
I. The idea of impulse is commonly applied to objects during collisions
when the time of contact is small. This concept will be further explained
later.
• The product of the mass of an object and its velocity is referred to as
momentum:
=
where is momentum (kg m s
−1
)
m is the mass of the object (kg)
is the velocity of the object (m s
−1
).
Momentum
Momentum can be thought of as the tendency of an object to keep moving
with the same speed in the same direction. It is a property of any moving
object. As it is the product of a scalar quantity (mass) and a vector quantity
(velocity), momentum is a vector quantity. The direction of the momentum
of an object is the same as the direction of the velocity of that object. The unit
for momentum is kg m s
−1
, which is readily determined from the product of
the units for mass and velocity.
Momentum often indicates the difficulty a moving object has in
stopping. A fast-moving car has more momentum than a slower car of
the same mass; equally so, an elephant will have more momentum than
a person travelling at the same speed (just as a greater force is needed to
cause the same acceleration). The more momentum an object gains as its
velocity increases, the more it has to lose to stop and the greater the effect
it will have if involved in a collision. A football player is more likely to be
knocked over if tackled by a heavy follower than a light rover, since the
product p = mv will be larger for the heavy follower.
Although he used different language, Newton understood this idea, and
his second law of motion can be stated in terms of momentum.
Figure 6.1 When two footballers collide, they
exert an equal and opposite force on each other.
the effect this force will have on the velocity of
each footballer can be investigated using the
concept of momentum.
Figure 6.2 the enormous mass of a large ship
endows it with very large momentum despite its
relatively slow speed. after turning off its engines
the ship can continue against the resistance of
the water for more than 4 km if no other braking
is applied.
Th
e
re
la
tio
n
s
h
ip
b
e
tw
e
e
n

m
o
m
e
n
tu
m
a
n
d
fo
rc
e
6.1
180 Motion
That is:
ΣF =
Dp
Dt
where ΣF is the average net force applied to the object during the collision,
in newtons (N)
Dp is the change in momentum during contact for a time Dt.
The change in momentum of a body is proportional to the net force applied to it:
Dp ∝ ΣF
An unbalanced net force is required to change the momentum of an
object, to increase it, decrease it or change its direction. This force might
result from a collision or an interaction with another object. The change in
momentum (Dp) of the object will be given by:
Change in momentum = fnal momentum − initial momentum
Dp = p
f
− p
i
Worked example 6.1A
a footballer trying to take a mark collided with a goal post and came to rest. the footballer
has a mass of 80 kg and was travelling at 8.2 m s
−1
at the time of the collision.
a What was the change in momentum during the collision for the footballer?
b estimate the average force the footballer experienced in this collision.
Solution
a prior to the collision the footballer’s momentum was given by:
p = mv
= 80 × 8.2
= 656 kg m s
−1
towards the pole
after the collision the momentum was zero since the footballer stopped moving. So:
Dp = 0 − 656 = −656 kg m s
−1
towards the pole
or:
Dp = 6.6 × 10
2
kg m s
−1
away from the pole
b the negative value for the change in momentum indicates that the direction of the
momentum, and hence the force applied to the footballer, is opposite to the direction
in which the footballer was travelling. the time that the footballer took to stop has
not been given but a reasonable estimate of the force can be made by estimating the
stopping time. Keeping to magnitudes of 10 for easy working, it would be reasonable
to assume that the stopping time in this sort of collision would be less than 1 s (10
0
)
and greater than 0.01 s (10
−2
). Something in the order of 0.1–0.5 s (10
−1
) would make
sense on the basis of observations of similar situations.
then using:
F =
Dp
Dt

F =
656
10
−1
= 6560 ≈ 7 × 10
3
N away from the pole, i.e. a retarding force.
181 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
Impulse
Think about what it feels like to fall onto a concrete floor. Even from a small
height it can hurt. A fall from the same height onto a tumbling mat is barely
felt. Your speed is the same, your mass hasn’t changed and gravity is still
providing the same acceleration. So what is different about the fall onto the
mat that reduces the force you experience?
Remember that, according to Newton’s second law of motion, the
velocity of an object only changes when a net force is applied to that object.
A larger net force will be more effective in creating a change in the velocity
of the object. The faster the change occurs (i.e. a smaller time interval Dt),
the greater the net force that is needed to produce that change. Landing on
a concrete floor changes the velocity very quickly as you are brought to an
abrupt stop. When landing on a tumble mat the change occurs over a much
greater time. The force needed to produce the change is smaller.
Another illustration of this could be a tennis player striking a ball with
a racquet. At the instant the ball comes in contact with the racquet the
applied force will be small. As the strings distort and the ball compresses,
the force will increase until the ball has been stopped. The force will then
decrease as the ball accelerates away from the racquet. A graph of force
against time will look like that in Figure 6.3.
The impulse affecting the ball at any time will be the product of applied
force and time, i.e. I = F
av
Dt. The total impulse during the time the ball is in
contact will be I = F
av
× t, where F
av
is the average force applied during the
collision and t is the total time the ball is in contact with the racquet. This
is equivalent to the total area under the force–time graph. The total impulse
for any collision can be found in this way.
The IMPULS… affecting an object during a collision is the product of the net
average applied force and the time of contact and is equivalent to the area under a
force–time graph.
The concept of impulse is appropriate when dealing with forces during
any collision since it links force and contact time, for example a person
hitting the ground, as described above, or a ball being hit by a bat or
racquet. If applied to situations where contact is over an extended time, the
average net force involved is used since the forces are generally changing
(as the ball deforms for example). The average net applied force can be
found directly from the formula for impulse. The instantaneous applied
force at any particular time during the collision must be determined from a
graph of the force against time.
the relationship between impulse and
momentum
From the derivation earlier in the chapter, the impulse is also equal to the
change of momentum for an object. Previously we had:
F =
mD
Dt
Figure 6.3 (a) When a tennis player hits a ball, an
unbalanced force is applied to the ball, producing
a change in its momentum; hence an impulse is
applied to the ball. the magnitude of the force will
change over time. (b) the impulse can be found
from the area under the force–time graph since
area = x-axis × y-axis = F
av
× Dt = impulse.
(a)
t (s)
0 0.15 0.12 0.09 0.06 0.03
Impulse = F
av
= area under graph
F

(
N
)
(b)
182 Motion
Try this simple experiment. Grab a can of fruit or similar
relatively soft non-corrugated steel can. Place your finger flat
on a bench top and, carefully avoiding the can’s seam, bring
the side of the can crashing down on your finger. (We take no
responsibility for you using the wrong part of the can!)
Were you actually game to try it? If you did, how much
did it hurt? Not nearly as much as you expected, right? Why?
Bringing a rigid hammer down on your finger in similar
circumstances would have caused considerable damage to the
finger. Yet the can crumpled in around your finger and, even
though it had a similar mass to the hammer and travelled at
a reasonable velocity, it caused no damage to the finger and
little pain. This observation can be explained with the concept
of impulse.
By assuming a mass of 500 g for both hammer and can
and an impact speed of 20 m s
−1
, the magnitude of the change
in momentum, and hence impulse, can be estimated.
Physics in action
Forces during collisions
Multiplying by the time interval Dt:
F
av
Dt = mD
or:
I = F
av
Dt = Dp
The units for impulse (N s) and the units for momentum (kg m s
−1
) have
each been introduced separately. Since we have just seen that impulse is
equal to the change in momentum:
1 N s = 1 kg m s
−1
Worked example 6.1B
a tennis racquet applies a force to a tennis ball for a period of 0.15 s, bringing the ball
(momentarily) to a halt. the tennis ball has a mass of 58 g and was originally travelling
towards the racquet at 55 m s
−1
.
a Find the change in momentum as the ball is momentarily brought to a halt by the
racquet.
b Find the magnitude of the impulse during this part of the collision.
c Find the average force applied during the time it takes to stop the ball.
Solution
a Initial momentum: p
i
= mu = 0.058 × 55 = 3.19 kg m s
−1
Final momentum: p
f
= mv = 0.058 × 0 = 0 kg m s
−1
change in momentum: Dp = 0 − 3.19 = −3.19 kg m s
−1
in the direction of travel,
i.e. ~3.2 kg m s
−1
in the opposite direction.
b Impulse = change in momentum:
I = 3.19 ≈ 3.2 N s
c Using I = F
av
Dt
then F
av
=
I
Dt
so F
av
=
3.19
0.15
= 21.27 N ≈ 21 N in the opposite direction to the ball’s travel.
Figure 6.4 a simple example of the effect on the applied force of the
stopping time during a collision can be achieved with nothing more
complicated than a hammer, a can of fruit and your finger. (a) a rigid
object, such as the hammer, will stop quickly. the applied force will be
large. (b) a can will experience the same change in momentum, but,
having a simple crumple zone, will stop more slowly, thus reducing
the applied force to a tolerable amount.
(a) (b)
183 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
I = Dp = mDv
= 0.5 × 20 = 10 N s
The hammer, being rigid, will quickly come to a stop. This
time can be estimated at about 0.1 s, so:
F =
I
Dt
=
10
0.1
= 100 N
—a considerable force that could be expected to do some
damage to the finger!
The can is able to compress and so the stopping time will
be somewhat longer, say around 0.5 s. The average force
will be:
F =
I
Dt
=
10
0.5
= 20 N
Increasing the stopping time by five times has reduced
the average force applied to the finger to one-fifth that
applied by a rigid object to something which, while perhaps
not totally pain-free, is quite tolerable and will do no real
damage. The applied force is inversely proportional to the
stopping time. Increase the stopping time and the applied
force is decreased. Try it on a friend and see if you can prove
this bit of physics to them!
This simple idea is the basis upon which the absorbency
systems of sports shoes, crash helmets, airbags and crumple
zones of cars, and other safety devices are designed.
Walking, running and sports shoe design
As athletes walk or run, they experience action–reaction
forces due to gravity, the surface of the track and the air
around them. These forces have been investigated in some
detail in the previous chapter.
The force the ground exerts on a runner creates a change
in momentum as the runner’s feet strike the ground. This
force can be quite large and cause considerable damage to the
runner’s ankles, shins, knees and hips as it is transmitted
up the bones of the leg. Jogging in bare feet can increase the
forces experienced to nearly three times that applied when
simply standing still. Table 6.1 lists the relative size of some
forces associated with common movements in sport.
An understanding of the forces generated and the
elastic properties of materials are used by designers in
the development of athletics tracks, playing surfaces and
sports shoes. Elastic materials can reduce the forces
developed between foot and track by increasing the
stopping time. Based on an understanding of impulse,
sports shoes are designed with soles that include gels,
air and cushioning grids, which extend the stopping time
and thus reduce the force applied to the runner’s body.
Sophisticated modern sports shoes, properly fitted to
suit the wearer, have substantially reduced the size
and effect of forces on the runner, with consequential
benefits for the runner’s knees and hips.
The running surface can also be designed to minimise
the forces and produce fewer injuries. Cushioned
surfaces reduce the impact considerably. Grass is
actually quite effective but can sometimes be too
spongy. The extra time spent rebounding from the
surface slows the runner down. The response must
be quick if good running times are to be achieved.
As a result artificial surfaces such as polyurethane,
‘AstroTurf’ and ‘Rebound Ace’ have become popular.
table 6.1 relative size of forces associated with some
common movements in sport
Movement Footwear Ratio of normal to
weight force
Standing still Barefoot or shoes 1.0
Walking Barefoot 1.6
Jogging Barefoot 2.9
Jogging running shoes 2.2
Sprinting Barefoot 3.8
Fast bowling cricket spikes 4.1
Long jump take-off athletic spikes 7.8
They offer good cushioning but are more responsive, allowing
faster take-offs than grass.
Vehicle safety design
Designing a successful car is a complex task. A vehicle must
be reliable, economical, powerful, visually appealing, secure
and safe. Public perception of the relative importance of these
issues varies. Magazines and newspapers concentrate on
appearance, price and performance. The introduction of air-
bag technology into most cars has altered the focus towards
safety. Vehicle safety is primarily about crash avoidance.
Research shows potential accidents are avoided 99% of
the time. The success of accident avoidance is primarily
attributable to accident avoidance systems such as antilock
brakes. When a collision does happen, passive safety features
come into operation, for example the air bag. Understanding
the theory behind accidents involves an understanding
primarily of impulse and force.
Figure 6.5 the forces developed between track and foot can do
considerable damage to a runner’s body unless they are reduced by
increasing the stopping time through cushioning of the foot. Modern
track shoes incorporate sophisticated design principles to increase
stopping time and thus decrease the forces generated.
184 Motion
The air bag
Seat belts save lives. They also cause injuries. Strangely, the
number of people surviving an accident but with serious
injury has increased since the introduction of safety belts.
Previously many of today’s survivors would have died
instantly in the accident. A further safety device is required
to minimise these injuries.
The air bag in a car is designed to inflate within a few
milliseconds of a collision to reduce secondary injuries
during the collision. It is designed to inflate only when the
vehicle experiences an 18–20 km h
−1
or greater impact with
a solid object. The required deceleration must be high or
accidental nudges with another car would cause the air bag
to inflate. The car’s computer control makes a decision in a
few milliseconds to detonate the gas cylinders that inflate
the air bag. The propellant detonates and inflates the air bag
while the driver collapses towards the dashboard. As the body
lunges forwards into the air bag, the bag deflates, allowing
the body to slow in a longer time as it moves towards the
dashboard. Injury is thus minimised.
Calculating exactly when the air bag should inflate, and
for how long, is a difficult task. Many cars have been crash
tested and the results painstakingly analysed. High-speed film
demonstrates precisely why the air bag is so effective. During
a collision the arms, legs and head of the occupants are
restrained only by the joints and muscles. Enormous forces
are involved because of the large deceleration. The shoulders
and hips can, in most cases, sustain the large forces for the
short duration. However, the neck is the weak link. Victims
of road accidents regularly receive neck and spinal injuries.
An air bag reduces the enormous forces the neck must
withstand by extending the duration of the collision, a direct
application of the concept of impulse.
The extent of injuries during a collision is not only
dependent on the size of the force but also the duration
and deflection resulting from the applied force. An increase
in localised pressure will result in a greater compression
or deflection of the skull. The air bag reduces the
localised pressure by increasing the contact surface area
and decreasing the force. The effect can be seen by the
relationship:
P =
F
A

where P is the pressure (N m
−2
)
F is the force (N)
A is the contact area (m
2
).
An air bag has a contact surface area of about 0.2 m
2

compared with 0.05 m
2
for a seat belt. This reduces injuries
caused by seat belts, such as bruising and broken ribs and
collar bones, since it increases the stopping time. It also
supports the head and chest, preventing high neck loads
caused by the seat belt restraining the upper torso. Most
importantly, it prevents the high forces caused by contact of
the head with the steering wheel. The air bag ensures that the
main thrust of the expansion is directed outwards instead of
towards the driver. The deflation rate, governed by the size
of the holes in the rear of the air bag, provides the optimum
deceleration of the head for a large range of impact speeds.
The air bag is not the answer to all safety concerns
associated with a collision, but it is one of many safety
features that form a chain of defence in a collision.
A
p
p
l
i
e
d

f
o
r
c
e

(
N
)
Time (ms)
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140
no air bag
with air bag
(a)
(b)
Figure 6.6 (a) the air bag is one of a number of passive safety features
incorporated into the design of modern cars. It extends the stopping
time, significantly reducing the forces on the head and neck during a
collision. It also distributes the force required to decelerate the mass
of the driver or passenger over a larger area than a seat belt. (b) the
deflation rate of the bag is governed by the size of holes in the rear of
the air bag, and is designed to provide the optimum deceleration of the
head for a large range of impacts.
185 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
Use g = 9.8 m s
−2
where required.
1 What is the momentum, in kg m s
−1
, of a 20 kg cart
travelling at:
a 5.0 m s
−1
?
b 5.0 cm s
−1
?
c 5.0 km h
−1
?
2 The velocity of an object of mass 8.0 kg increases
from an initial 3.0 m s
−1
to 8.0 m s
−1
when a force acts
on it for 5.0 s.
a What is the initial momentum?
b What is the momentum after the action of the
force?
c How much momentum is the object gaining each
second when the force is acting?
d What impulse does the object experience?
e What is the magnitude of the force?
3 Which object has the greater momentum—a medicine
ball of mass 4.5 kg travelling at 3.5 m s
−1
or one of
mass 2.5 kg travelling at 6.8 m s
−1
?
4 Calculate the momentum of an object:
a of mass 4.5 kg and velocity 9.1 m s
−1
b of mass 250 g and velocity 3.5 km h
−1
c that has fallen freely from rest for 15 s and has a
mass of 3.4 kg
d that experiences a net force of magnitude 45 N, if
the net force is applied for 3.5 s.
5 A tennis ball may leave the racquet of a top player
with a speed of 61 m s
−1
when served. If the mass of
the ball is 65 g and it is actually in contact with the
racquet for 0.032 s:
a what momentum does the ball have on leaving
the racquet?
b what is the average force applied by the racquet
on the ball?
6 A 200 g cricket ball (at rest) is struck by a cricket bat.
The ball and bat are in contact for 0.05 s, during which
time the ball is accelerated to a speed of 45 m s
−1
.
a What is the magnitude of the impulse the ball
experiences?
b What is the net average force acting on the ball
during the contact time?
c What is the net average force acting on the bat
during the contact time?
7 The following graph shows the net vertical force
generated as an athlete’s foot strikes an asphalt
running track.

a Estimate the maximum force acting on the athlete’s
foot during the contact time.
• Themomentumofamovingobjectistheproductof
its mass and its velocity:
p = mv
where p is in kg m s
−1

m is in kg
v is in m s
−1
Momentum is a vector quantity.
• The change in momentum (Dp) = final momentum
(p
f
) − initial momentum (p
i
).
• Impulse is the product of the net force during a
collision and the time interval Dt during which the
force acts: I = F
av
Dt. It can also be found from the
area under a force–time graph and is measured in
newton seconds (N s). Impulse is equal to the change
in momentum, Dp, caused by the action of the net
applied force:
F
av
Dt =Dp
• Extendingthetimeoverwhichacollisionoccurswill
decrease the average net force applied since F
av

1
Dt
.
This is the principle behind many safety designs.
6.1 questions
the relationship between momentum and force
6.1 summary
the relationship between momentum and force
F
o
r
c
e

(
N
)
1400
1200
1000
800
600
400
200
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70
Time (ms)
186 Motion
b Estimate the total impulse during the contact
time.
8 A 25 g arrow buries its head 2 cm into a target on
striking it. The arrow was travelling at 50 m s
−1
just
before impact.
a What change in momentum does the arrow
experience as it comes to rest?
b What is the impulse experienced by the arrow?
c What is the average force that acts on the arrow
during the period of deceleration after it hits the
target?
9 Crash helmets are designed to reduce the force of
impact on the head during a collision.
a Explain how their design reduces the net force on
the head.
b Would a rigid ‘shell’ be as successful? Explain.
10 Describe, with the aid of diagrams, a simple collision
involving one moving object and one fixed in
position. Estimate, by making reasonable estimates
of the magnitudes of the mass and velocity of the
moving object, the net force acting on the objects
during the collision.
187 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
The most significant feature of momentum is that it is conserved. This means
that the total momentum in any complete system will be constant. For this
reason momentum is very useful in investigating the forces experienced
by two colliding objects—as long as they are unaffected by outside forces.
The law of conservation of momentum, as it is known, is derived from
Newton’s third law.
From Newton’s third law, the force applied by each object in a collision
will be of the same magnitude but opposite in direction:
F
1
= −F
2
From Newton’s second law, ΣF = ma, so the forces could be expressed
as:
m
1
a
1
= −m
2
a
2
and using a =
v−u
Dt
we get:
m
1
v
1
−u
1
Dt
=−m
2
v
2
−u
2
Dt
where a
1
and a
2
are the respective accelerations of the two objects during
the collision in m s
−2
Dt is the time of contact (s)
u
1
and u
2
are the velocities of the objects prior to collision (m s
−1
)
v
1
and v
2
are the velocities after collision (m s
−1
)
Since the time that each object is in contact with the other will be the same,
Dt will cancel out:
m
1
(v
1
− u
1
) = −m
2
(v
2
− u
2
)
or:
m
1
u
1
+ m
2
u
2
= m
1
v
1
+m
2
v
2
In other words, the total momentum before colliding is the same as the total
momentum after the collision.
TH… LAW OF CONS…RVATION OF MOM…NTUM states that, in any collision or
interaction between two or more objects in an isolated system, the total momentum
of the system will remain constant; that is, the total initial momentum will equal the
total fnal momentum:
Σp
i
= Σp
f
or
m
1
u
1
+ m
2
u
2
= m
1
v
1
+ m
2
v
2
It is most important to realise that momentum is only conserved in an
isolated system; that is, a system in which no external forces affect the
objects involved. The only forces involved are the action–reaction forces on
the objects in the collision. Consider two skaters coming together on a near-
frictionless ice rink. In this near-ideal situation it is realistic to apply the
law of conservation of momentum. The only significant horizontal forces
between the two skaters are those of the action–reaction pair as the two
skaters collide.
If the skaters were to skate through a puddle of water as they come
together then friction would become noticeable. This force is an external
force since it is not acting between the two skaters. The interaction between
The principle of conservation of
momentum was responsible for the
interpretation of investigations that led
to the discovery of the neutron. Neutral
in charge, the neutron could not be
investigated through the interactions
of charged particles that had led to the
discovery of the proton and electron. In
1932 Chadwick found that in collisions
between alpha particles and the element
beryllium, the principle of conservation
of momentum only held true if it could
be assumed that there was an additional
particle within the atom, which had
close to the same mass as a proton
but no electric charge. Subsequent
investigations confirmed his experiments
and led to the naming of this particle as
the neutron.
Physics file
If you release an inflated rubber
balloon with its neck open, it will fly
off around the room. In the diagram
below, the momentum of the air to the
left is moving the balloon to the right.
Momentum is conserved. This is the
principle upon which rockets and jet
engines are based. Both rockets and jet
engines employ a high-velocity stream
of hot gases that are vented after the
combustion of a fuel–air mixture. The
hot exhaust gases have a very large
momentum as a result of the high
velocities involved, and can accelerate
rockets and jets to high velocities as
they acquire an equal momentum in the
opposite direction. Rockets destined for
space carry their own oxygen supply,
while jet engines use the surrounding
air supply.
Physics file
C
o
n
s
e
rva
tio
n
o
f m
o
m
e
n
tu
m
6.2
air balloon
188 Motion
a skater and the puddle would constitute a separate isolated system (as
would that between puddle and ice, ice and ground etc.). Momentum
would still be conserved within this other separate system. It is virtually
impossible to find a perfectly isolated system here on Earth because of the
presence of gravitational, frictional and air-resistance forces. Only where
any external forces are insignificant in comparison to the collision forces is
it reasonable to apply the law of conservation of momentum.
Also important is that in any collision involving the ground, Earth
itself must be part of the system. Theoretically, any calculation based on
conservation of momentum should include the Earth as one of the objects,
momentum only being conserved when all the objects in the system are
considered. In practice, the very large mass of the Earth in relation to the
other objects involved means that there is a negligible change in the Earth’s
velocity and it can be ignored in most calculations. Of course, a collision
with a fast-moving asteroid would be another matter!
Worked example 6.2A
Skater 1 in Figure 6.7, with mass 80 kg, was skating in a straight line with a velocity of
6.0 m s
−1
while the skater 2, of mass 70 kg, was skating in the opposite direction, also with
a speed of 6.0 m s
−1
.
a the two skaters collide and skater 1 comes to rest. assuming that friction can be
ignored, what will happen to the skater 2 after the collision?
b What would happen if the two skaters had hung on to each other and stayed together
after the collision?
Solution
a From conservation of momentum:
Σp
i
= Σp
f
or m
1
u
1
+ m
2
u
2
= m
1
v
1
+ m
2
v
2
and m
1
= 80 kg, m
2
= 70 kg
as both velocity and momentum are vector quantities, a positive direction should be
established and taken into consideration. adopting the direction of motion of skater 1
as the positive direction:
u
1
= 6.0 m s
−1
, u
2
= −6.0 m s
−1
, v
1
= 0 m s
−1
, v
2
= ?
Substituting into equation:
80 × 6.0 + 70 × (−6.0) = 80 × 0 + 70 × v
2
and v
2
= +0.86 m s
−1
.
the 70 kg skater bounces back in the opposite direction with a speed of 0.86 m s
−1
.
b treating the two skaters as one mass after the collision:
80 × 6.0 + 70 × (−6.0) = (80 + 70) × v
2
and now v
2
= +0.4 m s
−1
.
a different outcome after the collision results in a different velocity for each skater.
there is no unique answer when applying the idea of conservation of momentum. the
final velocity of any object depends on what happens to all the objects involved in the
collision.
The law of conservation of momentum can be extended to any number
of colliding objects. The total initial momentum is found by calculating the
vector sum of the initial momentum of every object involved. The total final
momentum will then also be the vector sum of each separate momentum
involved. Separation into two or more parts after the ‘collision’ (interaction
is a better word since it does not have to be destructive), for example the
firing of a bullet, can also be dealt with in the same manner.
Figure 6.7 When two skaters collide on a
near-frictionless skating rink they exert equal
and opposite forces on each other. the total
momentum of the two skaters before the
collision will equal the total momentum of the
two skaters after the collision. Because no other
large horizontal forces are involved other than
those in the collision, this can be considered as
an isolated system.
Figure 6.8 Newton’s cradle, or Newton’s balls to
some, is an instructive ‘executive toy’ based
on the principle of conservation of momentum
extended over a number of objects.
6.0 m s
–1
6.0 m s
–1
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 25
conservation of momentum
in explosions
189 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
A car is designed to keep its occupants safe. Unfortunately,
however, very little can be done to protect a pedestrian from
the onslaught of a 1400 kg car travelling at 60 km h
−1
. Bull
bars in residential areas are currently under review because
of the enormous damage they inflict on a pedestrian. The
effect on the pedestrian will depend on the person’s height
and mass, the height of the front of the oncoming vehicle, and
the speed, mass and shape of the vehicle.
Consider the following possibilities:
• apedestrianbeingstruckbyatruckmovingat30kmh
−1
• apedestrianbeingstruckbyacarmovingat30kmh
−1
• apedestrianbeingstruckbyacyclistmovingat
30 km h
−1
.
The injuries to the pedestrian are due largely to the
change in the pedestrian’s momentum. Being hit by the cyclist
will obviously result in the least injury to the pedestrian
because of the lower momentum of the cycle and its rider. The
mass of the other vehicles is such that they have a far larger
momentum to impart to the pedestrian.
Consider the following situation. A 1400 kg car is
travelling at 60 km h
−1
when it strikes a stationary 70 kg
pedestrian. The pedestrian lands on the bonnet of the car and
travels with the car until it finally comes to a halt. Assuming
that frictional forces are minimal:
total momentum before the collision
= total momentum after the collision
Before the collision:

car
= m
= 1400 × (60 ×
1000
3600
)
= 2.3 × 10
4
kg m s
−1

pedestrian
= 0 (pedestrian is stationary)
After the collision:

total
= 2.3 × 10
4
kg m s
−1

= (m
car
+ m
pedestrian
)
so
1470 = 2.3 × 10
4
kg m s
−1
and

total
≈ 16 m s
−1
or 57 km h
−1
This means that the pedestrian accelerates from rest to
a speed of 57 km h
−1
in the short duration of the collision.
A similar collision between the pedestrian and a cyclist
travelling at 30 km h
−1
would result in a final speed of
5.2 m s
−1
(19 km h
−1
). The speed of the car changes very
little. The speed of the cyclist is almost halved.
Antilock brakes, excellent road handling and reduced
speed limits in some areas reduce the likelihood of a vehicle
striking a pedestrian. Unfortunately accidents can still
happen.
There are essentially two possibilities that can occur
when a pedestrian is struck by a car.
(a) The pedestrian bounces off the front of the car
and is projected through the air. This type of motion tends
to happen when the vehicle is travelling relatively slowly.
The pedestrian is rapidly accelerated forwards to near
the velocity of the vehicle. Injuries occur to the pedestrian
when the car strikes and again when they land on the ground.
Leg and hip injuries are general in this form of pedestrian–
vehicle collision.
Head injuries result from the pedestrian colliding with
the road. Very little of a car’s design will alter the severity of
head injuries received.
Vehicles can be designed with a low, energy-absorbing
bumper bar to reduce knee and hip damage. If the
pedestrian’s knee strikes the bumper bar, knee damage is
very likely. Knees do not heal as well as broken legs. A lower,
energy-absorbing bar is, for this reason, preferable.
(b) When a vehicle is moving very fast at the point
of impact, the pedestrian’s inertia acts against rapid
acceleration. The pedestrian does not initially move forward
with the same velocity as the vehicle. If the pedestrian
remains in approximately the same place, he or she will go
either over or under the car. The pedestrian will be either run
over or run under (i.e. the car goes under the pedestrian).
Being run over usually results in serious injury or fatality.
Massive head injuries occur as the pedestrian’s head strikes
the ground. The relative height of the vehicle’s bumper bar
and the height of the pedestrian determines whether they
will be run over or under. Most bumper bars are below adult
waist level. Small children, however, have much more chance
of being run over as the height of the bumper bar is relatively
much higher.
If the pedestrian is run under, ‘passive’ safety features
of modern car design come into play. Removal of protruding
hood ornaments is essential since they can easily penetrate
the body of a person and cause enormous injuries. The
bonnet of a car acts as a good impact absorber, particularly
in comparison with the hard surface of the road. Bull bars,
however, can block the path of the pedestrian, making it more
likely that they be run over. Further, they have little impact-
absorbing ability. It is, therefore, logical to ban bull bars in
residential areas.
Physics in action
collisions and pedestrians
Figure 6.9 this Nissan car has a pop-up bonnet that has been
designed to result in less damage to a pedestrian in a collision,
by making space between the bonnet and the engine.
190 Motion
1 A white billiard ball of mass 100 g travelling at
2.0 m s
−1
across a low-friction billiard table has a
head-on collision with a black ball of the same mass
initially at rest. The white ball stops while the black
ball moves off. What is the velocity of the black ball?
2 A girl with mass 50 kg running at 5 m s
−1
jumps onto
a 4 kg skateboard travelling in the same direction at
1.0 m s
−1
. What is their new common velocity?
3 A man of mass 70 kg steps forward out of a boat and
onto the nearby river bank with a velocity, when he
leaves the boat, of 2.5 m s
−1
relative to the ground.
The boat has a mass of 400 kg and was initially at
rest. With what velocity relative to the ground does
the boat begin to move?
4 A railway car of mass 2 tonnes moving along a
horizontal track at 2 m s
−1
runs into a stationary train
and is coupled to it. After the collision the train and
car move off at a slow 0.3 m s
−1
. What is the mass of
the train alone?
5 A trolley of mass 4.0 kg and moving at 4.5 m s
−1

collides with, and sticks to, a stationary trolley of
mass 2.0 kg. Their combined speed in m s
−1
after the
collision is:
A 2.0 B 3.0 C 4.5 D 9.0
6 Superman stops a truck simply by blocking it with
his outreached arm.
a Is this consistent with the law of conservation of
momentum? Explain.
b Using reasonable estimates for the initial speed
and mass of the truck and Superman demonstrate
what will happen. Use appropriate physics
concepts.
7 A car of mass 1100 kg has a head-on collision with
a large four-wheel drive vehicle of mass 2200 kg,
immediately after which both vehicles are stationary.
The four-wheel drive vehicle was travelling at
50 km h
−1
prior to the collision in an area where the
speed limit was 70 km h
−1
. Was the car breaking the
speed limit?
8 A 100 g apple is balanced on the head of young
master Tell. William, the boy’s father, fires an arrow
with a mass of 80 g at the apple. It reaches the apple
with a velocity of 35 m s
−1
. The arrow passes right
through the apple and goes on with a velocity of
25 m s
−1
. With what speed will the apple fly off the
boy’s head? (Assume there is no friction between
apple and head.)
9 A space shuttle of mass 10 000 kg, initially at rest,
burns 5.0 kg of fuel and oxygen in its rockets to
produce exhaust gases ejected at a velocity of
6000 m s
−1
. Calculate the velocity that this exchange
will give to the space shuttle.
10 A small research rocket of mass 250 kg is launched
vertically as part of a weather study. It sends out
50 kg of burnt fuel and exhaust gases with a velocity
of 180 m s
−1
in a 2 s initial acceleration period.
a What is the velocity of the rocket after this initial
acceleration?
b What upward force does this apply to the rocket?
c What is the net upward acceleration acting on the
rocket? (Use g = 10 m s
−2
if required.)
• The law of conservation of momentum states that
in any collision or interaction between two or more
objects in an isolated system the total momentum
of the system will remain constant. The total initial
momentum will equal the total final momentum:
Σp
i
= Σp
f
• Conservation of momentum can be extended to
any number of colliding objects within an isolated
system.
6.2 questions
conservation of momentum
6.2 summary
conservation of momentum
191 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
Aristotle, Galileo and Newton each made significant contributions to our
developing understanding of the relationships between the forces that are
applied to objects and their resultant behaviour. Aristotle and those who
followed him were often locked into philosophical views involving, for
example, the natural resting places of objects. Unlike his predecessors,
Galileo, over 400 years ago, based his proposed theories largely on the
observations that he made. Although he could not be completely free from
the influences of his era, observational scientific experimentation had
been born through him. The implications of this change in approach were
immeasurable.
In this chapter our study of the interactions between forces and objects
focuses on the resultant displacement that objects experience, rather than
the resulting velocities and accelerations discussed earlier in our study of
Newton’s laws. This leads to the examination of the concepts of work and
energy. The notion of energy was not developed until a relatively short time
ago, and was only fully understood in the early 1800s. Today, the concept
has become one of the most fundamental in science. We will see that in
physics an object is said to have energy if it can cause particular changes to
occur. Energy is a conserved quantity and is useful not only in the study of
motion, but in all areas of the physical sciences. Before discussing energy, it
is necessary to first examine the concept of work.
In common usage the term ‘work’ has a variety of meanings. Most
convey the idea of something being done. At the end of a long, tiring day
we might say that we have done a lot of work. This could also be said
because the person feels that their reserves of energy have been used up.
Imagine lifting a heavy book up onto a high shelf. The heavier the book,
the more force must be applied to overcome its weight. The higher the
shelf, the greater the displacement over which the force must be applied.
A very heavy book lifted to a high shelf will require a considerably greater
effort than moving a few pieces of paper from floor to table. Thus there are
two features that constitute the amount of work done: the amount of effort
required and the displacement involved.
In physics work is done on an object by the action of a force or forces.
The object is often referred to as the load. Many interactions are complex
and there is often more than one force present. As work can only be done
in the presence of a force, it is imperative that any time the work done in a
particular situation is being discussed, the relevant force, forces or net force
should be clearly stated. For clarity, the item upon which the work is done,
the load, should also be specified. Clearly specified examples of work are:
• theworkdoneby gravity on a diver as she falls
• theworkdoneby arm muscles on a schoolbag lifted to your shoulder
• the work done by the heart muscle on a volume of blood during a
contraction
• theworkdoneby the net force acting on a cyclist climbing a hill.
Always being clear about the particular forces and objects examined will
prevent considerable confusion in this area of study.
For work to be done on a body, the energy of the body must change. Thus
the work done is measured in joules, which is also the unit of energy.
6.3
Figure 6.10 In each situation involving work, a
load can clearly be specified.
W
o
rk
192 Motion
The different forms of energy are discussed later in this chapter. A test to
decide whether work has been done on a particular object involves deter-
mining whether the object’s energy has altered. If its energy is unaltered,
no net work has been done on it, even though forces clearly may have been
acting.

Work done by a constant force
If the net force acting on an object in a particular situation has a constant
value, or if it is appropriate to utilise an average force value, then:
The net WORK done on an object is defned as the product of the net force on the
object and its displacement in the direction of the net force.
When the force and displacement are in the same direction, the work done by the
stated force is given by:
W = Fx
where W is the work done by the stated force in joules (J)
F is the magnitude of the stated force in newtons (N)
x is the magnitude of the displacement in metres (m)
Work is the area under a force–displacement graph.
One JOUL… of work is done on an object when the application of a net force of
1 newton moves an object through a distance of 1 metre in the direction of the
net force.
From the definition of work, it can be seen that if a person pushes a load
a horizontal distance of 5 m by exerting a horizontal force of 30 N on the
load, then the person does 150 J of work on the load. This is straightforward.
A displacement in the direction of the force is achieved so work is done. If
an applied force does not produce any displacement of the object (x = 0),
then we say that no work is done on the object.
Situations also occur in which a constant force acts at an angle θ to the
direction of motion. A force acting at an angle will be less effective than the
force acting solely in the direction of the displacement. The component of
the force in the direction of the displacement, F cos θ, is used in calculating
the work done in the required direction.
Figure 6.12 During the fall the force due to
gravity does work on the person and produces a
displacement.
The symbol W is a little over-used in this
area of physics. In the area of motion
and mechanics it can stand for work or
the abbreviation of watt. Be careful to
read the context when you come across
the symbol!
Physics file
The unit for work, the joule (J), is used
for all forms of energy in honour of
James Prescott Joule, an English brewer
and physicist, who pioneered work on
energy in the 19th century.
Physics file
Figure 6.11 (a) No work is done on the crate since its energy is not altered. (b) the energy of
the crate is changing, so work is being done on the crate.
The convention for naming units in
physics is to use small letters when
writing the unit in full (e.g. joule,
newton, metre). A capital letter is used
for the symbol only when the unit is
named in recognition of a scientist’s
contributions, otherwise the symbol is
lower case (e.g. J for joule, N for newton,
but m for metre).
Physics file
I’m doing no work
on the crate since
x 0
W Fx 0
I’m doing no
work on the
crate since
x 0
I’m doing
work!
crate speeding up
work is done
on the load
W Fx
(b) (a)
193 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
W = Fx cos θ
where θ is the angle between the applied force and the direction of motion.

Work and friction
If an object is forced to move across a surface by the application of a force,
its motion may be slowed by friction. In this case the applied force is doing
work on the object and the frictional force can be considered to be doing
‘negative’ work on the object. In Figure 6.14 an applied force of 300 N across
a displacement of 5 m does 1500 J of work on the object. If a 100 N frictional
force occurs, we can state that work done by the frictional force is:
−100 × 5 =−500 J
Hence the net work done on the object is 1000 J. An alternative approach
would involve first calculating the net force, ΣF, on the object to be 200 N.
The net work done on the load (by the net force) is therefore:
ΣF × x = 200 × 5 = 1000 J
If work is done against a frictional force as a load continues to move,
then some of the energy expended by the person pushing is converted into
heat and sound energy, and transferred to the ground and the load. As
the surfaces slide past one another friction would cause them to heat up
slightly and make some noise. Keep in mind that on a frictionless surface
the load would accelerate, increasing its energy.
Figure 6.15 shows a situation in which the size of the frictional force is
not large enough to prevent motion, but it is large enough to balance the
applied force. As a result the object moves at a steady speed. Although the
person is doing work on the object, this is opposed by friction and the net
work on the object is zero. This is consistent with our earlier discussion, which
stated that if the energy of the object is not altered, then no net work has been
done on the object.
Figure 6.14 the object slides across a
displacement of 5 m. Due to friction the net work
done on the object is less than the work done by
the person on the object.
Figure 6.13 (a) If a force is applied in the direction of motion of the cart, then the force is at its most effective in moving the cart.
(b) When the force is applied at an angle θ to the direction of motion of the cart, the force is less effective. the component of the
force in the direction of the displacement, F cos θ, is used to calculate the work. (c) When the angle at which the force is acting is
increased to a right angle (θ = 90°), then the component of the force in the direction of the intended displacement is zero and it
does no work on the cart—provided of course that it doesn’t lift the cart, in which case work would also be done against gravity.
Figure 6.15 Due to friction the net work done
on the object is zero since the object has no
increase in kinetic energy.
(a) (b) (c)
Direction of motion
F
F
F
θ
F cos θ
Direction of motion Direction of motion
frictional
force F
f
= 100 N
ΣF = 200 N
F
applied
= 300 N
Net work
done on crate
= 1000 J
frictional
force F
f
= 100 N
F
applied
= 100 N
steady speed
object’s energy is unchanged
194 Motion
Worked example 6.3A
calculate the work done against gravity by an athlete of mass 60 kg competing in the Great
rialto Stair trek illustrated in Figure 6.16.
Use g = 9.8 m s
−2
. assume the athlete climbs at a constant speed.
Solution
Only the weight force needs to be considered in this example as the work in the vertical
direction is all that is required.
m = 60 kg, g = 9.8 m s
−2
, x = Dh = 242 m
Force applied = weight = mg = 60 × 9.8 = 588 N
W = Fx
= 588 × 242
= 142 296 N m = 1.4 × 10
5
J
Worked example 6.3B
the girl in Figure 6.13 pulls the cart by applying a force of 50 N at an angle of 30° to the
horizontal. assuming a force due to friction of 10 N is also acting on the wheels of the cart,
calculate the net work done on the cart if the cart is moved 10 m along the ground in a
straight line.
Solution
F
applied
= 50 N, θ = 30°, F
f
= 10 N, x = 10 m
ΣF = F
applied
× cos 30° − F
f

= 50 × 0.866 − 10
= 33.3 N
Now W = ΣFx
= 33.3 × 10 = 330 J
Figure 6.16 the Great rialto Stair trek was one
of a number of races to the tops of tall buildings
around the world. the winner took less than 7
minutes to complete the 242 m (vertical) race.
195 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
Upward force does no work
A more difficult idea to comprehend is that in the apparent absence of
friction, a force can be exerted on an object yet do no work on it. For example,
when a person carries an armload of books horizontally the upward force
does no work on the books since the direction of the applied force (i.e. up)
is at right angles to the displacement (i.e. horizontal). An examination of
the definition of work—W = Fx cos θ—confirms this finding since the value
of θ is 90° and, hence, the value of cos θ is 0.
Similarly if a person is holding a heavy item, such as a TV, stationary,
they may be exerting great effort. However, since the upward force applied
to support the object does not produce any vertical (nor indeed horizontal)
displacement, x = 0 and there is no work done by this upward applied force
on the object.
Whenever the net force is perpendicular to the direction of motion no (net) work is
done on the object.
Force–displacement graphs
A graphical approach can also be used to understand the action of a force
and the work expended in the direction of motion. This is particularly
useful in situations in which the force is changing with displacement. The
area under a graph of force against displacement always represents the work
produced by the force, even in situations when the force is changing, such
as during a collision. The area can be shown to be equivalent to work as
follows. From Figure 6.17:
the area enclosed by the graph = F
av
× x
Work = F
av
× x
When the force is changing, a good estimate of the area can be found by
dividing the area into small squares and counting the number or by dividing
it into thin segments. The segments can be considered to be rectangles with
an area equal to the work for that small part of the displacement. The total
work will be the sum of the areas of all the separate rectangles.
The area under a force–displacement
graph can also be found by using
calculus if the equation of the graph
is known. In most instances a good
estimate by counting squares or
segments is sufficient.
Physics file
Figure 6.17 the area under a force–displacement
graph is equivalent to the work done by a force
acting in the direction of the displacement. Where
the net applied force is changing, the area can
be found by counting squares or by dividing the
area into segments. the area of each segment
then equals the work done by a constant force
during that small displacement and the total area
will represent the total work.
Units for area = N r m
= N m
= J
i.e. area = work done
F
o
r
c
e

(
N
)
Displacement (m)
196 Motion
Worked example 6.3C
the force–displacement graph on the left represents the work done on the sole of a sports
shoe as it compresses against the surface of a rigid track. the displacement shown
represents the amount of compression the sole undergoes. Find the work done on the shoe
by the compressive forces.
Solution
this is a simple case of working out the area represented by each square and then counting
the total number of squares to find the total work done. Be careful to consider the scale of
each axis in your working.
area of one square = 10 N × 0.001 m = 0.01 J
total number of squares (part squares can be added to give whole squares) = 33
Work = 33 × 0.01 = 0.33 J
Impulse and work
The concepts of impulse and work seem quite similar and, when solving
problems, can easily be confused. Actually, problems focusing on forces in
collisions may be solved using either concept, but it should be understood
that each is derived from a different idea. Impulse comes from an
understanding of the action of a force on an object over time and is equal to
the change in momentum the force produces. Work is related to the action
of a force on an object as it moves the object, or part of it, through some
displacement. This equals the change in the object’s energy, DE.
Summarising:
• Impulse is equal to F × Dt, is equivalent to Dp, has the units newton
seconds (N s), and can be determined from the area under a force–time
graph.
• Work is equal to F × x, is equivalent to DE, has the units joules (J), and can
be determined from the area under a force–displacement graph.
6.3 summary
Work
• Whenaforcedoesworkonanobject,achangeoccurs
in the displacement and energy of the object.
• The work done on an object, W in joules (J), is the
product of the net applied force and its displacement
in the direction of the force:
W = Fx
• The work done by a force acting at an angle to the
displacement is given by Fx cos θ where θ is the
angle between the force and the direction of the
displacement. When the force is at right angles to
the direction of the displacement, no work is done in
that direction.
• The area under a force–displacement graph is
equivalent to the work done. The area under the
graph for a variable force can be found by counting
squares or narrow segments.
F
o
r
c
e

(
N
)
Displacement (m)
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
.
0
0
1
0
.
0
0
2
0
.
0
0
3
0
.
0
0
4
0
.
0
0
5
0
.
0
0
6
0
.
0
0
7
0
.
0
0
8
197 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
Where appropriate use g = 9.8 m s
−2
.
1 How much work is done on an object of 4.5 kg when
it is lifted vertically at a constant speed through a
displacement of 6.0 m?
2 A bushwalker climbs a hill 250 m high. If her mass is
50 kg and her pack has an additional mass of 10 kg,
calculate the work she needs to do in climbing to the
top of the hill.
3 Is the quantity you calculated in question 2 the only
work that the bushwalker has done? Explain.
4 The work done by a force is:
i calculated by multiplying the force by the
distance moved
ii measured in joules
iii not affected by the angle at which the force acts.
Which statement/s is/are correct?
A i, ii, iii
B i, ii
C ii, iii
D ii
E iii
5 A removalist is loading five boxes onto a truck.
Each has a mass of 10 kg and a height of 30 cm. The
tray of the truck is 1.5 m above the ground and the
removalist is placing each box on top of the previous
one.
a How much work does the removalist do in lifting
the first box onto the truck tray?
b How much energy has the removalist used in
lifting this first box?
c What is the total work done on the boxes in lifting
all the boxes onto the truck as described?
6 If a lift of mass 500 kg is raised through a height of
15 m by an electric motor:
i the weight of the lift is 4900 N
ii the useful work done on the lift is 73 500 J
iii the useful work done is the only energy used by
the motor.
Which statement/s is/are correct?
A i, ii, iii
B i, ii
C ii, iii
D ii
E iii
7 The diagram shows the position of a student’s arm as
the weight of a sandbag is measured using a spring
balance. The balance is held still to take the reading.
What net work is done on the sandbag while the
measurement is being made?

8 A weightlifter raises a 100 kg mass 2.4 m above the
ground in a weightlifting competition. After holding
it for 3.0 s he places it back on the ground.
a How much work has been done by the weightlifter
in raising the mass?
b How much additional work is done during the
3.0 s he holds it steady?
9 A rope that is at 35° to the horizontal is used to pull a
10.0 kg crate across a rough floor. The crate is initially
at rest and is dragged for a distance of 4.00 m. The
tension in the rope is 60.0 N and the frictional force
opposing the motion is 10.0 N.
a Draw a diagram illustrating the direction of all
relevant forces.
b Calculate the work done on the crate by the
tension in the rope.
c Find the total work done on the crate.
d Determine the energy lost from the system as heat
and sound due to the frictional force.
10 The graph represents the size of a variable force, F,
as a rubber band is stretched from a resting length of
5 cm to 25 cm. Estimate the total work done on the
rubber band by the force.
6.3 questions
Work
sandbag
spring
balance
F
o
r
c
e

(
N
)
Extension (cm)
10 20
10
5
198 Motion
6.4
M
e
c
h
a
n
ica
l e
n
e
rg
y
Although the concept of energy is quite abstract, each of us, from an early
age, will have begun to develop an understanding of its meaning. We are
increasingly aware of our reliance upon the energy resources that allow our
vehicles and computers to run, that keep our homes warm and fuel our
bodies. Energy can take on many forms.
In this section we look at the forms of energy specifically related to
motion. Mechanical energy is defined as the energy that a body possesses
due to its position or motion. Kinetic energy, gravitational potential energy
and elastic potential energy are all forms of mechanical energy. Recall our
earlier assertion that work is done when a force is applied that results in
the displacement of an object in the direction of the applied force. When
work is done the energy of an object will change. We will analyse situations
that result in a change in the kinetic and/or gravitational potential and/or
elastic potential energy of an object.
A hockey puck gains energy when hit because work has been done by the
stick on the puck. The amount of work done on the puck equals the puck’s
change in kinetic energy. A tennis ball at the point of impact is compressed
against the tennis racquet. It has gained elastic potential energy. Work has
been done in compressing the tennis ball. However, the idea of work may
be applied to many forms of energy. The common thread is that, regardless
of the form of energy, whenever work is done there is a change in energy
from one form to another. In order for any energy transformation to occur,
say from motion to heat, work must be done.
We observe many different forms of energy each day. We have come to
take for granted the availability of light, heat, sound and electrical energy
whenever we require it. We rely upon the chemical potential energies that
are available when petrol, diesel and LPG are burnt to run our vehicles, and
food to fuel our bodies. Whenever work is done, energy is expended.
…N…RGY is the ability to do work.
Some comparative energy transformations are included in Table 6.2.
table 6.2 comparison of various energy transformations
Energy use Amount of energy
household in 1 day 150 MJ
Fan heater in 1 hour 8.6 MJ
adult food intake in 1 day 12 MJ
Making 1 Big Mac 2.1 MJ
climbing a flight of stairs 5 kJ
Lifting 10 kg to a height of 2 m 200 J
Kinetic energy
An object in motion has the ability to do work and therefore is said to
possess energy. This energy carried by a moving object is called kinetic
energy (from the Greek word ‘kinesis’, literally meaning ‘motion’).
Figure 6.18 Mechanical energy exists in
many forms.
199 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
If a moving object of mass, m, and initial velocity, u, experiences a
constant net force, F, for time, t, then a uniform acceleration results. The
velocity will increase to a final value, v. Work will have been done during
the time the force is applied. Since work is equivalent to the change in
kinetic energy of the object, there should be a relationship linking the two
quantities. This can be found from the definition for work when the net
applied force is in the direction of the displacement:
W = ΣFx
Now substituting Newton’s second law F = ma we get:
W = max . . . . . . (i)
Using one of the earlier equations of motion: v
2
= u
2
+ 2ax
and rearranging: x =
v
2
−u
2
2a
Substitute this for x in equation (i): W = ma(
v
2
−u
2
2a
)
Rearranging gives: W =
1
2
mv
2

1
2
mu
2
but W = DE
If it is accepted that the work done results in a change in kinetic energy,
then an object of mass m with a speed v has kinetic energy equal to
1
2
mv
2
.
The KIN…TIC …N…RGY, …
k
, of a body of mass m and speed v is:

k
=
1
2
mv
2
Like all forms of energy, kinetic energy is a scalar quantity and is measured
in joules (J). There is no direction associated with it. The kinetic energy of
an object depends solely on its mass and velocity. The approximate kinetic
energy of various moving objects is given in Table 6.3.
table 6.3 Kinetic energy of moving objects
Object Mass (kg) Average speed (m s
–1
) …
k
(J)
earth in orbit 6 × 10
24
3 × 10
4
2.7 × 10
33
Orbiting satellite 100 8 × 10
3
3 × 10
9
Large car 1400 28 5.5 × 10
5
Netball player 60 8 1900
Footballer 90 8 2900
electron in a tV tube 9 × 10
−31
7 × 10
7
2.2 × 10
−15
Figure 6.19 the kinetic energy of any object depends
on its mass and the square of its speed. Doubling the
velocity will increase the kinetic energy by a factor
of four.
The derivation described for kinetic
energy is actually that for translational
kinetic energy, the movement of a
body along a path. A body can also
have rotational kinetic energy, as does
the Earth, if it is spinning. A different
relationship is required to calculate the
kinetic energy of rotation.
Physics file
200 Motion
Note that the relationship between work and energy, which was
discussed earlier, has now been quantified for kinetic energy changes.
When an applied force results in the change in kinetic energy of an object, the work
done in joules (J) can be calculated using:
W =D…
k

= …
k(fnal)
− …
k(initial)

=
1
2
mv
2

1
2
mu
2
where m is the mass of the object in kilograms (kg)
v is the fnal speed of the object in metres per second (m s
−1
)
u is the initial speed of the object in metres per second (m s
−1
)
Since the mass of the object is generally unaltered, often this can be simplifed to:
W =D…
k
=
1
2
m(v
2
– u
2
)
Therefore, if an object undergoes a known change in kinetic energy
during an interaction, the work done on the object by the net force is known.
Hence the average net force exerted on the object during this interaction
can be calculated by assuming that DE
k
= W = F
av
x.
Worked example 6.4A
calculate the kinetic energy of an athlete of mass 60 kg running at a speed of 8.0 m s
−1
.
Solution
m = 60 kg, v = 8.0 m s
−1
Using …
k
=
1
2
mv
2
:

k
=
1
2
× 60 × 8.0
2
≈ 1900 J.
Worked example 6.4B
Blood is pumped by the heart into the aorta at an average speed of 0.15 m s
−1
. If 100 g of
blood is pumped by each beat of an adult human’s heart find:
a the amount of work done by the heart during each contraction
b the energy used by the heart each day in pumping blood through the aorta (use an
adult’s average resting rate of 70 beats per minute). assume that there are no other
energy losses.
Solution
a the work done by the heart is equal to the kinetic energy the blood gains as it is pumped
into the aorta.
m = 0.10 kg, v = 0.15 m s
−1
, u = 0 m s
−1
Using W = D…
k
=
1
2
m(v
2
− u
2
)
W =
1
2
× 0.10 × (0.15
2
− 0
2
)
W = 1.125 × 10
−3
J = 1.1 mJ
b If there are 70 beats each minute then the amount of energy transferred:

k
per minute = 1.125 × 10
−3
× 70 = 0.07875 J per minute

k
per day = 0.07875 × 60 min per hour × 24-hour day

k
= 113.4 J per day ≈ 110 J per day
Interactive tutorial 4
Braking (video analysis of motion)
201 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
potential energy
An object can have energy not only because of its motion, but also as a
result of its shape or position. This is called potential energy. A gymnast,
crouched ready to jump, has potential energy. During the jump, work is
being done by the force exerted by the gymnast, and potential energy is
converted into kinetic energy from the stores of chemical energy in the
muscles of the gymnast’s body.
There are many different forms of potential energy: chemical, grav ita-
tional, elastic etc. Potential energy is a stored energy giving the body potential
to do work or produce a force that creates motion. In this particular study
we are mainly concerned with gravitational and elastic potential energy
which, for the present, we will denote U.
Gravitational potential energy
An athlete at the top of a high-jump has gravitational potential energy
because of his position. As he falls, work is done (Figure 6.20). Recall that in
this case the work done is given by:
Work done = ΣFx
The force acting on the body is simply the force due to gravity also called
the person’s weight:
Weight = mg
The displacement that occurs is in a vertical direction and can be
described as a change in height, Dh. Replacing F and x with these equivalent
terms gives:
W = mgDh
Similarly, the work done in raising the athlete against a gravitational field
is stored as gravitational potential energy; hence, the athlete has a change
in potential energy:
DU
g
= mgDh
Figure 6.20 the energy gained or lost due to a
change in height within a gravitational field is
called gravitational potential energy. an increase
in height will require the transformation of
energy from other sources. a decrease will
usually increase the kinetic energy of the body.
Figure 6.21 this photograph of a pole-vaulter
illustrates that elastic potential energy is stored in
the pole. this energy is largely converted to kinetic
energy and then the gravitational potential energy of
the athlete.
202 Motion
The change in gravitational potential energy is due to the work done against a
gravitational feld and is given by:
DU
g
= mgDh
where DU
g
is the change in gravitational potential energy measured in joules (J)
m is the mass of the body (kg)
Dh is the change in height (m)
g is the acceleration due to gravity (m s
–2
)
The DU
g
of a body depends only on the vertical height of the object above
some reference point, in this case the ground. It does not depend on the
path taken since it is based on the direction of the gravitational field. It is
the work done against or by the force of gravity that leads to changes in
gravitational potential energy. Similarly, the work it can do when falling
does not depend on whether the object falls vertically or by some other
path, but only on the vertical change in height, Dh.
The reference level from which the height is measured does not matter as
long as the same reference level is used throughout a given problem solution.
It is only changes in potential energy that are important. For example, the
height of the high jumper is best referenced to the ground she jumped
from, and commonly it is her centre of gravity that is analysed. The height
of a luggage locker in an aircraft makes a lot more sense when referenced to
the floor of the aircraft than it would referenced to the ground.
The need for considering a change in height in comparison to a reference
level is also made apparent when considering a person standing at ground
level. If the person is standing beside a hole and his centre of gravity is
considered, he will have gravitational potential energy with reference to
the bottom of the hole. It is also quite justifiable to suggest that even with
reference to the ground he has gravitational potential energy; he could
fall over! Gravity would do work on him and his gravitational potential
energy would change. The change in height would be with reference to the
person’s centre of mass.
Worked example 6.4C
a ranger with a mass of 60 kg, checking the surface of Uluru for erosion, walks along a path
that takes her past points a, B and c.
a What is her gravitational potential energy at points B and c relative to a?
b What is the change in the ranger’s potential energy as she walks from B to c?
c If the ranger was to walk from B to c via a would it alter your answer to part b? explain.
Solution
a In this question heights are being referenced to point a. the person would have had
zero gravitational potential energy at a using this reference.
m = 60 kg, g = 9.8 m s
−2
, h
a
= 260 m, h
B
= 389 m, h
c
= 0 m
potential energy change from a to B:
DU
g
= mg(h
B
− h
a
)
= 60 × 9.8 × (389 − 260)
= 7.6 × 10
4
J
The relationship for gravitational
potential energy used here is only
appropriate when the weight force due
to gravity is constant. This will only be
the case when the change in height is
relatively small. As the distance from
the Earth’s surface changes so will
the strength of the gravitational field
according to the relationship
g ∝
1
r
2
where r is the distance (in
metres) from the centre of the Earth
to the body’s position. The area under
a force–displacement graph can then
be used to find the change in potential
energy due to a change in position and
the varying weight force.
For the purposes of this study only
relatively small changes in height close
to the Earth’s surface will be considered
for which the weight force can be
considered constant.
Physics file
C (0 m)
A (260 m)
B (389 m)
203 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
potential energy change from a to c:
DU
g
= mg(h
c
− h
a
)
= 60 × 9.8 × (0 − 260)
= −1.5 × 10
5
J
b there is no need to calculate DU
g
from B to c separately as the difference between the
two previous results can be used.
potential energy change from B to c:
DU
g
= DU
g
(a to c) − DU
g
(a to B)
= −1.5 × 10
5
− 7.6 × 10
4

= −2.3 × 10
5
J
c It makes no difference what path is taken to achieve the change in height. potential
energy change throughout this example is being determined relative to an initial height.
In general, if an object is originally at a height h
0
, then the change in potential energy as
it moves to a different height, h, is:
DU
g
= mgh − mgh
0
= mg(h − h
0
)
In general terms, the change in potential energy of an object when it is moved between
two heights is equal to the work needed to take it from one point to another.
elastic materials and elastic potential energy
The third aspect of mechanical energy that we will study is elastic potential
energy. Like gravitational potential energy it occurs in situations where
energy can be considered to be stored temporarily so that, when this energy
is released, work may be done on an object. Elastic potential energy is stored
when a spring is stretched, a rubber ball is squeezed, air is compressed in a
tyre or a bungee jumper’s rope is extended during a fall. Since each object
possesses energy due to its position or motion, these all suit our earlier
definition of mechanical energy. We will see that when some materials are
manipulated we can think of this as work being done to store energy. This
energy is often released or utilised via work being done on another object.
Materials that have the ability to store elastic potential energy when
work is done on them and then release this energy are called elastic
materials. Metal springs are common examples, but also realise that many
materials are at least partially elastic. If their shape is manipulated, items
such as our skin, metal hair clips and wooden rulers all have the ability to
restore themselves to their original shape once released—within limits of
course! Materials that do not return mechanical energy when their shape
is distorted are referred to as plastic materials. Plasticine is an example of a
very plastic material.
Ideal springs obey hooke’s law
Springs are very useful items in our everyday life due to the consistent way
in which many of them respond to forces and store energy. When a spring
is stretched or compressed by an applied force we say that elastic potential
energy is being stored. In order to store this energy work must be done
on the spring. Recall that in section 6.3 we have discussed that if a force of
a constant value is applied to an object (and a displacement occurs in the
direction of that force) then the quantity of work done can be calculated
using W = Fx. This formula can therefore be used when a set force, F, has
been applied to a spring and a given compression or extension, Dx, occurs.
204 Motion
However, we are usually interested in examining how a spring will behave
in a range of conditions.
Consider the situation in which a spring is stretched by the application
of a steadily increasing force. As the force increases, the extension of the
spring, Dx, can be graphed against the applied force, F. You can imagine
hanging a spring vertically and gradually adding more and more weight
to it so that is stretches. Many items, such as well-designed springs, will (at
least for a small load) extend in proportion to the applied force. For example,
if a 10 newton force produced an extension of 6 cm, then a 20 newton force
would produce an extension of 12 cm. These items are called ideal springs.
The resulting graph of applied force versus extension would be linear as in
Figure 6.22.
Note that the gradient of this graph tells us the force, in newton, required
to produce each unit of extension. The gradient of the graph is called the
spring constant, k, measured in N m
−1
. The gradient therefore indicates the
stiffness of the spring, and for an ideal spring this gradient has a set value
(i.e. the F vs Dx graph is a straight line). A very stiff spring that is difficult
to stretch would have a steep gradient; that is, a large value of k. Although
k is usually called the spring constant, it is sometimes called the stiffness
constant or force constant of a spring. A spring constant of k = 1500 N m
−1

indicates that for every metre that the spring is stretched or compressed, a
force of 1500 N is required. This does not necessarily mean that the spring
can be stretched by 1 m, but it tells us that the force and the change in
length are in this proportion.
The relationship between the applied force and the subsequent extension
or compression of an ideal spring is known as Hooke’s law. Since for ideal
springs F ∝ Dx, we can say F = kDx. However, as we are often interested
in using the energy stored by stretched or compressed springs we tend to
refer to the force that the distorted spring is able to exert (rather than the
force that was applied to it). Newton’s third law tells us that an extended
or compressed spring in equilibrium is able to exert a restorative force
equal in size but opposite in direction to the force that is being applied to it.
Therefore Hooke’s law is often written in the form shown below.
HOOK…’S LAW states that the force applied by a spring is directly proportional, but
opposite in direction, to the spring’s extension or compression. That is:
F = −kDx
where F is the force applied by the ideal spring (N)
k is the spring constant (N m
−1
) (also called force constant or
stiffness constant)
Dx is the amount of extension or compression of the ideal spring (m)
Calculating elastic potential energy
Work must be done in order to store elastic potential energy in any elastic
material. Essentially the energy is stored within the atomic bonds of the
material as it is compressed or stretched. The amount of elastic potential
energy stored is given by the area under the force–extension graph for the
item.
For materials that obey Hooke’s law (such as the material shown in Figure
6.22), an expression can be derived for the area under the F–x graph.
Figure 6.22 Ideal materials obey hooke’s law:
F ∝kDx.
A
p
p
l
i
e
d

f
o
r
c
e

(
N
)
Extension (m)
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 26
hooke’s law
205 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
Work done = area under F–x graph
= area of a triangle
=
1
2
× base × height
=
1
2
× Dx × F
But since F = kDx:
Work done =
1
2
× Dx × kDx
W =
1
2
kDx
2

= the elastic potential energy stored during the extension/
compression
Although many materials (at least for a small load) extend in proportion
to the applied force, many materials have force–extension graphs more like
that shown in Figure 6.23. For these materials the area under the F–Dx graph
must be used to determine the elastic potential energy stored.
The elastic (or spring) potential energy, U
s
, stored in an item is always given by the
area below the force–extension graph for the item. The unit of U
s
is the joule, J.
In the case of an ideal material that obeys Hooke’s law, the elastic potential energy
is given by the expression:
U
s
=
1
2
kDx
2
where U
s
is the elastic potential energy stored during compression or extension (J)
k is the stiffness constant of the material (N m
−1
)
Dx is the extension or compression (m)
Worked example 6.4D
three different springs a, B and c, are exposed to a range of forces and the subsequent
extension measured. the data collected for each spring has been graphed in the F–Dx
graph at right.
a Justify the statement that spring B is the only ideal spring shown.
b calculate the stiffness constant of spring B.
c calculate the work done in extending spring B by 25 mm. assume the process of storing
energy is 100% efficient.
d estimate the work done in extending spring c by 25 mm.
e If all springs are extended such that Dx = 40 mm, which spring will have stored the
most elastic potential energy? Justify your choice.
Solution
a Ideal springs produce an extension that is consistently proportional to the applied
force. Since spring B has an F–Dx graph which is a straight line emerging from the
origin, it is behaving ideally and obeying hooke’s law until an extension of ~30 mm
is reached.
Spring c does not obey hooke’s law, that is, F is not directly proportional to Dx, since
the graph is not a straight line.
On close inspection it can be seen that the initial application of a small force did
not produce any extension in spring a. (this is a common behaviour of real springs
where a certain minimum amount of force must be applied before any extension will
occur). this means that spring a has not obeyed hooke’s law and therefore is not an
ideal spring.
Figure 6.23 elastic potential energy is a form
of mechanical energy. Work is done as elastic
potential energy is stored, as indicated by the
area under the F–Dx graph.
Take care! The two forms of potential
energy, elastic (or spring) potential
energy, U
s
, and gravitational potential
energy, U
g
, have been introduced. Take
extra care when analysing situations
like pole-vaulting, since at some stages
in this event both forms of potential
energy are present at the same time!
Physics file
Extension (m)
area under graph
= work done
F
o
r
c
e

a
p
p
l
i
e
d

(
N
)
A
B
C
10 20 30 40 50 60
20
40
60
80
100
120
F

a
p
p
l
i
e
d

(
N
)
x (mm)
206 Motion
By the mid 19th century, several scientists had begun to write of
the heating process as an energy change from work (mechanical
energy) to heat. It was eventually realised that all forms of energy
were equivalent and that when a particular form of energy
seemed to disappear, the process was always associated with
the appearance of the same amount of energy in other forms.
This led to the development of the principle of conservation of
energy. At this same time, James Joule conducted a series of
experiments fundamental to our present understanding of heat.
Joule noticed that stirring water could cause a rise in
temperature. He designed a way of measuring the relationship
between the energy used in stirring the water and the change
in temperature. A metal paddle wheel was rotated by falling
masses and this churned water around in an insulated can.
The amount of work done was calculated by multiplying the
weight of the falling masses by the distance they fell. The heat
generated was calculated from the mass of the water and the
temperature rise. Joule found that exactly the same quantity
of heat was always produced by exactly the same amount
of work. Heat was simply another form of energy, and
4.18 joules of work was equivalent to 1 calorie of heat.
Joule’s work led to some unusual conclusions for his
day. He stated that as a container of cold water is stirred,
the mechanical energy is being transformed into thermal
energy, heating the water. Theoretically, this means that
a cup of water stirred long enough and fast enough will
boil—a novel, if laborious, way of making a cup of coffee.
Of course, the rate at which we can normally add energy
by stirring is less than the transfer of energy to the
surrounding environment. For the cup of water to boil
it would need to be very well insulated.
As a result of Joule’s investigations and other
experiments of the time, we now interpret the process
of heating or cooling as a transfer of energy. When heat
‘flows’ from a hot object to a cold one, energy is being
transferred from the hot to the cold.
Physics in action
James Joule
b k = gradient of F–Dx graph = rise/run = 90/0.030 = 3.0 × 10
3
N m
−1

c Since spring B obeys hooke’s law, the equation U
s
=
1
2
kDx
2
can be applied.
W = DU
s
= U
s[final]
− U
s[initial]
as there is initially zero energy stored:
W =
1
2
kDx
2
=
1
2
× 3.0 × 10
3
× 0.025
2
= 0.94 J
d Spring c does not obey hooke’s law, so the work done must be calculated using the area
under the F–Dx graph:
1 square of area is equal to (0.005 × 10) or 0.05 joules.
there are approximately 7.5 squares of area.
therefore, W ≈ 7.5 × 0.05 ≈ 0.38 J
e elastic potential energy is given by the area under the F–Dx graph. at an extension of
40 mm spring a will have the greatest area under the graph, i.e. it will have stored the
most elastic potential energy.
Figure 6.24 James prescott Joule.
207 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
Figure 6.25 Joule’s original apparatus
for investigating the mechanical work
equivalent of heat energy. the falling
weights caused the paddle to turn. the
friction between the wheel and the water
created heat energy in the water. For the
first time, heat energy could be measured
and related to other forms of energy.
6.4 summary
Mechanical energy
• Energy is the ability to do work. Whenever work
is done, energy is transformed from one form to
another.
• Kinetic energy is the energy a body has because of
its motion. E
k
=
1
2
mv
2
where E
k
is the kinetic energy in
joules (J), m is the mass in kilograms (kg) and v is the
speed in metres per second (m s
−1
).
• Potential energy is stored energy with the potential
to allow work to be done. It may take many forms
including chemical, elastic and gravitational.
• Gravitational potential energy is the energy a body
has because of its position within a gravitational field:
DU
g
= mgDh where U
g
is the gravitational potential
energy in joules (J), m is the mass in kilograms (kg)
and Dh is the change in height from a reference height
in metres (m).
• Idealmaterialsextendorcompressinproportionto
the applied force; that is, they obey Hooke’s law:
F = −kDx
• Theelasticpotentialenergy,U
s
, stored in an item is
given by the area below the force–extension graph
for that item, or U
s
=
1
2
kx
2
for an ideal spring that
obeys Hooke’s law.
• When work is done to store energy, one or more of
the following may be applied:
W = DU
g
or W = DE
k
or W = DU
s

or W = area under F–Dx graph
falling masses
water
paddle
pulley
Figure 6.26 as a result of the considerable am
ount of m
echanical w
ork being done
on the w
ater of a w
aterfall, the tem
perature of the w
ater at the bottom
of the falls is
usually 1°c or 2°c higher than at the top.
208 Motion
Where appropriate use g = 9.8 m s
−2
.
1 Calculate the kinetic energy of a:
a 1.0 kg mechanics trolley with a velocity of
2.5 m s
−1
b 5.0 g bullet travelling with a velocity of 400 m s
−1
c 1200 kg car travelling at 75 km h
−1
.
2 Calculate the gravitational potential energy relative
to the ground when a:
a mass of 1.0 kg is 5 m above the ground
b bird of mass 105 g is 400 m above the ground
c 1200 kg car has travelled a vertical height of 10 m
up a slope.
3 A 100 g rubber ball falls from a height of 2.5 m onto
the ground and rebounds to a height of 1.8 m. What is
the gravitational potential energy of the ball relative
to the ground at its:
a original position?
b final position?
c final position relative to its original position?
4 Which object has the greatest amount of energy?
A A spring with a spring constant k = 40 000 N m
−1

compressed by 5.0 cm
B A cricket ball of mass 150 g stuck on the roof of a
grandstand 14 m above the ground
C A cricket ball of mass 150 g travelling at 10 m s
−1
at
a height of 10 m above the ground
5 What net braking force must be applied to stop a
car within a straight-line distance of 50 m, if the car
has a mass of 900 kg and was initially travelling at a
velocity of 100 km h
−1
?
6 A small steel ball with a mass of 80 g is released from
a resting height of 1.25 m above a rigid metal plate.
Calculate the:
a change in gravitational potential energy
b kinetic energy of the ball just before impact
c velocity of the ball just before impact.
The following information relates to questions 7 and 8.
The force–extension graphs for three different springs
are shown below.

7 Calculate the spring constant for each spring and
determine which is the stiffest spring.
8 Each spring has a force of 100 N applied to it.
Calculate the elastic potential energy stored by each
spring.
9 A piece of gymnasium equipment involves
compressing a spring whose spring constant is
2500 N m
−1
. How much elastic potential energy is
stored in the spring when it is compressed by:
a 5.00 cm?
b 10.0 cm?
c 15.0 cm?
10 The gymnasium equipment described in question
9 is adjusted so that its spring constant is now
3000 N m
−1
. If 12.5 J of energy is now stored in
the spring, by what distance has the spring been
compressed?
6.4 questions
Mechanical energy
A
B
C
0.05 0.10 0.15 0.25
100
200
300
F

a
p
p
l
i
e
d

(
N
)
x (m)
209 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
Besides the mechanical energy discussed in section 6.4, other forms of
energy exist, for example nuclear, heat, electrical, chemical and sound
energy. Atomic theory has led to each of these other forms being understood
as either kinetic energy or potential energy at the molecular level. Energy
stored in food or fuel and oxygen can be considered as potential energy
stored as a result of the electrical forces in the molecules.
Despite the apparently different nature of the various forms of energy,
any energy can be transformed from one form to another. The connecting
factor is that all forms can do work on a body and therefore can be measured
and compared in this way. A stone dropped from some height loses
gravitational potential energy as its height decreases; at the same time its
kinetic energy will increase as its speed increases.
transformation of energy
Energy transfers or transformations enable people and machines to do work,
and processes and changes to occur. Elastic potential energy stored in a
diving board must be transformed into the kinetic energy of the diver at
the pool. Contracting a muscle converts chemical potential energy stored in
the muscle to the kinetic energy of a person’s motion. In each example, the
transformation of energy means work is being done.
Work is done whenever energy is transformed from one form to another.
In many cases a transformation of energy produces an unwanted
consequence—a substantial amount of the energy is ‘lost’ as heat energy.
Of a typical adult’s daily food intake of about 12 MJ at least 80% is converted
into heat energy during normal activity. Such transfers can be depicted by
an energy-conversion flow diagram.















A simple, although infinitely unlikely, example is shown in Figure
6.27. As the body falls to the ground there will be a number of energy
6.5 E
n
e
rg
y
tra
n
s
fo
rm
a
tio
n
a
n
d
p
o
w
e
r
Figure 6.27 Whenever work is done, energy is transformed from one form to another.
(a) as a body falls, gravitational potential energy is transformed to kinetic energy and heat,
from the friction with the air. Once the body lands, further energy transformations will take
place. (b) an energy-conversion flow diagram can be useful in visualising the transformations
that take place.
Interactive tutorial 5
Kinetic and gravitational potential
energy
h
gravitational
potential energy
kinetic energy
sound heat
(a) (b)
heat
work
done
work
done
work
done
work
done
210 Motion
transformations. An energy flow diagram illustrates these changes. While
the body falls, work will be done on the body by the gravitational field,
and gravitational potential energy becomes kinetic energy, the energy
of movement. There will also be some energy converted into heat by the
action of air resistance. When the body hits the ground, the kinetic energy
is converted into elastic potential energy by the compression of the body,
and to other forms, particularly heat but also to sound and kinetic energy.
Each transformation requires a force to do work on the body.
the efficiency of energy transformations
The percentage of energy that is transformed to a useful form by a device is
known as the efficiency of that device. All practical energy transformations
‘lose’ some energy as heat. The effectiveness of a transfer from one energy
form to another is expressed as:
efficiency (%) =
useful energy transferred × 100
total energy supplied
=
useful output × 100
total input
table 6.4 efficiencies of some common energy transfers
Device Desired energy transfer Efficiency (%)
Large electric motor electric to kinetic 90
Gas heater or boiler chemical to heat in water 75
Steam turbine heat to kinetic 45
high-efficiency solar cell radiation to electric 25
coal-fired electric generator chemical to electric 30
compact low-energy
fluorescent light
electric to light 25
human body chemical to kinetic 25
car engine chemical to kinetic 25
Open fireplace chemical to heat 15
Filament lamp electric to light 5
In all the energy transformations included in Table 6.4, the energy lost
in the transfer process is mainly converted into heat. Most losses are caused
by the inefficiencies involved in the process of converting heat into motion.
In the real world, energy must be constantly provided for a device to
continue operating. A device operating at 45% efficiency is converting 45%
of the supplied energy into the new form required. The other 55% is lost to
the surroundings, mainly as heat but also some as sound.
Figure 6.28 In each of these situations below an
energy transformation is taking place. can you
identify the forms involved in each transformation?
211 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
Physics in action
air resistance in sport
Figure 6.29 the efficiency of a cyclist is affected by the velocity of the
bike. as the velocity increases, the drag or air resistance can use as
much as 90% of the energy the cyclist’s input.
Air, like water, is a fluid and therefore there is a force
between the particles of the air and the surface of any object
moving through it. This force is called air resistance or
drag. Drag is due to the air particles that can be thought of
as obstacles in the path of a moving object. There will also be
frictional forces as air particles slide past the object.
At low speeds the effect of air resistance is slight.
However, it has been found that air resistance is proportional
to the square of the velocity (i.e. F
a
∝ v
2
). A doubling of speed
will increase air resistance approximately four times. At the
racing speeds that Olympic cyclists reach of 50 km h
−1
or
more, 90% of the cyclist’s energy is required just to push the
bicycle and rider through the surrounding air. The remaining
10% is needed to overcome frictional forces between the
wheels and the ground.
Air resistance is affected by the frontal area of cross-
section and the shape of the bicycle. Designers have tried
to reduce the frontal area of racing bikes and their riders
by dropping the handle bars and raising the position of the
pedals. This allows the rider to race bent forward, reducing
the area presented to the air.
Streamlining the bike helps still further. Some shapes
move through fluids more easily than others. Streamlined
bicycles, such as those used by the Australian Cycling Team
in international competition, have low-profile frames with
relatively smaller front wheels. Brake and gear cables are
run through the frame rather than left loose to create drag.
Moulded three-spoke and solid-disk wheels help still further.
The riders’ clothing and helmets have also been
streamlined. Cyclists wear pointed shoes, streamlined helmets
and skin-tight one-piece lycra bodysuits. Together these reduce
the air resistance on a rider by as much as 10% at higher
speeds. At race time riders shave their legs to reduce energy
losses just that little bit more.
conservation of energy
No matter what energy transformation occurs overall, no energy is gained
or lost in the process. It is a fundamental law of nature that energy is
conserved.
Consider the example of a diver as depicted in Figure 6.31. When
the diver is at the top, his or her gravitational potential energy will be
at a maximum. As the diver free falls the gravitational potential energy
decreases but the kinetic energy will increase with the increased velocity.
Some—a small amount—of energy will be converted into heat due to
contact with the air. The moment before the diver reaches the reference
level all the gravitational potential energy has been converted into other
energy forms, mostly kinetic energy. The total at this point will be exactly
0 5 9.0 13.5
20
10
Velocity (m s
−1
)
D
r
a
g

(
N
)
Figure 6.30 the technological advances in bike design, pioneered
by the rMIt, have led to efficient designs such as that used by
australian riders in recent international competition.
212 Motion
equal to the potential energy at the top. The total energy in the system
remains the same. Energy has been conserved.
The TOTAL …N…RGY in an isolated system is neither increased nor decreased by any
transformation. Energy can be transformed from one kind to another, but the total
amount stays the same.
This applies to any situation involving energy transfer or transformations
in an isolated system. In this particular case the sum of the gravitational
potential energy and the kinetic energy at any point is called the total
mechanical energy.
Kinetic energy + potential energy = total mechanical energy
Here, the total mechanical energy remains constant. As an object falls,
gravitational potential energy decreases but kinetic energy increases to
compensate, so that the total remains constant. At any point during an
object’s free fall:
total mechanical energy =
1
2
mv
2
+ mgh
There are many examples of this conservation of energy. In athletics,
the pole-vaulters and high-jumpers base their techniques on this principle.
Throwing a ball in the air is another example. When the ball leaves the
hand, its kinetic energy is at a maximum. As it rises, its velocity decreases,
reducing the kinetic energy, and its potential energy increases by the same
amount. At any point E
k
+ E
p
will equal the initial kinetic energy. At the top
of the throw, the ball will have a vertical velocity of zero and, in a vertical
direction, the energy will be totally gravitational potential energy (any
horizontal motion will be represented by a remaining amount of E
k
). The
transformation will reverse as the ball falls. Gravitational potential energy
will decrease as the ball returns towards its original height and, with its
speed increasing, the kinetic energy will increase once more.
A more complex example is provided by the interactions as a gymnast
repeatedly bounces on a trampoline. Figure 6.32 is a series of frames from a
video of a gymnast carrying out a routine on a trampoline. Kinetic energy
and gravitational potential energy changes are shown in the graph below
the frames. Despite the complexity of the motion, the total energy of the
gymnast remains the same during each airborne phase, as illustrated in the
graph. On landing on the bed of the trampoline, the energy is transferred
to elastic potential energy within the trampoline and both kinetic and
gravitational potential energy fall. On take-off some of this energy will be
permanently transferred to the trampoline and its surrounds, thus lowering
the total available to the gymnast. This is represented by the reduced total
energy for each successive jump. Were the gymnast to flex his legs then
additional energy would be added to the mechanical energy available and
this total could be maintained or even increased until the gymnast finally
ran out of available energy himself.
Figure 6.31 a diver loses gravitational potential
energy but gains kinetic energy during the fall.
All E
p
1
2
—E
p
1
2
—E
k
All E
k
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 27
conservation of energy
213 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
Worked example 6.5A
calculate the initial velocity required for a high jumper to pass over a high bar. assume
the jumper’s centre of gravity rises through a height of 1.5 m and passes over the bar
with a horizontal velocity of 1.2 m s
−1
, and that all of his initial horizontal kinetic energy is
transferred into U
g
and …
k
.
Use g = 9.8 m s
−2
.
Solution
as the total mechanical energy is assumed to be conserved after landing, the initial
horizontal kinetic energy equals total mechanical energy at the peak height:
1
2
mu
2
= …
k
+ U
g
(at peak height)
=
1
2
mv
2
+ mgDh
the mass cancels out, giving an expression independent of the mass of the athlete.
the same speed at take-off will be required for a light person as a heavy one. (If this doesn’t
seem to make sense remember that all objects fall at the same rate regardless of their
mass.)
1
2
u
2
=
1
2
v
2
+ gDh
Substituting the values from the question:
1
2
u
2
=
1
2
× 1.2
2
+ 9.8 × 1.5
1
2
u
2
= 15.42
and u = √2 × 15.42 = 5.6 m s
−1
.
In reality the take-off speed will need to be a little greater since there will be some losses
to friction.
Figure 6.32 During each airborne stage of a gymnast’s trampoline routine (indicated on
the graph by shading), mechanical energy is conserved. the graph shows the relationship
between total energy and gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy. each time the
gymnast lands, energy is transferred to the trampoline. the energy returning from the springs
after each landing allows the routine to continue.
1
0
0
0







2
0
0
0









3
0
0
0







4
0
0
0
E
n
e
r
g
y

(
J
)
20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180 200 220
Number of frames
on bed on bed flight flight
gravitational
potential energy
plus kinetic energy
gravitational
potential
energy
kinetic
energy
20
43
64
81
102
122
125
147
159
174
185
194
207
218
flight
214 Motion
Worked example 6.5B
a climber abseiling down a cliff uses friction between the climbing rope and specialised
metal fittings to slow down. If a climber of mass 75 kg abseiling down a cliff of height 45 m
reaches a velocity of 3.2 m s
−1
by the time the ground is reached, calculate the average
frictional force applied. Use g = 9.8 m s
−2
.
Solution
m = 75 kg, u = 0 m s
−1
, v = 3.2 m s
−1
, h = 45 m
Gravitational potential energy at the top of the cliff:

p
= mgh = 75 × 9.8 × 45 = 33 075 J
Kinetic energy at ground level:

k
=
1
2
mv
2
=
1
2
× 75 × 3.2
2
= 384 J
total energy transformed to forms other than gravitational potential and kinetic energy:
D… = …
p
− …
k
= 33 075 − 384 = 32 691 J
this change in energy will be equivalent to the work done by the frictional force; that is:
Work = D… = F
f
× x
and:
F
f
=
D…
x
=
32 691
45
= 726 N ≈ 730 N
power
Why is it that running up a flight of stairs can leave you more tired than
walking up if both require the same amount of energy to overcome the
force of gravity?
The answer lies in the rate at which the energy is used. When horses
were first replaced by steam engines, the engine was rated by how fast it
could perform a given task compared with a horse. An engine that could
complete a task in the same time as one horse was given a rating of one
horsepower. More formally, power is defined as the rate at which energy is
transformed or the rate at which work is done.
POW…R =
work done
time taken
=
energy transformed
time taken
or
P =
W
Dt
=
D…
Dt
where P is the power developed in watts (W) resulting from an energy
transformation D… occurring in time Dt. D… is measured in joules (J), time is
measured in seconds (s).
Determining the power developed is fairly straightforward when
mechanical work is done; but consider a situation in which a person pushes
a lawnmower, say, at constant speed. Here, there is no increase in kinetic
energy, but energy is being transformed to overcome the frictional forces
acting against the lawnmower.
The British Imperial unit for power is
the horsepower, hp, dating from the
time of the Industrial Revolution when
the performance of steam engines was
compared with that of the horses they
were replacing. 1 hp = 746 W. The SI
unit for power honours the inventor of
the steam engine, James Watt.
Physics file
215 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
In the special case of an applied force opposing friction or gravity and doing work
with no increase in the speed of the object, we can say:
As W = Fx then:
P =
Fx
Dt
and as v =
x
Dt
then:
P = F
av
v
av
where P is power developed (W)
F
av
is average applied force (N)
v
av
is average speed (m s
−1
)
This is useful when finding the power required to produce a constant
speed against a frictional or gravitational force.
The rate of energy use is as much a limiting factor of the work a person
can do as the total energy required. A person may be able to walk or climb a
long distance before having to stop because all available energy is used. The
same person will fall over exhausted after a much shorter time if the same
journey is attempted at a run. Power is the limiting factor, the rate at which
a person’s body can transform chemical energy into mechanical energy.
Few humans can maintain one horsepower, about 750 W, for any length
of time. Table 6.5 includes comparative figures for the power developed in
various activities and devices.
table 6.5 average power ratings for various human activities and machines
Activity or machine Power rating (W)
Sleeping adult 100
Walking adult 300
cycling (not racing) 500
Standard light globe 60
television 200
Fast-boil kettle 2400
Family car 150 000
Worked example 6.5C
the fastest woman to scale the rialto building stairs in the Great rialto Stair trek in a
particular year climbed the 1222 steps, which are a total of 242 m high, in 7 min 58 s. Given
that her mass is 60 kg, at what rate was she using energy to overcome the gravitational
force alone?
Use g = 9.8 m s
−2
.
Solution
the work is against gravity so:
P =
U
g
Dt
=
mgDh
Dt

m = 60 kg, g = 9.8 m s
−2
, Dh = 242 m
Dt = (7 min × 60) + 58 s = 478 s
P =
60 × 9.8 × 242
478
= 3.0 × 10
2
W
Figure 6.33 It is not the amount of energy
required that stops the rest of us from winning
the 400 m sprint, but the rate at which we can
effectively convert it to useful work.
216 Motion
Use g = 9.8 m s
−2
where required.
1 Describe the energy transformations that take place
when:
a a car slows to rest
b a gymnast uses a springboard to propel themselves
into the air
c an archer draws back and then releases an arrow
vertically upward
d an athlete’s foot hits a track.
2 Draw an energy transformation flow chart for a
swimmer diving off a diving board and into a pool of
water.
3 A boy of mass 46 kg runs up a 12-m high flight of
stairs in 12 s.
a What is the gain in gravitational potential energy
for the boy?
b What is the average power he develops?
4 A coach is stacking shot-puts, from the shot-put
event, onto a shelf 1.0 m high following an athletics
meeting. Each shot-put has a mass of 500 g and all
are being lifted from the ground. The coach stacks
15 shot-puts, at the same level, in 2.0 minutes.
a How much useful work has been done in lifting
all the shot-puts?
b What is the total gravitational potential energy of
all the shot-puts on the shelf?
c What was the coach’s average power output in
performing this task?
d The actual power output would be considerably
greater than the answer to part c. Suggest two
possible reasons for this difference.
5 One of the shot-puts in question 4 rolls off the shelf
just after the coach has finished.
a What is the gravitational potential energy of the
shot-put when it is halfway to the ground?
b What is the kinetic energy of the shot-put when it
is halfway to the ground?
c What happens to the kinetic energy of the shot-
put when it hits the ground?
6 Tarzan is running at his fastest speed (9.2 m s
−1
) and
grabs a vine hanging vertically from a tall tree in the
jungle.
a How high will he swing upwards while hanging
on to the end of the vine?
b What other factors that have not been considered
may affect your answer?
7 In high jumping, the kinetic energy of an athlete is
transformed into gravitational potential energy.
With what minimum speed must the athlete leave
the ground in order to lift his centre of gravity
1.80 m high with a remaining horizontal velocity of
0.50 m s
−1
?
8 A 100 g apple falls from a branch 5 m above the
ground.
a With what speed would it hit the ground if air
resistance could be ignored?
b If the apple actually hits the ground with a speed
of 3.0 m s
−1
, what was the average force of air
resistance exerted on it?
9 A 150 g ball is rolled onto the end of an ideal spring
whose spring constant is 1000 N m
−1
. The spring is
temporarily compressed.
• Whenever work is done, energy is converted from
one form into another.
• Theefficiencyofanenergytransferfromoneformto
the required form is:
efficiency (%) =
energy output
energy input
× 100
• Wheneverenergyistransformed,thetotalamountof
energy in the system remains constant. This con serv-
ation of energy is a fundamental natural principle.
• Thetotalmechanicalenergywillremainconstantin
an isolated system. That is:
E
k
+ U
s
+ U
g
= constant
• Power, P (in watts, W), is the rate at which work is
done or energy transformed:
P =
W
Dt
=
DE
Dt
• Intheparticularcaseofworkbeingdonetoovercome
friction, with no resulting increase in speed:
P = F
av
v
av
6.5 questions
energy transformation and power
6.5 summary
energy transformation and power
217 chapter 6 Momentum, energy, work and power
a The ball compresses the spring by a maximum
distance of 10 cm. How much elastic potential
energy is stored in the spring at this compression?
b How fast must the ball have been travelling just
before it began to compress the spring? Ignore any
frictional effects.
c If in another trial the ball reached a speed of
5.0 m s
−1
before compressing the spring, how far
would the spring be compressed?
10 As a 30 kg child compressed the spring of a pogo
stick, it stored 150 J of elastic potential energy.
Assuming the spring is 50% efficient:
a how much kinetic energy will the child be given
as the spring rebounds?
b with what speed will the child rebound?
c ignoring air resistance, what gain in height will
the child achieve?
chapter review
Use g = 9.8 m s
−2
where required.
the following information relates to questions 1–4. a ball of mass
50 g strikes a brick wall. It compresses a maximum distance of
2.0 cm. the force extension properties of the ball are shown below.

1 What work does the wall do on the ball in bringing it to a stop?
2 how much …
p
is stored in the ball at its point of maximum
compression?
3 If the ball–wall system is 50% efficient, what is the rebound
speed of the ball?
4 at the instant that the ball had only been compressed by 1.0 cm,
had the wall done half of the work required to stop the ball?
explain.
the following information relates to questions 5 and 6. an arrow with
a mass of 80 g is travelling at 80 m s
−1
when it reaches its target.
It penetrates the target board a distance of 24 cm before stopping.
5 calculate the arrow’s kinetic energy just before impact.
6 calculate the average net force between arrow and target.
7 a 70 kg bungee jumper jumps from a platform that is 35 m above
the ground. assume that the person, the rope and the earth form
an isolated system.
a calculate the initial total mechanical energy of this system.
b Write a flow chart displaying the energy transformations
that are occurring during the first fall.
c the person can fall a distance of 10 m before the rope
attached to her feet begins to extend. how much kinetic
energy will the person have at this moment?
d after a fall of a further 15 m, the person momentarily
stops and the rope reaches its maximum extension. how
much elastic potential energy is stored in the rope at this
moment?
e Since the bungee jumper bounces and eventually comes to
rest, this is not a truly isolated system. explain.
8 a stone of mass 3 kg is dropped from a height of 5 m. Neglecting
air resistance, what will the kinetic energy of the stone be in
joules just before the stone hits the ground?
A 3
B 5
C 15
D 147
E 150
the following information relates to questions 9 and 10. an object of
mass 2 kg is fired vertically upwards with an initial kinetic energy of
100 J. assume no air resistance.
9 What is the speed of the object in m s
−1
when it first leaves the
ground?
A 5
B 10
C 20
D 100
E 200
10 Which of a–e in question 9 is the maximum height in metres
that it will reach?
the following information relates to questions 11–16. after a
particularly wet winter, a weir is overflowing at the rate of 800 litres
of water every second (1 litre of water has a mass of 1 kg). the water
takes 1.3 s to fall to the river below.
11 With what vertical velocity does the water hit the river below?
800
700
600
500
400
300
200
100
F
o
r
c
e

(
N
)
0.01 0.02
Compression (cm)
218 Motion
12 What height does the water fall through to the river below?
13 What weight of water falls over the weir every 10 s?
14 calculate the work that has been done on this weight of water by
gravitational forces by the time it reaches the river.
15 calculate the power developed by the falling water at the instant
before it hits the river.
16 Use a diagram to illustrate the energy transformations that
occur as the water falls from the weir to the river below.
the following information relates to questions 17–20. a roller-coaster
is shown in the following diagram. assume no friction.
17 calculate the speed at points B, c and D, assuming an initial
speed of 4.0 m s
−1
at point a.
18 Draw a graph of potential energy and kinetic energy against
vertical displacement for this motion. Use separate lines for
each form of energy and draw in a third line to represent the
total mechanical energy, assuming no frictional losses.
It is found that the roller-coaster actually just reaches point c with
no remaining speed.
19 What are the energy losses due to friction and air resistance
between a and c?
20 With what efficiency is the roller-coaster operating over this
section of track?
21 two players collide during a game of netball. Just before impact
one player of mass 55 kg was running at 5.0 m s
−1
while the
other player, of mass 70 kg, was stationary. after the collision
they fall over together. What is the velocity as they fall, assuming
that momentum is conserved?
22 a 300 kg marshalling boat for a rowing event is floating at
2.0 m s
−1
north. a starting cannon is fired from its bow,
launching a 500 g ball, travelling at 100 m s
−1
south as it leaves
the gun. What is the final velocity of the marshalling boat?
23 a 150 g ice puck collides head on with a smaller 100 g ice puck,
initially stationary, on a smooth, frictionless surface. the initial
speed of the 150 g puck is 3 m s
−1
. after the collision the 100 g
ice puck moves with a speed of 1.2 m s
−1
in the same direction.
What is the final velocity of the 150 g ice puck?
24 ‘When I jump, the earth moves’. Is this true? Using reasonable
estimates and appropriate physics relationships explain your
answer.
the following information relates to questions 25–27. In a horrific car
crash, a car skids 85 m before striking a parked car in the rear with
a velocity of 15 m s
−1
. the cars become locked together and skid a
further 5.2 m before finally coming to rest. the mass of the first car,
including its occupants, is 1350 kg. the parked car has a mass of
1520 kg.
25 What is the velocity of the two cars just after impact?
26 What is the impulse on each car during the collision?
27 What is the average size of the frictional force between road and
car that finally brings them to rest?
30 m
A
B
C
D
25 m
12 m
219
219
area of study review Motion
the following information applies to questions 1–3. the acceleration
due to gravity may be taken as g = 9.8 m s
−2
and the effects of air
resistance can be ignored. an Olympic archery competitor tests a
bow by firing an arrow of mass 25 g vertically into the air. the arrow
leaves the bow with an initial vertical velocity of 100 m s
−1
.
1 at what time will the arrow reach its maximum height?
2 What is the maximum vertical distance that this arrow
reaches?
3 What is the acceleration of the arrow when it reaches its
maximum height?
4 two students drop a lead weight from a tower and time its fall
at 2.0 s. how far does the weight travel during the 2nd second,
compared with the first second?
the following information applies to questions 5–7. a car with good
brakes, but smooth tyres, has a maximum retardation of 4.0 m s
−2

on a wet road. the driver has a reaction time of 0.50 s. the driver
is travelling at 72 km h
−1
when she sees a danger and reacts by
braking.
5 how far does the car travel during the reaction time?
6 assuming maximum retardation, calculate the braking time.
7 Determine the total distance travelled by the car from the time
the driver realises the danger to the time the car finally stops.
the following information applies to questions 8–11. two physics
students, helen and emily, conduct the following experiment from
a skyscraper. helen drops a platinum sphere from a vertical height
of 122 m while at exactly the same time emily throws a lead sphere
with an initial downward vertical velocity of 10.0 m s
−1
from a
vertical height of 140 m. assume g = 9.80 m s
−2
and ignore friction.
8 Determine the time taken by the platinum sphere to strike the
ground.
9 calculate the time taken by the lead sphere to strike the
ground.
10 Determine the average velocity of each sphere over their
respective distances.
11 In reality, will the diameters of the respective spheres affect the
outcome of the experiment?
the following information applies to questions 12–14. During a
physics experiment a student sets a multi-flash timer at a frequency
of 10 hz. a nickel marble is rolled across a horizontal table. the
diagram shows the position of the marble for the first four flashes:
a, B, c and D.
assume that when flash a occurred t = 0, at which time the marble
was at rest.

12 Determine the average speed of the marble for the following
distance intervals:
a a to B
b B to c
c c to D
13 Determine the instantaneous speeds of the marble for the
following times:
a t = 0.05 s
b t = 0.15 s
c t = 0.25 s
14 Describe the motion of the marble.
the following information applies to questions 15–18. a tow-truck,
pulling a car of mass 1000 kg along a straight road, causes its
velocity to increase from 5.00 m s
−1
west to 10.0 m s
−1
west in
a distance of 100 m. a constant frictional force of 200 N acts on
the car.
15 calculate the acceleration of the car.
16 What is the resultant force acting on the car during this 100 m?
17 calculate the force exerted on the car by the tow-truck.
18 What force does the car exert on the tow-truck?
19 a car that is initially at rest begins to roll down a steep road that
makes an angle of 11.3° with the horizontal. Ignoring friction,
determine the speed of the car in km h
−1
after it has travelled a
distance of 100 m (g = 9.8 m s
−2
).
the following information applies to questions 20–23. a 100 kg
trolley is being pushed up a rough 30° incline by a constant force F.
the frictional force F
f
between the incline and the trolley is 110 N.

20 Determine the value of F that will move the trolley up the incline
at a constant velocity of 5.0 m s
−1
.
21 Determine the value of F that will accelerate the trolley up the
incline at a value of 2.0 m s
−2
.
22 calculate the acceleration of the trolley if F = 1000 N.
23 What is the value of F if the trolley accelerates up the incline at
10 m s
−2
?
219 area of study review
1.0 cm 3.0 cm
A B C D
5.0 cm
F
g = 9.8 m s
–2
30˚
220 Motion
24 two masses, 10 kg and 20 kg, are attached via a steel cable to a
frictionless pulley, as shown in the following diagram.

a Determine the acceleration of each mass.
b What is the magnitude of the tension in the cable?
25 an 800 N force is applied as shown to a 20.0 kg mass, initially
at rest on a horizontal surface. During its subsequent motion
the mass encounters a constant frictional force of 100 N while
moving through a horizontal distance of 10 m.

a Determine the resultant horizontal force acting on the
20.0 kg mass.
b calculate the work done by the horizontal component of the
800 N force.
c calculate the work done by the frictional force.
d calculate the work done by the resultant horizontal force.
e Determine the change in kinetic energy of the mass.
f What is the final speed of the mass?
g Describe the effect of the frictional force on the moving
mass.
26 the figure shows the velocity–time graph for a car of mass
2000 kg. the engine of the car is providing a constant driving
force. During the 5.0 s interval the car encounters a constant
frictional force of 400 N. at t = 5.0 s, v = 40.0 m s
−1
.

a how much kinetic energy (in MJ) does the car have at
t = 5.0 s?
b What is the resultant force acting on the car?
c What force is provided by the car’s engine during the 5.0 s
interval?
d how much work is done on the car during the 5.0 s
interval?
e Determine the power output of the car’s engine during the
5.0 s interval.
f how much heat energy is produced due to friction during the
5.0 s interval?
the following information applies to questions 27–30. the following
diagram shows the trajectory of a 2.0-kg shot-put recorded by
a physics student during a practical investigation. the sphere is
projected at a vertical height of 2.0 m above the ground with initial
speed v = 10 m s
−1
. the maximum vertical height of the shot-put is
5.0 m. (Ignore friction and assume g = 9.8 N kg
−1
.)

27 What is the total energy of the shot-put just after it is released at
point a?
28 What is the kinetic energy of the shot-put at point B?
29 What is the minimum speed of the shot-put during its flight?
30 What is the total energy of the shot-put at point c?
31 a 5.0 kg trolley approaches a spring that is fixed to a wall. During
the collision, the spring undergoes a compression, Dx, and the
trolley is momentarily brought to rest, before bouncing back
at 10 m s
−1
. Following is the force–compression graph for the
spring. (Ignore friction.)

a calculate the elastic potential energy stored in the spring
when its compression is equal to 2.0 cm.
b What is the elastic potential energy stored in the spring
when the trolley momentarily comes to rest?
c at what compression will the trolley come to rest?
d explain why the trolley starts moving again.
10 kg
20 kg
g = 9.8 m s
–2
a
a
F
T
F
T
20.0 kg
60°
F = 800 N
F
f
= 100 N
50
40
30
20
10
0
v

(
m

s

1
)
t (s)
0 2 4 6
2.0 m
3.0 m
5.0 m
A
B
C
v
spring
5.0 kg
12.0
10.0
8.0
6.0
4.0
2.0
0.0
F
o
r
c
e

(
k
N
)
Compression (cm)
0.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 6.0
221
221
e What property of a spring accounts for the situation
described above?
f Describe a situation in which the property of the spring in
this example could be used in a practical situation.
32 a nickel cube of mass 200 g is sliding across a horizontal
surface. One section of the surface is frictionless while the other
is rough. the graph shows the kinetic energy, …
k
, of the cube
versus distance, x, along the surface.

a Which section of the surface is rough? Justify your answer.
b Determine the speed of the cube during the first 2.0 cm.
c how much kinetic energy is lost by the cube between
x = 2.0 cm and x = 5.0 cm?
d What has happened to the kinetic energy that has been lost
by the cube?
e calculate the value of the average frictional force acting on
the cube as it is travelling over the rough surface.
the following information applies to questions 33 and 34. the
diagram is an idealised velocity–time graph for the motion of an
Olympic sprinter.

33 What distance was this race?
34 Determine the average speed of the sprinter:
a while she is racing to the finish line
b for the total time that she is moving.
the following information applies to questions 35–37. the diagram
gives the position–time graph of the motion of a boy on a bicycle.
the boy initially travels in a northerly direction.

35 During which of the section(s) (a–G) is the boy:
a travelling towards the north?
b stationary?
c travelling towards the south?
d speeding up?
e slowing down?
36 For the boy’s 80 s ride, calculate:
a the total distance covered
b the average speed.
37 Determine the velocity of the boy:
a when t = 10 s
b during section B
c when t = 60 s.
the following information applies to questions 38–40. a mass of
0.40 kg hangs from a string 1.5 m long. the string is kept taut and
the mass is drawn aside a vertical distance of 0.30 m, as shown
in the diagram below. a pencil is fixed in a clamp so that when the
mass is released it will swing down and break the pencil. the mass
swings on but now only moves through a vertical distance of 0.14 m.
(assume: g = 9.8 m s
−2
.)

221 area of study review
5.0
4.0
3.0
2.0
1.0
0.0
0.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 6.0
K
i
n
e
t
i
c

e
n
e
r
g
y

(
J
)
x (cm)
Time (s)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Velocity
(m s
–1
)
10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
1
.
5
0

m
0.30
0.14
A B C D E F G
Position
(m)
5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60 65 70 75 80
Time (s)
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
222 Motion
38 calculate the velocity of the mass the instant before it strikes
the pencil.
39 calculate the work required to break the pencil.
40 can you account for the loss in energy?
the following information applies to questions 41–44. a small car
is found to slow down from 90 km h
−1
to 60 km h
−1
in 12 seconds
when the engine is switched off and the car is allowed to coast on
level ground. the car has a mass of 830 kg.
41 What is the car’s deceleration (in m s
−2
) during the 12 s
interval?
42 What was the average braking force acting on the car during the
time interval?
43 Determine the distance that the car travels during the 12 s
interval.
44 explain what happens to all the initial kinetic energy of the car.
45 a spaceship with a mass of 20 tonnes (2.0 × 10
4
kg) is launched
from the surface of earth, where g has a value of 9.8 N kg
−1

downwards, to land on the Moon, where the value of g is
l.6 N kg
−1
downwards. What is the weight of the spaceship when
it is on earth and when it is on the Moon?
46 a Describe the motion of your chair when you stand up and
push it back from your desk.
b how would the chair behave if it were on castors?
c explain how your answers to parts a and b are illustrations
of Newton’s laws.
47 an engine pulls a line of train cars along a flat track with a steady
force, but instead of accelerating, the whole train travels at a
constant velocity. how can this be consistent with Newton’s
first and second laws of motion?
48 Students were conducting an experiment to investigate the
behaviour of springs. Increasing masses (m) were hung from a
vertically suspended spring and the resulting force–extension
graph was plotted as shown.

a estimate the value of the spring constant.
b Use your answer to part a to calculate the elastic potential
energy stored in the spring when the extension is 100 cm.
c What other method could you have used to estimate the
energy stored in the spring when the extension is 100 cm?
the following information applies to questions 49–51. the diagram
depicts a machine that can lift a mass M through a vertical height
h in a time interval Dt. the machine lifts a 1000 kg mass through a
vertical distance of 8.0 m in 0.98 s.

49 Determine the change in gravitational potential energy (kJ) of
the mass when it is lifted through a vertical distance of 8.0 m.
50 how much work is done on the mass every 0.98 s?
51 Determine the power rating of this machine in kW.
10.0
8.0
6.0
4.0
2.0
0.0
F
o
r
c
e

(
N
)
Extension (mm)
0 20 40 60 80 100 120
M
M
g = 9.8 m s
–2
U
n
i
t
a
r
e
a

o
f

s
t
u
d
y

2
Unit





W
a
v
e
-
l
i
k
e


p
r
o
p
e
r
t
i
e
s







o
f

l
i
g
h
t

2
On completion of this area
of study, you should be able
to describe and explain the
wave model of light, compare
it with the particle model of
light and apply it to observed
light phenomena in practical
investigations.
outcome
T
h
e

n
a
t
u
r
e

o
f

w
a
v
e
s
c
h
a
p
T
e
r
7
7
W
ould you know what was coming if you were sitting on a picturesque
beach in hawaii and suddenly the coastal water in front of you
seemed to retract before your eyes, leaving the tethered fishing
boats sitting on a bed of sand? You may have enough knowledge of coastal
waves to realise that the water at the shore was being dragged back to help
build a giant tsunami way out to sea. Tsunami is the Japanese term for the
phenomenon that used to be called a tidal wave. Since it’s nothing to do with
the tide, the name tidal wave has been dropped. regardless of what you’d call
it, you would be advised to get to high ground, and quickly!
The ability to forewarn the affected coastal people of the occurrence of a
tsunami anywhere in the world would undoubtedly save lives. appropriately,
it may well be our knowledge of a different category of waves—gravity
waves—that may some day allow us to do this. Gravity waves are not just
any ordinary type of wave. albert einstein in his general theory of relativity
predicted their existence early last century. General relativity treats the
universe as a four-dimensional surface called space–time. Gravitational
waves are the curvature of space–time caused by the motion of matter.
If a gravity wave arrived at earth it would cyclically shrink and stretch the
dimensions of everything around us, but by such minuscule amounts that
even the strongest gravity waves are nearly impossible to detect.
einstein’s general theory of relativity was the same theory that
successfully predicted the ‘bending’ of the path of light by the gravitational
fields of massive objects. It was not until the 1970s that strong experimental
evidence for the existence of gravitational waves in space was found, though
they haven’t been detected here on earth yet. aside from showing us where
the black holes, supernovae, etc. are located throughout the universe, the
detection of gravity waves should tell us all about the big bang and break
down our limits regarding how far into space we can ‘see’. along the way
australian gravity physicists have invented a device that can accurately
monitor coastal ocean waves and provide warnings of potentially life-
threatening swells. We too will focus our attention on the water as we begin
our own study of the nature of waves.
by the end of this chapter
you will have covered material from the study of the wave-like
properties of light including:
• howscientistsusemodelstoorganiseandexplainphenomena
• thedifferencesbetweentransversewavesandlongitudinalwaves
• howtorepresentwaves
• howtodefnewavesbytheiramplitude,wavelength,periodand
frequency
• thespeedoftravelofwaves
• therelationshipbetweenthespeedoftravel,frequency,periodand
wavelength of a wave.
225 chapter 7 The nature of waves
Figure 7.1 If we can learn enough about the
properties of waves we can address the question
‘Does light have a wave nature?’.
Why combine the study of waves and light?
As you embark on a study of the wave nature of light you will be walking
in the footsteps of many famous physicists from the past who were devoted
to the quest of revealing the true nature of light. In the following chapters
the question as to whether light has a wave nature is addressed. Before
such a discussion can begin, we must have an understanding of the nature
of waves themselves! Like the physicists who preceded us, we will study
the waves that can be seen on the surface of water and the waves that can be
made to travel along springs and strings. Through this examination we will
be able to describe how waves behave and collate a list of the properties
of waves. In particular, we will be looking for the rules of behaviour that
seem to be true for waves alone, and not for other mechanisms of motion.
Once we have put together the rules describing the behaviour of waves, the
question as to whether light has a wave nature can be addressed.
You may have recognised that our quest is really just a quest to find
a satisfactory model for the behaviour of light. Scientists rely heavily
on models when they attempt to explain all kinds of phenomena. If an
unknown or mysterious entity or observation can be linked with something
with which we are familiar, then we can get closer to understanding it. For
example, in the early 1900s physicists described the unknown structure
of the atom by modelling it on the familiar structure of the solar system.
They depicted the orbits of electrons around the nucleus as comparable to
the orbits of the planets around the Sun. This was a most useful model at
the time and, although not completely accurate, it set the scene for future
progress regarding our knowledge of the atom.
If waves are to be our chosen model for light then they must appear to
behave largely in the same manner as light. That is, if a wave model for
light is to be accepted then it will need to be able to explain the known
behaviours of light. A very successful model would illustrate all of the
behaviours of light. Perfect modelling is rare in science. Rather it is more
likely that we make use of the insight that a particular model provides and,
as was the case with our early models of the atom, use it as a stepping-stone
to furthering our understanding.
Waves
Sometimes it is really obvious that energy is being transferred. A golf club
hits a golf ball and the ball flies through the air; or the water stored in a dam
is released, making a turbine spin; or a volcano erupts suddenly, spurting
out hot lava and heating the surrounding region. In all of these cases energy
is transferred from one location to another. Earlier in the course you looked
at the concept of energy in detail and studied its various forms. For this
chapter an understanding that energy allows work to be done and items to
be moved around is sufficient.
There is another manner in which energy can be transferred from one
location to another. This mechanism does not involve a single body carrying
the energy with it from its origin to its final location, but rather the energy
Australia has joined the quest to detect
gravity waves with the commencement
of construction of the Australian
International Gravitational Observatory
(AIGO) just north of Perth, Western
Australia. This facility will use tiny
changes in the path of laser light to
detect the elusive gravity waves.
Physics file
7.1 In
tro
d
u
c
in
g
w
a
v
e
s
226 Wave-like properties of light
is carried through the particles of a substance. A dramatic example of this
is a tsunami—a huge ocean wave created when there is a movement in the
Earth’s crust under the sea. The energy created at the location of the shift in
the crust is passed along by the particles of the ocean water at speeds of up
to 800 km h
−1
, and can reach the coastline in the form of a towering water
wave that causes devastation. None of the water particles that flow onto
the shore will have been originally located near the source of the tsunami.
Only the energy has been passed along.
Energy being transferred from one location to another (by the passing
of the energy from one particle to the next) within a substance is called a
mechanical wave. The substance carrying the wave is called the medium.
Note that, in order to pass on the wave, the particles within the medium
each temporarily possess some (kinetic) energy and pass it along to the
adjacent particle by physically vibrating against it. As the wave energy
passes through, each individual particle of the medium will not have any
overall change in its position. This is why a floating piece of driftwood will
be observed to merely bob up and down as waves pass by.
All WAV…S involve the transfer of energy without a net transfer of matter.
Later we will see that mechanical waves are not the only category of
waves that exist. Radio waves and microwaves, for example, also transfer
energy from one place to another without a net transfer of matter. There are
many waves that can carry energy without requiring a medium. Some of
these will be visited later in the course. Remember that our objective is to
gain an understanding of the general properties of waves. We shall focus
our attention on the tangible and readily observed mechanical waves that
can be seen to travel in water, springs and strings.
Mechanical waves
A mechanical wave involves the passing of a vibration through an elastic
medium. Energy must be present at the source of the wave and this energy
is described as being carried by the wave. Overall, the medium itself is not
Figure 7.2 (a) ‘particles’ carry energy as they
move. This energy can be transferred to another
item as it collides with it. (b) Waves carry energy
through a medium without the need for an item
to have travelled from the source to the receiver.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 28
Disturbance and propagation of a
disturbance
227 chapter 7 The nature of waves
displaced. Examples of mechanical waves include the vibrations in the Earth
that we call an earthquake, the sound waves emitted by a loudspeaker, and
the disturbance that travels along a guitar string when it is plucked.
A model of an elastic medium is shown in Figure 7.3. Balls joined
together by springs represent the particles of an elastic medium. Each
‘particle’ occupies its own mean (average) position. An initial disturbance
of the first particle to the right will result in energy being passed along from
particle to particle. The particles are not all disturbed at the same time;
rather the disturbance gradually passes from one particle to the next. Also
note that, for example, as particle 2 pushes against particle 3, particle 3 will
push back on particle 2. Hence particle 2 is returned to its mean position
after it has played its role in passing on the energy. Ideally all of the energy
that was present initially will be passed right through the medium. In
practice, the temperature of a medium will increase ever so slightly due to
the movement of its particles.
Wave pulses and continuous waves
When a single disturbance is passed through a medium in the manner
discussed, we say that a wave pulse has occurred. Each particle involved
in carrying the energy is displaced once as the pulse passes through,
and then the particles gradually oscillate back to their mean positions.
Many examples of wave motion, however, involve more than one initial
disturbance or pulse at the origin. Continuous waves are created when
there is a repetitive motion or oscillation at the wave source. Energy is
carried away from the source in the form of a continuous wave. A vibrating
loudspeaker producing sound waves in air forms a continuous wave, for
example. When a medium is carrying a continuous wave, the particles of
the medium will vibrate about their mean position in a regular, repetitive
manner. These are also called periodic waves as the motion of the particles
repeats itself after a particular period of time.
Figure 7.3 This model of an elastic medium helps us to envisage the passage of mechanical
waves through a medium.
Figure 7.4 (a) a single wave pulse can be sent along a slinky spring. (b) a continuously
vibrating source can establish a periodic wave.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 29
Waves in a rope
1 2 3 4 5
wave pulse
(a)
(b)
one initial disturbance
continuous vibration at source
228 Wave-like properties of light
Transverse and longitudinal waves
As all waves carry energy, for any wave the direction of travel of energy
can be considered. There are two clearly different categories of mechanical
waves. Longitudinal waves involve particles of the medium vibrating
parallel to the direction of travel of the energy. An example of this is shown
in Figure 7.5a. As the operator vibrates his hand in a line parallel to the axis
of the spring, a longitudinal pulse is created. The particles of the medium (or
the windings of the spring in this case) will vibrate in the direction shown.
The vibrations are parallel to the direction of travel of the wave. Sound
waves are a common example of longitudinal waves. When a speaker cone
vibrates, it causes nearby air molecules to vibrate as shown in Figure 7.5b
and this is parallel to the direction in which the sound energy is sent.
Transverse waves are created when the direction of the vibration of the
particle of the medium is 90° (perpendicular) to the direction of travel of
the wave energy itself. Figure 7.4a shows an example of how this could be
achieved. As the operator shakes her hand in a direction perpendicular to
the axis of the spring, a transverse disturbance is created. Each particle of
the medium will be moved as a pulse passes through. The particles each
vibrate around their mean position, but this vibration is perpendicular to
the direction in which the energy is travelling.
Sources of one-, two- and three-dimensional
waves
Another convenient classification system for waves considers the number
of dimensions in which the wave energy travels. One-dimensional waves
occur when longitudinal or transverse waves are sent along a spring or
rope. The energy travels along the length of the conducting medium.
Figure 7.5 (a) When the vibratory motion and the direction of travel of the wave energy are parallel to one another, a longitudinal wave has been created.
(b) Sound waves are longitudinal waves since the molecules of the medium (air molecules) vibrate in the direction of travel of the energy.
Water waves are often classified
as transverse waves, but this is an
approximation. If you looked carefully
at a cork bobbing about in gentle water
waves you would notice that it doesn’t
move straight up and down but that it
has a more elliptical motion. It moves up
and down, and very slightly forward and
backward as each wave passes. However,
since this second aspect of the motion
is so subtle, in most circumstances it is
adequate to treat water waves as if they
were purely transverse waves.
Physics file
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 30
Waves in a slinky
(a)
(b)
vibration of source
vibration of source
vibration of medium
next pulse created
wave energy
wave energy
vibration of air molecule
speaker
1.
2.
3.
4.
229 chapter 7 The nature of waves
Two-dimensional waves allow energy to be spread in two dimensions.
Waves travelling across surfaces are two-dimensional. A ripple travelling
outward across the water’s surface when a stone is dropped into a pond
is a familiar example of these (see Figure 7.6a). Earthquakes, among other
effects, produce two-dimensional seismic waves that are mechanical waves
travelling across the surface of the Earth. The Sun has a version of these
too. Solar flares have been found to be the cause of solar quakes. These two-
dimensional waves travel across the surface of the Sun and, although they
travel across distances equal to ten Earth diameters, they look just like
ripples in a pond.
When you speak you create three-dimensional waves since the sound-
wave energy spreads out in all three dimensions, though obviously the
majority of the energy travels directly outward from the source. Designers
of particular speaker systems attempt to ensure that sound waves are
spread out equally in all directions. Figure 7.6b shows a three-dimensional
pressure wave emitted by a bomb blast.
Seismic wave detectors don’t just pick up
the vibrations from earth tremors. The
demise of the space shuttle Columbia,
the sinking of the Russian submarine
Kursk and the collapse of the World
Trade Center towers in New York all
registered on different seismographs
around the world.
Physics file
Figure 7.6 (a) The ripples on the surface of
this pond are described as two-dimensional
waves since energy travels outwards in two
dimensions. (b) energy travelling outward in all
directions, as in this bomb blast, forms a three-
dimensional wave.
230 Wave-like properties of light
7.1 summary
Introducing waves
• Scientists use models to link an unknown entity or
observation to something that we are familiar with,
in order to gain a better understanding of it.
• Knowledgeofgeneralwavepropertieswillallowthe
possible wave nature of light to be assessed.
• Energymustbepresentatthesourceofanywave.
• All waves involve the transfer of energy without a
net transfer of matter.
• Asubstancecarryingawaveiscalledamedium.
• Amechanicalwaveisthepassingofenergyfromone
particle to the next within an elastic medium.
• A wave pulse occurs when a single disturbance is
passed through a medium.
• Continuous waves are created when there is a
repetitive motion or oscillation at the wave source.
Energy is carried away from the source in the form of
a continuous or periodic wave.
• Longitudinal waves occur when particles of the
medium vibrate in the same direction as the direction
of travel of the energy.
• Transverse waves are created when the direction
of the vibration of the particle of the medium is
perpendicular to the direction of travel of the wave
energy itself.
If you don’t have a slinky spring handy you can still get the
idea of a longitudinal wave using the handy model provided
by Figure 7.7. Use two A5 pieces of paper. Place one sheet
so that it covers all except the top few millimetres of the
diagram. Place the other sheet so that there is a 2 mm slot
created between the sheets at the top of the diagram. Now
maintaining the 2 mm slot between the pages, slide the
pages down the diagram, taking about 4 seconds to reach the
bottom of the diagram. As you watch the slot you should be
able to see ‘longitudinal waves’ travelling to the right. Try
varying your sliding speed. Then figure out how it works!
Physics in action
Modelling a longitudinal wave
Figure 7.7 Looking at these wavy lines through a slit gives the
impression of longitudinal waves moving to the right.
position position
t
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e
t
i
m
e
231 chapter 7 The nature of waves
7.1 questions
Introducing waves
1 Describe two ways in which energy can be
transmitted.
2 What is the difference between a continuous wave
and a pulse?
3 Classify each of the items below as a continuous
wave, a pulse or neither.
a An opera singer holding a note for a long time
b An explosion
c A flag flapping in the wind
d Dominoes standing up in a row and the first one is
knocked onto the second, etc.
e A tsunami that is caused by a single upward shift
in a section of a seabed.
4 One end of a long spring is tied to a hook in a wall
and the spring is pulled tight. The free end is then
shaken up and down.
a Is the resultant wave transverse or longitudinal?
b Describe the motion of a particle that is part of a
longitudinal wave compared with one that is part
of a transverse wave.
5 A slinky spring runs from east to west across the
floor of a room and is held at each end. At one end a
person gives one quick shake by moving his hand in
a northerly and then a southerly direction.
a Is the wave in the spring longitudinal or
transverse?
b Is the wave in the spring continuous or a pulse?
c Draw an example of how the spring might look at
one moment in time.
6 A slinky spring runs from east to west across the
floor of a room and is held at each end. At one end a
person oscillates her hand periodically in an easterly
and then a westerly direction.
a Is the wave in the spring longitudinal or
transverse?
b Is the wave in the spring continuous or a pulse?
c Draw an example of how the spring might look at
one moment in time.
7 Which of the following statements is incorrect?
A Mechanical waves are made up of a series of
pulses.
B Mechanical waves must have a vibrating item at
their source.
C All waves transmit energy but don’t transmit
materials.
D All waves travel at right angles to the vibration of
the particles in the medium.
8 A spring was initially at rest and under slight tension
when a series of compressions were sent along it as
shown.

a How many oscillations had the hand completed at
the moment shown?
b In what direction are the following points about to
move?
i X ii Y iii Z
9 Using apparatus like that shown in Figure 7.3, draw
a sequence of five or six diagrams showing the
passage of a transverse wave pulse along the entire
length of the spring.
10 Explain the following observation: Although trans-
verse waves cannot travel through the middle or
lower sections of a body of water, they can travel
along its surface.
undisturbed spring
Z Y X
232 Wave-like properties of light
7.2
R
e
p
re
s
e
n
tin
g
w
a
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e
fe
a
tu
re
s
Displacement–distance graphs
If a continuous wave was travelling across the surface of water, and we were
able to freeze it instantaneously, a cross-section would look something like
Figure 7.8a. If the wave then continued, a brief moment later it will have
moved slightly to the right and the water particles will have taken up new
positions as shown in Figure 7.8b and then Figure 7.8c. The floating cork,
like the particles of the medium itself, demonstrates a vertical vibratory
motion. It is displaced up then down, then up, then down. A continuous
transverse wave could be sent along a piece of rope or a spring, and the
particles of the medium would display a similar behaviour to the up and
down motion of the water particles.
A more convenient way of representing waves is to draw a graph of
particle displacement against distance from the source. Keep in mind
that the mean position of each water particle is the undisturbed level (flat
surface) of the water. On the vertical axis we plot the displacement of
each particle from its original level at a particular moment in time. The
horizontal axis is used to represent the various locations across the water’s
surface. Therefore the graph shows the displacement of all particles along
the path of the wave, at a particular instant. In this case the chosen instant
is the wave position shown in Figure 7.8c.
The shape of the graph in Figure 7.9 relates directly to what we see on
the surface of the water. However, these types of graphs can also be used
to represent waves that are not so readily visible. Sound waves in air are
Figure 7.8 as the wave moves to the right the displacement of the particles of the medium can
be tracked using a cork. (a) The cork is on the crest of a wave. (b) The cork has moved lower as
the wave moves to the right. (c) The cork is now in the trough of a wave.
(a)
(b)
(c)
wave source
cork now lower
wave travels right
original
water
level
crest
trough
233 chapter 7 The nature of waves
often represented by displacement–distance graphs, but in this case the
vertical axis is used to show the forward and backward displacement of the
air molecules as the sound wave passes through. Re-visit Figure 7.5a. If a
longitudinal pulse was sent down a spring (by giving a quick push along
its axis), then the vertical axis could be used to represent the forward and
backward displacement of the particles of the medium.
The speed of waves
Rather than just examining one snapshot, a sequence of graphs can be used
to represent a wave that is moving across to the right (see Figure 7.10).
By tracking the progress of one crest as it moves to the right, the speed at
which the wave is moving can be determined. The use of a dashed line in
Figure 7.10 is just to help you keep track of the initial trough and crest that
were created. Note that points P and Q and all particles of the medium
simply oscillate vertically, while the crests and troughs ‘move’ steadily to
the right.
Figure 7.10 as each disturbance is created it will
be carried away from the source by the medium.
Figure 7.9 The graph of displacement versus
distance from the source of a wave is effectively
freezing the wave at a moment in time, in other
words taking a snapshot.
P
a
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t
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t
Distance from the source
0.01 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.07 0.08
5.0
t = 0
0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.07 0.08
5.0 t = 0.025 s
0.01 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.07 0.08
5.0
t = 0.050 s
0.02
0.01 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.07 0.08
5.0
t = 0.075 s
0.02
0.01 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.07 0.08
5.0
t = 0.100 s
Distance from source (m)
P
Q
P
Q
P
Q
P
Q
P
Q
D
i
s
p
l
a
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e
m
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n
t

(
×

1
0

3

m
)
234 Wave-like properties of light
Worked example 7.2A
Use the series of graphs shown in Figure 7.10 to determine:
a the average speed of the wave
b the horizontal speed of particle p
c the average vertical speed of particle p between t = 0 s and t = 0.025 s.
Solution
a Since speed is the measurement of the distance an item travels in a certain time, let’s
examine the progress of the first crest as it travels from d = 0.01 m to d = 0.05 m in a
time period of 0.100 seconds.
average speed =
distance travelled
time taken
=
(0.05 - 0.01)
0.200
=
0.04
0.100
= 0.40 m s
−1
or 40 cm s
−1
b particle p is vibrating vertically. It has zero horizontal speed.
c particle p covers a vertical distance of 5 × 10
−3
m (or 5 mm) in this time period.
average speed =
distance travelled
time taken
=
0.005
0.025
= 0.20 m s
−1
In mechanical waves the speed of the wave is largely determined by the
properties of the medium and, of course, by the type of disturbance that is
being carried by the medium. (Sometimes the speed of a wave can also be
affected by the frequency of the source; this is discussed later.) You may
have observed a common example of how the properties of a medium can
be altered in order to change the speed of a wave. Try sending a pulse along
a slinky spring and make a mental note of how quickly it is carried away.
Now stretch the spring across a greater distance, increasing the tension
in the spring, and send a similar pulse along it. You should have been
able to noticeably increase the speed at which the wave travels. Tension is
one example of a property of an elastic medium that affects wave speed.
Table 7.1 shows some common waves and typical speeds at which they are
carried by their medium.
Table 7.1 Typical speeds of waves in some common mediums
Source of wave Medium Typical speed (m s
–1
)
Mechanical pulse slinky spring 1200
Guitar plucking guitar string 1300
Sound source air at 20°c 1344
water 1450
rock 1500–3500
Infrared waves vacuum (no medium) 3 × 10
8
Figure 7.11 Infrared (heat) waves travel away
from the source at the same speed as light
in a vacuum or in air, 3 × 10
8
m s
–1
. Different
temperatures show up as different colours in an
infrared photograph.
235 chapter 7 The nature of waves
The frequency and period of a wave
Every mechanical wave must have a vibrating source. The rate at which
the source vibrates directly affects the nature of the wave formed. The
frequency of a source is the number of full vibrations or cycles that are
completed per second. For example, a dipping rod in a ripple tank may
move up and down 30 times each second. It will therefore create 30 crests
and 30 troughs on the water’s surface every second. If any given point on the
water’s surface were selected, then 30 complete waves would travel past
this point per second. Frequency is a measurement of cycles per second
(s
−1
), and this unit has been appropriately named after Heinrich Hertz
(1857–1894), who did important work with radio waves. Hence 1 cycle per
second equals 1 hertz (Hz).
The FR…QU…NCY of a wave source, f, in hertz (Hz), is the number of vibrations or
cycles that are completed per second.
Or, the frequency of a wave travelling in a medium is the number of complete waves
that pass a given point per second.
The time interval for one vibration or cycle to be completed is called
the period, T, which is measured in seconds (s). This will also be the time
between successive wave crests arriving at a given point. Since a decrease
in the frequency of a wave will result in a longer period between waves,
the relationship between frequency and period is an example of inverse
variation. For example, if ten crests pass a given point in 1 second, then the
frequency of the wave must be 10 Hz and the period of the wave would be
one-tenth of a second or 0.1 s.
FR…QU…NCY, f =
1
T
where f is the frequency of the wave in hertz (Hz)
T is the period of the wave in seconds (s)
Worked example 7.2B
a student lays a long heavy rope in a straight line across a smooth floor. She holds one
end of the rope and shakes it sideways, to and fro, with a regular rhythm. This sends a
transverse wave along the rope. another student standing halfway along the rope notices
that two crests and troughs travel past him each second.
a What is the frequency of the wave in the rope?
b What is the frequency of vibration of the source of the wave?
c how long does it take for the student to produce each complete wave in the rope?
Solution
a Frequency is defined as the number of complete waves that pass a given point per
second, so f = 2 hz.
b To produce a wave with a frequency of 2 hz, the source must have the same frequency
of vibration; that is, 2 hz.
c f =
1
T

∴ T =
1
f
=
1
2
= 0.5 s
It takes 0.5 s for each cycle to be completed.
236 Wave-like properties of light
Displacement–time graphs
The effects of mechanical waves can be investigated using displacement–
time graphs. In these graphs the movement of one particle of the medium
is monitored as a continuous wave passes through. As with the previous
graphs we studied, the vertical axis may be used to represent displacements
perpendicular to the wave’s direction (as in transverse waves) or parallel to
the wave’s direction (as in longitudinal waves). In both cases, the displace-
ment is measured relative to the mean position of the particle. Since the
horizontal axis indicates time values, the period of the continuous wave
can be directly read from the graph. Figure 7.12 shows the displacement–
time graph that would apply to the situation described in Worked example
7.2B. Note that the graph covers two complete cycles; that is, two complete
waves have passed by.
Wavelength and amplitude
Recall that earlier we examined graphs that show the displacement of
all particles along the path of a continuous wave, at a particular instant.
Graphs of particle displacement versus distance from the source can be
used to determine the wavelength of a continuous wave. Examine Figure
7.13. Clearly there are particles within the medium that have identical
displacements at the same time, such as points A and B. The wavelength of
a continuous wave is the distance between successive points with the same
displacement and moving in the same direction. These points are said to be
in phase with one another. The symbol used for wavelength is the Greek
letter lambda, λ. Like all length measurements in physics, the standard unit
used is the metre (m).
In Figure 7.13 the points X and Y have the same displacement and
direction of movement and so they can also be described as being one
wavelength apart. Note that although points P and Q have the same
displacement, they will not be moving in the same direction. They are only
1
2
λ apart. In the next section we will examine how the frequency of the
wave source and the velocity that the medium allows the wave combine to
determine the wavelength of the wave that is produced.
The amplitude, A, of a wave is the value of the maximum displacement
of a particle from its mean position. The displacement of particles in a
continuous wave will vary between a value of A and -A, as shown in
Figure 7.13. The more energy provided by the source of the wave, the larger
the amplitude of the wave. For example, in water waves the amplitude
obviously corresponds directly to the height of the wave. In sound waves
the amplitude determines the loudness of the sound.
Keep in mind that displacement–time
graphs are looking at the motion of a
particular particle. Recall our original
definition of a wave as involving energy
moving in a medium and realise that
these graphs are not showing energy
travelling. Therefore these diagrams
are not actually graphing a ‘wave’. The
familiar shape of this graph occurs
because the motion of the particle is
periodic; that is, it is a repeating cycle.
Physics file
In many of the waves examined in
this chapter there is no decrease in
amplitude shown as the wave travels
through its medium. This is an
idealisation. You will have noticed that
pulses sent along springs will die out
eventually. Internal resistance within
real springs turns some of the wave’s
energy to heat. The energy of a circular
wave is spread over a larger and larger
wavefront as the circumference of the
circular wavefront grows. As it moves
outwards, each section decreases in
amplitude because it carries a smaller
portion of the wave’s total energy.
Physics file
Figure 7.12 When determining the period of a wave directly from a displacement–time graph, it
does not matter at which part of the cycle you begin the period measurement.
period, T
period, T
0.25 0.50 0.75 1.0
Time (s)
P
a
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t
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i
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p
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a
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(
c
m
)
237 chapter 7 The nature of waves
Physics in action
huygens’s principle
Figure 7.14 (a) circular water waves. (b) evenly spaced lines can represent the crests of a wave travelling outward, according to huygens’s principle
and (c) every point on a wavefront is a source of secondary circular wavelets.
Figure 7.13 When determining the wavelength of a wave directly from a displacement–distance
graph, it does not matter at which part of the cycle you begin the wavelength measurement.
Distance from source (m)
P
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p
l
a
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m
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t
A
–A
X
Y
P
A B
R Q
one wavelength, λ
amplitude, A
λ
λ
(a)
λ
rays giving
direction of
propagation source
ray
ray
ray
initial wavefront
new wavefront
new wavefront
initial wavefront
(b)
(c)
All sorts of waves, such as the circular water
waves seen in Figure 7.14a, can also be
represented in diagrams like that shown in
Figure 7.14b. Lines are used to represent a
certain part of the wave, such as the crests.
If the diagram were drawn to scale the
distance between the lines would represent
the wavelength, λ. These diagrams are
particularly useful should you want to
indicate the region over which the wave
energy has spread.
In 1678 Christiaan Huygens
suggested a model that provides an
explanation for how waves are carried
through a medium. His model coincides
with what we see in situations like that
shown in Figure 7.14a. Huygens’s
principle is a method that uses
geometry to predict the new position
of a wavefront, if the original position
of the wavefront is known. The principle states
238 Wave-like properties of light
that every point on a wavefront may be considered the source
of small secondary circular wavelets. These wavelets spread
out with exactly the same speed as the original wavefront.
The new wavefront is then found by drawing a tangent to all
of the secondary wavelets. This is called the envelope of the
wavelets and is shown in Figure 7.14c.
Figure 7.14c shows the points on a wavefront that are
sources of secondary circular wavelets. These wavelets move
at speed v and so during time interval t cover a distance of
vt. The speed, v, has been assumed to be the same for all
wavelets. Although we have only examined the spread of
a circular wave, Huygens was renowned for the use of his
principle in explaining the reflection and refraction of waves
at boundaries (which is discussed later in this text).
1 Calculatethefrequencyandperiodof:
a a spring that undergoes 40 vibrations in
50 seconds
b a pendulum that completes 250 full swings in one
and a half minutes.
2 In a ripple tank the trough of a water wave travels
70cmin2.5seconds.Calculatethespeedofthewave
in metres per second.
3 What usually happens to the amplitude of the vibra-
tion of a circular water wave as it spreads out?
Why?
4 A pebble is dropped into a pool and after 3.00 seconds
24 wave crests have been created and travelled out
from where the pebble entered the water. What is
the frequency and period of the water wave that was
created?
5 A piston in a car engine completes 250 complete
up-and-down movements every half a minute.
a What is the frequency of vibration of the piston?
b What is its period?
c Assuming that the piston started from a central
position and moved up, where will it be after:
i 1 period?
ii 1
1
4
periods?
iii 1
1
2
periods?
• Amechanicalwavecanberepresentedataparticular
instant by a graph of particle displacement against
distance from the source.
• The frequency of a wave, f, is the number of
vibrations or cycles that are completed per second,
or the number of complete waves that pass a given
point per second. Frequency is measured in hertz
(Hz).
• Theperiod,T, is the time interval for one vibration or
cycle to be completed.
• Frequencyf =
1
T
where f is the frequency of the wave
in hertz (Hz), and T is the period of the wave in
seconds (s).
• Agraphofparticledisplacementversustimecanbe
drawn for the particles of a medium that is carrying
a continuous wave. The period of the wave can be
read directly from this graph.
• Graphsofparticledisplacementversusdistancefrom
the source can be used to determine the wavelength
of a continuous wave.
• The wavelength, λ, of a continuous wave is the
distance between successive points having the same
displacement and moving in the same direction; that
is, the distance between points that are in phase.
• The amplitude, A, of a wave is the value of the
maximum displacement of a particle from its mean
position.
7.2 questions
representing wave features
7.2 summary
representing wave features
239 chapter 7 The nature of waves
6 Which of the following statements is correct?
A Period is the measurement of the length of a
wave.
B The amplitude of a wave is dependent upon the
frequency.
C The more energy put into a wave the greater the
wavelength.
D The more energy put into a wave the greater the
amplitude.
7 Examine the wave represented in Figure 7.10. What
is its wavelength?
8 A longitudinal wave enters a medium and causes its
particles to vibrate periodically. Draw a displacement–
time graph that could demonstrate the motion of the
first affected particle of the medium for the first two
cycles. Begin with a positive displacement, i.e. in the
direction of travel of the wave.
9 The displacement–distance graph shows a snapshot
of a transverse wave as it travels along a spring
towards the right.

P
Q
S
R
0.20 0.40 0.60 0.80 1.00 1.20 1.40 1.60
20
10
–10
–20
Distance along spring (m)
P
a
r
t
i
c
l
e
d
i
s
p
l
a
c
e
m
e
n
t

(
c
m
)
a Use the graph to determine the wavelength and
the amplitude of this wave.
b At the moment shown, state the direction in which
the particles Q and S are moving.
c Assuming that the wave is travelling at 12 m s
−1

to the right, and no energy is lost, draw the
displacement–distance graph for this wave
0.05 seconds after the moment shown. Label the
points P, Q, R and S.
10 The displacement–time graph shows the motion of
a single air molecule, P, as a sound wave passes by
travelling to the right.

D
i
s
p
l
a
c
e
m
e
n
t

o
f
P

(
×

1
0

8

c
m
)
Time (ms)
1 2 3 4
0.5
–0.5
a Use the graph to determine the amplitude, period
and frequency of this sound wave.
b State the displacement of the particle P at:
i t = 1 ms ii t = 2.5 ms iii t = 5.5 ms
c Draw the displacement–time graph for particle Q,
which is positioned half a wavelength to the right
of particle P. Show the same 4 ms time interval.
d If sound is actually a longitudinal wave, why does
this graph look more like a transverse wave?
240 Wave-like properties of light
7.3
W
a
v
e
s
a
n
d
w
a
v
e
in
te
ra
c
tio
n
s
The wave equation
The frequency of a source of a mechanical wave and the velocity of that
wave in the medium together determine the resulting wavelength of the
wave. For example, a horizontal bar vibrating at frequency f may be used
as the dipping element in a laboratory ripple-tank as shown in Figure 7.15.
Once one crest is created, assume that it travels away from the source at a
known speed, v.
Since the definition of speed is:
speed =
distance travelled
time taken
this can be rearranged to:
distance travelled = speed × time taken.
Consider the first period, T, of the wave’s existence. The distance that
the first wave will be able to cover before the next wave is created behind
it is determined by the speed at which the medium allows the wave to
travel. The distance that the first wave travels during one period—by
definition—is the wavelength of the wave, λ. Therefore we acknowledge
that the ‘distance travelled’ = λ when the ‘time taken’ = T.
Substituting into:
distance travelled = speed × time taken
λ = v × T
The frequency and period of a wave are inversely related:
T =
1
f
Hence, the above relationship can also be expressed as:
λ =
v
f
The WAV… …QUATION links the speed, frequency and wavelength of a wave:
v = f λ
Note that substituting f =
1
T
into the wave equation gives:
v = f λ =
λ
T
where v is the speed of the wave in metres per second (m s
-1
)
f is the frequency of the wave in hertz (Hz)
λ is the wavelength of the wave in metres (m)
T is the period of the wave in seconds (s)
Note that for a medium of a given speed, the use of a higher frequency
source would result in waves that are closer together; that is, waves of
a shorter wavelength. A low frequency source would produce longer
wavelength waves (see Figure 7.16). For a given wave speed:
λ ∝
1
f
Figure 7.15 The medium carrying the wave and
the frequency of its source together determine
the wavelength of a wave.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 31
Waves in a ripple tank
Interactive tutorial 6
The wave equation
wavelength = distance one wavefront
moves before the next
wave is created
λ
241 chapter 7 The nature of waves
An implication of the wave equation that is worth noting is that a source
that has a specific frequency of vibration is able to produce waves of
different wavelengths, depending upon the medium that carries the wave.
Consider a submarine that puts out a high frequency tone of 20000 Hz.
If this same frequency tone were sent both into the water and into the air,
the waves produced in the water would have a much longer wavelength
than the waves produced in the air. This is because sound waves travel
about four times faster in water than in air (see Figure 7.17).
For a source of a given frequency:
λ ∝ v
Worked example 7.3A
a person standing on a pier notices that every 4.0 seconds the crest of a wave travels past
a certain pole that sticks out of the water. The crests are 12 metres apart. calculate:
a the frequency of the waves
b the speed of the waves.
Solution
a The period of the wave is 4.0 s.
Since f =
1
T
f =
1
4.0
= 0.25 hz
b Since the crests are 12 m apart the wavelength is 12 m.
v = f λ
= 0.25 × 12
= 3.0 m s
-1
Waves meeting barriers
Mechanical waves travel through a medium. Commonly a situation will
occur in which the wave travels right through to a point where the medium
physically ends. An example of this is the wave created as a child leaps
into a pool; it travels until it reaches the pool wall. At the boundary of
the medium, the energy that was being carried by the wave may undergo
different processes. Some of the energy may be absorbed by or transmitted
into a new medium, and some energy may be reflected.
Figure 7.16 (a) For a medium of a given speed, the use of a low frequency source produces
waves with a long wavelength. (b) With less time between the creation of successive waves, a
high frequency source produces waves with a shorter wavelength.
Figure 7.17 Since sound waves travel much faster
in water than in air, the waves produced by a
tone of a given frequency have a much longer
wavelength when they travel through water than
when they travel through air.
Physics file
The phase change of a wave on reflection
from a fixed end can be explained in
terms of Newton’s third law of motion.
When the pulse arrives at the fixture,
the rope exerts a force on the fixture.
The fixture exerts an equal and opposite
force on the rope. This produces a pulse
that is in the opposite direction to the
original pulse; that is, a change in phase
has occurred.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 32
reflections of waves in a ripple tank
low frequency source
longer
wavelength
high frequency source
(a) (b)
shorter
wavelength
shorter wavelength longer wavelength
λ λ
tone of same
frequency slower speed
shorter
wavelength
faster speed
longer wavelength
242 Wave-like properties of light
The extent to which these processes occur depends on the properties
of the boundary. We shall examine the case of a transverse wave pulse
travelling in a heavy rope that has one end tied to a wall. As shown in Figure
7.18a the wave travels to the boundary and we can see that it is reflected
with almost no energy loss since the original amplitude is maintained. The
wave, however, has been inverted; this can also be described as a reversal in
phase. (The definition of phase was discussed in the previous section.) Since
a crest would reflect as a trough and a trough would reflect as a crest, we
can say that the phase of the wave has been shifted by
1
2
λ.
A WAV… R…FL…CTING FROM TH… FIX…D …ND of a string will undergo a phase reversal;
that is, a phase shift of
λ
2
.
Now consider the situation in which the end of the rope is free to move.
As shown in Figure 7.18b, the wave travels to the end of the rope and we
can see that it is reflected with no reversal in phase. Since a crest would
reflect as a crest and a trough would reflect as a trough, we can say that
there was no change of phase.
A WAV… R…FL…CTING FROM TH… FR…… …ND of a string will not undergo a phase
reversal.
Figure 7.18 (a) The reflection of a wave at an
unyielding boundary produces a phase shift of
1
2
λ. Note that otherwise the shape of the wave is
unaltered. (b) The reflection of a wave at a free-
end boundary does not produce a phase shift.
The stealth aircraft is designed so that its body is as poor
a reflector as possible. The main way in which a passing
aircraft is detected by others is with the use of radar.
A radar transmitter sends out pulses of radio waves or
microwaves and a receiver checks for any reflections
from passing aircraft. By analysing the reflections, radar
systems can work out the position, speed and perhaps even
the identity of the passing aircraft.
Stealth aircraft are designed to create as little
reflection of these waves as possible. The shape of the
stealth aircraft is the most important factor. It does
not have any large vertical panels on the fuselage that
would act like mirrors, nor a large vertical tail. It has no
externally mounted devices such as missiles or bombs. It
does not include any surfaces that meet at right angles.
These would act like the corners in a billiard table and
bounce the waves right back to their source. Instead
curved surfaces on the stealth aircraft are designed to
reflect waves sideways or upward wherever possible.
A thick coat of special paint that absorbs radio waves
is used on its surface. Although not completely
undetectable, with the right shape and coating a large
stealth plane can produce the same amount of wave
reflection as an average sized marble!
Physics in action
reflections NOT wanted!
REPLACEMENT TO BE PROVIDED
Figure 7.19 The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a long-range stealth
fighter.
243 chapter 7 The nature of waves
Superposition: waves interfering with waves
In the case of a continuous wave being sent towards a boundary, a situation
can be created in which two waves may be travelling in the one medium,
but in different directions. The incident waves will meet the waves that have
already reflected from the boundary. When two waves meet they interact
according to the principle of superposition.
The principle of SUP…RPOSITION states that when two or more waves travel in a
medium the resulting wave, at any moment and at any point, is the sum of the
displacements associated with the individual waves.
Consideraspringinwhichatransversepulsehasbeensentfromeach
end, as shown by the sequence of events in Figure 7.20. When the pulses
reach the same point in the spring, the resulting wave will be the sum
of the displacement produced by the individual pulses. The principle of
superposition is therefore the same as the ‘addition of ordinates’ process
that is carried out on graphs. Simply sum the y-values of each of the pulses
to see the resulting wave.
In Figure 7.20 the initial pulses have particle displacements in the same
direction and therefore constructive interference occurs. Notice that after
interacting with each other, the two pulses have continued on unaffected.
This is an observed property of waves. They are able to pass through one
another, momentarily interact according to the superposition principle,
and then continue on as if nothing had happened.
When a note is played on a musical
instrument sound waves with many
different wavelengths are produced
simultaneously. The richness of a tone
is largely determined by how many
different wavelengths make up the
sound wave. The tone with the longest
wavelength determines the overall
perceived pitch of the note but the
number of overtones (other wavelengths
present) will add to its timbre.
Physics file
Figure 7.20 Superposition of two pulses of the same amplitude travelling towards one another.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 33
Interference of water waves
A
2A
x
x
x
A
2A
pulse 1 pulse 2
pulse 2 pulse 1
pulse 2 pulse 1
y
y
y
y
y
A
A
A
A
sum of individual pulses
x
x
244 Wave-like properties of light
In Figure 7.21 destructive interference occurs since the initial pulses
have particle displacements in opposite directions. If the crest of one pulse
has exactly the same dimensions as the trough of the approaching pulse
then the two pulses will momentarily completely cancel each other out, as
shown in Figure 7.21. If the amplitude of one of the waves is larger than the
other then only partial cancellation will occur.
In the case of interference between continuous waves, the principle of
superposition is still applicable. If two waves are exactly in phase and are
travelling in the same direction, then constructive interference will occur
along the entire length of the wave. The two waves need not have the same
amplitude. In Figure 7.22 one wave is twice the amplitude of the other
wave and the resultant wave is shown.
Interesting effects are observed when two waves of different wavelengths
are travelling in the same direction and interfere with one another. Figure
7.24 shows the addition of two waves, where one wavelength is exactly three
times longer than the other. This is a relatively simple example. Imagine
the complexity of the sound-wave patterns produced when instruments
in an orchestra are played simultaneously. Or of the wave patterns that are
produced on the surface of water in a busy harbour.
Figure 7.22 The superposition of continuous
waves that are in phase and travelling in the
same direction will result in constructive
interference.
We have looked at how waves can reflect
back along a string from a fixed end.
Essentially this is what happens to the
waves sent along a bowed violin string
or a plucked guitar string. The numerous
reflected waves add together according
to the principle of superposition with
some important effects. For each mode
of vibration shown in Figure 7.23, at
some spots on the string constructive
interference will occur. In other spots
destructive interference occurs. Since
each particular mode of vibration has
set locations for these spots, the wave is
called a standing wave.
Physics file
Figure 7.24 The addition of waves of different
wavelengths results in complex wave patterns.
Figure 7.21 Superposition of two pulses of equal but opposite amplitudes travelling towards
one another.
Figure 7.23 One mode in which
a string can vibrate involves
destructive interference occurring
right at the centre point of the string.
Wave 1
y
x
A
2A
3A
x
x
y
y
Wave 2
Wave 1 +
Wave 2
pulse 1
pulse 1
pulse 2
pulse 2
sum of pulses
y
y
y
x
x
x
x
y
wave 1
resultant wave
wave 2
245 chapter 7 The nature of waves
We have seen how a wave can spread out from a point
source, but waves are also capable of bending around
obstacles or spreading out after they pass through
a narrow gap. This bending of the direction of travel
of a wave is called . Figure 7.25 shows the
diffraction of water waves as they pass through an
aperture.
Diffraction effects can be seen with two-dimensional
waves, such as on the surface of water, and also with
three-dimensional sound waves. This explains why we can
hear sounds that were originally made around the corner
of a building. The sound waves bend their direction of
travel—that is, diffract—around the corner of the building
to reach the listener’s ears.
The extent to which diffraction occurs depends on the
relative dimensions of the aperture or obstacle that the wave
passes, and the wavelength of the wave. Most noticeable
diffraction occurs if the wavelength is at least as large as the
aperture is wide. When waves of a small wavelength are sent
through a large aperture, as in Figure 7.26, less noticeable
diffraction occurs.
Spreading water waves produce interference patterns
that are characteristic of waves. Consider two sources of
spherical waves (Figure 7.27). In some locations constructive
Physics in action
Diffraction and interference effects
interference occurs and waves of relatively large amplitude
are seen. These regions have lots of contrast in the
photograph; that is, alternating bright and dark bands are
seen. In other regions destructive interference occurs. Troughs
arriving from the other source always cancel out the crests
that arrive at these locations, and the surface of the water
remains relatively undisturbed. The regions of destructive
interference appear grey and flat in the photograph. These
regions of destructive interference appear to radiate from a
point between the sources.
Both diffraction and interference effects are only observed
when energy is being carried by waves, not when energy is
being carried by particles.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 34
Diffraction of continuous water waves
Figure 7.26 Significant diffraction occurs when the wavelength is at
least as large as the aperture.
Figure 7.27 The interference pattern produced by two point sources
in phase.
Figure 7.25 rather than only travelling directly forwards, notice how
the wavefronts spread out to fill the region behind the obstacles.
246 Wave-like properties of light
Now we can look at light!
Now that we have put together the rules describing the characteristics of
waves, the question as to whether light has a wave nature can be addressed.
Waves have numerous characteristics and they have been worth examining
in their own right. We have been able to conclude the following:
• Waves involve the transfer of energy without an overall transfer
of matter.
• Mechanicalwavesrequireavibratingitemattheirsourceandamedium
to carry them.
• Wavescanbecategorisedaslongitudinalortransverse.
• Thewaveequation,v = fλ, describes the relationship between the speed,
frequency and wavelength of a wave.
• Waves can reflect at boundaries and this will sometimes produce a
change of phase.
• Wavescanbeaddedaccordingtotheprincipleofsuperpositionandthis
can result in constructive or destructive interference.
In Chapter 8 we will go on to discuss whether it is appropriate to use
waves as our chosen model for light. For this to be fitting, light must
appear to behave largely in the same manner as waves do. That is, if a wave
model for light is to be accepted, then it will need to explain the known
behaviours of light. A very successful model would illustrate all of the
behaviours of light. This is not likely. It is more likely that we will be able to
make use of the insight that waves provide, and use this insight to further
our understanding of the nature of light.
7.3 summary
Waves and wave interactions
• The frequency of the source and the speed of the
wave in the medium determine the wavelength of a
mechanical wave.
• Thewaveequationstates:
v = f λ =
λ
T
where v = speed of the wave in metres per
second (m s
−1
)
f = frequency of the wave in hertz (Hz)
λ = wavelength of the wave in metres (m)
T = period of the wave in seconds (s).
• For a wave of a given speed, λ ∝
l
f
.
• Forasourceofagivenfrequency,λ ∝ v.
• A wave reflecting from a fixed end of a string will
undergo a phase reversal; that is, a phase shift of
λ
2
.
• Awavereflectingfromafreeendofastringwillnot
undergo a phase reversal.
• Theprincipleofsuperpositionstatesthatwhentwo
or more waves travel in a medium the resulting
wave, at any moment, is the sum of the displacements
associated with the individual waves.
• Constructive interference occurs when two waves
meet that have particle displacements in the same
direction.
• Destructive interference occurs when two waves
meet that have particle displacements in opposite
directions.
247 chapter 7 The nature of waves
1 a What happens to the wavelengths of the waves in
a ripple tank if the frequency of the wave source is
doubled?
b What happens to the speed of the waves in a
ripple tank if the frequency of the wave source is
halved?
2 The source of waves in a ripple tank vibrates at a
frequency of 15.0 Hz. If the wave crests are 40.0 mm
apart, what is the speed of the waves in the tank?
3 A wave travels a distance of 50 times its wavelength
in 10 seconds. What is its frequency?
4 A submarine’s sonar equipment sends out a signal
with a frequency of 35 kHz. If the wave travels at
1400 m s
−1
, what is the wavelength of the wave
produced?
5 Which of the following statements is incorrect?
A When two pulses interact the resulting wave,
at any moment, is the sum of the displacements
associated with the individual waves.
B After two waves interact with each other they will
continue on through the medium unaffected.
C For two pulses to interfere destructively they must
have opposite amplitudes.
D For two continuous waves to interfere construct-
ively they must have identical amplitudes.
6 Will a transverse wave reaching the fixed end of a
string undergo a phase reversal?
7 Two waves are travelling in the same direction in
a medium. They undergo constructive interference
along the entire length of the wave. What two
statements can be made about the two waves?
8 Assuming the following diagram shows the displace-
ment–distance graphs of two waves at a particular
instant, show the addition of the two waves according
to the principle of superposition.

9 Draw the resultant displacement versus distance
graph for two superimposed continuous waves that
are in phase and travelling in the same direction.
Each wave has a wavelength of 4 cm and amplitude
of 1 cm. Show two complete cycles.
10 Draw the resultant displacement versus distance
graph for two superimposed continuous waves
travel ling in the same direction. Each wave has
a wavelength of 4 cm and amplitude of 1 cm, but
one wave is one-quarter of a wavelength behind the
other.
7.3 questions
Waves and wave interactions
chapter review
The following information applies to questions 1–3. a pulse is
travelling along a light spring. The diagram below shows the position
of the pulse at t = 0 s. The pulse is moving at a speed of 40 cm s
−1

to the right.

1 Use a set of scaled axes to draw the displacement–distance
graph for the pulse at the moment shown.
2 Draw the displacement–distance graph for the pulse 0.5
seconds later. clearly show the location of point p.
3 Draw the displacement–time graph for the point Q for a time
interval of 2.0 seconds, beginning at t = 0.
4 List an example of a one-, a two- and a three-dimensional wave.
5 a guitar string is plucked near one end. a wave moves along the
string and another wave is produced in the air. State whether
each wave is transverse or longitudinal.
Drawn to scale
10 cm
90 cm
40 cm
t = 0 s
P Q
248 Wave-like properties of light
The following information applies to questions 6–9. The diagram
shows two successive amplitude–distance graphs for a periodic
transverse wave travelling in a string. The time interval that passed
between the tracings of the two graphs is 0.20 s. The graphs are
drawn exactly to scale.

6 State the amplitude of the wave.
7 State the wavelength of the wave.
8 calculate the velocity of the wave.
9 calculate the frequency and period of the wave.
10 Which of the following statement(s) is/are incorrect? (One or
more answers are possible.)
A all mechanical waves require a medium to carry the wave.
B all mechanical waves transfer energy.
C In wave motion some of the material is carried along with
the wave.
D Mechanical waves permanently affect the transmitting
medium.
11 What is the period of the wave that:
a involves 5.0 crests of water lapping against a breakwater
each 20 seconds?
b is produced by a flute playing the note middle c (512 hz)?
12 Find the frequency of the waves that have the following
periods.
a 0.35 s
b 4.0 × 10
3
s
c 10
−2
s
13 a wave pulse is sent simultaneously from both ends of a spring.
When the pulses meet they momentarily completely cancel out
one another.
a What is the term that describes this occurrence?
b Make statements about three features of the wave pulses.
14 a transverse wave travels along a string towards an end that is
free to move. Which of the following statements is true?
A The wave will reflect with no phase change.
B The wave will reflect with a phase change of
λ
2
.
C The wave will not be reflected.
D The reflected wave is faster than the incident wave.
15 Waves travelling in a ripple tank have a wavelength of 7.0 mm
and travel at 60 cm s
−1
. What is the frequency and period of the
waves?
16 One end of a long spring is firmly connected to a wall fitting.
Briefly explain how a transverse wave can be created and
carried by the spring.
The following information applies to questions 17–20. Wave a has a
wavelength of 4.0 cm, a period of 2.0 seconds and an amplitude of
1.5 cm. Wave B has a wavelength of 2.0 cm, a period of 1.0 second
and an amplitude of 1.5 cm.
17 Draw a scaled displacement–distance graph for wave a. Show
two full waves.
18 Draw a scaled displacement–distance graph for wave B. Show
four full waves.
19 If wave a and wave B were sent into the same medium and
they are travelling in the same direction, draw the resultant
displacement–distance graph. Show two full waves.
20 Draw a displacement–time graph for a particle in the medium
that carries wave a only. Show two complete cycles.
A
m
p
l
i
t
u
d
e
A
m
p
l
i
t
u
d
e
Distance
Distance
1 cm
1 cm
1 cm
1 cm
P
P
M
o
d
e
l
s

f
o
r

l
i
g
h
t
c
h
a
p
t
e
r
8
8
I
t is a common trait of humans that when we seek to understand
something we will intuitively attempt to link the unknown with
the known. In your earlier schooling a physical representation or
model was probably used to teach you about nature’s water cycle,
or multiplication, or the properties of gases. Young students benefit
from the use of tangible items such as models: things that can be
seen and touched. as we grow, our knowledge and understanding
can still benefit from the use of a modelling approach, but our models
can be more sophisticated. When computer-generated pictures were
used to model the complex equations of fractal geometry they had
an amazing similarity to some structures found in nature. Fractal
images model things such as coastlines and snowflakes and they
have become popular works of art.
a model is a system of some type that is well understood and
that is used to build a mental picture or analogy for an observed
phenomenon, in our case the behaviour of light. a good model will
appear to behave in the same manner as the entity being investigated.
a model for light needs to be able to explain the observations of
light that have already been made and ideally it would predict new
behaviours. therefore, throughout this chapter, when deciding upon
a model for light we must examine each of its known behaviours in
turn and assess the effectiveness of the chosen model.
by the end of this chapter
you will have covered material from the study of the
wave-like properties of light including:
• electromagneticwaves,particleandraymodels
for light
• applyingtherayandwavemodelstorefectionand
refraction
• thespeedoflight
• refractiveindexandSnell’slaw
• totalinternalrefectionandcriticalangle
• identifyingvisiblelightasaregionofthe
electromagnetic radiation spectrum
• colourcomponentsofwhitelightanddispersion
• polarisationoflightwavesandthetransversewave
model.
250 Wave-like properties of light
Now that we have a thorough appreciation of the properties of waves,
the question that can be asked is: Is light a wave? If a wave is defined as
the sum of its properties, does light exhibit all of the properties known to
belong to waves?
Curiosity about the nature of light has occupied the minds of physicists
for centuries. The beginning of human interest in the nature of light dates
back to the ancient Greek, Arabian and Chinese philosophers. In the early
19th century, evidence suggested that light could be modelled as a wave
since it exhibited the same set of properties as other things that had already
been defined as waves: water waves, sound waves, vibrations in springs
and strings. If light exhibits sufficient properties in common with these
known waves, then surely it too could be assumed to ‘be’ a wave?
The story of the development of a scientific model for light is not
straightforward. The discussion of light as a wave did not exist in isolation.
The giants of physics became embroiled in a famous ongoing scientific
debate that posed the question: Is light made up of particles or waves? In
this section we look at how the very simplest behaviours of light can be
readily modelled as either particles or waves.
Modelling with waves and particles
Light streaming through trees on a misty morning, the projector’s beam in
a dusty cinema, our limited view when peeping through a keyhole and the
distinct shape of shadows are all evidence for the straight-line or rectilinear
path of light. These examples provide evidence that light—transmitted in a
uniform medium (i.e. a substance that is unchanging in its constitution)—
travels in straight lines. Our awareness of the rectilinear propagation of
light allows us to judge the distance to objects. The mechanism by which
our eyes and brain interpret a three-dimensional world is complex, but it
relies on the assumption that light in a uniform medium travels in straight
lines.
The following simple experiment can be performed to demonstrate that
light travels a straight path in a uniform medium. Make a pinhole in each
of three identical pieces of card. Place card A close to a light source, and
position card B a little further away, as shown in Figure 8.1. Then, holding
card C in front of your eye so that you can always see through the hole,
adjust its position so that you can see the light from the lamp. This will only
be possible when all three pinholes lie in the same line; that is, when the
pinholes are collinear. The conclusion that can be drawn is that light must
travel in straight lines.
The above property of light was first modelled by considering that light
was particle-like in nature. Consider a beam of light shining from a powerful
torch. The direction of travel of the light ‘particles’ can be represented
by rays (Figure 8.2a). The idea of a light ray is a useful concept as it can
successfully model the behaviour of light in the situations illustrated.
A beam of light can be thought of as a bundle of rays. A strong light source,
such as the Sun, could therefore be thought of as producing a very large
number of light rays.
Figure 8.1 Light from the lamp can only be seen if
the pinholes lie in a straight line. this means that
light must travel from the lamp to the eye along
a straight line.
Figure 8.2 (a) a beam of light is made up of
a bundle of rays. (b) rays can be diverging,
converging or parallel to one another. (c) an
idealised point source of light emits rays of light
in all directions. (d) Very distant sources of light
are considered to be sources of parallel rays.
8.1
M
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B A C
diverging
rays
converging
rays
parallel
rays
(a)
(b)
(c)
(d)
251 chapter 8 Models for light
Light sources, in conjunction with other optical elements such as lenses
or mirrors, can produce rays of light that diverge, converge or travel parallel
to each other (Figure 8.2b). In each case the rays are an indication of the
direction of travel of the light; essentially light is being modelled as a stream
of particles. The incandescent (filament) and fluorescent light globes in
your home emit light in all directions. A point source of light is an idealised
light source that emits light equally in all directions from a single point
(Figure 8.2c). No single point source of light exists in reality, but a small
filament lamp can be considered a good approximation.
Lasers and special arrangements of light sources with mirrors or lenses
can produce parallel rays of light in a beam. Very distant point sources of
light can also be considered to be sources of parallel light rays. For example,
on the Earth we treat the light rays that reach us from the Sun as though
they were parallel to each other. This is because at such a large distance
from the source, the angle between adjacent rays would be so tiny as to be
considered negligible (Figure 8.2d).
Although a particle description for light and the accompanying ray
model are convenient for representing the behaviour of light in all of these
cases, it has long been understood that light is not made up of ordinary
particles. Light involves the transfer of energy from a source, but there are
no tangible particles carrying this energy. With developing technology over
the last two centuries physicists have been able to make more and more
sophisticated observations of light. Later in the chapter we will see that a
more refined electromagnetic wave model of light incorporates the wave-
like properties of light. The ray approach is still useful. If light is considered
to be a wave emanating from its source, then rays may simply be used to
represent the direction of travel of the wavefronts (see Figure 8.3). The point
source of light discussed above may be considered to be a point source of
spherical wavefronts, like the ripples that travel out from a stone dropped
into a pond (Figure 8.4).
Modelling reflection
The reflection of waves was discussed in Chapter 7. Light has been
observed to obey the same laws of reflection that apply to waves and so
evidence is provided for the argument that light is a wave. Using a wave
model, the reflection of light would be represented as a series of wavefronts
striking a surface and reflecting as shown in Figure 8.5. However it is far
more common to model the reflection of light using ray diagrams and the
conventions associated with them.
Figure 8.3 rays can be used to represent the
direction of travel of light waves leaving the
torch.
Figure 8.4 a point source of light may be
considered to be a point source of spherical
waves. Both the particle and the wave model
are consistent with the observation that the
intensity reduces with the square of the distance
from the source.
Figure 8.5 When studying reflection, ray diagrams are the most convenient way of representing
the path of light.
rays travel
outward
from
torch
wavefronts
travel
outward from
torch
point source
spherical
wavefronts
travel outwards
(a) (b)
(c)
252 Wave-like properties of light
Consider the plane mirror drawn in Figure 8.6. We define a normal to
the surface of the mirror as the line perpendicular (at 90°) to the mirror’s
surface at the point where an incoming or incident ray strikes the surface
of the mirror. The angle between an incident ray and the normal is the
angle of incidence, denoted i. The ray strikes the mirror and reflects with
an angle of reflection, r, which is the angle between the reflected ray and
the normal.
Experiment shows that whenever reflection occurs, the angle of incidence
always equals the angle of reflection. In addition, the light reflects in such
a way that the incident ray, the normal and the reflected ray all lie in the
same plane. The law of reflection can then be re-stated using a ray model
for light.
The LAW OF R…FL…CTION states that the angle of incidence, i, is equal to the angle
of refection, r (i = r). The incident ray, the normal and the refected ray will all lie in
the same plane.
A normal household mirror is constructed with three separate layers: a
layer of transparent glass, a thin coating of aluminium or silver deposited
onto the glass to reflect the light and a backing layer of protective paint
(Figure 8.7). When a beam of light strikes the surface of the mirror a tiny
amount of the light energy (about 4%) is reflected from the front surface of
the glass, but most of the light continues to travel through the glass and is
reflected from the metal surface at the back. These reflected rays produce
the image that is seen in the mirror.
regular and diffuse reflection
To some extent at least, light will reflect from all surfaces, but only some
surfaces will produce a clearly defined image. If parallel rays of light are
incident on a plane mirror or a flat polished metal surface, they will remain
parallel to each other on reflection (Figure 8.8a). This is regular reflection
(sometimes called specular reflection) and, as a result, a clear image can be
produced. Common examples of regular reflection include the reflection of
light from plane mirrors, glossy painted surfaces and still water such as in
a lake.
When light is reflected from a roughened or uneven surface, it is scattered
in all directions as shown in Figure 8.8b. This is diffuse reflection. Parallel
rays of incident light will be reflected in what seem to be unpredictable
directions. Each ray obeys the law of reflection, but the surface is irregular so
that normals drawn at adjacent points have completely different directions.
Thus, light is reflected in many different directions. Most materials produce
diffuse reflection. For example, when looking at this page, you can see the
printing because the lighting in the room is reflected in all directions due to
diffuse reflection. If the page behaved as a regular reflector, you would also
see the (reflected) images of other objects in the room.
Diffuse and regular reflection are the two extreme cases of how light can
be reflected. In reality most surfaces display an intermediate behaviour. For
Figure 8.6 When light reflects from a plane
mirror, the angle of incidence equals the angle of
reflection: i = r.
Figure 8.7 Most of the incident light on a mirror is
reflected from the silvered surface at the back of
the mirror. the glass on the front and the paint on
the back serve to protect the reflective surface
from damage.
Figure 8.8 (a) regular reflection from a smooth surface occurs when parallel rays of incident
light are reflected parallel to each other. (b) Diffuse reflection occurs at an irregular surface.
here, the incoming parallel rays are reflected at all angles.
In Year 12 you will study the
model of light developed last century.
The photon model draws on aspects of
the wave and particle models. It refers
to the light travelling in the form of tiny
packets of energy called photons. The
energy of the photon is determined by
the frequency of the light.
Physics file
plane (flat) mirror
in
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r
a
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r
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f
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r
a
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normal
angle of incidence
angle of reflection
i
r
incident ray
glass layer
metal layer
paint layer
~4%
~96%
(a)
(b)
253 chapter 8 Models for light
Physics in action
eclipses
From our everyday experience, we know that a shadow is
formed when a solid body obstructs the path of light from
the source. This can occur on a large scale when the Moon
and Sun are aligned with the Earth to produce different
types of eclipses. Figure 8.9 shows how the Earth, Moon and
Sun must be aligned to produce a lunar eclipse. In a lunar
eclipse, the Earth’s shadow falls across the face of the Moon.
However, the Earth’s shadow consists of two distinct parts.
The complete shadow, the umbra (the Latin for shadow or
shade), is the darkest region, and when the Moon passes
through this, a total eclipse of the Moon occurs. There
are also regions known as penumbra (literally ‘almost an
umbra’) where the Moon is neither fully illuminated nor fully
in shadow. When the Moon only passes through the penumbra
of the Earth’s shadow, the Moon appears dimmer than usual.
Even during a total eclipse, the Moon does not completely
disappear. Rather, it appears very dim and red in colour.
This is because it is still illuminated by a small amount of
light that has travelled through the Earth’s atmosphere. The
atmosphere acts like a prism, splitting the white sunlight into
its component colours through the process of refraction, and
the distances and angles involved are such that most of the
light that reaches the Moon is red.
Looking at the relative positions of the Earth, Moon and
Sun in Figure 8.9, one might expect a lunar eclipse to occur
once during each revolution of the Moon around the Earth,
i.e. once per month. This does not occur because the plane of
the Moon’s orbit is slightly tilted with respect to the Earth’s
orbit around the Sun. This means that the Moon often travels
only partially into the shadow region and so only a portion
of its surface is obstructed. The Moon travels at a speed of
about 1 km s
-1
through the Earth’s shadow, which means that
the longest time a total eclipse of the Moon can last is 1 hour
42 minutes. Between 9 and 12 total eclipses of the Moon can
be seen from Earth every decade.
A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon comes between the
Earth and the Sun, casting its shadow onto the Earth. Figure
8.10 illustrates two types of solar eclipse.
Figure 8.9 During a lunar eclipse the Moon travels into the earth’s
shadow.
The Moon orbits the Earth in an elliptical path, so its
distance from the Earth varies. The relative distances between
the Earth, Moon and Sun determine whether an eclipse is total
or annular (from the Latin word annulus, meaning ‘ring’).
When the Moon is relatively close to the Earth, and the Sun,
Moon and Earth are aligned, the Moon’s umbra reaches the
Earth (Figure 8.10a). Observers in the region of the Earth’s
surface covered by the umbra see a total eclipse of the Sun.
Observers only just outside the main shadow but still within
the penumbra see a partial eclipse of the Sun, in which only
a portion of the disc of the Sun is obscured. A total eclipse of
the Sun will never last more than 7 minutes at any location
on the Earth and most last only 2 or 3 minutes.
When the Moon is further from the Earth, the umbra does
not quite reach the Earth’s surface. Viewed from the Earth,
the Moon does not completely block out the Sun. Its angular
size is too small to cover the whole disc of the Sun, and at
mid-eclipse a thin ring of the Sun’s disc can still be seen
around a dark Moon. This explains the term annular eclipse.
Annular eclipses occur slightly more frequently than do total
eclipses.
example, the pages of a glossy magazine may allow a blurry image of the
reader’s face to be formed, but the printing can still be seen. The surface
produces reflection that lies somewhere between pure diffuse reflection
and pure regular reflection. Can you think of any other surfaces that do
this? What do they all have in common?
To predict the extent to which diffuse and regular reflection occur at
a surface, one must examine the surface on a microscopic scale. If the
irregularities in the surface are small compared with the wavelength of
the incident light, then regular reflection occurs. If the irregularities are
comparable in size to the wavelength of the light, then more diffuse
reflection occurs. The wavelength of light is discussed more fully later in
the chapter.
Earth’s orbit
Moon’s orbit
Sun
Earth
Earth’s main shadow
254 Wave-like properties of light
reflection, absorption and transmission
After a beam of light strikes an object, there are three processes that can
occur: some of the light may be reflected from the surface, some may be
transmitted through the material, and some may be absorbed into the
surface. This behaviour of light recommends a wave model, as viewing light
as a particle would make it difficult to explain the light energy undergoing
three different processes.
Most materials are opaque to visible light; that is, they do not allow any
light to pass through them. For example, brick, plaster and cardboard are
impervious to light. Opaque materials will reflect some light and absorb
the rest.
Other materials are transparent. A transparent material will allow a
significant amount of light to pass through it. It may absorb some, and
some may even be reflected from the surface of the material. Clear glass,
perspex, water and plastic food wrap are common examples of transparent
materials.
Some materials classified as transparent allow some of the incoming
light to pass through but distort the path of this light so that no clear image
can be seen through the material. Although the rays of light have passed
through the material, the relationship between them has been altered. Such
materials are called translucent, and examples include frosted glass, tissue
paper and fine porcelain. Translucent materials are particularly useful if
an area needs to be illuminated but privacy is required. Frosted or mottled
glass is often used for bathroom windows. In other situations, a translucent
material is used to deliberately scatter light. For example, the cover around
a fluorescent lamp or the ‘pearl’ finish of an incandescent globe can soften
household lighting by diffusing it, thereby producing less harsh shadows.
Light is a form of energy, and when light is absorbed by a material, the
energy it carries is converted directly into heat, warming the material up.
Figure 8.10 (a)DuringatotalsolareclipsetheSundisappearsbehindthediscoftheMoon.DependingontherelativepositionsoftheEarth,Moonand
Sun,thiscanlastforaslongas7minutes.(b)and(c)WhentheMoonisatitsfurthestfromtheEarth,itsdiscisnolongerlargeenoughtocoverthe
Sun,andanannulareclipseoccurs,inwhichathinring(orannulus)oftheSun’sdiscremainsvisibleandtheMoonblocksoutonlythecentralregion.
Physics file
When light travels past our eyes it
cannot be seen. Light is invisible unless
some of it is reflected into our eyes by
tiny particles in the air. The particles
might be dust, fog or smoke. An effective
demonstration of this is to mark the
path of a laser beam in a darkened room
with chalk dust.
(c)
Moon
Moon
Sun
Sun

Earth
Earth
Moon’s orbit
Moon’s orbit
(a)
(b)
255 chapter 8 Models for light
Some of the light energy will also be reflected, bouncing directly from the
surface. Experience tells us that a shiny, smooth surface tends to reflect a
greater proportion of an incoming light beam than a roughened surface.
Figure 8.11 illustrates the three possibilities for the behaviour of light
falling, or incident, on a transparent material. Many transparent materials
will only absorb tiny amounts of the light energy falling on them. For this
reason, we will choose to ignore absorption in our discussions. However,
it is important to note that no material is able to allow 100% of the incident
light to pass through. There are no perfectly transparent materials; some
reflection and absorption of the incident light will always occur.
Figure 8.12 shows the effect of the transmission and reflection of light
occurring simultaneously. If you look into a shop window you can often
see an image of your own face and the streetscape behind you as well as the
items on display in the window. The image of your face and the streetscape
are the result of reflection: the window is acting as a mirror. However, you
also see the items inside the shop as a consequence of the transmission
through the glass of the light reflected from objects inside the shop.
Figure 8.11 Light incident on the surface of a
transparent material is partly reflected, partly
transmitted and partly absorbed by the material.
the relative amounts of the light experiencing
these processes will depend on the nature of the
material in question.
Figure 8.12 Multiple images are formed by the window, which is simultaneously reflecting and
transmitting light from outside and inside the shop respectively.
Physics file
Euclid, a philosopher and mathematician
(330–260 bc) described the law of
reflection in his book Catoptrics.
However, Euclid also upheld Plato and
Ptolemy in their misguided belief in
extramission. Euclid claimed that vision
was possible because rays from our eyes
spread out in all directions and fell on
the objects that we see. He proposed that
more rays fell on closer objects and so
they were seen more clearly. Very small
or distant objects were supposed to be
difficult to see because they would lie
between adjacent rays. Echoes of this
idea continued well into the 14th century
when vision was still described in terms
of ‘extramitted’ visual rays emanating
from the eye. Roger Bacon in the late
16th century, however, proposed that
light actually travelled from the object to
the observer’s eyes.
boundary between
two surfaces
reflected light
incident
light
transmitted light
absorbed light
256 Wave-like properties of light
Physics in action
the pinhole camera
The operation of a pinhole camera provides further evidence
that light travels in straight lines. The operation of a camera
is more easily explained using a ray model for light. Rays
are used to represent the direction of travel of light through
the camera. A pinhole camera consists of a sealed box with
a small pinhole in the centre of one side. When open, the
pinhole allows a limited amount of light into the camera and
forms an image on the opposite inside wall of the box. If the
opposite wall of the box is lined with photographic film, a
permanent image can be developed. The amount of light that
can enter the camera is determined by the size of the pinhole,
and because this is small, the object to be photographed
must either be well illuminated or be a luminous object itself.
Typical exposure times reach several minutes, so it is only
practical to use a pinhole camera to photograph stationary
objects.
Ray tracing can be used to determine the size and nature
of the image that will be produced on the film. First, consider
only the uppermost tip of the object being photographed.
An infinite number of rays can be considered to emanate
from this point. Only a few of these rays will pass into the
camera because of its tiny aperture. These rays continue on
to strike the photographic film lining the back wall of the
camera. These rays will not all fall on exactly the same point
on the photographic plate, but if the pinhole is small, they
lie sufficiently close together for an image to be formed. The
geometry of the camera dictates that rays leaving the top of
the object strike the bottom of the film. Similarly, the rays
from the bottom of the object strike the top of the film. This
means that the image on the film is inverted relative to the
object (Figure 8.13).
The image in a pinhole camera is faint because only a
little light has been allowed to reach the photographic film.
To make a brighter image, a larger diameter pinhole might
be used, but this will not produce satisfactory results. The
image will be brighter but it will be blurred. This is because
the larger hole will allow rays from one point on the object to
strike different points on the film. We say that the rays are
not focused.
On examining the geometry in the ray diagram for a
pinhole camera, it is clear that a relationship exists between
Figure 8.13 the pinhole camera. If the object is at a distance that is 10
times the distance from the pinhole to the film, then the size of the
image will be one-tenth of the size of the object.
the distances from the pinhole to the object and image and
the relative heights of the object and image. It can be seen by
using similar triangles that if an object is at a distance equal
to 10 times the distance from the pinhole to the film, the
height of the image will be one-tenth of that of the object.
You can build your own pinhole camera using any
container (card or metal) that can be sufficiently sealed to
block out all light except that falling on the pinhole. It may
help to paint the inside of the box matt black to prevent
scattered light from reflecting off the walls and back on to
the film. To make the pinhole, punch a nail hole in one wall
and cover it with aluminium foil. A pinhole in the foil of about
1 mm diameter will produce good results. You will need to
load the film and seal the box in darkness; it is a good idea to
practise this a few times first. Alternatively, you can replace
the wall opposite the pinhole with tracing paper or another
translucent material to act as a viewing screen. This also
needs to be shielded from exterior light so that the image is
not flooded out. This can be done by surrounding this end of
the camera with a cardboard tube. If a photograph is to be
taken, mounting the camera on a stand is a good idea. The
camera will produce best results with bright, distant objects.
Outdoor scenery works well.
8.1 summary
Modelling simple light properties
• Light travels in a straight path in a uniform
medium.
• A straight ray model of light implies its particle
nature, but rays can also be used to represent the
direction of travel of light waves.
• Whendescribingthereflectionoflight,lightcanbe
readily modelled using rays.
• Thelawofreflectionstatesthattheangleofincidence
is equal to the angle of reflection (i = r), and the
incident ray, the normal and the reflected ray lie in
the same plane.
• Smoothreflectivesurfacesproduceregular(specular)
reflection, whereas rough surfaces produce diffuse
reflection.
• Lightcanbereflected,transmittedand/orabsorbed
at the surface of a material.
• Materialscanbeclassifiedastransparent,translucent
or opaque to the passage of light.
distant
object
pinhole
screen, film or
photographic plate
real inverted
image
257 chapter 8 Models for light
1 Describe three situations or phenomena that provide
evidence for the statement ‘light travels in straight
lines’.
2 On a particular day in Melbourne at noon, the Sun
was at an angle of elevation of 70° above the horizon.
Find the length of the shadow of:
a a 10 m flagpole
b a 1.8 m person
c a 50 m building.
3 A child has glow-in-the-dark stars on her bedroom
ceiling. The reason they can be seen in a darkened
room at night is because they:
A reflect light.
B emit light.
C transmit light.
D absorb light.
4 a Describe the construction of an ordinary plane
mirror.
b Under certain conditions, a double image can be
seen in a mirror. Why?
5 Use the law of reflection to trace the path of the rays
of light shown in the diagram. Calculate the angle of
incidence and the angle of reflection at each surface.

6 Describe a situation in which both the partial reflec-
tion and partial transmission of light occur. How can
you tell that both phenomena are occurring at the
same time?
7 a Classify the following surfaces as producing dif-
fuse reflection or regular reflection:
i the duco of a new car
ii the surface of calm water
iii a pane of glass
iv aluminium foil
v matt paint on a wall
vi frosted glass.
b Why is it impossible to see an image of yourself in
a sheet of paper?
8 An observer stands at position P, near a plane mirror
as shown. Which of the objects A, B, C and D can be
seen in the mirror?

9 Oceanographers refer to the region in the oceans in
which some light from the Sun is able to penetrate
as the ‘photic’ zone. If seawater is transparent, why
doesn’t the photic zone extend to the ocean floor?
10 Two mirrors are placed at right angles as shown
in the diagram, and a small object is viewed in the
mirrors. Draw the path for rays travelling from the
object to the observer as they reflect from the mirrors.
(Hint: there are three possible paths.)

8.1 questions
Modelling simple light properties
P
D
C
B
A
40n
90n 90n
60n
a b
eye
258 Wave-like properties of light
Figure 8.15 the refraction of light makes the
straw appear to have a bend in it. the appearance
of the straw is explained in Figure 8.20.
refraction
Light travels in a straight path if it is travelling in a uniform medium, but as
soon as light enters a different medium its path may be bent. Evidence of
the bending of light is shown in Figure 8.14 in which a person’s face can
be seen through a glass of water. Some of the person’s face can be seen
directly. Light must be travelling along a straight path from the person’s
face to the observer’s eyes. However, notice that parts of the person’s face
can also be seen through the glass of water. The light rays from the person’s
face passing through the glass of water have been re-directed or bent by the
water towards the observer’s eyes. The bending or change of direction of
light as it passes from one medium to another is called refraction.
Various common phenomena are caused by refraction. Examples include
the bend which appears in a straw that is standing in a glass of water
(Figure 8.15), the strangely shortened appearance of your legs as you stand
in a waist-deep swimming pool, and the ‘puddles of water’ that you see on
the road ahead on a warm day.
R…FRACTION is the bending of the path of light due to a change in speed as it enters
a medium of different optical density.
To fully understand these phenomena, the refraction of light can be
investigated by using a block of glass and a narrow beam of light. Figure 8.16
shows a light beam travelling through air and entering a semicircular glass
block. When light strikes the surface of a material some of the incident light
is reflected, some is transmitted and some is absorbed by the material. The
transmitted ray deviates from its original direction of travel. This change in
direction occurs at the boundary between the air and the glass, and the ray
Figure 8.14 refraction occurs because the light changes speed as it enters a medium of
different optical density. In this case the light reflected from the person’s face is bent as it
enters and leaves the glass of water. as a result the face is seen ‘inside’ the glass of water.
R
e
fra
c
tio
n
o
f lig
h
t
8.2
Interactivetutorial7
refraction
259 chapter 8 Models for light
is said to have been refracted. Refraction occurs because the light changes
speed as it enters a medium of different optical density. Later discussion
will examine the speed of light in different media and how greater changes
in speed cause more significant deviation of the beam.
Refraction and a ray/particle approach
The refraction of light can be represented using a ray/particle approach.
The ray of light that strikes the boundary between two media is called
the incident ray. A normal to the boundary is drawn at the point where
the incident ray strikes. The angle between the normal and the incident
ray is called the angle of incidence, i. The angle between the normal and the
transmitted or refracted ray is called the angle of refraction, r. The incident
ray, the normal and the refracted ray all lie in the same plane (Figure
8.17). The angle of deviation, D, is the angle through which the ray has been
deviated; hence D = (i - r).
Refraction is only noticeable if the angle of incidence is other than 0°. If
the incident ray is perpendicular to the boundary, i.e. i = 0°, the direction of
travel of the transmitted ray will not deviate even though the speed of light
has altered. An example of this can be seen in Figure 8.17 as the ray leaves
the prism and continues in a straight path.
When light travelling through air enters a more optically dense medium
such as glass (in which it must travel more slowly), it will be refracted so
that the angle of refraction is smaller than the angle of incidence. We say
that the path of light has been deviated ‘towards the normal’. When light
passes from glass to air it speeds up, as it has entered a less optically dense
medium. The angle of refraction will be larger than the angle of incidence.
The path of light is described as being refracted ‘away from the normal’.
The behaviour of light undergoing refraction can be summarised by two statements.
• Whenalightraypassesintoamediuminwhichittravelsmoreslowly(amore
optically dense medium), it is refracted towards the normal.
• Whenalightraypassesintoamediuminwhichittravelsfaster(alessoptically
dense medium), it is refracted away from the normal.
The path of refracted light is ‘reversible’. Figure 8.18 shows a ray of
light incident on the left-hand side of a rectangular prism. It undergoes
refraction towards the normal at the air–glass boundary. It then continues
in a straight path through the glass until it strikes the glass–air boundary
where it is refracted away from the normal. At each boundary the ray’s path
deviates through the same sized angle; hence, the ray that finally emerges
from the prism is parallel to the original incident ray. If the light ray was
sent in the opposite direction through the prism, i.e. if the starting and
finishing points of the light ray were swapped, the light ray would trace
out this same path—but in reverse.
Refraction and the wave approach
Although the way in which light is reflected is modelled equally effectively
using either a particle or wave approach, this is not the case for refraction.
The wave model is better able to explain the change in direction that is
observed as light enters a medium in which its speed is altered.
Figure 8.17 the angles of incidence, refraction
and deviation are defined as shown. If an
incident ray is perpendicular to the boundary
between two media, i.e. i = 0°, the direction of
travel of the ray does not deviate. an example of
this can be seen as light leaves the glass prism.
Figure 8.16 When a light ray strikes the surface
of a glass prism the transmitted ray is refracted
because of a change in speed of the light. the
bending occurs at the boundary of the two
media.
Figure 8.18 the path of light through any optical
element is reversible since the amount of
deviation at any boundary is determined by the
change in speed of the light.
angle of
incidence
angle of
refraction
angle of
deviation
i
r
D
260 Wave-like properties of light
Consider a light wave to be travelling at an angle towards a boundary
between two media, as shown in Figure 8.19a. For example, the light may
be travelling from air into water. As soon as the light wave enters the
water it will slow down. At the moment shown in the diagram the section
of wavefront AB that first enters the water will be travelling at a slower
speed than the section of the same wavefront BC that has not yet entered
the water. This first section of the wavefront then effectively lags behind the
position that it would have held had it been able to continue at its initial
faster speed. The overall result of this delay is that the direction of travel of
the overall wavefront is altered. Figure 8.19b shows how, once a number
of wavefronts have passed into the second medium, the direction of travel
of the overall wave has been deviated from its original course. A similar
arrangement can be constructed for the refraction of light as it speeds up.
The bent straw
Objects partially immersed in water will be distorted because of refraction;
that is, they will appear to have a kink in them. The photograph of the
‘bent’ straw (Figure 8.15) illustrates this. Figure 8.20 shows the path of
the rays which produce this illusion. As each ray of light emitted from the
base of the straw encounters the water–air boundary it is refracted away
from the normal, since the ray enters a less optically dense medium. The
observer perceives these rays from the base of the straw to have come from
a position higher up in the glass of water. Ray tracing can be carried out
for each point along the straw, resulting in the image shown. The straw
appears to have a bend in it because the part of the straw that is submerged
appears closer to the air–water boundary.
Apparent depth
Just as the position of the submerged portion of the straw is apparently
shifted, the actual depth of a body of water, or any transparent substance,
cannot be judged accurately by an external observer because of refraction
effects. Young children often jump into a pool believing it to be much
shallower than it really is. Have you ever reached for an object at the bottom
of a body of water and been surprised to find that you can’t reach it?
Consider an object O at the bottom of a pool as shown in Figure 8.21.
Rays from the object are refracted away from the normal at the water–air
boundary. If the observer looks down into the water from directly above,
he or she will perceive these rays to have come from a closer position as
Figure 8.20 the immersed portion of the straw
is apparently shifted upwards due to refraction.
this is because the rays appear to have come
from a raised position in the glass of water.
Figure 8.19 the change in the direction of light that is associated with a change of speed is
called refraction. refraction can be modelled by treating light as a wave.
C
S
R
A
B
original direction
of travel
wavefront
air (fast medium)
water (slow medium)
S
C
A
R
B
air
water
(a) (b)
new direction
of travel
O
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 35
refraction of continuous water
waves
261 chapter 8 Models for light
shown. Since the floor of the pool will appear to be much closer than it
really is, the water seems safely shallow. The extent to which the depth of
the water is altered is affected by the angle from which it is viewed.
Worked example 8.2A
predict the approximate path of light through the following prisms. In each case identify the
normal, the angle of incidence and the angle of refraction.
Physics file
Although ray diagrams are commonly
used to represent the refraction of light,
keep in mind that these describe only
the direction of travel of the refracted
light and do not tell the whole story.
Although wave diagrams of refraction
are more complicated, they are more
convincing since they reveal the reasons
for the change in direction of travel of
the light.
Figure 8.21 the apparent depth of a body of water appears less than its actual depth because of
refraction. Light rays from a point at the bottom of the pool are refracted at the water’s surface.
the observer perceives these rays to have come from an elevated location and interprets this
as an indication of shallow water.
perspex
glass air
air
a b
glass
glass
water
air
air
d c
O
O
air
observer
water
apparent
depth of
pool
262 Wave-like properties of light
Solution

at each boundary between media the light must refract either towards or away from the
normal to the boundary. the light ray is refracted towards the normal on entering each
prism and away from the normal when leaving the prism. When an incident ray meets a
boundary with an incident angle of 0°, no deviation occurs.
the law of refraction
Scientists spent many years trying to find the relationship between the
angle of incidence and the angle of refraction produced at the boundary
between a given pair of media. At very small angles, doubling the angle of
incidence appeared to double the angle of refraction, but this relationship
does not hold for larger angles of incidence. In about 1621 Willebrord Snell,
a Dutch scientist, found that for a given pair of media the sine of the angle
of incidence was directly proportional to the sine of the angle of refraction,
i.e. sin i ∝ sin r. This relationship is now known as Snell’s law:

sin i
sin r
= constant . . . . . . (i)
Each combination of a pair of materials has a different constant. For
example, the constant for the air–water interface is different from that for
the glass–water interface. The constant is called the relative refractive
index, denoted n*. Literally, an index (or listing) of numbers was created
to describe the amount of refraction or bending occurring at the boundary
of numerous pairs of transparent media. A higher relative refractive
index for a given pair of media indicated that more bending occurred.
This was a cumbersome system which was refined, as will be explained
later in this chapter.
Physics file
Willebrord Snell (1591–1626) is
commonly accredited with the discovery
of the law of refraction in about 1621.
He did not immediately publish his
findings and meanwhile the French
scientist René Descartes (1596–1650)
published his own derivation of the law
of refraction. This caused a dispute
within the scientific community at the
time, with some claiming that Descartes
had seen Snell’s work. It is worth noting
that in France the law of refraction
known elsewhere as Snell’s law is called
Descartes’ law.
Figure 8.22 WillebrordSnell.
perspex
glass
glass
glass
water
air
air
air
i
i
i
i
r
r
r
r
b a
d c
263 chapter 8 Models for light
R…LATIV… R…FRACTIV… IND…X: n* =
sin i
sin r
Each pair of media will have a specifc relative refractive index.
Worked example 8.2B
Astudentshinesathinbeamoflightontothesideofaglassblock.Shenotesthatwhenthe
angle of incidence is 40°, the light passes into the block with an angle of refraction of 25°.
When the angle of incidence is 70° the angle of refraction is 39°. Determine the relative
refractive index, n*, of the air–glass boundary.
Solution
the first pair of data gives:
n* =
sin i
sin r
=
sin 40°
sin 25°
= 1.5
the second pair of data gives:
n* =
sin i
sin r
=
sin70°
sin 39°
= 1.5
i.e. the same relative refractive index, as expected.
Optical density and the speed of light
Different transparent media allow light to travel at different speeds. Light
travels fastest in a vacuum, more slowly in water and even more slowly in
glass. We say that glass is more optically dense than water. Table 8.1 shows
the speed of light in various media. The amount of refraction occurring at
any boundary depends upon the extent to which the speed of light has been
altered, i.e. the ratio of the two speeds of light in the two different media.
Figure 8.23 represents light travelling in air and meeting three substances
of different optical density. Light bends most when its speed is most
significantly altered. The medium carrying the incident ray is identified
as medium 1 and the medium carrying the refracted ray is medium 2. The
angle of refraction depends on the speed of light in the two media and the
angle of incidence.

sin i
sin r
=
v
1
v
2
. . . . . . (ii)
where v
1
is the speed of light in medium 1 and v
2
is the speed of light in
medium 2.
the index of refraction
Since it is only the ratio of the speeds of light in the two different media
that determines the degree of refraction, each medium can be allocated an
absolute refractive index, n. This is obtained by comparing the speed of
light in the medium in question with the speed of light in a vacuum:
n =
speed of light in a vacuum
speed of light in the medium
c = speed of light in a vacuum = 3.0 × 10
8
m s
-1
n =
c
v
medium

Figure 8.23 In each case light is entering a
medium of greater optical density. the bending
of the path of the light depends on the ratio of
the speeds in the two different media. the path
of light deviates most when the change in speed
is greatest.
table 8.1 the speed of light in different
media (quoted for yellow light
λ = 589 nm)
Medium Speed of light (m s
-1
)
Vacuum 3.00 × 10
8
air 3.00 × 10
8
Water 2.25 × 10
8
Glass 2.00 × 10
8
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 36
Investigatingrefraction:Snell’slaws
least refraction most refraction
air
water
air
glass
air
diamond
264 Wave-like properties of light
By definition the refractive index of a vacuum would be exactly 1. Light
travels only marginally more slowly in air and so the refractive index of air
is 1.0003, but in most cases a value of 1.00 is sufficiently accurate. Materials
in which light travels slowest will have the highest indices of refraction.
For example, if a particular medium allowed light to travel at half the
speed it does in a vacuum, then the refractive index of the medium would
be 2. The refractive index can therefore be considered an indication of the
‘bending power’ of a material. Table 8.2 lists the absolute refractive indices
for various media.
By definition of the absolute refractive index:
v
1
c
×
c
v
2
=
n
2
n
1
Hence, Snell’s law can now be expressed as:

sin i
sin r
=
n
2
n
1
. . . . . . (iii)
Snell lived nearly 200 years before scientists were able to measure the
speed of light in air with any degree of accuracy, so he was not aware that
the refractive index was linked to the speed of light in a particular medium.
We can now combine the equations (i), (ii) and (iii) developed above so that
Snell’s law is fully expressed.
SN…LL’S LAW:
sin i
sin r
=
v
1
v
2
=
n
2
n
1
= n*
Worked example 8.2C
a ray of light passes from air into quartz, which has an absolute refractive index of 1.46.
If the angle of incidence of the light is 40°, calculate:
a the angle of refraction
b the angle of deviation of the ray
c the speed of light in the quartz.
assume the index of refraction of air is 1.00 and the speed of light in air is 3.0 × 10
8
m s
−1
.
Solution
Draw a diagram to model the situation. as the light is slowed down the rays should bend
towards the normal.
a List the data:
i = 40°, n
1
= 1.00, n
2
= 1.46 and r = ?
then:
sin i
sin r
=
n
2
n
1

sin 40°
sin r
=
1.46
1.00

hence sin r =
1.00 × sin 40°
1.46
∴ r = 26°
Note that r is smaller than i, as expected.
b the angle of deviation is equal to the difference between i and r.
D = (i - r)
= 40° - 26°
= 14°
Physics file
The refractive index is also dependent
on the colour of the light travelling
through the medium. Since white light
is made up of light of different colours,
the refractive index must be quoted for
a specific wavelength of light. Typically
yellow light of wavelength 589 nm is
used since this can be considered an
average wavelength of white light. If the
refractive index for a particular sample
of crystal quartz was quoted as 1.55,
red light would have a slightly higher
refractive index of 1.54 and violet light
would have a slightly lower refractive
index of 1.57. This observation produces
dispersion, discussed later in the chapter.
table 8.2 absolute index of refraction, n
(quoted for yellow light λ = 589 nm)
Medium Index (n)
Vacuum 1.0000
air 1.00029
Ice 1.31
Water 1.33
Quartz 1.46
Light crown glass 1.51
heavy flint glass 1.65
Diamond 2.42
medium 1 = air
boundary
medium 2 = quartz
i = 40°
r
angle of deviation
N
265 chapter 8 Models for light
c n
1
= 1.00, n
2
= 1.46, v
1
= 3.0 × 10
8
m s
−1

v
1
v
2
=
n
2
n
1

3.0 × 10
8
v
2
=
1.46
1.00

v
2
= 2.1 × 10
8
m s
−1
In 1678 the Dutch mathematician Christiaan Huygens
published his ideas on the nature and propagation of light.
(At about the same time Newton developed his corpuscular
theory.) Huygens’s idea was that light acted like a wave. In
his model he suggested that each point along a wavefront
of light could be considered to be a point source for small,
secondary wavelets. Each wavelet was spherical, and the
wavelets radiated from their point source in the general
direction of the wave propagation (i.e. the light beam). The
envelope or common tangent of the wavelets then became the
new wavefront as shown in Figure 8.24.
Figure 8.25 shows how Huygens’s principle can be used
to explain refraction. In the initial medium the spacing
between wavefronts is λ
1
. In the second (slower) medium the
wavelength, λ
2
, will be reduced in correspondence with the
ratio of the velocity of light in each medium such that:
λ
1
λ
2
=
v
1
v
2
Consider the wavefront that is just approaching the
boundary labelled AB and the wavefront just leaving it. Using
the right-angled triangle drawn above the boundary (with
hypotenuse AB), we can state:
sin θ
1
=
λ
1
AB
Using the right-angled triangle below the boundary with
hypotenuse AB, we can state:
sin θ
2
=
λ
2
AB
Therefore:
sin θ
1
sin θ
2
=
λ
1
AB
×
AB
λ
2
=
λ
1
λ
2
Hence Snell’s law, which states that:
sin θ
1
sin θ
2
=
λ
1
λ
2
=
v
1
v
2
can be derived from a wave model of light.
Physics in action
huygen’s wavelets and refraction
Figure 8.24 the envelope of the wavelets caused the formation of the
new wavefront.
Figure 8.25 huygens’s approach allowed the refraction of light—as
quantifiedbySnell’slaw—tobeaccuratelymodelled.
source
ray
ray
ray
initial wavefront
new wavefront
A
B
boundary
refracted light
incident
light
λ
1
λ
2
λ
2
λ
1
θ
1
θ
2
266 Wave-like properties of light
refraction in the atmosphere
Although air has previously been considered to be a uniform medium, there
are circumstances when in fact it is not uniform. Consider the envelope
of air surrounding the Earth. The atmosphere is not uniform: the optical
density of air increases closer to the Earth’s surface. Although this variation
occurs gradually, the situation can be represented by a series of horizontal
layers of increasing refractive index as shown in Figure 8.26. As light from
an object such as a star travels through each boundary between layers it
is refracted towards the normal. The observer therefore believes the light
to have come from a position higher in the sky. In reality the bending
must occur gradually rather than at distinct intervals, and the amount of
bending has been greatly exaggerated in the diagram. A maximum amount
of refraction occurs when objects are quite low in the sky. This is because
the angle of incidence on the atmosphere is greatest and the light must
travel through a wider atmospheric band. The amount of refraction is not
noticeable to the human eye as when a maximum amount of refraction
occurs stars would only be shifted in position by less than 1°.
Refraction by the atmosphere also extends the length of the day.
Whenever you watch a sunset you see the Sun for a few minutes after it
has actually passed below the horizon. This is because light from the Sun is
refracted as it enters and travels through the Earth’s atmosphere, as shown
in Figure 8.27. This effect is greatest at sunset and sunrise when the angle of
incidence of the Sun’s rays on the atmosphere is greatest.
The atmosphere consists of moving layers of air and so the optical
density of the layers is continually changing. Since light rays must travel
through this varying medium, light from the one object will follow slightly
different paths at different times. This is one reason for the twinkling of
stars and the apparent wriggling of distant objects on a warm day.
Figure 8.26 the refractive index of the atmosphere
is not uniform; hence, the path of light from a
star is refracted, apparently altering its position.
Figure 8.27 TheSunisstillvisibleeventhoughitisactuallybelowthehorizon.
layers
of
increasing
optical
density
apparent position of star
real position
of star
light from star is
refracted as it travels
through the atmosphere
position of
observer
atmosphere
Sun appears to be on the horizon
actual path of
sunlight
267 chapter 8 Models for light
Mirages are often believed to be the insane illusions of
thirsty desert wanderers, but a mirage is the image of a
real object and can be explained in terms of the refraction
of light. A mirage is a displaced and often distorted image
occurring when layers of air of different temperature cause
the path of light to bend. The severity and consistency of
this temperature gradient determines many features of
the observed apparitions. An inferior mirage refers to the
downward displacement of an image. A superior mirage
means the image is displaced upwards. The following
discussion examines just a few of the many different types of
mirages that occur.
Inferior mirages
An inferior mirage occurs when the air at ground level is
warmer than the air immediately above, i.e. the air is being
heated from below. This situation often arises in the afternoon
of a hot, sunny day above a black bitumen road or above the
sands of the desert. Air of higher temperature is less optically
dense and hence has a lower refractive index. Light from
the sky is refracted as it travels through the layers of air of
different optical density as shown in Figure 8.28. As a result
the light ray is travelling upwards as it enters the observer’s
eyes and the image is then seen on the ground ahead. Driving
on a warm day, you often see an image of the sky on the road
ahead; this is interpreted as a body of water.
Floating on water
A fascinating inferior mirage often occurs above shallow
bodies of water in the early morning. The water retains its
heat overnight but the surrounding land does not. Cool air
from above the land flows over the warmer water and is
heated from below. Thus air temperature decreases with
height. However, the temperature gradient is not uniform.
The temperature drops quickly near the water’s surface,
but at greater heights the decrease in temperature is more
gradual. If an observer looks at a person in the distance the
image of the person is displaced downwards but the bottom
of the object is displaced more than the top of the object
since these lower rays travel through a stronger temperature
gradient. Thus the person is irregularly enlarged. This
phenomenon is called towering.
Figure 8.28 Desert mirage. When air is
heated from below, an inferior mirage
can occur in which an image is displaced
downwards. this diagram is simplified.
the air layers of different temperature will
not be uniform nor parallel to the plane of
the ground. Light from the sky is gradually
refracted by the air layers so that it is
travelling slightly upwards when it enters
the eye. the diagram exaggerates this
bending. the observer sees an image of the
sky on the distant road ahead and interprets
this as a body of water.
Figure 8.29 the picture on the left shows a mirage on a road. In the picture on the right, the horizon shows the effect of towering.
Physics in action
Mirages
cool air
hot air
light from sky
mirage
268 Wave-like properties of light
1 a The figure below represents a situation involving
the refraction of light. Which of the lines labelled
A–E is:
i the boundary between two media?
ii the normal? iii the incident ray?
iv the refracted ray? v the reflected ray?
b Explain what happens to the speed of light as
it crosses the boundary between medium 1 and
medium 2. How do you know?

2 The following diagrams show light passing from
glass into different media labelled A, B, C and D.
a Which media are more optically dense than the
glass?
b Which media have a refractive index less than the
refractive index of glass?
c Which medium has the highest refractive index?
d Which medium has a refractive index very close
to the refractive index of this sample of glass?

3 Using Figure 8.25 as your reference, show how a
wave model can be used to explain the refraction
of light as it passes through the boundary into a
medium in which its speed is increased.
4 Explain the following observations.
a When you are standing in a shallow pool you
appear shorter than usual.
• Refractionisthebendingoflightduetoachangein
its speed as it enters a medium of different optical
density. The greater the change in the speed of light
the greater the bending.
• Theanglebetweenthenormalandtheincidentrayis
called the angle of incidence. The angle between the
normal and the transmitted or refracted ray is called
the angle of refraction.
• When a light ray passes into a medium in which it
travels more slowly (a more optically dense medium)
it is refracted towards the normal.
• When a light ray passes into a medium in which
it travels faster (less optically dense) it is refracted
away from the normal.
• Each transparent medium is allocated an absolute
refractive index, n, determined by the speed at which
light can travel in the medium compared with the
speed of light in a vacuum, c:
n =
c
v
medium

• Snell’s law describes the relationship between the
angle of incidence, i, and the angle of refraction, r, for
a given pair of media:
sin i
sin r
=
v
1
v
2
=
n
2
n
1
= n*
8.2 questions
refraction of light
8.2 summary
refraction of light
medium 1
medium 2
A
B
C
E
D
i i
i
i
glass
medium A
glass
medium B
glass
medium D
glass
medium C
A B
C D
269 chapter 8 Models for light
b On a warm day a person sees a ‘puddle’ on the
road ahead.
5 When light passes through a pane of glass it is
refracted. This does not cause the distortion of an
image seen through the glass because:
A the emerging rays are perpendicular to the inci-
dent rays.
B the index of refraction of glass is too small to cause
distortion.
C the displacement of light rays is too small to be
noticed unless the glass is very thick.
D most of the light is reflected, not refracted.
6 a The speed of light in a particular transparent
plastic is 2.00 × 10
8
m s
−1
. Calculate the refractive
index of the plastic. The speed of light in a vacuum
is 3.00 × 10
8
m s
−1
.
b What is the speed of light in water (n = 1.33)?
7 A student wishes to determine the refractive index
of a particular sample of glass by experiment. By
passing a narrow beam of light from air into the glass,
she measures the angles of refraction, r, produced
using a range of incident angles, i. Her results are
shown.
i (degrees) 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60 65
r (degrees) 16 19 22 25 28 31 33 35 37
a Plot a graph of sin i versus sin r.
b Determine the gradient of the graph, i.e. the relative
refractive index of light passing from air into glass.
c Assuming the refractive index of air is 1.00, what
is the refractive index of the glass sample used?
d Calculate the velocity of light in the glass.
8 a What is the relative refractive index for light passing
from water into diamond if an incident angle of
30° produces an angle of refraction of 16°?
b Light travels from water (n = 1.33) into glass
(n = 1.60). The incident angle is 44°. Calculate the
angle of refraction.
9 A ray of light is incident on the surface of water
in a fish tank. The incident ray makes an angle of
32.0° with the surface of the water. The light that is
transmitted makes an angle of 50.4° with the surface.
Calculate:
a the angle of incidence
b the angle of refraction of the transmitted light
c the angle of reflection
d the angle of deviation of the transmitted ray.
10 A ray of light travels from air, through a layer of glass
and then into water as shown. Calculate angles a, b
and c.

air
(n = 1.00)
glass
(n = 1.50)
40n
water
(n = 1.33)
a
b
c
270 Wave-like properties of light
8.3
C
ritica
l a
n
g
le
, TIR
a
n
d
E
M
R
critical angle and total internal reflection
When light is incident upon the boundary between two media, reflection,
transmission and absorption may occur. As the angle of incidence increases,
the intensity of the reflected beam increases and less light is transmitted.
Consider the case of light travelling from water into air. Since the transmitted
light enters a less optically dense medium it travels faster and is refracted
away from the normal. The series of diagrams in Figure 8.30 shows the effect
that increasing the angle of incidence has on the transmitted light.
As the angle of incidence is increased, the angle of refraction also
increases. This continues until, at a certain angle of incidence called
the critical angle, i
c
, the angle of refraction will be almost 90° and the
transmitted ray travels just along the surface of the water. The angle of
refraction can increase no further. If the angle of incidence is then increased
beyond the critical angle no ray is transmitted and total internal reflection
will occur. This is appropriately named, as none of the incident light energy
is able to be transmitted into the next medium; it is totally reflected into
the medium carrying the incident ray. In effect, as the angle of incidence
increases, the intensity of the reflected beam gradually becomes stronger,
until at an angle of refraction of more than 90° all of the light is reflected
and no light is transmitted at all.
The critical angle can be found for any boundary between two media
by using Snell’s law. If the refractive indices of the two media are known,
a presumption of an angle of refraction of 90° allows the critical (incident)
angle to be calculated:
sin i
sin r
=
n
2
n
1
If the incident angle is equal to the critical angle, i.e. i = i
c
, then r = 90°.
The above equation becomes:
sin i
c
sin 90°
=
n
2
n
1
Now sin 90° = 1; hence the critical incident angle is given by:
sin i
c
=
n
2
n
1
The CRITICAL ANGL…, i
c
, is the angle of incidence that produces an angle of refraction
of 90° as light is transmitted into a medium in which it travels at a higher speed.
sin i
c
=
n
2
n
1
Worked example 8.3A
an underwater light shines upwards from the centre of a swimming pool that is
1.50 m deep. Determine the radius of the circle of light that is seen from above.
(n
air
= 1.00, n
water
= 1.33)
Figure 8.30 the critical angle for light travelling
from water into air is approximately 49°. If the
incident angle is greater than 49° total internal
reflection occurs.
Physics file
When light refracts at a surface the
transmitted ray becomes less intense as
the angle of incidence increases. Place
any small flat piece of glass on this page;
a microscope slide will do. Look onto the
slide from directly above and you will
easily observe the writing below.
Now move your head so that you
are looking through the slide from a
gradually decreasing angle of elevation.
The page beneath the glass should
become gradually darker. The amount of
light transmitted through the glass and
towards your eyes is becoming less.
i = 45°
i = 49°
r

90°
i = 50°
r = 70°
water
air
water
air
water
air
<
271 chapter 8 Models for light
Solution
Step 1. Determine the critical angle for the water–air boundary.
sin i
c
=
n
air
n
water
sin i
c
=
1.00
1.33
i
c
= sin
-1

(
1.00
1.33
)
i
c
= 48.8°
Step 2. Draw a diagram to represent
the situation.
considering one-half of the cone of
light produced, since the critical angle
is 48.8°, the angle QOp is 48.8°.
Step 3. Using trigonometry:
tan 48.8° =
R
1.50

hence R = 1.50 tan 48.8°
=1.71m
Theradiusofthecircleoflightis1.71m.
Total internal reflection is used in many optical instruments, including
cameras, periscopes and binoculars. When light reflects from a mirror there
is always some loss in the intensity of the incident light, and reflection can
occur from both the front and rear surfaces of the mirror, causing problems.
By contrast, almost no loss of intensity occurs with total internal reflection.
Since the refractive index for glass is about 1.5, the critical angle for light
travelling from glass to air is approximately 42°, and a glass prism with
internal angles of 45° can be used as a mirror in the applications discussed
below.
Figure 8.31a shows the construction of a simple periscope. Light enters
the top glass prism perpendicular to the glass surface and so no refraction
(deviation) occurs at this stage. The light passes through the prism and
strikes the back surface at an angle of 45°. The angle of incidence is greater
than the critical angle and so the light can only be totally internally reflected.
The light travels down the tube of the periscope, enters the lower prism
and is again reflected. The surfaces of the prism do not need to be silvered
for reflection to occur.
Binoculars use a compound prism that is constructed of four 45° prisms
(Figure 8.31b). The light actually undergoes four reflections on its passage
from the objective lens to the eyepiece. This lengthens the path that the
light must travel and hence more compact binoculars can be made for a
given magnification. Today’s binoculars are as effective as the telescopes of
the past, which had to be many times longer.
Figure 8.31 Good quality periscopes and
binoculars use 45° glass prisms for the total
internal reflection of light rather than mirrors.
this means reduced loss in the intensity of light
and eradicates the problems caused by reflection
occurring at both the front and rear surfaces of
mirrors.
Physics file
Since the refractive index of any given
medium depends on the colour of the
light travelling through the medium,
each colour of light will have a slightly
different critical angle. For example, if
the critical angle for red light travelling
from glass to air was 40.5°, then yellow
light would have a slightly smaller
critical angle of 40.2°. Violet light would
have an even smaller critical angle of
39.6°. Although these values are very
similar, they are sufficiently different to
cause the dispersion of white light into
its component colours—the colours of the
rainbow!
air
water
1.50 m
P Q
O
48.8°
light source
R
48.8°
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 37
total internal reflection in prisms
eyepiece
objective
(a)
(b)
272 Wave-like properties of light
Physics in action
Optical fibres
An optical fibre uses total internal reflection to carry light,
with very little energy loss. Since the 1950s fibre optics has
been used in the flexible fibrescope, a device that allows
doctors to see inside the human body.
By 1970 the production of very pure fibres reduced
energy losses, making fibre optics feasible for use in
communication. Since then this technology has made it
possible to transfer large amounts of data at remarkable
speeds, enabling the dream of a worldwide computer network
to be realised.
The transmission process
Essentially optical fibres carry information in a digital
format; that is, light signals turn on and off at very fast
rates. Optical communication systems take information
from a device, convert it into a digital form if needed, and
impress this digital signal onto a carrier frequency that has
been produced by a laser or LED. This is called modulation.
The signal is then fed into an optical fibre for transmission
(coupling). A critical factor is the range of frequencies of
light that the optical fibre is able to carry efficiently. Each
fibre has a limiting bandwidth (frequency range) and a set
number of different signal wavelengths that are allowable in
this bandwidth. For example, the different signal wavelengths
employed may be not allowed to be any closer than about
0.3 nm in spacing. (See later discussion.)
During transmission attenuation (energy losses along
the way) will occur. Therefore repeater stations are used to
receive the weak incoming signal and boost it before sending
it further along the fibre. Regenerators may also be used
to remove noise and distortion in the signal at this stage.
Depending on the quality of the fibre, repeater stations are
inserted about every 100 km along a long-distance optical
cable.
When a signal reaches its destination it must be
de-modulated (removed from its carrier wave) and the signal
processed as required by the end user. The signal must arrive
with only as much distortion as can be compensated for at
this end.
Different types of fibre
Optical fibres can be divided into two categories depending
on the manner in which information is carried: single-mode
(thin core) fibres and multimode (large core) fibres. The term
‘mode’ is synonymous with pathway.
A single-mode fibre allows only one path on which light
can travel (Figure 8.33a). Note the tiny dimensions of the
fibre. A micron is one-millionth of a millimetre, and a human
hair is typically about 70 microns in diameter.
Single-mode fibres are used in high-speed, long-distance
telecommunications. For example, Melbourne and Sydney
are linked by optical cable containing numerous single-mode
fibres.
Figure 8.33 Comparethedimensionsandstructureofthedifferentfibres.(a)Single-modefibres,suchasthoseusedinhigh-speed
telecommunications, result in much less distortion of the optical signal. (b) Multimode fibres, such as those used in local area networks, are cheaper
to produce but have more distortion problems. these are adequate for use over shorter distances.
core
8.3 micron
cladding
125 micron
coating
250, 500 or 900 micron
core
50 100 micron
cladding
125 or 140 micron
coating
250–900 micron
(a) (b)
Figure 8.32 a magnified optical fibre torch.
273 chapter 8 Models for light
electromagnetic waves
What is light? In the late 1600s it was known to involve the transfer of
energy from one place to another. In Isaac Newton’s time a corpuscular
(particle) model and a wave model for light had seemed equally valid.
We have discussed these two proposed models of light along with their
respective explanations of the reflection and refraction of light. In spite of
considerable endeavour by scientists it was not until the early 1800s that one
model prevailed. Thomas Young discovered that sources of light were able
to interfere with each other just like sound waves and water waves do. This
finding led to a universally accepted wave theory for light. Furthermore, the
speed of light could be measured for the first time, and the wave model of
Worked example 8.3B
a particular step-index multimode fibre has a core of refractive index
1.460 and cladding of refractive index 1.440. calculate the critical
angle of the core–cladding boundary of this optical fibre.
Solution
List the data:
n
core
= 1.460, n
cladding
= 1.440
sin i
c
= sin
-1

(
1.440
1.460
)
i
c
= 80.51°
The core and cladding are designed so that the critical
angle for an optical fibre is typically greater than 80°. Hence,
only light rays undergoing glancing collisions with the core–
cladding boundary are totally internally reflected. Although
this causes more light energy to be lost at coupling, it means
that all of the light rays emerging from the end of the fibre
have travelled a path of approximately the same length.
A multimode fibre can have two different forms: the step-
index multimode fibre or the graded-index multimode fibre.
A step-index multimode fibre has the same structure as the
single-mode fibre described above, but it has a much larger
core made of uniform glass (Figure 8.33b). A graded index
fibre also has a large core, but its refractive index gradually
decreases from the centre to the outer diameter of the fibre.
The path of light in a step-index multimode fibre
Light rays are sent down the central core fibre. If the fibre
is straight, most of the rays will travel along the axis of the
fibre. Some light will strike the boundary between the core
and the cladding, particularly if the fibre is bent. Any ray
striking the boundary at an angle greater than the critical
angle is totally internally reflected. The size of the critical
angle is determined by the refractive indices of the core and
cladding (see Figure 8.34).
Figure 8.34 Outer rays from the light source
that enter the core at an angle of incidence
greater than 13° will continue on to strike
the core–cladding boundary at an angle of
incidence less than the critical angle of 81°.
these rays will therefore be transmitted into
the cladding and be lost. rays originally within
the cone of acceptance strike the cladding at
an angle greater than 81° and are therefore
totally internally reflected. these reflected
rays carry the signal along the fibre.
86°
81°
86°
81°


13°
13°
light
source
cone of
acceptance
rays striking
here are lost
rays striking
here are lost
cladding (n = 1.440)
cladding (n = 1.440)
core (n = 1.460)
274 Wave-like properties of light
refraction (discussed in section 8.2) was validated. Meanwhile another area
of physics had been developing. By the 1860s investigations being carried
out on different forms of electromagnetic radiation led to the finding
that visible light itself is just one of the many forms of electromagnetic
radiation (EMR).
Electricity and magnetism were once considered to be separate subjects.
However, moving charges create magnetic fields. Similarly a changing
magnetic field can be used to create electricity. In 1864 James Clerk
Maxwell used mathematical equations to describe how charges moving
periodically in a conductor would set up alternating electric fields and
magnetic fields in the nearby region. Maxwell knew that the magnetic and
electric fields travelled through space. He calculated their speed and found
it to be 300 000 km s
-1
, exactly the same as the speed of light! Also, he
devised mathematical expressions to describe the magnetic and electric
fields. The solution to these expressions was found to be the equation of a
wave. Maxwell had shown that light is an electromagnetic wave.
Today we know that the electromagnetic spectrum includes a wide range
of frequencies (or wavelengths). All electromagnetic waves are created by
accelerating charges which result in a rapidly changing magnetic field and
electric field travelling out from the source at the speed of light, as shown
in Figure 8.35. Note that the electric field component and the magnetic field
component are at right angles to each other and to their direction of travel.
Electromagnetic radiation meets the description of a transverse wave as
discussed in Chapter 7.
The many forms of EMR are essentially the same, differing only in
their frequency and, therefore, their wavelength. The electromagnetic
spectrum is roughly divided into seven categories depending on how
the radiation is produced and the frequency. The energy carried by the
electromagnetic radiation is proportional to the frequency. High-frequency
short-wavelength gamma rays are at the high-energy end of the spectrum.
Low-frequency long-wavelength radio waves carry the least energy. Humans
have cells in their eyes which can respond to EMR of frequencies between
approximately 400 THz and 800 THz; these frequencies make up the visible
light section of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Figure 8.35 Sinceallelectromagneticwavestravelwiththesamevelocitytheonlythingthat
differentiates one form of eMr from another is the frequency (and, therefore, the wavelength).
electric field
magnetic field
wavelength λ
direction of motion of wave
velocity c = 3 × 10
8
m s
–1
x
y
z
275 chapter 8 Models for light
Recall from Chapter 7 that for any wave the relationship between its
frequency and its wavelength is given by v = fλ.
All electromagnetic radiation travels at a speed of 3.00 × 10
8
m s
-1
in a
vacuum and so this significant speed has been allocated the symbol c.
For all …L…CTROMAGN…TIC RADIATION f =
c
λ
where f is the frequency of the EMR (Hz)
c is the speed of the EMR = 3.0 × 10
8
m s
-1
λ is the wavelength of the EMR (m)
Figure 8.36 shows the different categories of EMR. Note the range of
frequencies and wavelengths is enormous. The range of frequencies (or
wavelengths) constituting visible light occurs near the middle of the
spectrum. Our eyes cannot perceive any wavelengths of EMR outside of
this range.
Worked example 8.3C
the eMr given off by a sample of sodium as it is burned has a wavelength of 589 nm. What
is the frequency of this radiation? how would we detect the radiation?
Figure 8.36 the electromagnetic spectrum.
Gamma rays
X-rays
Ultraviolet
Visible spectrum
Infrared
Microwaves
TV
Radio
10
22
Hz
10
16
Hz
800–400 THz
10
12
Hz
10
10
Hz
10
8
Hz
10
6
Hz
10
–14
m
10
–8
m
400–800 nm
10
–4
m
10
–2
m
10 m
10
2
m
Frequency Wavelength
276 Wave-like properties of light
Solution
f =
c
λ
=
3.0 × 10
8
589 × 10
-9
= 5.09 × 10
14
hz
= 510 thz
this frequency of eMr lies in the visible light section of the electromagnetic spectrum,
therefore we would see it! It is actually yellow light.
Radio waves
Accelerating a positive or negative charge can produce EMR.
Electrons oscillating in a conducting wire, such as an antenna,
produce the radio waves that bring music to your home. The
long-wavelength low-energy electromagnetic waves blanket
the surrounding region, and aerials can receive the signal
many kilometres from the source. As a result of the radio
waves, electrons in the receiving aerial wire will oscillate,
producing a current that can be amplified. Radio waves can
be transmitted over very long distances, including around the
Earth’s surface, by reflection from layers in the atmosphere.
Microwaves
Microwaves are EMR of wavelengths ranging from about
1 mm to about 10 cm.
The microwaves that cook your dinner are produced by
the spin of an electron or nucleus. Microwave links are used
to allow computer systems to communicate remotely, and
radar equipment uses microwave frequencies of centimetre
wavelengths.
Infrared waves
Infrared or heat radiation includes the wavelengths that our
skin responds to. When you feel the warmth from the Sun
or an electric bar heater you are actually detecting infrared
radiation. All objects that are not at a temperature of absolute
zero radiate EMR. The hotter the object the more radiation
is emitted, and the further along the spectrum the radiation
is. Night scopes and infrared spy satellites create an image
by sensing infrared radiation and converting it into a visible
picture.
Ultraviolet waves
Ultraviolet waves have wavelengths shorter than violet light—
so our eyes cannot detect them—but no greater than about
10 nm. Many insects can detect the ultraviolet light that is
commonly reflected from flowers. Although ultraviolet light
is less energetic than gamma- or X-rays, it is known to cause
skin cancer, particularly with increased exposure.
Silicon atoms are able to absorb some frequencies in the
ultraviolet region of the spectrum, reducing your chances of
getting sunburnt through glass.
X-ray waves
X-rays are produced when fast-moving electrons are fired into
an atom. The name is a result of scientists not knowing what
they were when they were first detected, hence the letter
‘X’. X-rays can pass through body tissue and be detected by
photographic film, and so are used in medical diagnosis. They
have extensive safety testing, security and quality control
applications in industry.
Gamma-ray waves
The highest energy, smallest wavelength radiation is the
gamma ray, which is produced within the nucleus of an
atom. Gamma rays are one of the three types of emissions
that come from radioactive (unstable) atoms. Gamma rays
are extremely penetrating and require dense material to
absorb them.
Physics in action
Other forms of eMr
coloured light, different wavelengths
Our eyes are responsive to many different colours of light from the deepest
red through to the brightest violet, the visible spectrum (Figure 8.37). Each
variation in colour or shade is caused by light of a different wavelength.
Traditionally the colours quoted as making up the visible spectrum are red,
orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. However, as shown in Figure 8.37,
the actual allocation of separate names for the colours is difficult since they
merge into one another. The wavelengths associated with visible light are
very small: they range from approximately 390 nanometres (or 3.9 × 10
-7
m)
for violet light to around 780 nanometres for red light.
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 38
Light and a continuous spectrum
277 chapter 8 Models for light
The colour of an object that we see is actually a physiological response
to the particular wavelength(s) of light entering our eyes. Our colour-
sensing system, consisting of the eye, nerve conductors and the brain, can
discriminate between hundreds of thousands of different colours. However,
different combinations of wavelengths of light can evoke the same response
from our brain. In other words, there are a number of different ways in
which to make an object appear a particular shade of yellow, for example.
We perceive light as white light if it contains roughly equal amounts of
each of the colours of the visible spectrum. The page of this book appears
white because it is reflecting all of the colours (wavelengths) of visible
light in roughly equal proportions. Sunlight, incandescent light and
fluorescent light all produce the same general sensation of white light.
Figure 8.38 shows their component colours. The light from incandescent
and fluorescent globes does not appear to be quite as white as sunlight.
This is because sunlight is very evenly distributed across the spectrum,
but an incandescent source radiates considerably more red light than blue
light, and a fluorescent source favours blue wavelengths of light.
When incident light strikes the surface of an object, it may be absorbed,
transmitted and/or reflected. If all of the white light falling on a surface
is absorbed, the object will appear black as no light is reflected. The colour
of an object is often determined by which colours of light it reflects and
absorbs when white light is shone upon it.
colour addition or mixing light sources
In 1807 Thomas Young discovered that combining red, green and blue light
on a screen produced white light. In fact various combinations of these
three colours of light could create all of the other colours of the spectrum.
Red, green and blue are therefore called the primary colours of light. None
of the primary colours can be produced by a combination of the other
primary colours.
Figure 8.37 Visible light is one category of eMr. the spectrum of visible light contains a myriad
of colours. each different colour or hue is light of a different wavelength.
Figure 8.38 the colour components of sunlight,
incandescent light and fluorescent light. all are
referred to as sources of white light, but their
spectral compositions vary, affecting the colour
of an illuminated object.
Physics file
You wouldn’t expect a person renowned
as a great scientist to be superstitious.
For many years the spectrum of colour
was listed as being made up of seven
separate colours rather than the six
colours listed today. Isaac Newton carried
out famous experiments producing the
spectrum of colour and recombining it
into white light. In his writings indigo
(a very dark blue) was stated as lying
between blue and violet. The separate
identification of indigo light is strange as
it really does not appear as prominently
as the other six main colours. Newton
was rather mystical in his religious
beliefs and seven was considered to be
a ‘perfect’ number somehow related to
the natural laws governing the universe,
and so he deliberately identified seven
colours in the visible spectrum.
red
wavelength y 780 nm
violet
wavelength y 390 nm
Sunlight
R
e
l
a
t
i
v
e

i
n
t
e
n
s
i
t
y
R
e
l
a
t
i
v
e

i
n
t
e
n
s
i
t
y
R
e
l
a
t
i
v
e

i
n
t
e
n
s
i
t
y
Incandescent light
Fluorescent light
PRACTICAL ACTIVITY 39
colour addition and subtraction
278 Wave-like properties of light
Figure 8.39 shows the three primary colours of light overlapping to
produce other colours. The particular colours formed by the overlapping
of pairs of primary colours are called cyan, magenta and yellow. Any group
of colours which combine to form white light are called complementary
colours. All three primary colours when combined form white light.
Combining any two primary colours forms the complementary colour of
the remaining primary colour. So, for example, when red and green are
combined they form the complement of blue, which is yellow. Yellow is
the complement of blue. Cyan is the complement of red, and magenta is
the complement of green.
Colour television
Television screens produce coloured pictures (Figure 8.40a) yet only utilise
three different colours: red, green and blue. These colours are produced
when electron beams strike the tiny phosphor dots lining the screen.
Figure 8.40b shows a greatly magnified picture of a screen. It is actually
made up of thousands of tiny coloured dots called pixels. Different parts
of the television screen appear to be different colours because of the
relative abundance of the three primary colours. Figure 8.40c shows how
the different colours are created. If white is required all three colours will
be produced. Because these dots are so close, our eye interprets this as a
uniform area of white light. If magenta light is required only the blue and
red dots will be stimulated. In fact all colours are produced by altering the
proportions of red, green and blue dots stimulated in any particular area of
the screen.
Figure 8.39 pairs of the primary colours of light overlap to produce the secondary colours yellow,
cyan and magenta. When all three primary colours of light overlap white light is produced.
Figure 8.40 the yellow seen on the television
screen is, like all other colours, composed of only
red, green and blue dots. the tiny dots on the
screen are so close together that they cannot be
recognised as separate dots, but blend together
to form a continuous picture. Different areas
of the television screen are made to produce
red, green and blue dots in varying proportions,
thus creating the various colours seen on the
television screen.
(c)
Blue Green red Mixture
white
cyan
yellow
magenta
(a)
(b)
279 chapter 8 Models for light
1 Can total internal reflection occur as light strikes the
boundary from:
a air (n = 1.00) to glass (n = 1.55)?
b glass to air?
c glass to water (n = 1.33)?
d glass (n = 1.55) to glass (n = 1.58)?
2 The diagram shows four rays incident on the
boundary between glass and air. Ray 2 meets the
boundary at the critical incident angle. For each of
the rays 1–4 choose the option that best describes
what happens as it strikes the boundary.

A The ray is reflected only.
B The ray is refracted only.
C The ray is reflected and refracted.
D The ray is reflected and transmitted.
3 Determine the critical angle for light travelling from:
a diamond (n = 2.42) into air
b flint glass (n = 1.60) into air
c water (n = 1.33) into air
d glass (n = 1.50) into water (n = 1.33).
4 The critical angle for light passing from oleic acid
into air is 43.2°. Calculate the index of refraction of
oleic acid.
5 The speed of light in a particular sample of clear
plastic is 1.80 × 10
8
m s
-1
. Determine the critical angle
for light passing from this plastic into air.
6 Calculate the wavelength of:
a microwaves of frequency 3 × 10
10
Hz
b ultraviolet radiation of frequency 10
15
Hz.
7 a List three different types of electromagnetic radia-
tion and describe a use for each.
b List two properties common to all forms of electro-
magnetic radiation.
8 The primary colours for light are:
A red, green and yellow.
B red, blue and yellow.
C red, green and blue.
D yellow, cyan and magenta.
9 Students are experimenting with the lighting for their
school play. They want to produce some dramatic
lighting effects. Determine the colour formed from a
mixture of:
a red and blue light
b red, blue and green light
c blue and yellow light
d green and magenta light.
10 A spinning top is decorated with all the colours of
the rainbow, yet when spun it appears almost white.
Why?
• Astheangleofincidenceoflightontoatransparent
surface is increased, proportionally more light is
reflected and less light is refracted.
• When light enters a less optically dense medium it
is refracted away from the normal. At the critical
incident angle, i
c
, the angle of refraction is 90°.
• Iftheincidentangleisgreaterthanthecriticalangle,
i
c
, total internal reflection occurs.
• Thecriticalangleisgivenby:
sin i
c
=
n
2
n <