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per group: 2 stopwatches, 1 ruler, mass set, tape measure, meter stick, rotational
inertia mechanism
per table: string, scissors, mass balance

Introduction. An object in motion maintains a constant velocity unless acted upon by an

external force. Similarly, an object that is rotating will continue to rotate at a constant
angular velocity unless acted upon by an external torque. The rotation of an object about a
fixed axis, described by its angular acceleration , is determined by the objects rotational
inertia I (also called moment of inertia) and the torques that are applied. The fundamental
relationship between these variables is Newtons 2nd Law for rotation: net = I.

I. Moment of Inertia from Geometric Measurement. The moment of inertia of an object
depends on the mass of the object and (most importantly) the distribution of that mass
with respect to the axis of rotation. The moment of inertia for discrete or continuous mass
distributions is given by:

I = mi ri 2 = r 2 dm
i =1

where mi or dm is a mass element and r is the distance of that mass from the rotational axis.
In this lab you will use a wheel that consists of 3 uniform disks that share the same
principal axis. From the above equation, it can be shown that the moment of inertia for a
single uniform disk of mass M and radius R is Idisk = MR2. The total moment of inertia of
the wheel is simply the sum of the moments of each of the disks:

I wheel = M 1 R12 + M 2 R22 + M 3 R32

Since the wheel is constructed as a solid unit, it is not possible to
directly measure the mass of each of the individual disks;
however, given the density of the wheel using its entire mass and
volume, the mass of each disk can be expressed as Mi = Vi
(assuming uniform density). The volume of each disk is

Vi = Li

In terms of D and L, the density of the wheel is then:


V Li Di2

Therefore, the moment of inertia of the entire wheel can be expressed as:

I wheel =

Li Di4 or I wheel

8 L D




II. Moment of Inertia from Dynamic Measurement. In this experiment, a mass hung
from a string connected to the rim of a wheel applies an external torque that makes the
wheel rotate.


Since the string is tangent to the rim of the wheel, the tension in the string acts
perpendicular to the radius of the wheel (refer to figure), so the torque produced by the
hanging mass is simply the product of the tension times this radius:

string = TR

Applying Newtons second law to the hanging mass, we have: mg T = ma

Therefore, the torque applied by the hanging mass via the string is: string = m( g a ) R

The wheel rotates about its principal axis on metal pin bearings that allow it to spin freely
but not completely without friction. The friction in these bearings produces a torque that
opposes the torque applied by the hanging mass. Newtons second law for the wheel is
string friction = I

With a = R (why?), an alternative representation is:
string = I + friction

Equating the two expressions for string yields:
m(g a)R = I + friction


III. Procedure. You will do an experiment to both calculate the moment of inertia from
given disk parameters (Exploration 1), and also by doing a dynamic measurement of
acceleration (Exploration 2). Use your notebooks as needed to record data and perform
analysis. In Exploration 3, you will begin plotting data and analyzing in preparation for the
deliverable. The deliverable is a full lab report, with an analysis that requires Excel to fit
your data to a trendline model given by Equation [2]. From the trendline, determine the
moment of inertia of Exploration 2 and compare it to the calculated moment of inertia from
Exploration 1.

Exploration 1 Direct Calculation of Rotational Inertia (30 min)

The dimensions of the three disks are shown in the following table.

L1 (cm)
L2 (cm)
L3 (cm)
D1 (cm)
D2 (cm)
D3 (cm)
2.53 .01
2.58 .01
2.54 .01
7.64 .01
15.33 .02
5.08 .01

The total mass of the three disks combined is 4.9 0.1 kg.

Calculate the moment of inertia for the wheel using Eq. [1], and determine the
uncertainty in this value. This is an ideal opportunity to leverage Excel to do both the
calculation of the moment of inertia and its uncertainty.
Show and record the calculation in your notebook; be prepared to summarize this
analysis in the lab report.
Be prepared to analyze and discuss (in the lab report), the relative contributions of
each sub-disk to the total moment of inertia of the entire disk.

Exploration 2 Measuring Acceleration (40 min)

The wheel in this experiment is designed to spin freely, but friction is still a factor that
cannot be ignored. Before taking data, check to make sure your wheel spins freely. When
the axles are properly adjusted, the wheel should rotate for several seconds after gently
spinning it with your hand. If this is not the case, check with an instructor. Do not remove
the wheel from its support mechanism.

Hang a mass from a string tied to the rim of an individual disk and align the bottom
of the mass with the bottom of the table top (or some other convenient and welldefined position). Use a stopwatch to measure the time for the hanging mass to fall a
vertical distance h, and from that value determine the acceleration experienced by
the hanging mass (why is this acceleration not equal to g?).

Repeat this measurement several times to find an average acceleration for a fixed
height and applied torque. Use the standard error to estimate the uncertainty in the
time (efficiency hint: if each lab partner uses a stopwatch, multiple time
measurements can be made simultaneously for each trial).

Repeat the experiment using different hanging masses and different disks to obtain
at least 5 torque values. Do not invest time in making many measurements until
you read and understand Exploration 3. You will be plotting data and you
cannot complete the lab unless your data is sufficiently distinctive (spread
out) to reach a conclusion.

Critical: if the hanging mass is too small, the wheel will either not move (friction too large)
or will move at a constant speed (string = friction). The mass must be large enough to produce
a measureable acceleration experiment with the setup before starting measurements.

Exploration 3 Dynamic Calculation of Moment of Inertia (plotting time as needed)

Important Note: you are NOT required to finish Exploration 3 in the studio; however, you
should do enough of it in the studio (see Exploration 2) to understand what you are doing
for the deliverable. In particular, make rough plots of your data in your notebooks or
preferably in Excel as you proceed with Exploration 2 to make sure your data points are
sufficiently separated; if not, adjust your procedure accordingly. You will not be able to
redo your data collection after the studio, although you may finish your analysis outside of

Plot mi(g ai)Ri vs ai/Ri in Excel for the five (or more) points from Exploration 2. Refer to
Eq. [2] as to why you should be doing this (discuss in your group and ask for assistance if
you do not understand why this is being done understanding will be critical to completing
the lab individually). In order to get a good plot, the data points must not lie close to each
other or on top of one another this is why you must experiment with different torques
(created by using different masses mi and different radii Ri).

Deliverable. The deliverable for this lab is a Full Lab Report. The outline on the next page
contains information and tips for writing the lab report. Here is some general information
about the report (see next page for list of concise requirements):

o Due on Wed, Apr 13, at the beginning of studio.
o This assignment is worth 100 studio points.
o No group submissions each student must submit his or her own report.
o You may use the contents of this document for source material, but do not plagiarize
your colleagues we will scrutinize reports for honor code violations.
o Must be turned in on paper. Due to the unreliability of CCI printers, waiting until Apr
12 to print your Report is NOT advised.
Late policy: unless you have made prior arrangements with the instructors due to
a special situation, you will be docked 10% per day for a late submission. To wit:
o If you miss the deadline at the start of studio, you will be docked 10%
o If you miss the deadline + 24h, you will be docked 20%, etc
o Use an appropriate number of sig figs when citing any results and their
o Refer to previous assignments and the Studio Measurement and Uncertainty Guide
for necessary aspects of correct plotting of data (axes, title, error bars, etc).
o There is no minimum or maximum page limit; however, please note that excessive
length does not automatically equal a better report and may be graded down. Strive
to get your point across concisely in every section of the report, and minimize
o Grammar and spelling count, so please use your writing skills and the tools that
your word processor provides for this purpose.
o Refer to the Studio Measurement and Uncertainty Guide for information on
calculating uncertainties, and performing a linear regression in Excel.
o Refer to the Jan 16 Sakai Announcement for general guidelines on how to write
the lab report, including links to two example lab reports.

Your lab report must include the following items:

Cover Page (limited to one page)

o Title of Activity
o Date of Activity
o Name
o Names of Group Members
o Studio Section and Name of Studio TA
o Honor Pledge
o Limited to 250 words
o Optional, but can help the overall presentation of the report
o If included, limit to 1 page
o Can be referred to in the other sections, making those other sections more concise
o List of equipment used and diagrams of experiment would be here
Show calculation of the moment of inertia of the disk (see Section I and Exploration 1)
and its uncertainty. Also calculate the relative contribution of each of the sub-disks that
make up the whole.
Brief analytical description of the connection between the linear acceleration of the
weight and the rotation of the wheel (see Section II).
Brief description of how you measured acceleration and a table of the data used to
determine acceleration, and the resulting acceleration values, including all uncertainties
(see Sections II and III and Exploration 2).
Brief analytical summary of the model used to plot the data (see Section II).
Plot of the relevant data in Excel; you decide what is relevant and why (see Exploration 3).
Using Excels linear regression features, and guided by the directions in the above
explorations, interpret the slope of your plot and extract the value of the moment of
inertia and its uncertainty. Explain any auxiliary equations and calculations.
Interpret the y-intercept in your plot and extract the value of the frictional torque and
its uncertainty. Explain any auxiliary equations and calculations.
Discussion (suggested minimum)
o Cite and briefly compare the result from the Excel linear regression to the calculation in
Exploration 1. Do the results agree? If there are discrepancies, speculate on the possible
o Discuss the results of comparing the moments of inertia of the three sub-disks. Is there
anything surprising about your findings?
o Briefly summarize the interpretation of your plots y-intercept value and state whether
the value makes sense and why.
o The linear regression is an unweighted linear least squares fit of the data, and does not
take into account, for example, the uncertainty in individual acceleration measurements.
How might the uncertainty in the acceleration measurements apply, or not, to the
overall uncertainty analysis? What is your expectation as to the match between the least
squares value for the slope and the experimental uncertainty in the acceleration values?
o What did you learn or discover from this lab?
o How could you improve your results in terms of the quality of your measurements or
the available equipment?