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Examples in Lagrangian Mechanics

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Written or last updated: October 14, 2005

Examples in Lagrangian Mechanics

c

Alex R. Dzierba

Here are some sample problems. I will assign similar problems for the next problem set.

Example 1 In Figure 1 we show a box of mass m sliding down a ramp of mass M . The ramp moves

without friction on the horizontal plane and is located by coordinate x1 . The box also slides without friction

on the ramp and is located by coordinate x2 with respect to the ramp.

x2

m

x1 M

θ

Figure 1: A box slides down a ramp without friction and the ramp slides along a horizontal surface without

friction.

1

TM = M ẋ21 (1)

2

1

m ẋ21 + ẋ22 + 2ẋ1 ẋ1 cos θ

Tm = (2)

2

The velocity of the box is obviously derived from the vector sum of the velocity relative to the ramp and the

velocity of the ramp.

The potential energy of the system is just the potential energy of the box and that leads to:

1

and finally the Lagrangian is given by:

1 1

M ẋ21 + m ẋ21 + ẋ22 + 2ẋ1 ẋ1 cos θ + mgx2 sin θ

L(x1 , ẋ1 , x2 , ẋ2 ) = TM + Tm − U = (4)

2 2

d ∂L ∂L

= (5)

dt ∂ ẋ1 ∂x1

and

d ∂L ∂L

= (6)

dt ∂ ẋ2 ∂x2

d

[m(ẋ1 + ẋ2 cos θ) + M ẋ1 ] = 0 (7)

dt

The RHS of equation 7 is zero because the Lagrangian does not explicitly depend on x1 . The quantity in

the brackets is the total momentum in the horizontal direction which is a constant since there are no forces

on the system in this direction.

d

(ẋ2 + ẋ1 cos θ) = g sin θ (8)

dt

Carrying out the time derivatives in equations 7 and 8 leads to two linear equations in ẍ1 and ẍ2 . These

two equations in two unknowns can be solved to yield:

−g sin θ cos θ

ẍ1 = (9)

(m + M )/m − cos2 θ

and

g sin θ

ẍ2 = (10)

1 − m cos2 θ/(m + M )

The RHS of both of the above equations are constants – we can easily find x1 (t) and x2 (t).

2

y

M

x

θ r

m

x

Example 2 Figure 2 shows a simple pendulum consisting of a string of length r and a bob of mass m that

is attached to a support of mass M . The support moves without friction on the horizontal plane.

The x component of the velocity of the bob is given by ẋ + rθ̇ cos θ and the y component by rθ̇ sin θ. So the

overall kinetic energy of the system is given by:

M 2 mh 2 i

T = ẋ + ẋ + r2 θ̇2 + 2ẋrθ̇ cos θ (11)

2 2

1 1

L(x, ẋ, θ, θ̇) = (m + M )ẋ2 + (r2 θ̇2 + 2ẋrθ̇ cos θ) + mgr cos θ (13)

2 2

d ∂L ∂L

= (14)

dt ∂ ẋ ∂x

and

d ∂L ∂L

= (15)

dt ∂ θ̇ ∂θ

to get:

3

d h i

(m + M )ẋ + mrθ̇ cos θ = 0 (16)

dt

and

d h i

m(r2 θ̇ + ẋr cos θ) = −m(ẋrθ̇ + gr) sin θ (17)

dt

Equatio 16 leads to a conserved quantity – the momentum along the x direction and equation 17 gives us:

ẍ g

θ̈ + cos θ + sin θ = 0 (18)

r r

Note that when the support is moving with constant velocity (ẍ = 0) we just have the equation of motion

for a pendulum.

ẍ

tan θ = − (19)

g

If we accelerate the support to the right then the pendulum hangs motionless at the angle given by the above

equation.

Example 3 The figure shows a mass M connected to another mass m. Mass M moves without friction

along a circle of radius r on the horizontal surface of a table. The two masses are connected by a massless

string of length ℓ that passes through a hole in the table. At given time the mass M is located by r and θ.

M

r

θ

m

Figure 3: Example 3.

The kinetic energies of the mass on the table TM and the hanging mass Tm are given by:

4

1

TM = M (ṙ2 + r2 θ̇2 )

2

1

Tm = mṙ2

2

1 1

L= M (ṙ2 + r2 θ̇2 ) + mṙ2 − mgr (20)

2 2

Applying:

d ∂L ∂L

=

dt ∂ ṙ ∂r

d ∂L ∂L

=

dt ∂ θ̇ ∂θ

(M + m)r̈ = M rθ̇2 − mg

d

M r2 θ̇ = 0

dt

The quantity in the parenthesis in the second of the above two equations is a conserved quantity since the

Lagrangian does not explicitly depend on θ.

Example 4 A particle of mass m is free to move without friction on the inside of a hemispherical bowl

whose axis is aligned along the vertical. The radius of the hemisphere is R and the particle is located by the

polar angle θ and the azimuthal angle φ.

mR2 2 2

L= φ̇ sin θ + θ̇2 + mgR cos θ (21)

2

Applying:

d ∂L ∂L

=

dt ∂ θ̇ ∂θ

d ∂L ∂L

=

dt ∂ φ̇ ∂φ

5

Mass m is located by

polar angle θ and

azimuthal angle φ

g θ R

Figure 4: Example 4.

d

mR2 sin2 θφ̇ = 0

dt

If φ̇ = 0 then the first of these looks like the equation of motion for a simple pendulum: θ̈ = −(g/R) sin θ

and the quantity in the parenthesis in the second equation is a constant of the motion, a conserved quantity,

because the Lagrangian does not explicitly depend on φ.

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