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Simplifying Physics ---Linear motion

Srinivasan Nenmeli Ph D

Linear Motion
Linear motion is movement of an object,such as a
car, along a straight line path---no turns,
looping and so on.
Acceleration: we begin with the definition of
acceleration 'a'
a = (final velocity - initial velocity)/time
a = (v - u)/t ---------(1)
We can rewrite this in another form:
v = u + at -------------(2)
Note that we should always write "final
velocity-initial velocity" in the
not reverse this, since the sign of 'a' will

When a car or object loses speed , it has
negative acceleration or a is negative.!----that
is , it decelerates.

Note: Most text books use the notation of a
function for velocity and acceleration: v(t) and
a(t). Then initial velocity at time t=0 is
denoted by v(0). For ease of typing, I use 'u'
for initial velocity and 'v' for final velocity.

Distance traveled.
We can derive an useful formula for the distance
moved; Recall the formula
distance S = speed x time [or in school algebra
fashion: D = R t where R is called rate.]
If a car moves with constant speed;
S = v t

When the car accelerates, we take v as the
average velocity v':
v' = (u + v)/2
Then , s = ( u +v)t/2
Since v = u + at,
we get ;
S = ( u + u + at)t/2
S = ut + (1/2) a t
This is one of the most useful equations in

Note: We will use the unit of velocity as meter
per second or m/s. Do not get mixed up with
other units.
1 m/s = 3.6 km per hour = 2.24 miles per hour.
Acceleration will be expressed as meter per
second squared = m/ss.

1 A jumbo jet Boeing 747 starts from zero
velocity at one end of runway and reaches the
take-off speed of 125 kmph in 42 seconds.
Calculate the distance of ground run before
Note that the speed 125 kmph = 125/3.6 = 34.7
[ 1 m/s = 3600sec/1000 m=3.6 kmph]
the initial velocity u =0
final velocity v = 34.7 m/s
a= (34.7 -0)/42 = 0.826 m/ss
S = ut + (1/2)a t.t
= 0 + (1/2)0.826 (42)

= 728 meters.
This is a typical 'ground run' for a large

2 An aircraft debris falls from a burning
aircraft from a height of 500 meters. Find its
impact velocity on the ground.
For such free-fall problems, take acceleration
to be a= g due to gravity = 9.8 m/s.s
Note that the object coming down acclelerates
and 'a' is taken as positive. If an object is
thrown upwards, it decelerates and a = -g=-9.8
Using the relation:

s= ut + (1/2) g tt
500 = 0 + (1/2)9.8 t.t
time taken for the fall: t = 10.1 sec
v = u + at = 0 + 9.8 t = 98.9 m/s = 356 kmph
Note that the impact velocity is very high!
Distance formula with out time
We can derive one more useful formula for

S = average velocity x time
= [(u + v)/2] [ (v-u)/a]
= (1/2 ) (v
Rewriting , we get:
= u
+ 2 a S ------------- (4)
A sprinter runs for 1000 m with acceleration of
2 m/s.
Find his speed at finish line:
= 0 + 2 x 2 x 1000 = 4000 m.m/ss
v = 63 m/s.
The time he takes for his run: t = (v-u)/a =
63/2 = 31.5 seconds.
Free fall problems
1 John throws a ball vertically with a velocity
of 15 m/s.Find the maximum height the ball will

reach and the time it takes to reach that
The ball reaches max height when its velocity
becomes zero.
Therefore v=0; u= 15 m/s
The acceleration a = -g = - 9.8 m/s.s
time taken for the ball to reach max height:

t = (v-u)/a = -15/-9.8 = 1.53 sec
s = ut + (1/2)g t.t
= 15 x 1.53 + 0.5 (-9.8) 1.53

= 22.95 - 11.47 = 11.48 meters
We can calculate the max height using equation
= u
+ 2 (-9.8) s
0 = 225 -19.6 s
or s = 11.48 m.
[We neglect air resistance over the object in

these free-fall problems.]

2 If an astronaut throws a ball up on the
surface of moon with an initial velocity of 15
m/s, calculate the max height the ball will
reach and the time it takes to reach the max
The acceleration due to gravity g' on the moon
is one sixth of g on Earth.
g' = 9.8/6 = 1.63
The time for max height:
t = (v-u)/g' = (0 - 15)/(-1.63)= 9.2 sec
The max height:
S = ut + (1/2) g't.t
= 15 x 9.2 + 0.5 x (-1.63)(9.2)

= 138 - 68.98 = 69 meters.
Note that the ball goes to great heights on the
moon. This also explains why astronauts hop

about on the surface of the moon.!

Additional Problems
1 A cheetah spots a deer at a distance of 400
meters. The max acceleration a cheetah can
attain is 25 m/s or 90 mph. Can this cheetah
catch the deer, if a cheetah can sprint only for
15 seconds.

Assume u=0
S = 400 = ut + (1/2)a t.t
400 = 0.5 x 25 x t.t
t = 5.65 seconds
The cheetah can easily catch its prey.
2 A kingfisher swoops down on a fish from a
cliff. The height of the cliff is 1000 feet. The
acceleration of the kingfisher is 6ft/sec. The
fish is moving away from the cliff at the rate

of 10 feet per sec. How much time the bird will
take to catch the fish.?
[Hint: Use Pythagorian theorem to calculate the
distance from the bird to fish at various times,
in steps of 10 seconds.You can use a spreadsheet
calculation for 'simulating' the bird's path.]
3 A fast train accelerates from a station at 2
m/s to reach a speed of 90 kmph and then runs at
constant speed of 90 kmph for 10 minutes and
then slows down at a rate of 1 m/s to come to a
stop at the next station. Find the total time
and average speed of the train.

Instantaneous velocity and average velocity:
velocity measured over a small interval of time
would be 'instantaneous velocity'. Average
velocity is measured over a long time.
For instance the instantaneous velocity of a

truck can be 80 miles per hour.But over 8 hour
period, its velocity averaged would be much
lower. This duration may even include when the
truck was not moving and the truck driver takes
a lunch.
Both types of calculations have their uses.
We have derived and used three equations or
formulae for the linear motion :
1 v = u +at
2 S = ut + (1/2) a t

3 v
= u
+ 2as
You should be able to derive these relations at
any time from basic concepts and use them.
Units used: velocity --- meters per second
acceleration--- meters per second

I have emphasized the concept of acceleration in
this tutorial ; the main reason is that much of
Newtonian physics is based on force and
Force = mass x acceleration, by Newton's second
law of motion.
We have used the acceleration due to gravity 'g'
in free-fall problems. g= 9.8 m/ss.
'g' varies with latitude and also decreases as
we climb to greater heights in space...but for
most calculations, 'g' is a constant.
We can create large 'g' forces as in centrifuges
.[Centrifuges are routinely used in
medical/chemical laboratories to separate
molecules floating in liquid samples.Learn how a
centrifuge operates in a laboratory and its

General Reading in Physics
[ There are plenty of books on popular physics .
Here is a short list , as a starter, to whet
your interests.]
1 Isaac Asimov --- 'understanding physics'
2 George Gamow --- a) Matter, Earth and Sky
b) One ,two, three---infinity
c) Thirty years that shook
d) The great physicists from
Galileo to Einstein.

3 Walter Lewin---For the love of physics---Free
Press, New York
4 Joy Hakim The story of science , Smithsonian.
[ a set of three volumes; more historical than
technical; but the pictures and photos form a
large collection from science literature.]

[ About the author: The author obtained his
doctorate in 'Engineering Science' from Columbia
University, New York [School of Engineering and
Applied Sciences] in 1972.He had his early
training in chemistry and metal physics from
Indian Institute of Science ,Bangalore. He had
worked on numerous projects relating to nuclear
materials in the US and elsewhere. He loves
teaching and writing on basic sciences and
mathematics .]