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Basic course in Mechanics: Abhijit Kar Gupta, e-mail: kg.abhi@gmail.

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Tricks in Mechanics: Parallel resistor and combination of masses

The equivalent resistance of two resistors, r1 and r2 :


• Series combination, R = r1 + r2
rr
• Parallel combination, R = 1 2 .
r1 + r2

We shall see how the law of parallel combination (or series) can be generally
thought of in the case of mechanical systems where the masses are combined in
different ways. This can make our calculation easy. We can quickly get the answers
(without solving the problem actually) in some cases at least.

Think of the tension in the string for the following arrangements:

T Tension T = (m1 + m2 ) g
This is like a series combination of two
m1 g masses, m1 and m2 .

m2 g

Pulley: Atwood’s Machine

Tension in the string in this case can be found to be


 mm 
T = 2 1 2  g = 2Mg
 m1 + m2 
Here we can think of M to be the parallel combination
of two masses m1 and m 2 or the reduced mass or
T centre of mass as talked in Rigid body Mechanics.
m1 g Therefore, the tension in the string is as if due to the
sum of two equivalent masses:
T = Mg + Mg
m2 g
m
If we have m1 = m2 , M = and thus T = mg ; this can
2
be verified by usual calculation.
Basic course in Mechanics: Abhijit Kar Gupta, e-mail: kg.abhi@gmail.com 2

Now consider the following situations:

Double inclined plane

m1
m2
α β

Tension in the strings: T = Mg (sin α + sin β )


Note that when we put α = 90 o and β = 90 o we get
back the Atwood’s machine case: T = 2Mg

Next, if we put α = 90 o and β = 0 o , we arrive at the following situation:

Here the tension is calculated as


 mm 
T =  1 2  g = Mg
 m1 + m2 
The above formula can be viewed as
T = Mg. sin 90 o + Mg. sin 0 o = Mg

For the inclined plane below:

T Here, T = Mg. sin 90 o + Mg. sin θ


= Mg (1 + sin θ )

In this case, α = 90 o and β = θ .

θ
Basic course in Mechanics: Abhijit Kar Gupta, e-mail: kg.abhi@gmail.com 3

Analogy can be drawn in other cases also. For example, the combination of torsional
rigidities and the combination of capacitors etc.

Interestingly, the spring‐mass system where two masses m1 and m 2 are attached with a
spring of spring‐constant k :

m2
M
m1 Time period, T = 2π , where
k
m1 m2
M =
m1 + m2

This is an exercise to look at the apparent similarities between different things


and to find out tricks how one can find solutions in some cases without actually
solving the problem. Try yourself more…