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A Spring, Hooke's Law, and Archimedes' Principle

Irina Struganova Citation: Phys. Teach. 43, 516 (2005); doi: 10.1119/1.2120379 View online: View Table of Contents: Published by the American Association of Physics Teachers

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A Spring, Hookes Law, and Archimedes Principle

Irina Struganova,
Barry University, Miami Shores, FL

mass on a spring is a simple and inexpensive device that can be used to demonstrate many important physics concepts. Almost all standard introductory physics lab manuals include at least one or two experiments with a spring.1,2 Most of these experiments explore Hookes law and simple harmonic motion. We would like to suggest another simple spring-based experiment that we performed for the past two years in an introductory physics lab at Barry University. The main idea is to use a spring to observe the buoyant force acting on partially submerged objects. According to Archimedes principle, an object completely or partially submerged in a fluid experiences an upward buoyant force equal in magnitude to the weight of fluid displaced.3,4 Students often struggle picturing and understanding the principle. The difficulties in visualization of buoyancy could be reduced easily with the help of the very simple setup shown in Fig. 1. It consists of a spring, a glass, a ruler, and a cylindrical object. We use PASCOs SE8749 springs (spring constants k typically vary from 4 to 6 N/m) and a 2.5-cm diameter, 10-cm tall aluminum cylinder. First, the students attach the cylinder to a vertically hung spring in the air, and they observe and measure the length of the spring. They then fill a glass with water, slowly submerge a hanging cylinder into the water, and observe how the stretch of the spring decreases as the cylinder submerges (Fig. 1). We ask the students to put eight to 10 marks at different heights along the side surface of the cylinder and measure the length of

the spring when each mark touches the surface of the water. An example of experimental data obtained with our cylinders and springs is presented in Table I.

When a mass m is hung on a spring in air (see Fig. 2), the spring stretches until the restoring force of the spring Fs equals the gravitational force acting on the mass Fg: kx = mg, where k is the spring constant, x is how much the spring is extended by compared to its length when there is no mass attached, and g = 9.8 m/s2 is the free-fall acceleration. However, when mass m is partially or completely (1)

Fig. 1. Experimental setup.

DOI: 10.1119/1.2120379

THE PHYSICS TEACHER Vol. 43, November 2005

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Table I. The dependence of the length L of the spring, and the amount x (= L Lo) by which it is stretched, and the height h of the submerged portion of the cylinder.

h (cm)









kx = mg


kx = mg - gVdis

L (cm) x (cm)

26.6 25.5 24.5 23.4 22.5 21.6 21.1 20.0 19.0 17.9 17.0 16.1

20.5 19.6 15.0 14.1

Fb Fg
stretch x (cm)

experimental results linear fit





Fig. 2. (a) The stretch of a vertically hung spring with an object attached (a) in air and (b) when partially submerged in water.


submerged in water, a buoyant force Fb also acts [see Fig. 2(b)]. In equilibrium or Fg = Fs + Fb kx = mg gVsub, (2) (3)

6 4 height h (cm)


Fig. 3. Stretch of the spring vs height of the submerged portion of the cylinder.

Suggested Analysis
There are many different ways to use the experimental data obtained by students (see Table I) to enhance their graphical and analytical skills. We ask the students to calculate the stretch of the spring x corresponding to each length L and to plot a graph of x versus the height of the submerged portion of the cylinder h. A graph corresponding to data presented in Table I is shown in Fig. 3. The graph is very nearly a straight line, consistent with Eq. (4). The spring constant k may be determined from the slope of the graph and also from its y-intercept. These values may be compared with that obtained by an independent experiment (e.g., simple harmonic motion). In addition to providing a nice demonstration of buoyancy, the described experiment could be used to discuss and to emphasize the difference between real and apparent weight by pointing out that in the air the spring is stretched by the real weight of the cylinder, and when it is submerged in water the spring is stretched by the apparent weight of the cylinder.

where is the density of water and Vsub is the portion of the objects volume submerged in water. Therefore, when an object is partially submerged in water, the stretch of the spring x depends on the volume submerged Vsub. When a cylinder of radius r is partially submerged in water, the volume displaced is Vsub = r 2h, where h is the height of the submerged portion of the cylinder. Taking this into account, Eq. (3) can be rewritten as x = mg/k g r 2h / k. (4)

Therefore, the measured length of the spring, L (which is the sum of the equilibrium length of the spring L0 and the stretch x), decreases linearly as the cylinder is submerged. This is clearly illustrated by data in Table I.

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References 1. P. G. Hewitt and P. Robinson, Laboratory Manual: Conceptual Physics, 9th ed. (Benjamin-Cummings Publishing, San Francisco, 2001). 2. David Loyd, Physics Laboratory Manual, 2nd ed. (Harcourt, Orlando, 1998). 3. J.S. Walker, Physics, 2nd ed. (Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2003). 4. J. D. Cutnell and K.W. Johnson, Physics, 6th ed. (Wiley, New York, 2004). PACS codes: 01.30La, 01.30Lb, 01.50P

Irina Struganova was born in Moscow, Russia, and received her B.S. (1983) and Ph.D. (1987) degrees in physics from Moscow State University. After completing her Ph.D. she was involved in research in optical spectroscopy of large organic molecules, holding research positions at the Moscow Institute of Fine Chemical Technology and at the Institute for Molecular Sciences in Okazaki, Japan. In 1995 she moved to the United States and has been on the physics faculty at Barry University since 1998. She is involved in research in physical chemistry and has 30 publications in peer-reviewed scientific periodicals. Department of Physical Sciences, Barry University, Miami Shores, FL 33161-6695; istruganova@mail.


etcetera... Editor Albert A. Bartlett

Department of Physics University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0390

An Ancient Example of Good Design

The architect William McDonough describes an appropriate architectural use of materials. If we use the study of architecture to inform this discourse, and we go back in history, we will see that architects are working with two elements, mass and membrane. We have the walls of Jericho, mass, and we have the tents, membranes . With respect to membrane we only have to look at the Bedouin tent to find a design that accomplishes five things at once. In the desert, temperatures often exceed 120 degrees. Theres no shade, no air movement. The black tent is pitched and creates deep shade that brings your sensible temperature down to 95 degrees. The tent has a very coarse weave, creates a beautifully illuminated interior, having a million light fixtures. Because of the coarse weave and the black surface, the air inside rises and is drawn through the membrane. So now you have a breeze coming in from outside that drops the sensible temperature even lower, down to 90 degrees. You may wonder what happens when it rains, with these holes in the tent. The fibers swell up and the tent gets tight as a drum when wet. And of course, you can roll it up and take it with you. The modern tent pales by comparison to this astonishingly elegant construct.1
1. William McDonough, Design, Ecology, Ethics and the Making of Things,A Centennial Sermon delivered at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City on 7 February 1993.


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