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# PRELAB: COLLISIONS

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1.

What is your Prediction 1-7 when the truck is accelerating? Explain the reasoning behind

2.

If you set up the force probes according to the instructions in Activity 1-1, will force probe 1
give positive or negative readings during the collision? What about force probe 2? Explain.
Why did the developers do it this way?

3.

How will you calculate the impulse from the force-time graph?

4.

## How do you determine the direction of the impulse vector?

written by DSA,
based on RealTime Physics
rev. 9/12/05

PRELAB: COLLISIONS

Collisions, p. 2/15

written by DSA,
based on RealTime Physics
rev. 9/12/05

Collisions, p. 3/15

COLLISIONS
Topic: Forces, impulse, momentum in 1D, and Newtons 3 rd law
Objectives:

To study the forces between objects that interact with each other, especially in collisions
To examine the consequences of Newtons third law as applied to interaction forces between objects.
To formulate the law of conservation of momentum as a theoretical consequence of Newtons third
law and the impulse-momentum law.
To explore conservation of momentum in one-dimensional collisions

Overview:
In this lab, you will explore different aspects of collisions using carts, motion detectors and
force probes. The collisions you will observe will all be in one dimension, but the results generalize to two
dimensions.
In the first investigation you will investigate the forces acting on two colliding objects compare during various
collisions. This will lead you to a very general law known as Newtons third law, which relates the forces of
interaction exerted by two objects on each other.
Next you will examine how the area under a force-time graph is related to changes in the momentum. Then
you will examine the consequences of this law and the impulse-momentum theorem when they are applied to
collisions between objects. In doing so, you will arrive at one of the most important laws of interaction
between objects, the conservation of momentum law.
As usual you will be asked to make some predictions and then be given the opportunity to test these
predictions.
Writing it up:
In this handout, you will be asked to perform calculations, analyze graphs and
answer questions. It is strongly recommended that you do all the calculations and answer all the questions
as you go through the experiment. This record is for your purposes only. You will not be graded on it. You will
be graded on how well you understand the material covered in this lab, so you should do the entire activity,
discuss the questions with your partners and take careful notes.
Note for the TA: This lab requires a lot of small parts and accessories (hooks, rubber bumpers, etc.). Before
and after each lab, check each lab station to make sure the required hardware is there.

Dont overload the force probes! The maximum push (or pull) the force probe can withstand is

Zero the force probes before each data run. The force probe output drifts somewhat over time,
so that the probe may not read zero when no force is applied.

written by DSA,
based on RealTime Physics
rev. 9/12/05

Collisions, p. 4/15

## Investigation 1: Forces between Interacting Objects

There are many situations where objects interact with each other, for example, during collisions. In this
investigation we want to compare the forces exerted by the objects on each other. In a collision, both objects
might have the same mass and be moving at the same speed, or one object might be much more massive, or
they might be moving at very different speeds.
What factors might determine the forces the objects exert on each other? Is there some general law that
relates the forces the objects exert on each other? Is there some general law that relates the forces?
Activity 1-1: Collision Interaction Forces
What can we say about the forces two objects exert on each other during a collision?
Prediction 1-1: Suppose two objects have the same mass
( m1 m 2 ) are moving toward each other with the same

speed ( v1 v 2).

## Predict the relative magnitudes of the forces

between object 1 and object 2 during the
collision. Place a check next to your
prediction:
Object 1 exerts a larger force on
object 2.
The objects exert the same size force
on each other.
Object 2 exerts a larger force on
object 1.

Prediction 1-2: Suppose the two objects have the same mass
( m1 m 2 ) and that object 1 is moving toward object 2, but
r
r
object 2 is at rest (i.e. v 0 , v 0 ).
1

## Object 1 exerts a larger force on

object 2.
The objects exert the same size force
on each other.
Object 2 exerts a larger force on
object 1.

## Prediction 1-3: Suppose the mass of object 1 is greater than that

of object 2 ( m1 m 2 ), and that it is moving toward object 2,
r
r
which is at rest ( v 0 , v 0 ).
1

## Object 1 exerts a larger force on

object 2.
The objects exert the same size force
on each other.
Object 2 exerts a larger force on
object 1.

Provide a summary of your predictions. What are the circumstances under which you predict that one
object will exert a greater force on the other object?

written by DSA,
based on RealTime Physics
rev. 9/12/05

Collisions, p. 5/15

To test these predictions, you can study collisions between two force probes attached to carts. You can add
masses to one of the carts so that it has significantly more mass than the other.
1. Set up the apparatus
shown at the right. The
force probes should be
securely fastened to the
carts. The hooks should
be replaced by rubber
stoppers, which should be
carefully aligned so that
with each other. If the carts have friction pads, these should be raised so that they dont rub on the ramp.
2. Set up the software to collect data from the two force probes at the fastest possible sampling rate (a few
hundred samples per second). Set pull positive for probe 1, push positive for probe 2. (This choice makes
all forces to right positive). Set up axes like the ones below for force-time graphs for the two probes. The
time axes of the graphs should be aligned.
force probe 2 (N)

+10

-10

## force probe 1 (N)

+10

-10
time (s)

3. Use the probes to explore the various situations that correspond to the predictions you made about
interaction forces. Your goal is to find out under what circumstances one cart exerts more force on the
other.
Test Prediction 1-1 by trying the appropriate collision (two carts of the same mass moving toward each
other at about the same speed.)
Q1-1:

Did your observation agree with your prediction? How do the forces compare on a momentby-moment basis during the collision? How do the areas under the two force-time graphs
compare?

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Collisions, p. 6/15

Test Predictions 1-2 and 1-3 by trying the appropriate collisions. Zero both force probes before each
collision.
Q1-2:

of interaction during collisions? Under what circumstances does one object experience a
different force than the other in a collision? How do the forces compare on a moment-bymoment basis during each collision?

Q1-3:

You have probably studied Newtons third law in lecture or in your text. Do your
observations have anything to do with Newtons third law? Explain.

## Activity 1-2: More Collision Interaction Forces

What can we say about the forces two objects exert on each other during a collision?
Prediction 1-4: Suppose the mass of object 1 is greater than the
mass of object 2 ( m1 m 2 ) and the objects are moving
r
r
toward each other at the same speed ( v v ).

## Predict the relative magnitudes of the forces

between object 1 and object 2 during the
collision.

## Prediction 1-5: Suppose the mass of object 1 is much greater

than the mass of object 2 and that object 2 is moving in the same
direction as object 1, but not as fast ( m1 m2 and
r
r
v v ).

of interaction.

## Prediction 1-6: Suppose the mass of object 1 is much greater

than the mass of object 2 and that both objects
r rare at rest until an
explosion occurs ( m m and v v 0 ).

## Predict the relative magnitudes of the forces

of interaction.

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Collisions, p. 7/15

4. Test Prediction 1-4 through 1-6 by trying the appropriate collisions. Record your observations here:

## Activity 1-3: Other Interaction Forces

Interaction forces between two objects occur in many other situations besides collisions. For example,
suppose a small car pushes a truck with a stalled engine, as shown in Prediction 1-7. The mass of object 1 (the
car) is much smaller than object 2 (the truck).
Prediction 1-7: A small car pushes a truck with a stalled
engine. The mass of object 1 (the car) is much smaller than
object 2 (the truck).

## Predict the relative magnitudes of the forces

of interaction at the various times listed
below:
a) before the truck starts moving

At first, the car doesnt push hard enough to make the truck
move. Then as the driver pushes harder on the gas pedal,
the truck begins to accelerate. Finally the car and truck are
moving along at the same constant speed.

## c) after the truck and car are moving at

constant speed

1. Using the set up from the previous activities, test your predictions.
2. Add masses to cart 2 to make it more massive than cart 1. Zero both force probes.
3. Your hand will be the engine for cart 1. Move the carts so that the stoppers are touching and begin
graphing. When graphing begins, push cart 1 toward the right. At first, hold cart 2 so that it cannot move,
but then allow the push of cart 1 to accelerate cart 2, so that both cars move to the right, finally at
constant velocity.
Q1-4:

How do your results compare to your predictions? Is the force exerted by cart 1 on cart 2
(reading of force probe 2) significantly different from the force exerted by cart 2 on cart 1
(reading of force probe 1)? Explain any differences between your predictions and your
observations.

written by DSA,
based on RealTime Physics
rev. 9/12/05

Collisions, p. 8/15

Q1-5:

Many students find the outcome of this experiment troubling. One of the questions that
often arise is, How is it possible for the truck to speed up if the force the car exerts does
not exceed the force exerted by the truck? Develop an explanation for this apparent
contradiction. (You may find it helpful to draw two well labeled force diagrams, one for each
vehicle).

## Investigation 2: Momentum and Momentum Change

In this investigation, you are going to develop the idea of momentum to predict the outcome of collisions.
Even the lab has not yet officially defined momentum yet, you probably already have a good intuitive sense of
what it is.
Consider the following example: A light cart (mass = m) travels to the left at some initial speed (call it v0 ). A
heavier cart, three times as massive as the light cart, travels to the right. The two carts collide and stick
together. Which way will the two carts (now stuck together) go? Will they stop? Clearly, the final outcome
depends on the initial speed of the heavy cart.
Activity 2-1:

## Can you stop the car?

In this activity, you will investigate the example described above. You will need two carts and some masses,
so you can make the second cart three times as massive as the other.

Prediction 2-1: How fast will the heavy cart have to be going to completely stop the light cart? Explain the

1. Try some head on collisions with the carts of different mass to simulate the example above. Be sure the
carts stick together after the collision.
2. Observe qualitatively what combinations of velocities cause the two carts to be at rest after the collision.
Q2-1:

What happens when the less massive cart is moving much faster than the more massive cart?
much slower?

written by DSA,
based on RealTime Physics
rev. 9/12/05

Collisions, p. 9/15

Q2-2: Based on your prediction and your observations, what mathematical definition might you
use for the momentum needed to stop an oncoming cart with known mass and velocity?
Should it depend on the mass, the velocity, or both? Explain your choice.

Just to double check your reasoning, you should have come to the conclusion that momentum is defined by
the equation p mv where the symbol is used to designate defined as. Notice that momentum is a vector
quantity. The direction of an objects momentum is the same as the direction of its velocity.
Activity 2-2:

## Momentum change and the force on an egg

You can see the relationship between force and momentum changes from a simple
experiment tossing raw eggs. To avoid the mess, we will do this as a thought experiment
(what physicists like to call a gedanken experiment). What is the relationship between the
force you have to exert on the to stop it, the time it takes to stop it and the momentum
matter. In more ordinary language, would you want to catch the egg slowly (by relaxing
your hands and pulling them back slowly) or quickly (by holding your hands rigidly)?
Q1-8:

If the egg of mass m that is heading toward your hand at speed v, what
is the magnitude of the momentum change the egg undergoes? What is
the direction of the momentum change?

Q1-9:

Does the total momentum change depend on whether egg comes to a stop quickly or
slowly?

Q1-10: Suppose you the time you take to bring the egg to a stop is t . Would you rather catch the
egg in such a way that t is large or small?

Q1-11: What do you suspect might happen to the average force you exert on the egg while catching
it when t is small? Explain.

written by DSA,
based on RealTime Physics
rev. 9/12/05

Collisions, p. 10/15

A quantity called impulse may have been defined in lecture and/or in the textbook. It combines the applied

force and the time interval over which it acts. In general, the impulse delivered by a force F acting over the
time interval from time t1 to time t 2 is defined by

r t2 r
J Fdt
t1

As you can see, a large force acting over a short time and small
force acting over a long time can have the same impulse. In one
dimension, the magnitude of the impulse is equal to the area under
the force-time graph. For a constant force acting over a time interval,
the magnitude of the impulse is J Ft . Notice that Ft is the
area of the rectangle, i.e., the area under the force vs. time curve.
Even if the applied force is not constant, the impulse is still equal from the
area under the force vs. time graph (though it is harder to calculate).

Area = Impulse

In the egg example, the force on the egg is small when the time interval is
long (and vice versa), so it seems plausible that the impulse delivered to the
egg does not depend on how quickly the egg comes to a stop (provided the
egg starts with the same initial momentum). However, it seems likely that the
impulse delivered to the egg might be larger if the egg underwent a larger
change in momentum. In the next investigation, you explore the connection
between impulse and changes in momentum.

## Investigation 3: Impulse, Momentum and Collisions

Lets first see qualitatively what an impulse curve might look like in a real collision in which the forces change
over the time of the collision.
Activity 3-1: Observing Collision Forces That Change with Time
Release the catch on the carts spring plunger. Collide the cart with a
fixed wall (your hand will do) several times and observe what
happens with the spring plunger.
Q3-1:

## If friction is negligible, what is the net force applied

on the cart just before it starts to collide?

Q3-2:

## When is the magnitude of the force on the cart maximum?

Q3-3:

Roughly how long does the collision process take? Half a second? Less time? Several
seconds?

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based on RealTime Physics
rev. 9/12/05

Collisions, p. 11/15

Prediction 3-1: What will the force-time and velocity-time graphs look like from the moment just after the
cart is released until after the collision with the wall? Sketch your predictions on the axes provided.
During the collision the force is not constant. To
measure the impulse and compare it to the change in
momentum of the cart, you must (1) plot a force-time
graph and find the area under it, and (2) measure the
velocity of the cart before and after the collision with
the wall. This can be done with force probe, motion
detector and the software.

velocity (m/s)

force (N)

Prediction 3-1

## Activity 3-1: Impulse and momentum change

In this activity, you will investigate how impulse is
related to changes in momentum when only one force
acts on an object. In this collision (as in most
collisions), the only noticeable forces acting on the cart
arise from the interaction between the wall and the
cart. Other interactions (such as friction between the
cart and the track) are so small that they can be
ignored.

time (s)

3. Set up axes for force-time and velocitytime graphs, with the time axes aligned
vertically, as shown.
4. Test Prediction 3-1. When you are ready,
zero the force probe and take data. Begin
graphing and, when you hear the clicks of
the motion detector, give the cart a push
toward the wall and let the cart collide

force (N)

## 2. Set the force probe to collect data at the

maximum sample rate and push
positive.* Set up the motion to collect
velocity data at about 50 data points per
second. (*The motion detector and the
force probe need to be set up with
consistent signs. Since the motion
detector is at the right, leftward is the
positive direction for the motion
detector. The force probe must also be
set up with positive to the left).

velocity (m/s)

1. Set up to test Prediction 3-1 using the setup shown. Fasten the force probe to the bracket. Fasten the
bracket securely to the track so that the rubber stopper on the force probe faces the cart. The force probe
attached to the bracket will play
the role of the wall. Make sure
that the spring plunger is
released (so that the collision
extends over a reasonably long
time interval). Place the motion
detector at the opposite end of
the track from the force probe. Be sure that the ramp is level. (Why is this precaution needed?)

time (s)

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Collisions, p. 12/15

with the wall. Repeat until you get a good set of graphs (i.e. graphs in which the motion detector saw
relatively constant velocities of the cart as it moved toward and away from the wall and also the
maximum force was no more than about 40 N).You may need to take a few runs before you get good
data. (Unless you are careful, the motion detector will see your hand when you release the cart). When
you get a good graph, adjust the axes to focus in on the time interval of the collision and record the
results on the axes provided.
Q2-5:

5. Use the software to measure the velocity of the cart just before and just after the collision with the wall.
Measure the mass of the cart. Use the results to calculate the initial momentum, final momentum and
change in momentum of the cart. Dont forget to indicate the direction of each momentum value by
including the sign.

pinitial

## (Dont forget the units or the signs!)

p final
p
6. Use the statistics feature in the software to find the area under the force-time graphthe impulse. (The
area under the curve is the same thing as the integral of force vs. time). Record the value of the impulse in
below (with units and sign). Explain how you determined the sign of the impulse. (Note: The statistics
tool in DataStudio only gives the area to one significant figure. A better estimate of the impulse can be
attained from the force-time graph by approximating the spike in the graph as a triangle and finding
the area of the triangle from its dimensions.
J=
Q2-6:

## (Dont forget the units or the sign)

How do the change in momentum and the measured impulse delivered to it during the
nearly elastic collision compare? Explain. Are the units of p and J the same (or
mathematically equivalent)?

## Extension 3-4: Examining impulse in other collisions

How would the impulse change if the initial momentum of the cart were larger than in Activity 2-3? What if
the collision took longer (or less time)? What if the collision were inelastic (i.e. the cart stuck to the wall) or
partially elastic? If you have time, perform experiments to answer these questions. Be careful to set up your
experiments so that the conclusions you draw make sense. For instance, if you want to investigate the effect
of the duration of the collision, compare two collisions with the same initial momentum.

written by DSA,
based on RealTime Physics
rev. 9/12/05

Collisions, p. 13/15

## Investigation 4: Newtons Laws and Momentum Conservation

Your previous work should have shown that interaction forces between two objects are equal in magnitude
and opposite in direction on a moment by moment basis for all the interactions you have studied. This is a
testimonial to the seemingly universal applicability of Newtons third law to interactions between objects.
Your previous work also should have shown that the total impulse delivered to an object during a collision is
equal to the change in the objects momentum. These two observations can be combined into a new
physical principle. The logic is outlined below.
Consider two objects interacting with each other. The total
impulse

r
J1 delivered to cart 1 during the collision
r

equals the change in momentum of cart 1, and the impulse J 2 acting on cart 2 during the collision equals the
change in momentum of cart 2:

r
v
J1 p1

r
v
J 2 p2

If the only forces on each object are the interaction forces between them, then the impulses delivered to object 1 will be

exactly equal and opposite to the impulse delivered to object 2: J1 J 2 . (Remember that magnitude of the
impulse equals the area under the force-time graph, so that if the force-time graphs for the two objects are
identical, the impulses will be identical in magnitude). Thus, by simple algebra:

v
v
p1 p 2

or

v
v
p1 p2 0

That is, the change in momentum for the one object equals the opposite of the change in momentum of the
other. Stated another way, there is no change in the total momentum of the system (the two objects) provided
that the only forces on each object are the interaction forces between them.
If the momenta of the two carts before (initialsubscript i) and after (finalsubscript f) the collision are
represented in the diagram below, then

r
r
pi p f

where

r
r
r
pi m1v1i m2 v2i

and

r
r
r
p m v m v
f

1 1f

2f

In the next activity you will examine whether momentum is conserved in a simple inelastic collision between
two carts of unequal mass.
Activity 4-1:

Inelastic collision

1. Set up the carts, ramp and motion detector as shown below. Remove the force probe from the cart. Add
masses to cart 1 so that it is about twice as massive as cart 2.

M (car1) =

M (car2) =

## (dont forget units)

3. Set up the motion detector to take velocity data at about 50 points per second. Set up axes to graph
velocity-time like those below.
written by DSA,
based on RealTime Physics
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Collisions, p. 14/15

velocity (m/s)

+2

-2
time (s)

Prediction 4-1: You are going to give the more massive cart 1 a push and collide it with cart 2, which is
initially at rest. The carts will stick together after the collision. Suppose you measure the total momentum of
cart 1 and cart 2 before and after the collision. How do you think the total momentum after the collision will
compare to the total momentum before the collision? Explain the basis for your prediction.

4. Test your prediction. Begin with cart 1 at least 20 cm from the motion detector.
5. Use the software to measure the velocity of cart 1 just before the collision and the velocity of both carts
together just after the collision. (You will want to find the average velocities over the short time
intervals just before and just afterbut not duringthe collision.) Record the values (with units) below.

r
v1i

r
v 2i
r
v2 f

r
v1 f

6. Calculate the total momentum of carts 1 and 2 before the collision and after the collision. Show the
calculations below. Dont forget units for your results.

r
pi
r
pf
Q4-1:

Was momentum conserved during the collision? Did your results agree with your prediction?
Explain.

Q4-2:

What are the difficulties in doing this experiment that might cause the momentum before
the collision to be slightly different that the momentum after the collision? Explain.

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Collisions, p. 15/15

Q4-3:

Momentum is conserved even when the carts do not stick together. Such collisions are called
partially elastic collisions. This lab will not test whether momentum is conserved in partially
elastic collisions because of equipment limitations. What additional equipment would be
needed to test whether momentum is conserved in such a collision? Why is only one motion
detector required to analyze the inelastic collision?

Extension 4-2:
Consider other collisions you can examine with the available apparatus. Describe each physical situation
carefully. Draw a diagram. Predict how the total momentum after the collision will compare to the
momentum before the collision. Then set up the apparatus and test your predictions. Describe your
observations. Include copies of any graphs you make. Compare your observations to your predictions.
Historical note on momentum:
Originally, Newton did not use the concept of acceleration or velocity in his laws. Instead he used the term
motion, which he defined as the product of mass and velocity (the quantity we now call momentum). Lets
examine a translation from Latin of Newtons first two laws with some parenthetical changes for clarity.
Newtons First Two Laws of Motion*
1. Every body continues in a state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is
compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.
2. The (rate of) change of motion is proportional to the motive force impressed: and is
made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impressed.
* I. Newton, Principia Mathematica, Florian Cajori, ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), p. 13.
* L.W. Taylor, Physics: The Pioneer Science, Vol. 1 (New York: Dover, 1959), pp. 129-131.

The more familiar contemporary statement of the second law is that the net force on an object can be
calculated as the product of its mass and acceleration where the direction of the force and direction of the
resulting acceleration are the same. Newtons statement of the second law and the more modern statement
are mathematically equivalent.
It would be nice to be able to use Newtons formulation of the second law of motion to find collision forces,
but it is difficult to measure the rate of change of momentum during a rapid collision without special
instruments. However, measuring the momenta of objects just before and just after a collision is not too
difficult. This led scientists to in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to concentrate on overall changes
in momentum that resulted from collisions. They then tried to relate changes in momentum to the forces
experienced by an object during a collision.

written by DSA,
based on RealTime Physics
rev. 9/12/05