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Uniform Circular Motion

Draw a vector diagram to show that the acceleration of a particle moving with
uniform speed in a circle is directed toward the center of the circle.
The velocity vector is tangential to the circular path; as the object moves, the
direction of the displacement vector changes, but not its magnitude.



Acceleration occurs if there is either a change in direction or a change in velocity

magnitude; since circular motion results in constant changes in direction, all
objects undergoing circular motion are accelerating.
Acceleration is directed toward the center of rotation. To keep an object on a
circular path, a force must act on it to prevent it from flying off on a tangent.
Whatever the cause of the force making an object move on a circular path, it is
referred to as the centripetal force because it tries to pull the object toward the
The acceleration towards the center is due to the centripetal force, so it is referred
to as the centripetal acceleration.


State the expression for centripetal acceleration.

ac = v2 / R

where R = circle radius

Identify the force producing circular motion in various situations.

1. Gravitational force (acting on the moon);
A pendulum bob swings round on a circle at a steady speed.
Relevant forces include weight (mg) and tension (T) in the string

A horizontal circle is formed; hence, centripetal force is horizontal,

And W and T can be resolved into x and y components.
y: Tcos = mg
x: Tsin = ma = m(v2/R)

Using the relation tan = sin / cos, the equations can be combined
to give:

tan = v2 / gR
2. Friction (acting sideways on the tires of a car turning a corner).
On a flat track, centripetal force is provided by friction
between the tires and track.

HL Only: v2max = gr; if v>vmax, the car will skid outwards

(to move along a circle of larger radius).
On a normal banked road, the centripetal force can be
provided by the normal reaction force, and the vectors
subsequently resolved.

The result is the same as with a pendulum bob: tan = v2 / gR

Solve problems for particles moving in circles with uniform speed.

1. A car goes around a flat, circular track of radius 200 m at a constant speed of
30 m s-1. What is its acceleration? (4.5 m s-2)
2. (HL Only) If the mass of the car in the preceding question is 1000 kg, what
frictional force is required to provide the acceleration? If the coefficient of
static friction s is 0.8, what is the maximum speed at which the car can circle
the track? (4500 N; 39.6 m s-1)
3. A centrifuge spins a 10 g sample at a radius of 0.05 m at 60 000 revolutions
per minute (rpm). What force must the centrifuge exert on the sample? What
is the mass of a sample at rest with a weight equal to this force? (19 700 N;
2010 kg)
4. A curve of radius 900 m is banked, so no friction is required at a speed of 30
m s-1. What is the banking angle? (6)
5. A curved track has a radius of 336 m and is banked at 35. At what speed is
the frictional force zero?