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Introduction to Dimensional Analysis: Part 2

By Patrick Bruskiewich

In the Second Part of this Three Part Introduction to Dimensional Analysis, we shall analyze three physical systems. We shall derive Keplers Third law, the expression for the frequency of a Helmholtz Resonator, and the period of a suspended dipole magnet oscillating in a magnet field using dimensional analysis.

Keplers Third Law

Let us use dimensional analysis to determine the form of Keplers Third Law. We

assume that the mass M of the attracting body, the strength of the coupling G and the distance R between the attractive mass and the test mass determine the time T it takes for the test mass to orbit the attractive mass.

This means then

T = G M L
We begin by assuming has a positive indicial value. From Newtons theory of gravity, the strength of the coupling G has the following dimensional form,

Nm 2 m3 [G ] = 2 = kg kg s 2

Introduction to Dimensional Analysis We have then

Part 2

m3 s = kg m 2 kg s
Gathering the exponents then

mass : kg 0 = kg kg 0 = + length : m 0 = m3 m 0 = 3 + time : s = s 2 = 2, = 1

Solving for the exponent values

= 1 = 1 =3
which leads to the form of Keplers third law,

R3 R3 2 T T = k GM GM

It is clearly evident that for a circular orbit,


1 4 2

from which we have then derived Keplers Third Law. It took Kepler 19 years to arrive at this expression through the detailed analysis of the orbits of the planets.


Introduction to Dimensional Analysis

Part 2

The Helmholtz Resonator.

A Helmholtz resonator is a cavity that resonates with a frequency that depends on the dimensions of the cavity. The name derives from an experimental acoustic device

created in the 1850s by the German physicist Herman von Helmholtz (1821 - 1894). An example of Helmholtz resonator is the pleasant sounds created when one blows across the top of a wine bottle. It is noticed that the frequency of the sound produced by a bottle is related to the volume of air in the bottle and the measurements of the bottleneck height and cross sectional area.

Using analysis by analogy it is found that the air entering and inside the bottle acts like an inverted mass and spring respectively. The air in the neck of the bottle acts like a mass and the air inside the bottle acts like a spring. This means that the frequency f for the Helmholtz resonator will be given by the familiar equation

f =

1 2

k M

where k is the Hooke constant for the air inside the bottle and M is the mass of the air in the neck of the bottle..

Consider then the relevant measurable properties relating to the bottle and the air (refer to Fig. 1: Helmholtz Resonator analogous to mass and spring). The bottle itself has a

neck length t and a neck cross section A, while the volume of air within the bottle is V. The relevant measurable properties of the air itself is the speed of sound w and the density .


Introduction to Dimensional Analysis

Part 2

Fig. 1: The Helmholtz Resonator - analogous to a mass and spring

Using dimensional analysis we find by inspection that the Hookes constant k has the following functional form:

k = w A V

which in terms of the MKS units becomes

kg 1 kg m = 3 2 s m s

( m 2 ) ( m3 )


Introduction to Dimensional Analysis

Part 2

Separating out the metres, kilograms and seconds and gathering the exponents we find

mass : kg 1 = kg = 1 time : s 2 = s = 2 length : m 0 = m 3 m m 2 m3 0 = 3 + + 2 + 3

In terms of the values for and we can simplify the third expression to read

0 = 3+ 2 + 2 + 3 1 = 2 + 3
which is a single equation in two unknowns. following combinations: Several possible values for and are the

0 1/2 1 2

1/3 0 1/3 1

remark one exp. zero one exp. zero implausible plausible

The first two possibilities are excluded because this would mean that neither the cross section A or the volume V of the air affects the frequency of the resonator.

The third possibility is implausible in so far as this would ultimately mean that the cross section has no affect on the resonant frequency, as it will soon become apparent, or has can be shown in experiment.


Introduction to Dimensional Analysis

Part 2

The most plausible choice of the four leads to a simple expression for Hookes constant k, namely

k = 1w2 A2V 1
It is straightforward to determine the mass of the air in the neck of the Helmholtz resonator, that is

M = At
This means then that the ratio of the Hookes constant k for the air within the Helmholtz resonator and the mass M of the air in the neck of the bottle is given by

k 1w2 A2V 1 = At M
This means that the frequency f for the Helmholtz resonator is of the form

f =

1 2

k M w2 A Vt

1 = 2

Experiments will show that the expression is essentially right with a minor modification to t, the length of the neck of the resonator. A length correction needs to be applied for the transition between the neck and the volume so that

t = t + t t = t + t = (1 + ) t

Introduction to Dimensional Analysis

Part 2

which results in the corrected frequency expression f for a Helmholtz Resonator,

1 f = 2
Oscillating Magnetic Dipole

w2 A V (1 + ) t

Consider a simple magnetic dipole with Magnetic Moment N and Moment of Inertia I suspended in a magnetic field of strength H. We wish to find an expression for the period of oscillation T.

T = N I H
The Magnetic Moment N has dimensions
1 2 5 2 1 1 2

[ N ] = kg
The Moment of Inertia I has dimensions

m s

[ I ] = kg1m2
The magnetic field of strength H has dimensions

[ H ] = kg

1 2

m s

1 2 1

1 2


Introduction to Dimensional Analysis This results in an expression for the period T that looks like

Part 2

1 5 1 1 s = kg 2 m 2 s 2
Gathering the exponents we find that

( kg m )

1 1 1 1 2 2 2 kg m s

2 2 5 length : m 0 = m m m 2 0 = + 2 2 time : s = s s 1 =
5 2

mass : kg = kg 2 kg kg 2 0 =

+ +

magnetic _ permeability : =
0 2

Solving for the exponents we find that

= =
1 2

1 2

1 2

This provides an expression that looks like



Introduction to Dimensional Analysis The equation of motion for the oscillating dipole is given by

Part 2

d 2 I 2 = NH sin dt
which in the small angle approximation means

d 2 NH 2 dt I
This has a familiar solution

2 NH = = T I

Solving for the period T we find

T = 2


This is a rather useful equation. For a magnetic dipole with a known Magnetic Moment N and a known Moment of Inertial I, by accurately measuring the period of oscillation T, it is possible to accurately measure the magnetic field strength H.