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Rigid Bodies

J. K. Freericks, Department of Physics, Georgetown University September 15, 1997

1 Separation of motion of the c.m. and motion about the c.m.

In the discussion for the angular momentum and the kinetic energy we found it useful to assign part of the particle motion to the system as a whole (the c.m. motion) and to assign another piece to the motion about the c.m. The equations governing changes of the motion can also be separated. We already saw that if R is the c.m. position, then Md2 R=dt2 = Fe the total external force. We conclude the following: In determining the c.m. motion we can completely neglect the motion of particles relative to the c.m., and pretend that all of the forces on the system act directly on the c.m. Likewise, the motion of particles about the c.m. can be determined by pretending the c.m. is xed (by a ctitious force Fe ) but all forces on the particles act as before. To demonstrate this we separate the motion as before ri = R + ri , so the total angular momentum becomes X (1) L = R P + ri m vi
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c 1996 by J. K. Freericks. Reproduction of this article by any means is permitted for non-commercial purposes.

dL = R dP + X r i dt dt

m ai = N e


Physics 231|Rigid Bodies

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Hence P ri m ai = Ne R Fe . Or, stated in other words, the relative motion is determined by the total torque plus a torque exactly equal to that of a force Fe applied to the c.m. so as to x it. The left hand side of the above relation contains only objects measured relative to the c.m. If we choose our origin to lie at the c.m. (which is an accelerating coordinate system) we nd P ri m ai = Neabout the c m . The motion of the system relative to the c.m. can be determined by the torque about the c.m. even when the c.m. is accelerating. This use of an accelerated coordinate system is especially simple. Note that the directions x, y, and z ^ ^ ^ are xed when using this method. We will discuss more general accelerated frames later in the course. An interesting example for you to think about is the earth-moon-sun system. Recall from freshman physics that the gravitational attraction between a point mass and a sphere is equivalent to that between the point and a second point at the center of the sphere. If the earth obeyed this result, then the gravity of the moon-sun system only acts on the c.m. motion of the earth, and cannot a ect its rotation. However, the axis of rotation is known to precess, and we are commonly told that this arises from e ects of the sun and the moon. We will consider later how this comes about.
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A rigid body is a system of particles in which the separations between any pairs of particles is constant in time. No objects in the real world satisfy this de nition, but most objects that we think are solid, are quite good approximations to rigid bodies. In rigid bodies, the internal forces do no work, so we don't need to know whether the internal forces are conservative or not (you will prove this statement in problem set 4). The relations dP = Fe ; dL = Ne (3) dt dt are immediately applicable to rigid bodies. The question of the value of the internal potential energy, or whether it even exists is irrelevant in rigid bodies. We do not need to know what makes the rigid body stick together for studying mechanics, but then we also will never learn why (or how) it

2 Rigid Bodies

Physics 231|Rigid Bodies

does either! This is our rst brush with the concept of universality which is pervasive throughout physics. The laws of mechanics are independent of the material the object is made of! A result of solid geometry, called Chasles's Theorem (1830), states than any motion of a rigid body can be duplicated by a single translation followed by a rotation about some axis. The axis can be chose to pass thru any point, such as the c.m. A B" initial C
B A" final O C" (fixed point) Sketch of the Proof: First translate the body until the desired point is in it's nal position. Now we must show that a single rotation will bring the body into its nal con guration. Consider any line passing thru O which lies in the plane bisecting AA . A suitable rotation about this line will bring A to A Similarly a rotation about any line thru O in the plane bisecting BB brings B to B . Now consider the intersection of these two bisecting planes. This is the desired axis! (In actuality, Chasles also showed that the rotation axis could be taken in the same direction as the translation. We won't need to make this distinction here. The above version of the theorem is credited to Euler in 1749.) Chasles's theorem explicitly demonstrates that every rigid body has six degrees of freedom, which can be used to completely describe its con guration: three of translation and three of rotation. (The three rotational degrees of freedom correspond to the two angles needed to de ne the direction of
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2.1 General Motion of a Rigid Body

Physics 231|Rigid Bodies

the rotation axis and the third is the amount of rotation about that axis. Furthermore, we are mainly interested in motion during small time intervals dt . In this case we can say the motion consists of a translation of the c.m. plus a rotation about an \instantaneous axis" thru the c.m. In symbols, this reads r = r+ r (4) where the translation r and the in nitesimal rotation are the same for each particle! In general the direction of this instantaneous axis changes with time. This makes life di cult and will be treated later in the course.
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2.2 Rigid-Body Rotation about a Fixed Axis

axis r O v i

Consider rotation with angular velocity ! about a xed axis. Each particle travels in a circle about the axis, with a velocity proportional to the distance from the axis v = ! . In vector language, this is v = ! r, where r is the position vector with respect to some origin that lies on the axis, and ! is a vector of magnitude ! directed parallel to the axis. The angular momentum about the origin on the axis is


X r m v = X m r (! r ) = X m r2! (r !)r ] i i i i i i
i i i i i i i


(after using the identity you proved on problem set 1: A (A C )B (a B )C ). This is still a mess, so consider


C) =

Physics 231|Rigid Bodies

2.3 Rigid-Body Rotation About a Symmetry Axis

j symmetry axis v r O In this case, there is a symmetry: for each mass m at ri there is an equal mass m = m at rj = ri 2 . In other words, there is an inversion symmetry relative to the rotation axis (see the gure). Then ri = r cos ! + r sin ^ . ^ The symmetry says that for each mass at an angle , there is an equal mass at an angle , so any summation over all of the masses must be an even function of (be sure you understand this last statement). The angular momentum becomes X ^ L = m r2! r ! cos (r cos ! + r sin ^ )]
i j i i i i i

v i

= =

X m r2(1 X ! m 2
i i i i i i i i i i i i


X )! = m r2 sin2 !
i i i i i


after using the symmetry (cos sin is an odd function of ). We de ne I := P m 2 as the moment of inertial about the axis. I does not depend on which point of the axis is chosen for the origin. Of course, the c.m. must lie on the symmetry axis! Note that the symmetry axis has made for a huge simpli cation. The angular momentum vector is now parallel to the angular velocity vector. In general L and ! are not parallel! (Recall Problem 4 of Set 3.) Only in cases of symmetry axes do we have L = I !. So the equation of motion becomes dL = I = Ne (7) dt where = d!=dt is the angular acceleration.

Physics 231|Rigid Bodies

The rotational kinetic energy is just X1 X Trot = 1 m v2 = 2 m 2 !2 = 1 I!2 : 2 2

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Remember if the c.m. is moving, the total kinetic energy is T = 1 MV 2 + Trot . 2 The relation L = I ! can be extended to a wider class of rotations. If the axis is parallel to the symmetry axis, but a distance h away from it, we have

2.4 Rotation about an axis parallel to a symmetry axis

L = M h Vc m + Ic m ! = (Mh2 + Ic m )! = I !
: : : : : :


fixed axis of rotation

symmetry axis where we used all of the following:

L = Lc m + Labout the c m
: : : : :

Ic m denotes the moment of inertia about the symmetry axis thru the c.m. Vc m = ! h
: :

Physics 231|Rigid Bodies

The rate of rotation about the symmetry axis is the same as that about the xed axis, even though the symmetry axis is moving. (Convince yourself of this fact.) So Labout the c m = Ic m ! Finally we invoke the parallel axis theorem: I = Ic m + Mh2 , which you should be able to prove yourself.
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Another result from geometry is the perpendicular axis theorem, valid only for thin plates. Consider a plate lying in the x y plane. Then I + I = I (just write out the de nitions to prove it). For example: a thin disc has 1 I = 1 Mr2 , for z perpendicular to the disc. Then I = I = 4 Mr2 . 2
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2.5 Perpendicular axis theorem