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Momentum Conservation in 2 Dimensions

Lab Ticket
Each individual will write up their own Lab Report for this two-week experiment. You must also
submit Lab Tickets for each week individually. You are expected to discuss the plans for the lab
with your partner, but we require that all written work be done on your own.
Week 1: Write an outline of your procedure for the first week of lab. Spend some time
discussing what you want to do for your extension with your lab partner, then write a brief
description of your idea and how you plan to accomplish it.
Week 2: A rough draft of the results and analysis section of your lab, and an outline detailing
how you plan to accomplish your extension.


The momentum p~ of an object with mass m and velocity ~v is defined as

p~ = m~v .


It can be shown from Newtons laws that if no outside forces act on a system, the total momentum
remains constant. In this lab you will test the conservation of momentum in two dimensions by
observing the collision of two pucks on an air table. Additionally, you will investigate the connection
between a systems center-of-mass and the total momentum.


For a system consisting of two particles m1 and m2 , the total momentum is given by
P~ = p~1 + p~2 = m1~v1 + m2~v2 = m1 (vx )1i + (vy )1j + m2 (vx )2i + (vy )2j


P~ = [m1 (vx )1 + m2 (vx )2 ] i + [m1 (vy )1 + m2 (vy )2 ] j.


From Equation (3) we see that the x and y components of the total momentum are given by
Px = m1 (vx )1 + m2 (vx )2
Py = m1 (vy )1 + m2 (vy )2 .
It can be shown from Newtons laws (See Knight 9.3) that if no net outside force acts on this
system (that is, the only net force on Particle 1 is due to Particle 2, and vice versa), P~ is conserved.

Since Equation (3) is a vector equation, this means that Px and Py must independently remain
An alternate way to view momentum conservation involves the center-of-mass (CM). For a two
particle system, the position ~rCM of the center-of-mass is defined such that
M~rCM = m1~r1 + m2~r2 ,


where ~r1 and ~r2 are the positions of the masses and M = m1 + m2 .
Taking the derivative of both sides of Equation (4) with respect to time and noting that the
masses are constant, we find that

= m1
+ m2


M~vCM = m1~v1 + m2~v2 .


or, since ~v = d~r/dt,

From Equation (2) we see that the right hand side of the above equation is simply the systems
total momentum P~ so (6) becomes
M~vCM = P~ .
In other words: the total momentum of the system is simply the momentum of a particle with the
systems total mass, moving with the velocity of the center of mass.
Taking the derivative of both sides with respect to time, we find that



If no outside forces act on the system, we know that its total momentum will be constant (dP~ /dt =
0). Thus from Equation (8) we conclude that for such a system
= 0,


or equivalently, that ~vCM is constant in both directions.

Experimental Uncertainty

The primary goal of this experiment is to show that the measured initial momentum P~i and final
momentum P~f of a system have the same value. Given the inherent messiness of experimental
physics, we know that the two quantities will virtually never be measured to be exactly equal. The
question is: how close is close enough for us to call them consistent?
In experimental physics every measured quantity x has some corresponding uncertainty x.
The uncertainty defines a region x x within which the experimenter is reasonably sure that the

true value of the measured quantity lies. The size of that range provides an important measure
of how accurate a measurement is. For two measured quantities to be consistent, there must be
some area of overlap between their respective error bounds.
Since we are not measuring total momentum directly we cant simply estimate the uncertainty in
each momentum measurement. Instead, we must extrapolate an error bound given given estimates
of the error in the quantities we can measure: mass and velocity. Luckily, an application of the
principles of uncertainty propagation (see Appendix A of the Physics 101 Lab Manual) make this
a relatively straightforward task.
Consider, for example, the initial momentum in the x direction, Pix which is simply a sum of
the individual puck momenta (pix )1 and (pix )2 :
Pix = (pix )1 + (pix )2 .


When summing two terms, the uncertainty in the sum is simply the pythagorean sum of the
uncertainty in each of the terms. Thus
Pix = [(pix )1 ]2 + [(pix )2 ]2 .
Each of the individual momenta in turn are derived from the mass and velocity of the pucks:
(pix )1 = m1 (vix )1 ,


(pix )2 = m2 (vix )2 .


In the Physics 101/102 labs we have high-precision balances which are capable of measuring mass to
an accuracy of 0.01 grams. Our method for measuring velocity is by comparison much less precise
(think of the error that video pixelation alone produces, not to mention friction, lens distortion,
etc). Consequently, the fractional error in velocity is many orders of magnitude greater than the
fractional error in velocity. Therefore it is an excellent approximation to assume that we know the
masses exactly and that all of the error in momentum is due to velocity uncertainty. In that case,
(pix )1 = m1 (vix )1 ,


(pix )2 = m2 (vix )2 .


Putting these expressions in to Equation (11), we find that

Pix = [m1 (vix )1 ]2 + [m2 (vix )2 ]2 .


If we are able to make reasonable estimates of the error in each velocity measurement, we can
easily derive the error in each momentum measurement (Pfx , Piy , etc). If the ranges Pix Pix
and Pfx Pfx overlap, we can say with confidence that the two values are consistent.


Because it suppresses the magnitude of frictional forces, an air table provides an excellent environment in which to study two-dimensional momentum conservation. In this experiment you will
attempt to verify that momentum is conserved in both directions during a collision. In addition,
you will measure the motion of the center-of-mass of the two-particle systems to verify that its
velocity remains constant despite the interactive forces between the pucks.
To capture the motion of the pucks on the air table you will record videos of several puck
collisions using our lab cameras, then analyze the motion in Tracker.
Level the airtable as best as possible then find a good area on the air table within which
to perform the experiment. In certain regions of the table the pucks may be deflected one
direction or another by air blowing out more strongly out of one hole than another, or by
irregularities in the shape of the table surface. To find an area where these effects matter least,
turn on the tables air compressors and locate a region where the puck remains more-or-less
Mount a camera on a tripod and spread out the legs such that the good region of the air
table is directly underneath the camera lens. Set the tripod up as high as possible to capture
a wide range of the motion before and after the collision.
Record the mass and diameter of each of your pucks. The diameter will be used as a scale
once you import your videos.
Set up the cameras and take videos of three collisions:
1. One pucks with a non-zero velicity collides either head-on or off-center with an initially
stationary puck,
2. Both pucks with non-zero initial velocities moving in the same general direction under
go a glancing collision
3. Both pucks with non-zero initial velocities moving toward each other collide either headon or off-center.
In order to perform an uncertainty analysis as described above, we need a method of easily
estimating the uncertainty in each measured velocity. Often times in lab we determine the velocity
of an object using the first-order coefficient of a linear least-squares fit. Unfortunately it can
be extremely cumbersome to derive an uncertainty estimate for a quantity measured from a fit
A better method for this lab is to use Trackers calculated velocity quantity, which measures
the average velocity of the object between pairs of successive frames. Though slightly less accurate
than a fit equation, the average of these velocities will provide a reasonable measurement of the
pucks velocity during a period of the video. In addition, the standard deviation, which quantifies
the spread in the measurements, provides a reasonable estimate of the uncertainty.

Once you have good videos of your collisions, import them in to Tracker to analyze the puck
motion. Set up the clip with the appropriate clip settings and scale it using the diameter of
one of the pucks (or another object of known size.)
Use autotracker to track the position of each puck. If autotracker doesnt work they can be
manually tracked.
For each independent velocity measurement (you should have 8 total for each video), open
the corresponding calculated velocity in the Data Tool. Open the statistics table (Analyze
Statistics), highlight the points you want to consider, and record the average and standard
Once youve recorded a full set of data, calculate the total momentum before and after
the collision, along with the corresponding uncertainty using Equation (16). Are the two
measurements consistent?
A secondary purpose of this experiment is to measure the motion of the center-of-mass of the
two-particle system to verify that its velocity remains constant.
Tracker will calculate position of the center-of-mass of a system of particles. To do so, click
Create Center of Mass and select both pucks. The path of the calculated center of mass
will be displayed alongside the path of each puck.
Display plots of the x and y positions of the center-of-mass. Does the velocity remain constant
throughout the interaction?
To determine if the total momentum as measured from the center-of-mass is consistent with
the total momentum as measured from the individual masses, measure the x and y velocities
and standard deviations using the same method as above. Calculate the momentum using
Equation (8) and the uncertanties using Equation (16), then compare to the total momentum
before and after the collision. Are they consistent?

Some Possible Extensions - Feel free to devise your own

1. Conservation of momentum in the pool hall
Try applying a similar analysis to billiard-ball collisions in the pool hall. You may take a lab
camera and tripod down to the pool hall to record your videos, then return to lab to perform
your analysis. A few suggested pool shots you might investigate are listed in the box below.

Billiard-Ball Shots

rule: When a moving cue ball collides with an initially stationary object
ball, the angle between the balls paths after the collision is 90 . To get the best
results, hit the cue cue ball with a medium to firm stroke (but not so hard that its
quick motion won?t allow you to capture enough frames!) without putting spin on
the ball. Also, try not to have the balls collide close to head on; a glancing collision
is best (less spin on the cue ball).
Stop shot: If the cue ball is stroked firmly, and collides head on with an initially
stationary object ball, almost all of the momentum is transferred to the object ball,
causing the cue ball to stop.
Multiple-ball break: Shoot a cue ball so that it breaks an initially stationary cluster
of several (5 or less is suggested; it may be time consuming to analyze otherwise)
touching balls. You might want to break in several different ways. The cue ball
could collide with a single front ball or on the side, with multiple balls.
Spin shot: Analyze the linear momentum of a spinning cue ball colliding with an
object ball. Because a spinning cue ball will have significant rolling friction with the
table, the total linear momentum may change with time. Characterize the momentum change due to friction from the table and attempt to isolate the momentum
which was exchanged during only the collision.

Figure 1: a) the 90 rule. The cue balls motion is at a 90 angle to the motion of
the object ball after the collision. b) Possible ways of breaking a rack of balls.

2. Elasticity and Energy Conservation

Though we often talk of perfectly elastic collisions, in the real world collisions are rarely ever
perfectly elastic or inelastic. Consider first only the linear kinetic energy
K = m1 v12 + m1 v22


where v12 = (vx )21 + (vy )21 . As a first pass at quantifying the elasticity of the collision, calculate
the amount of dissipated energy
Ediss = Ki Kf ,
and express as a percentage of the original energy:
% Dissipated =



This isnt the whole picture, however. If the pucks are spinning with some significant angular
velocity, we need to consider the contribution of angular kinetic energy so that
K = m1 v12 + m1 v22 + I1 12 + I2 22 ,


where I1 and I2 are the moments of inertia of the pucks and 1 and 2 are their angular
Devise a way to measure the angular kinetic energy and calculate the dissipated energy again
using Equation (20). Does rotational kinetic energy account for a significant amount of the
dissipation? What other ways might energy have been dissipated?
You might perform this measurement for a few cases: one similar to the original collisions
where the pucks bounce off each other and dont spin very much, one where the pucks bounce
off each other but are spinning a significant amount, and another where the pucks stick
together after the collision so that we expect the collision to be perfectly inelastic.
3. Angular Momentum Conservation
Linear momentum is the natural conserved quantity to apply to collisions on an air table,
since pucks generally move in straight lines. However, we should also expect that angular
momentum is conserved since there are no outside torques acting on the pucks. For a rigid
body which is translating and rotating, we must be careful to account for both the angular
momentum due to the objects rotation about its own center-of-mass (called the spin angular
momentum), and for the angular momentum due to the movement of the center-of-mass itself
(called the orbital angular momentum).
Suppose the center-of-mass of a puck is moving with a linear velocity ~v and that the whole
~ o is given by
puck is rotating with an angular velocity
~ . The orbital angular momentum L
~ o = ~r p~ = m(~r ~v ),


where m is the mass of the puck and ~r is the distance from the pucks center-of-mass to the
origin. The spin angular momentum is given by
~ s = I~


where I is the moment of inertia of the puck (for a disk, I = 1/2mR2 , if R is the radius).
~ o and L
~ s . Since the motion occurs
The total angular momentum is simply the sum of the L
entirely in the x y plane, we can ignore everything but the z component of the total angular
momentum which is given by
Lz = xvy yvx + mR2 ,


where x and y are the components of ~r.

Take videos of a few puck collisions, track the positions, velocities, and angular velocities of
each puck, then use Equation (23) to calculate the total angular momentum. Does its value
remain constant before and after the collision?
4. Sloped Table
Try slightly sloping the air table while you record a few collisions. How does this affect
your analysis? Can you determine slope of the table by looking only at the discrepancies
in your conservation calculations? You might perform a similar analysis on your data from
the original three collisions to see if you can observe any minuscule effects of the table being
slightly un-level.
5. High Speed Collision
The cameras you use in lab can film at up to 1200 fps. If you can think of a good (and safe)
high speed collision to analyze, we can try to determine if momentum is conserved on a small
timescale. Talk it over with Noah if you have an idea.
6. More Complicated Interactions
Examine momentum conservation in more complicated situations: situations involving more
than two pucks, asymmetric objects, pucks which exert exotic forces on each other (we have
magnetic pucks), etc.