Quantitative Tests in Classical Mechanics Classical mechanics is the cornerstone of physics, yet it is usually missing one crucial point

: quantitative results. Though the conceptual models developed during introductory courses are obviously essential, it would be equally desirable to have quantitative checks of some simple (or more complicated) but fundamental dynamic phenomenon. Having quantitative test results of some selected one, two or three degrees of freedom-type movement makes the process of the education more interesting. Students can compare theoretical (numerical) tests with actual test data, asses the effect of some usual idealization, like the neglect of friction or other non-linearity. It is no wonder why there is a scarcity of numerical tests of actual dynamic movement. It is quite cumbersome follow even the movement of a mass point, to say nothing of its velocity or acceleration. There are methods today to follow the spatial and temporal dynamics of one or two mass points, but they are usually not enough: one might like higher derivates in order to check the conservation principles. Eight years ago we set about to study the quantitative dynamics of systems with two degrees of freedom. It took about eight years and five generations of test devices and data acquisition systems to solve this problem up to a degree of about 1% of accuracy, when the acceleration is not higher then about 100-150 m/s2. The whole task of quantitative data acquisition even at these modest parameters is unsolvable without fast and specialized electronic data acquisition and processing. We had to learn some painful lessons during these years, and to make some compromises with costs. First of all one has to fight friction forces. Using tiny ball bearings could reduce friction substantially, but makes the shape of moving bodies more complicated, thus more cumbersome to calculate e.g. their moment of inertia. The size of test machines should not usually exceed about 20 cm. Above that size and at high accelerations, potential stress energy could be accumulated in the moving active masses or in passive ballast parts as elastic deformations. Monitoring these deformations continuously is not impossible –but very expensive. An ordinary strain gauge will not do the job –their amplifiers are too slow for the job, and piezoelectric ones are too expensive. The most crucial device used in all tests is an incremental transducer which has an optoelectronics system inside, and converts the temporal dynamics of rotation into digital signals. The most convenient type for our tests had 2000 slits for a 360 degree rotation gauge, manufactured by HP with optical lithography. There are also linear incremental transducers but they are less reliable and prone to mechanical damage and distortion during dynamic operations. Though the application of rotational incremental transducers seems to be a severe restriction, in fact one is able to track linear movement with the help of fine flexible steel cables or ribbons. Special care was taken to use sturdy frames with minimal distortion, in order to reduce the effect of external or internal vibrations and dynamic distortions. Five test devices are shown in the first photograph, which gives some impression about the practical size of the test devices. Only one device will be detailed in this article, a heavy gyroscope, as this is the most complicated and least understood device of classical mechanics. Students could penetrate to the depth of classical mechanics if they are able to understand the qualitative and quantitative behaviour of a heavy gyro.


An additional advantage of this method is that one can trace the dissipation of energy due to friction which is usually calculated by order of magnitude only. In general these devices, and the data aquisition hardware and the software is a useful tool to study a wide variety of movements but only within a rather narrow range of parameters.

The test device and test procedure


The layout of the test device is shown in Fig. 2. The layout is the following: There is solid aluminum frame which is tied to the desk. It contains two horizontal coaxial axles, with an upper and lower ending. The flywheel is connected to a U-shaped arm, which rotates the lower half of the vertical axle via a wire cable.


frame 2ndincremental transducer

cable drums steel cable horizontal axis U shaped arm lower axis

upper axis


1st incremental transducer

Fig. 2 The rotation angle around the vertical axes (φ) and the φb tilting angle around the horizontal axis are measured by a two incremental angle transducers. The noiseless, correct transfer of the rotation angle is carried out by a thin metal cable wire, moving along two cable drams. (The possible errors due to this method are discussed during the description of the test process). The device contains a third electronic circuit, (not shown in Fig. 2) which measures the angular velocity of the flywheel, (24 signal/revolutions.) Due to design considerations, the 3rd incremental transducer is able to rotate only 300°, otherwise its wires would be wound up during the rotations by the U-shaped holding arm. Data acquisition: At the beginning of the test procedure, we start the test software, and at the end of the process it is switched off. In between, the software collects the signals from the incremental transducers. The vertical and horizontal angles (as a function of time) are determined by the polynomial regression method usually at one millisecond intervals and smoothed for both angles. It is important that we should have the interpolated angle as a function of time by one millisecond, and the smoothed original angular functions. They can be compared with each other and can be compared with the original “raw” signals. This data is taken to an Excel software. The angular velocities are calculated then the energies are calculated. During the course of the energy calculations, the total energy of the flywheel is separated into two parts: the internal one and the external one. The internal energy is Ep = Θpaωp2/2, where Θpa is the inertia of the flywheel for the axis of rotation, and ωp is the angular velocity of the flywheel. At the usual parameters of the test, the amount of internal energy is about 1-5 times higher than the external energy, made of 3

precession and nutation. The ωp angular velocity of the flywheel is steady according to the test results. The external energy of the flywheel consists of several parts. The first part of this energy is the “ballast energy” of the upper and lower axles, and the rotational and tilting energy of the U-shaped holding arms. The second part of the external energy of the flywheel is the energy of rotation, calculated from the angular velocity vector of the flywheel, and from the inertia of the flywheel, projected to the angular velocity vector. The third part is the gravitational potential energy of the U-shaped holder assembly of the flywheel. (One must take into account that the angular velocity of the horizontal axis dϕb/dt=ωb is the difference between the ω1 lower half of the axle’s angular velocity, and the ω2 upper angular velocity. These energies are calculated in the following manner: 1. Ballast energies: Efb1 = Θfb1 ω12/2 where Θfb1 = Θlawer+Θ0 cos2φb + Θ90 sin2φb the rotational ballast energy depending on the tilting angle Efb2 = Θupper ω22/2 Ebb = Θbb ωb2/2 where Θupper is the ballast of the upper axis where ωb = ω2-ω1, és Θbb is the tilting ballast of the U-shaped arm

2. Energy of rotation: Ef = Θe ωe2/2 Let us decompose the resultant moment of inertia and the angular velocity: Ef = ½ Θ║ω║2 + ½ Θ∟ω∟2 = ½ Θ║ (ω1sinϕb+ωp)2 + ½ Θ∟ (ω1cosϕb)2+ ½ Θ∟ωb2


ωb ωp ϕb

Where Θ║ and Θ⊥ are the parallel and the perpendicular components of the moment of inertia, taken from the point of rotation, and consequently ω║ and ω⊥ are the parallel and perpendicular components of the ωp angular velocity. The term ω1 sin ϕb should be taken as zero, as this will not move the flywheel via the ball bearings. The first term is the “internal” energy part of the flywheel, which tests show has a steady value. The second and third terms could be combined, as the moments of inertia are equal for the mutually perpendicular directions. Considering the above, the rotational energy of the flywheel will have the following form: 4

Ef=1/2Θ∟ (ωb2+ω12cos2ϕb) 3. The potential energy of the flywheel, due to gravity: Egrav = (ms rs + mr rr) (sin ϕb + 1) In the second bracket, the presence of 1 has the sole purpose of making possible a positive gravitational potential energy even in case of negative ϕb angles (Fig.2.) The actual test procedure One has to “fine tune” the calculated crude values of the moments of inertia to find their actual values. These tests are started by a gravity pendulum procedure, and then by a horizontal physical pendulum test series, by fixing the pendulum axis, show in Fig. 1 in order to measure the moments of inertia in the horizontal and the vertical planes. The test results are shown in Diagrams 1 and 2. On the first occasion when the gravity type pendulum test was carried out, the holding Ushaped armed is fixed temporarily, and when the horizontal plane oscillation test was carried out, the vertical axis was fixed. The actual test results were evaluated by the calculated flywheel parameters and then compared to the test results. These tests render possible the fine tuning the parameters of the moments of inertia. Usually a 1-2% modification of the calculated values was necessary. They are caused by small errors in the manufacturing, and tiny uncalculated deviations from the ideal shape, due to “nuts and bolts.” Several thousands of tests have shown the validity of the conservation of energy for these cases. The energy as a function of time monotonously decreases and this tendency is determined by the dissipation. When the velocity of the pendulum is maximum, the tangent of this curve is maximum. When the velocity is zero, at upper extreme positions, the dissipation is also zero. Thus the total energy has a local maximum. As an additional test, we checked the output of the data acquisition device against the signal of a high speed oscilloscope. No difference was found. To sum up the test procedure, the following steps were taken: a/ The device was fixed to a table, and ϕb was fixed at zero. b/ The gyro was raised to the top position, and was released in order to swing. The energy balance is described by the following equation: E=1/2 Θ ω2 + mgR(1+sinφ). (The test results of the isolated, closed system are shown in the first diagram.)


1st diagram shows the energy components of the flywheel as a function of time as a pendulum, in a reference test. The flywheel is not rotating, but swinging in a vertical plane. The test error is less than 1 %. Even a 0,1 degree error of the angle severely distorts this curve. When the pendulum stops at the upper dead point maximum, the dissipation due to friction is zero, and the tangent of the energy-time curve is zero, as the potential energy has its local maximum.

2nd test diagram shows the flywheel is not rotating, but swinging along a horizontal plane. This reference test improves the accuracy of the moments of intertia for the active and ballast parts of the flywheel.


When the pendulum is at its lowest point, its velocity has its local maximum and the dissipation losses are the highest. Thus the energy-time curve monotonously decreases. The test results of the spring-driven pendulum for the horizontal plane are shown in the 3 rd diagram. This test was carried out on the horizontal plane; the blob of the pendulum is the wheel of the gyro. The sum of energies: E = 1/2 Θ ω2 + 1/2 c y2 =1/2 Θ φ’2 + 1/2 c r2 φ2. Here “c” is the spring constant of the driving spring, and “r” is the radius of the wire, driven by the spring. The φ(t) function is the angle of rotation as a function of time, and its first time derivative is φ·. It is worth noting that the degree of dissipation (the decrease of the total energy as a function of time) is much steeper due to the internal friction of the wire. The start of the tests Once the modified, improved gyro parameters were found, we could start the tests. At first the axis of the gyro was locked into a starter device, (shown in the photograph), in order to have repeatable results. Then the gyro was wound by a flexible string, and by pulling it suddenly we could rotate it up to a medium rpm. Then the rotating gyro was thrown by the starter device toward a direction, with a given energy. In practice it is possible to test the angular velocity of the gyro wheel for the first 300 °C of rotation. The test results shown in Fig. 3 were measured from the flywheel at 1700 rpm.. It is apparent that the energy–time diagram monotonously decreases, as it obeys the conservation of energy. One may start the flywheel tests with the modified, corrected inertia parameters. The spring loaded starter device will ensure the repeatability of the test results. Thus the tip of the flywheel with the holder arms was locked into it, then the flywheel was revved up, then the starter spring was unloaded. This pushes the rotating flywheel to a certain direction. This test is reliably repeatable, and one may measure the angular velocity of the wheel during a test run. The path of the center of axis is shown in Fig. 3 at 1700 rpm. The energies of the processes are shown in the third diagram, (except the energy of the flywheel.) The rotations are the following: Eb=vertical oscillation-nutation due to tilting, horizontal oscillation: Eforg or precession. These were kinetic energies. The potential energy of the system is marked by Egrav and their sum is Etot, the total external energy. The rounded off total energy (by 20 test points) is marked by thick line. (There is not much difference between the rounded off and the raw data of the total energy.) It is quite apparent that the curve monotonously decreases, as expected from the conservation of energy. It is quite apparent at the first stage if diagram 3, that the total value of the kinetic energies are higher than that of the potential energy of gravity. In the middle they are equal. Then the energy is higher again in the last phase. One may surmise that the center of mass of the flywheel is nutating and precessing around the equator of the sphere. On the first part it has a looped path; on the second it has a path with peaks; at the last stage it has an elongated cycloid path. When this path is looped or elongated, at the highest point there is still a kinetic (external) energy. At the peak of the path, the flywheel stops at the maximum points, so all the external


energy is potential. Therefore here at that point the potential energy is the total external energy. The tests were carried out at different rpm. In the fourth diagram, the external energy-time diagram is shown, for a heavy flywheel, at 700 rpm. The path of the center of axis is shown in Fig. 4. The angular velocity of the flywheel was recorded simultaneously. Due to friction, it decreased exponentially by one percent during the full test time period. It might be considered constant. Thus there is full test time period. Thus there is no flow of energy from the flywheel to the axis.

Fig.3 Path of the center of mass for a heavy gyro. Initially it rotated at 1700 rpm It is worth noting that the grip of the steel wire cable could be a possible source of error. One end was fixed by a screw, but the other was connected to a spanning spring. When the flywheel starts from a dead point, the spring might overstretch. But in this case, the curve of the gravity might deviate at the upper dead point from the curve of total external energies, which would be visible in the energy-time diagrams. No such errors were observed during these tests.


The 3rd diagram shows the energy-as a function of time for a heavy, nutating gyro rotating at 1700 rpm at the start From the spatial and temporal data the path of the center of mass has been drawn, moving on a sphere (Fig. 3.) The largest horizontal meridian of this sphere is quite apparent.

The 4th diagram shows the energy components of a heavy, nutating gyro starting at 700 rpm. Here the path of the center of mass already has peaks at the start. Its path is shown in Fig 4.


Fig 4. Path of the center of mass, and of two points on the perimeter of a heavy, nutating gyro. Its initial speed was 700 rpm Based on the above practical tests method one can draw hands on conclusions from the path data of the precessing, nutating flywheel; (See Appendix.)

The movement of the heavy gyro is truly remarkable in case of general initial and boundary conditions. In Fig. 3, one can see a cycloid on the surface of a sphere. This is the solution of the dynamics of a heavy gyro for the following condition: the flywheel axis angular velocity axis ϕp nutates around the εp angular velocity (in the vertical plane), and this εp acceleration vector precesses with Ω angular velocity around the vertical axis. The Ω and ε angular velocities can be determined approximately by just looking at Fig. 3. (Obviously the data collected by the computer is much more accurate). The Mnut momentum of nutation (Mnut = 2 Θεω εxωp) keeps the gyro around the circular path of the ε axis of the angular velocity of nutation. The angular velocity of the center of mass has two components, one from the nutation and the other from the precession. The angular velocity due to precession is nearly steady, and the nutation takes places around it in a nearly circular manner. The change in the external kinetic energy equals the change in the gravitational potential energy. The nearly steady angular velocity of nutation and precession is apparent in this test case. It is appropriate to use the term “approximately,” as there is a change in Ω, due to the momentum of centripetal force around the vertical Ω, and partly due to the last term of acceleration. One can integrate from the last term Mpn = 2 ΘεΩ Ωxε the precession-nutation momentum. It has a parallel component with the precession momentum of Mp = 2 ΘΩω Ωxω, and it has a parallel component with the ωp axis, which yields the Θω ω’p momentum.The angular


velocity of the heavy gyro may change on its bearings due to momentum perpendicular to its axis. The movement of the gyroscope is perhaps the most complicated type of rigid body movement in mechanics. Therefore it was a complicated task to carry out the test and to develop the the hardware and software of data acquisition equipment. The energy-time curve of the external (and internal) energies monotonously decreases, proving that correct results were measured. One could study the heavy gyro movement with this device. Any test error would have distorted the monotonous decrease of the energy-time curves. The test error is estimated to be around 2 % during these tests. Any deviations were under this value. Appendix: The Dynamics of a Gyroscope There are a number of papers and books about the dynamics of the gyroscope. At first sight their movement is unusual if not weird. We should like to present a simplified yet general view of its dynamic relations, by analyzing a rotating, flat disk moving around two axes.

Fig.5 In the first figure of the appendix, a flat disk of radius r is shown, having ω angular velocity, perpendicular to its plane of rotation. This ω angular velocity is rotated around an Ω angular velocity, having a fixed direction. We are about to examine the accelerations of a point mass on the perimeter of the disk. In Fig. 1 a Cartesian system of coordinates is taken, where for reasons of convenience the vertical direction of z is the Ω a steady angular velocity, while direction Ω x ω is fix. In this system the direction of ω is arbitrary; its angle z is noted by γ. At a given time the α angular velocity has an angle of α to the x axis as shown in Fig. 1.


For a given point on the perimeter of the disk vω and vΩ velocity components are shown, as well as the unit vectors, necessary for the differentiation. The unit vector vω will be eω, and vΩ will have eΩ as unit vector. The unit vector nω it is parallel with r, and nΩ is a unit vector is perpendicular to Ω axis, that is of axis z taken from the given point on the perimeter of the disk to be examined. And at last “s” is the distance of the point on the perimeter from Ω axis. The first derivative by time of the vector r is the velocity: r =v In a similar manner, the first derivative by time of Ω is:



That is only its absolute value may change while its direction is permanent. The vector ω after derivation consists of two components, one is by the change in direction and the other is from the change of absolute value.

ω = Ω× ω + ω
− −

ω ω

The velocity of the given point to be examined is a sum of two velocities as a consequence of the rotation around two axes: v=Ω×r+ω×r Consequently the acceleration is:


• ω Ω × r + (Ω × ω )× r + ω × r + Ω × (Ω × r ) + Ω × (ω × r ) + ω × (Ω × r ) + ω × (ω × r ) Ω ω

The second term could be rearranged in the following way: (Ω x ω) x r = Ω x (ω x r) - ω x (Ω x r) After substitution and rearrangement:
• • • ω Ω ×r +ω × r + Ω × (Ω × r ) + ω × (ω × r ) + 2Ω × (ω × r ) ω Ω


After further arrangement, using unit vectors, the acceleration could be written in the following form:

v = R ω ⋅ eω + s Ω⋅ eΩ − R ⋅ ω 2 ⋅ nω − s ⋅ Ω 2 ⋅ n Ω + 2Ω × (ω × r )
(The vector multiplications should be repeated by the reader!) After looking at the results, one can see that the first two terms are the well known tangential acceleration around the two axes of rotation, while the third and fourth terms are the centripetal terms around the two axes of 12

rotation. The fifth term is the coriolis acceleration. This term is responsible for the precession momentum of the gyroscope. The precession momentum for the whole disk is calculated by an integration on the whole mass of the disk: Mp = 2∫m {r x [Ω x(ω x r)]}dm =2∫m{r x [ω x (Ω x r) - r x(Ω x ω)]}dm The vector product of the first term yields zero. This is easy to prove, when Ω is separated to a parallel and a perpendicular component. Shifting forward and resolving r to components with parallel and perpendicular directions with a axis, produces the result: Mp = -2(ω x Ω) ∫m(R sin α )2dm, after the integration: Mp = 2ΘωΩ · Ω x ω where ΘωΩ =∫m(R sin α )2dm is the moment of inertia for the axis perpendicular to the two axis of rotation.(Fig.1.) The meaning of the precession momentum is the following: one should create an external precession momentum which yields ω-Ω precession movement. When the external precession momentum is terminated, the precession is also terminated having Ω angular velocity. This is an important statement to grasp the character of the movement of a gyro. (Obviously the rest of the kinetic energy will dissipate, due to friction). If we rotate the disc along axis x with a torsion spring, then γ is increased, the angle γ will increase. It will increase up to the point when its precession momentum will reach the sum of the momentum of the centripetal forces around Ω and the momentum of the torsion spring. These two momentums render possible the rotation of Ω. One should mention the nature of the Coriolis force which has two components.

Fig.6 Their physical meaning is the following:


1. the rotation of axis Ω causes the gyro to rotate with vω velocity, that is it rotates vω, as a consequence of the rotation of ω angular velocity. 2. due to the rotation of Ω the ω axis makes change the distance s and thus it forces vΩ velocity to change its value. Their signs and their values are identical. Therefore the Coriolis acceleration is the result of the mutual effects of the two axes of rotation, and it is generated as a response to the actual external momentum.

General case, rotation around three axis The generalization is possible along similar manner for three axes of rotation. For the general, three dimensional case, the velocity is:

r = v = ε ×r + Ω×r +ω ×r
The temporal derivatives of angular velocities are:
• • Ω • • ω ε ω ω = ε =ε Ω = Ω + ε × Ω ; ω ε ; Ω

+ Ω ×ω + ε ×ω ;

The relations of angular velocities are expressed in the above expressions. One can understand further that the rotation of the axis is general in the differential form. (In the previous test results ε corresponds to precession, Ω to nutation, but the order of nutation was reversed.) The full acceleration will have more complicated formulas:
v =ε
• • • Ω ε × r + ε × (ε × r ) + ε × (Ω × r ) + ε × (ω × r ) + Ω × r + (ε × Ω ) × r + Ω × (ε × r ) + Ω × (Ω × r ) ε Ω •

+ Ω × (ω × r ) + ω

ω × r + (Ω × ω ) × r + (ε × ω ) × r + ω × (ε × r ) + ω × (Ω × r ) + ω × (ω × r ) ω

Adding the vectorial multiplications having identical terms, and rearranged to contain unit vector, the acceleration will follow:

v = rω ω⋅ eω + rΩ Ω⋅ e Ω + rε ε ⋅ eε − rω ⋅ ω 2 ⋅ nω − rΩ ⋅ Ω 2 ⋅ n Ω − rε ⋅ ε 2 ⋅ nε + 2Ω × (ω × r ) + 2ε × (ω × r ) + 2ε × (Ω × r )

This long formula contains three components for tangential and centripetal acceleration around the three axes of rotation, and three Coriolis accelerations due to the mutual interactions. The last term is the most interesting, as there might appear a momentum parallel to the direction of ω angular velocity. Consequently the disk could be accelerated by external angular velocities, or momentums.


At the parameters of the test shown above, the values of Ω and ε are too small compared to ω. Thus this effect is negligible and is too small to notice. The above equations are applicable for the heavy flywheel, described in the tests. When the ideal flat disk is replaced by an actual heavy disk of thickness t, then the end plates of the gyroscope act as a heavy top, though their weight does not act upon them due to reasons of symmetry. The spatial vector of a mass point on a segment of what at the distance of v/2 could be written as follows: R=R0+r as shown in Fig 7.

R r R0 Fig. 7. The derivatives of the two vectors yield systems of equations. The first system describes the tangential and centripetal acceleration of the center of mass of the flywheel around Ω and ε. The second equation is similar to the previous one of two axis rotation. However, in general it will yield 13 separate terms for the acceleration. v


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