You are on page 1of 3



To verify that centripetal force is equal to mv2/r.


There are two parts to this week's project. First, we allow a mass on a spring to rotate at a
constant rate. We determine the speed and the radius of the circular path of the mass. From these
data we can calculate the centripetal force. Second, we hang weights from the rotor spring to
obtain an independent measure of the force. Finally, we compare the two values for the force to
see if they are equal (to within experimental error).

Carefully follow your lab instructor’s advice on the safe use of the mechanical rotor. Keep
your fingers, hair, and clothes away from the moving parts.


1. A variable-speed rotor spins a small mass at the end of a spring in a horizontal circle. The
centripetal force is provided by the tension in the spring. A stroboscope is used to “stop”
the motion so that at one flash per revolution, the rotor appears to be stationary.

2. As the speed increases the mass moves outward. Eventually, it will come in contact with a
pointer that will flip upwards. Adjust the rotor speed so that the mass barely touches the
indicator, causing it to move upwards. Measure the rotational (angular) velocity by
determining the frequency of the stroboscope when it “freezes” the motion to show only a
single stationery image of the rotor. Be aware that the strobe will freeze the motion at the
actual frequency and frequencies that correspond to the actual frequency divided by an
integer. You must determine the highest frequency that freezes the motion to show a single
image. Since the strobe is calibrated in flashes per minute; you will need to divide this
value by 60 to convert to revolutions per second. Record several readings to determine the
reproducibility of your measurements.

3. Turn the motor off and swing the rotor to vertical. Hang calibrated lab masses from the end
of the small test mass until the spring is stretched to the same length it had during rotation.
Record the total mass supported by the spring, including the test mass. This will be referred
to as the load mass. This load mass times “g” gives the force required to stretch the spring
the same amount it stretched due to the rotation.

4. While the spring is stretched, use a vernier caliper to measure the distance from the axis of
rotation of the rotor arm to the center of the test mass; this is the value r, the radius of the
circular trajectory of the test mass (denoted Mcylinder in the figure below).

Experiment 5: Centripetal Forces

axis of rotation



1. From the radius r and the strobe frequency f measured in revolutions per second, calculate the
speed of the rotating mass,

v= = 2rf

2. Evaluate the magnitude of the centripetal acceleration, ac= v2/r and determine the centripetal

3. Compare the two types of force used to stretch the spring.

Centripetal Force = Mcylinder  ac

Weight Force = (M + Mcylinder)  g=load mass  g

Find the percent error between these two forces using the weight force as the known value.

Experiment 5: Centripetal Forces

4. Estimate your uncertainty in the measurement of r and f, and then use this to determine the
uncertainty in the radial acceleration a using
a  f  2  r  2
= 2  +  
a  f  r

5. Estimate the uncertainty in the mass of the cylinder by measuring a different mass or masses
that should add up to based on what is stamped on them. The difference between the measured
value and the expected value of 150g gives an estimate of the uncertainty in the mass of the

6. Evaluate the expected error in the centripetal force and in the weight force and determine if
your results agree to within this error. If not, you should either repeat your calculations or repeat
your measurements.


In addition to the standard elements of a well written lab report described in the introduction to
this manual, your report must include:

1) A neat presentation of rotor measurements (a data table).

2) A comparison between Fc and Fw, the expected uncertainty in each, and the percent
difference between the two quantities. Does your result agree to within experimental

Experiment 5: Centripetal Forces