Fullerton, California

copyright 1998-2010 Benjamin Crowell
rev. September 21, 2011
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Brief Contents
0 Introduction and review 15
1 Scaling and estimation 41
Motion in
one dimension
2 Velocity and relative motion 67
3 Acceleration and free fall 91
4 Force and motion 121
5 Analysis of forces 145
Motion in
three dimensions
6 Newton’s laws in
three dimensions 177
7 Vectors 189
8 Vectors and motion 201
9 Circular motion 221
10 Gravity 237
Conservation laws
11 Conservation of energy 265
12 Simplifying the energy zoo 287
13 Work: the transfer of
mechanical energy 301
14 Conservation of momentum 329
15 Conservation of
angular momentum 359
16 Thermodynamics 395
Vibrations and waves
17 Vibrations 419
18 Resonance 433
19 Free waves 457
20 Bounded waves 485
Relativity and
21 Electricity and circuits 533
22 The nonmechanical universe 589
23 Relativity and magnetism 623
24 Electromagnetism 645
25 Capacitance and inductance 675
26 The atom and E=mc
27 General relativity 755
28 The ray model of light 773
29 Images by reflection 791
30 Images, quantitatively 809
31 Refraction 827
32 Wave optics 849
The modern revolution
in physics
33 Rules of randomness 877
34 Light as a particle 901
35 Matter as a wave 919
36 The atom 945
0 Introduction and review
0.1 The scientific method . . . . . . 15
0.2 What is physics? . . . . . . . . 18
Isolated systems and reductionism, 20.
0.3 How to learn physics. . . . . . . 21
0.4 Self-evaluation . . . . . . . . . 23
0.5 Basics of the metric system. . . . 24
The metric system, 24.—The second, 25.—
The meter, 25.—The kilogram, 26.—
Combinations of metric units, 26.—
Checking units, 26.
0.6 The Newton, the metric unit of force 28
0.7 Less common metric prefixes . . . 28
0.8 Scientific notation . . . . . . . . 29
0.9 Conversions . . . . . . . . . . 30
Should that exponent be positive, or
negative?, 31.
0.10 Significant figures . . . . . . . 32
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Exercise 0: Models and idealization . . 39
1 Scaling and estimation
1.1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . 41
Area and volume, 41.
1.2 Scaling of area and volume . . . . 43
Galileo on the behavior of nature on large
and small scales, 44.—Scaling of area and
volume for irregularly shaped objects, 47.
1.3 Scaling applied to biology . . . . 51
Organisms of different sizes with the same
shape, 51.—Changes in shape to accommo-
date changes in size, 53.
1.4 Order-of-magnitude estimates. . . 55
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
Exercise 1: Scaling applied to leaves. . 63
Motion in one dimension
2 Velocity and relative motion
2.1 Types of motion . . . . . . . . . 67
Rigid-body motion distinguished from mo-
tion that changes an object’s shape,
67.—Center-of-mass motion as opposed to
rotation, 67.—Center-of-mass motion in
one dimension, 71.
2.2 Describing distance and time . . . 71
A point in time as opposed to duration, 72.
2.3 Graphs of motion; velocity . . . . 74
Motion with constant velocity, 74.—
Motion with changing velocity, 75.—
Conventions about graphing, 76.
2.4 The principle of inertia . . . . . . 78
Physical effects relate only to a change in
velocity, 78.—Motion is relative, 79.
2.5 Addition of velocities . . . . . . . 81
Addition of velocities to describe relative
motion, 81.—Negative velocities in relative
motion, 81.
2.6 Graphs of velocity versus time. . . 83
Applications of calculus. . . . . 84
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88
3 Acceleration and free fall
3.1 The motion of falling objects . . . 91
How the speed of a falling object increases
with time, 93.—A contradiction in Aristo-
tle’s reasoning, 94.—What is gravity?, 94.
3.2 Acceleration . . . . . . . . . . 95
Definition of acceleration for linear v − t
graphs, 95.—The acceleration of gravity is
different in different locations., 96.
3.3 Positive and negative acceleration . 98
3.4 Varying acceleration . . . . . . . 102
3.5 The area under the velocity-time
graph . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
3.6 Algebraic results for constant
acceleration . . . . . . . . . . . . 107
Applications of calculus. . . . . 110
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
4 Force and motion
4.1 Force . . . . . . . . . . . . . 122
We need only explain changes in motion,
not motion itself., 122.—Motion changes
due to an interaction between two objects.,
123.—Forces can all be measured on the
same numerical scale., 123.—More than
one force on an object, 124.—Objects can
exert forces on each other at a distance.,
124.—Weight, 125.—Positive and negative
signs of force, 125.
4.2 Newton’s first law . . . . . . . . 125
More general combinations of forces, 127.
4.3 Newton’s second law . . . . . . 129
A generalization, 130.—The relationship
between mass and weight, 131.
4.4 What force is not . . . . . . . . 134
Force is not a property of one object.,
134.—Force is not a measure of an object’s
motion., 134.—Force is not energy., 134.—
Force is not stored or used up., 135.—
Forces need not be exerted by living things
or machines., 135.—A force is the direct
cause of a change in motion., 135.
4.5 Inertial and noninertial frames of
reference . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140
Exercise 4: Force and motion . . . . . 143
5 Analysis of forces
5.1 Newton’s third law. . . . . . . . 145
A mnemonic for using Newton’s third law
correctly, 148.
5.2 Classification and behavior of forces 149
Normal forces, 152.—Gravitational forces,
153.—Static and kinetic friction, 153.—
Fluid friction, 157.
5.3 Analysis of forces . . . . . . . . 158
5.4 Transmission of forces by low-mass
objects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 161
5.5 Objects under strain . . . . . . . 163
5.6 Simple machines: the pulley . . . 164
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 168
Motion in three dimensions
6 Newton’s laws in three
6.1 Forces have no perpendicular effects 177
Relationship to relative motion, 179.
6.2 Coordinates and components . . . 180
Projectiles move along parabolas., 183.
6.3 Newton’s laws in three dimensions . 183
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 186
7 Vectors
7.1 Vector notation . . . . . . . . . 189
Drawing vectors as arrows, 191.
7.2 Calculations with magnitude and
direction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 192
7.3 Techniques for adding vectors . . . 194
Addition of vectors given their
components, 194.—Addition of vectors
given their magnitudes and directions,
194.—Graphical addition of vectors, 194.
7.4 Unit vector notation . . . . . . 196
7.5 Rotational invariance . . . . . . 196
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 198
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199
8 Vectors and motion
8.1 The velocity vector . . . . . . . 202
8.2 The acceleration vector . . . . . 204
8.3 The force vector and simple machines207
Calculus with vectors . . . . . 208
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 212
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
Exercise 8: Vectors and motion . . . . 218
9 Circular motion
9.1 Conceptual framework . . . . . . 221
Circular motion does not produce an out-
ward force, 221.—Circular motion does not
persist without a force, 222.—Uniform and
nonuniform circular motion, 223.—Only an
inward force is required for uniform circu-
lar motion., 224.—In uniform circular mo-
tion, the acceleration vector is inward, 225.
9.2 Uniform circular motion. . . . . . 227
9.3 Nonuniform circular motion . . . . 230
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 232
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233
10 Gravity
10.1 Kepler’s laws . . . . . . . . . 238
10.2 Newton’s law of gravity . . . . . 240
The sun’s force on the planets obeys an
inverse square law., 240.—The forces be-
tween heavenly bodies are the same type of
force as terrestrial gravity., 241.—Newton’s
law of gravity, 242.
10.3 Apparent weightlessness . . . . 246
10.4 Vector addition of gravitational
forces. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 246
10.5 Weighing the earth . . . . . . . 249
10.6 Dark energy . . . . . . . . . 251
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 253
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 255
Exercise 10: The shell theorem . . . . 261
Conservation laws
11 Conservation of energy
11.1 The search for a perpetual motion
machine. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 265
11.2 Energy . . . . . . . . . . . . 266
11.3 A numerical scale of energy . . . 270
How new forms of energy are discovered,
11.4 Kinetic energy . . . . . . . . . 275
Energy and relative motion, 276.
11.5 Power . . . . . . . . . . . . 277
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 280
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 282
12 Simplifying the energy zoo
12.1 Heat is kinetic energy . . . . . . 288
12.2 Potential energy: energy of distance
or closeness . . . . . . . . . . . . 290
An equation for gravitational potential
energy, 291.
12.3 All energy is potential or kinetic. . 294
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 296
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 297
13 Work: the transfer of me-
chanical energy
13.1 Work: the transfer of mechanical
energy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 301
The concept of work, 301.—Calculating
work as force multiplied by distance,
302.—machines can increase force, but not
work., 304.—No work is done without
motion., 304.—Positive and negative work,
13.2 Work in three dimensions . . . . 307
A force perpendicular to the motion does
no work., 307.—Forces at other angles, 308.
13.3 Varying force . . . . . . . . . 311
Applications of calculus . . . . 314
13.5 Work and potential energy . . . . 315
13.6 When does work equal force times
distance? . . . . . . . . . . . . . 317
13.7 The dot product . . . . . . . 319
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 321
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 323
14 Conservation of momentum
14.1 Momentum . . . . . . . . . . 330
A conserved quantity of motion, 330.—
Momentum, 331.—Generalization of the
momentum concept, 333.—Momentum
compared to kinetic energy, 334.
14.2 Collisions in one dimension . . . 336
The discovery of the neutron, 339.
14.3 Relationship of momentum to the
center of mass . . . . . . . . . . . 341
Momentum in different frames of reference,
342.—The center of mass frame of
reference, 343.
14.4 Momentum transfer. . . . . . . 344
The rate of change of momentum, 344.—
The area under the force-time graph, 346.
14.5 Momentum in three dimensions . 347
The center of mass, 348.—Counting equa-
tions and unknowns, 349.—Calculations
with the momentum vector, 350.
Applications of calculus . . . . 351
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 353
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 355
15 Conservation of angular
15.1 Conservation of angular momentum361
Restriction to rotation in a plane, 365.
15.2 Angular momentum in planetary
motion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 365
15.3 Two theorems about angular
momentum . . . . . . . . . . . . 367
15.4 Torque: the rate of transfer of angu-
lar momentum . . . . . . . . . . . 372
Torque distinguished from force, 372.—
Relationship between force and torque,
373.—The torque due to gravity, 375.
15.5 Statics . . . . . . . . . . . . 379
Equilibrium, 379.—Stable and unstable
equilibria, 382.
15.6 Simple machines: the lever . . . 383
15.7 Proof of Kepler’s elliptical orbit law385
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 387
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 389
Exercise 15: Torque . . . . . . . . . 394
16 Thermodynamics
16.1 Pressure and temperature . . . . 396
Pressure, 396.—Temperature, 400.
16.2 Microscopic description of an ideal
gas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 403
Evidence for the kinetic theory, 403.—
Pressure, volume, and temperature, 403.
16.3 Entropy. . . . . . . . . . . . 407
Efficiency and grades of energy, 407.—
Heat engines, 407.—Entropy, 409.
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 413
Vibrations and waves
17 Vibrations
17.1 Period, frequency, and amplitude . 420
17.2 Simple harmonic motion. . . . . 423
Why are sine-wave vibrations so common?,
423.—Period is approximately indepen-
dent of amplitude, if the amplitude is
small., 424.
17.3 Proofs . . . . . . . . . . . 425
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 428
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 429
Exercise 17: Vibrations . . . . . . . 431
18 Resonance
18.1 Energy in vibrations . . . . . . 434
18.2 Energy lost from vibrations. . . . 436
18.3 Putting energy into vibrations . . 438
18.4 Proofs . . . . . . . . . . . 446
Statement 2: maximum amplitude at
resonance, 447.—Statement 3: amplitude
at resonance proportional to Q, 447.—
Statement 4: FWHM related to Q, 448.
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 449
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 451
Exercise 18: Resonance . . . . . . . 455
19 Free waves
19.1 Wave motion . . . . . . . . . 459
1. Superposition, 459.—2. The medium
is not transported with the wave., 461.—3.
A wave’s velocity depends on the medium.,
462.—Wave patterns, 463.
19.2 Waves on a string . . . . . . . 464
Intuitive ideas, 464.—Approximate
treatment, 465.—Rigorous derivation us-
ing calculus (optional), 466.—Significance
of the result, 468.
19.3 Sound and light waves . . . . . 468
Sound waves, 468.—Light waves, 469
19.4 Periodic waves. . . . . . . . . 471
Period and frequency of a periodic wave,
471.—Graphs of waves as a function
of position, 471.—Wavelength, 472.—
Wave velocity related to frequency and
wavelength, 472.—Sinusoidal waves, 474.
19.5 The Doppler effect . . . . . . . 475
The Big Bang, 477.—What the Big Bang
is not, 479.
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 481
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 483
20 Bounded waves
20.1 Reflection, transmission, and
absorption . . . . . . . . . . . . . 486
Reflection and transmission, 486.—
Inverted and uninverted reflections, 489.—
Absorption, 489.
20.2 Quantitative treatment of reflection493
Why reflection occurs, 493.—Intensity of
reflection, 494.—Inverted and uninverted
reflections in general, 495.
20.3 Interference effects . . . . . . . 496
20.4 Waves bounded on both sides . . 499
Musical applications, 501.—Standing
waves, 501.—Standing-wave patterns of
air columns, 503.
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 505
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 506
Hints for volume 1. . . . . . . . . . 508
Answers for volume 1 . . . . . . . . 508
Photo credits for volume 1 . . . . . . 529
Relativity and electromagnetism
21 Electricity and circuits
21.1 The quest for the atomic force . . 534
21.2 Electrical forces . . . . . . . . 535
Charge, 535.—Conservation of charge,
537.—Electrical forces involving neutral
objects, 538.
21.3 Current . . . . . . . . . . . . 538
Unity of all types of electricity, 538.—
Electric current, 539.
21.4 Circuits . . . . . . . . . . . . 541
21.5 Voltage . . . . . . . . . . . . 543
The volt unit, 543.—The voltage concept
in general, 543.
21.6 Resistance . . . . . . . . . . 548
Resistance, 548.—Superconductors, 550.—
Constant voltage throughout a conductor,
551.—Short circuits, 552.—Resistors, 552.
Applications of calculus . . . . 555
21.8 Series and parallel circuits . . . . 556
Schematics, 556.—Parallel resistances and
the junction rule, 557.—Series resistances,
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 569
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 573
Exercise 21A: Electrical measurements. 581
Exercise 21B: Voltage and current . . . 582
Exercise 21C: Reasoning about circuits 587
22 The nonmechanical universe
22.1 The stage and the actors . . . . 590
Newton’s instantaneous action at a
distance, 590.—No absolute time, 590.—
Causality, 591.—Time delays in forces ex-
erted at a distance, 592.—More evidence
that fields of force are real: they carry
energy., 592.
22.2 The gravitational field . . . . . . 594
Sources and sinks, 595.—Superposition of
fields, 595.—Gravitational waves, 596.
22.3 The electric field . . . . . . . . 597
Definition, 597.—Dipoles, 600.—
Alternative definition of the electric field,
601.—Voltage related to electric field, 601.
22.4 Calculating energy in fields . . . 603
Voltage for nonuniform fields . . 606
22.6 Two or three dimensions . . . . 607
22.7 Field lines and Gauss’s law. . . 610
Electric field of a continuous
charge distribution . . . . . . . . . 612
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 614
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 616
Exercise 22: Field vectors . . . . . . 620
23 Relativity and magnetism
23.1 Relativistic distortion of space and
time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 623
Time distortion arising from mo-
tion and gravity, 623.—The Lorentz
transformation, 625.—The G factor, 631.
23.2 Magnetic interactions . . . . . . 636
Relativity requires magnetism, 637.
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 641
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 642
Exercise 23: Polarization. . . . . . . 643
24 Electromagnetism
24.1 The magnetic field . . . . . . . 645
No magnetic monopoles, 645.—Definition
of the magnetic field, 646.
24.2 Calculating magnetic fields and
forces. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 648
Magnetostatics, 648.—Force on a charge
moving through a magnetic field, 650.—
Energy in the magnetic field, 651.
24.3 The universal speed c. . . . . . 652
Velocities don’t simply add and subtract.,
652.—A universal speed limit, 653.—Light
travels at c., 653.—The Michelson-Morley
experiment, 653.
24.4 Induction . . . . . . . . . . . 655
The principle of induction, 655.
24.5 Electromagnetic waves . . . . . 657
Polarization, 659.—Light is an electro-
magnetic wave, 659.—The electromagnetic
spectrum, 659.—Momentum of light, 660.
24.6 Symmetry and handedness . . 661
24.7 Doppler shifts and clock time . . 662
Doppler shifts of light, 662.—Clock time,
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 667
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 668
25 Capacitance and inductance
25.1 Capacitance and inductance . . . 675
Capacitors, 676.—Inductors, 676.
25.2 Oscillations . . . . . . . . . . 678
25.3 Voltage and current. . . . . . . 681
25.4 Decay . . . . . . . . . . . . 685
The RC circuit, 685.—The RL circuit, 686.
25.5 Impedance . . . . . . . . . . 688
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 691
26 The atom and E=mc
26.1 Atoms . . . . . . . . . . . . 693
The chemical elements, 693.—Making
sense of the elements, 694.—Direct proof
that atoms existed, 695.
26.2 Quantization of charge . . . . . 696
26.3 The electron. . . . . . . . . . 699
Cathode rays, 699.—Were cathode rays
a form of light, or of matter?, 699.—
Thomson’s experiments, 700.—The cath-
ode ray as a subatomic particle: the
electron, 702.—The raisin cookie model,
26.4 The nucleus . . . . . . . . . . 705
Radioactivity, 705.—The planetary model,
708.—Atomic number, 711.—The struc-
ture of nuclei, 717.—The strong nuclear
force, alpha decay and fission, 720.—The
weak nuclear force; beta decay, 722.—
Fusion, 726.—Nuclear energy and binding
energies, 728.—Biological effects of ioniz-
ing radiation, 731.—The creation of the
elements, 734.
26.5 Relativistic mass and energy. . . 735
Momentum, 736.—Equivalence of mass
and energy, 739.—Proofs, 744.
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 747
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 749
Exercise 26: Sports in slowlightland . . 754
27 General relativity
27.1 Our universe isn’t Euclidean . . . 755
Curvature, 756.—Curvature doesn’t re-
quire higher dimensions, 757.
27.2 The equivalence principle . . . . 758
Universality of free-fall, 758.—
Gravitational Doppler shifts and time
dilation, 760.—Local flatness, 761.—
Inertial frames, 761.
27.3 Black holes . . . . . . . . . . 762
Information paradox, 764.—Formation,
27.4 Cosmology . . . . . . . . . . 765
The Big Bang, 765.—The cosmic censor-
ship hypothesis, 766.—The advent of high-
precision cosmology, 767.—Dark energy
and dark matter, 768.
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 770
28 The ray model of light
28.1 The nature of light . . . . . . . 774
The cause and effect relationship in vision,
774.—Light is a thing, and it travels from
one point to another., 775.—Light can
travel through a vacuum., 776.
28.2 Interaction of light with matter . . 777
Absorption of light, 777.—How we see non-
luminous objects, 777.—Numerical mea-
surement of the brightness of light, 779.
28.3 The ray model of light . . . . . . 779
Models of light, 779.—Ray diagrams, 781.
28.4 Geometry of specular reflection . 782
Reversibility of light rays, 784.
28.5 The principle of least time for
reflection . . . . . . . . . . . . . 786
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 788
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 789
29 Images by reflection
29.1 A virtual image . . . . . . . . 792
29.2 Curved mirrors. . . . . . . . . 795
29.3 A real image . . . . . . . . . 796
29.4 Images of images . . . . . . . 797
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 801
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 802
Exercise 29: Exploring images with a
curved mirror. . . . . . . . . . . . 805
30 Images, quantitatively
30.1 A real image formed by a converging
mirror . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 810
Location of the image, 810.—
Magnification, 813.
30.2 Other cases with curved mirrors . 813
30.3 Aberrations . . . . . . . . . 817
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 821
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 823
Exercise 30: Object and image distances 826
31 Refraction
31.1 Refraction. . . . . . . . . . . 828
Refraction, 828.—Refractive properties of
media, 829.—Snell’s law, 830.—The in-
dex of refraction is related to the speed
of light., 831.—A mechanical model of
Snell’s law, 832.—A derivation of Snell’s
law, 832.—Color and refraction, 833.—
How much light is reflected, and how much
is transmitted?, 833.
31.2 Lenses . . . . . . . . . . . . 835
31.3 The lensmaker’s equation . . . 836
31.4 The principle of least time for
refraction . . . . . . . . . . . . . 837
31.5 Case study: the eye of the jumping
spider . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 838
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 840
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 841
Exercise 31: How strong are your
glasses? . . . . . . . . . . . . . 847
32 Wave optics
32.1 Diffraction. . . . . . . . . . . 850
32.2 Scaling of diffraction . . . . . . 851
32.3 The correspondence principle . . 852
32.4 Huygens’ principle . . . . . . . 853
32.5 Double-slit diffraction . . . . . . 854
32.6 Repetition. . . . . . . . . . . 858
32.7 Single-slit diffraction . . . . . . 859
The principle of least time . . 860
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 863
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 865
Exercise 32A: Double-source interference870
Exercise 32B: Single-slit diffraction . . 872
Exercise 32C: Diffraction of light . . . . 874
The modern revolution in
33 Rules of randomness
33.1 Randomness isn’t random. . . . 879
33.2 Calculating randomness. . . . . 880
Statistical independence, 880.—Addition
of probabilities, 881.—Normalization,
882.—Averages, 882.
33.3 Probability distributions . . . . . 884
Average and width of a probability
distribution, 885.
33.4 Exponential decay and half-life . . 886
Rate of decay, 889.
Applications of calculus . . . . 891
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 894
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 896
34 Light as a particle
34.1 Evidence for light as a particle . . 902
34.2 How much light is one photon? . . 904
The photoelectric effect, 904.—An unex-
pected dependence on frequency, 905.—
Numerical relationship between energy and
frequency, 906.
34.3 Wave-particle duality . . . . . . 909
A wrong interpretation: photons interfer-
ing with each other, 910.—The concept
of a photon’s path is undefined., 910.—
Another wrong interpretation: the pilot
wave hypothesis, 911.—The probability
interpretation, 911.
34.4 Photons in three dimensions . . . 914
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 915
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 916
35 Matter as a wave
35.1 Electrons as waves . . . . . . . 920
What kind of wave is it?, 923.
Dispersive waves . . . . . . 925
35.3 Bound states . . . . . . . . . 927
35.4 The uncertainty principle . . . . 930
The uncertainty principle, 930.—
Measurement and Schr¨odinger’s cat, 934.
35.5 Electrons in electric fields . . . . 935
Tunneling, 936.
The Schr ¨ odinger equation . . 936
Use of complex numbers, 939.
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 940
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 942
36 The atom
36.1 Classifying states . . . . . . . 946
36.2 Angular momentum in three
dimensions . . . . . . . . . . . . 947
Three-dimensional angular momentum in
classical physics, 947.—Three-dimensional
angular momentum in quantum physics,
36.3 The hydrogen atom. . . . . . . 949
36.4 Energies of states in hydrogen . 952
History, 952.—Approximate treatment,
36.5 Electron spin . . . . . . . . . 954
36.6 Atoms with more than one electron 955
Deriving the periodic table, 957.
Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . 959
Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . 961
Exercise 36: Quantum versus classical
randomness . . . . . . . . . . . . 964
Hints for volume 2. . . . . . . . . . 965
Answers for volume 2 . . . . . . . . 965
Photo credits for volume 2 . . . . . . 974
The Mars Climate Orbiter is pre-
pared for its mission. The laws
of physics are the same every-
where, even on Mars, so the
probe could be designed based
on the laws of physics as discov-
ered on earth. There is unfor-
tunately another reason why this
spacecraft is relevant to the top-
ics of this chapter: it was de-
stroyed attempting to enter Mars’
atmosphere because engineers
at Lockheed Martin forgot to con-
vert data on engine thrusts from
pounds into the metric unit of
force (newtons) before giving the
information to NASA. Conver-
sions are important!
Chapter 0
Introduction and review
If you drop your shoe and a coin side by side, they hit the ground at
the same time. Why doesn’t the shoe get there first, since gravity is
pulling harder on it? How does the lens of your eye work, and why
do your eye’s muscles need to squash its lens into different shapes in
order to focus on objects nearby or far away? These are the kinds
of questions that physics tries to answer about the behavior of light
and matter, the two things that the universe is made of.
0.1 The scientific method
Until very recently in history, no progress was made in answering
questions like these. Worse than that, the wrong answers written
by thinkers like the ancient Greek physicist Aristotle were accepted
without question for thousands of years. Why is it that scientific
knowledge has progressed more since the Renaissance than it had
in all the preceding millennia since the beginning of recorded his-
tory? Undoubtedly the industrial revolution is part of the answer.
Building its centerpiece, the steam engine, required improved tech-
a / Science is a cycle of the-
ory and experiment.
b / A satirical drawing of an
alchemist’s laboratory. H. Cock,
after a drawing by Peter Brueghel
the Elder (16th century).
niques for precise construction and measurement. (Early on, it was
considered a major advance when English machine shops learned to
build pistons and cylinders that fit together with a gap narrower
than the thickness of a penny.) But even before the industrial rev-
olution, the pace of discovery had picked up, mainly because of the
introduction of the modern scientific method. Although it evolved
over time, most scientists today would agree on something like the
following list of the basic principles of the scientific method:
(1) Science is a cycle of theory and experiment. Scientific the-
are created to explain the results of experiments that were
created under certain conditions. A successful theory will also make
new predictions about new experiments under new conditions. Even-
tually, though, it always seems to happen that a new experiment
comes along, showing that under certain conditions the theory is
not a good approximation or is not valid at all. The ball is then
back in the theorists’ court. If an experiment disagrees with the
current theory, the theory has to be changed, not the experiment.
(2) Theories should both predict and explain. The requirement of
predictive power means that a theory is only meaningful if it predicts
something that can be checked against experimental measurements
that the theorist did not already have at hand. That is, a theory
should be testable. Explanatory value means that many phenomena
should be accounted for with few basic principles. If you answer
every “why” question with “because that’s the way it is,” then your
theory has no explanatory value. Collecting lots of data without
being able to find any basic underlying principles is not science.
(3) Experiments should be reproducible. An experiment should
be treated with suspicion if it only works for one person, or only
in one part of the world. Anyone with the necessary skills and
equipment should be able to get the same results from the same
experiment. This implies that science transcends national and eth-
nic boundaries; you can be sure that nobody is doing actual science
who claims that their work is “Aryan, not Jewish,” “Marxist, not
bourgeois,” or “Christian, not atheistic.” An experiment cannot be
reproduced if it is secret, so science is necessarily a public enterprise.
As an example of the cycle of theory and experiment, a vital step
toward modern chemistry was the experimental observation that the
chemical elements could not be transformed into each other, e.g.,
lead could not be turned into gold. This led to the theory that
chemical reactions consisted of rearrangements of the elements in
The term “theory” in science does not just mean “what someone thinks,” or
even “what a lot of scientists think.” It means an interrelated set of statements
that have predictive value, and that have survived a broad set of empirical
tests. Thus, both Newton’s law of gravity and Darwinian evolution are scientific
theories. A “hypothesis,” in contrast to a theory, is any statement of interest
that can be empirically tested. That the moon is made of cheese is a hypothesis,
which was empirically tested, for example, by the Apollo astronauts.
16 Chapter 0 Introduction and review
different combinations, without any change in the identities of the
elements themselves. The theory worked for hundreds of years, and
was confirmed experimentally over a wide range of pressures and
temperatures and with many combinations of elements. Only in
the twentieth century did we learn that one element could be trans-
formed into one another under the conditions of extremely high
pressure and temperature existing in a nuclear bomb or inside a star.
That observation didn’t completely invalidate the original theory of
the immutability of the elements, but it showed that it was only an
approximation, valid at ordinary temperatures and pressures.
self-check A
A psychic conducts seances in which the spirits of the dead speak to
the participants. He says he has special psychic powers not possessed
by other people, which allow him to “channel” the communications with
the spirits. What part of the scientific method is being violated here?
Answer, p. 522
The scientific method as described here is an idealization, and
should not be understood as a set procedure for doing science. Sci-
entists have as many weaknesses and character flaws as any other
group, and it is very common for scientists to try to discredit other
people’s experiments when the results run contrary to their own fa-
vored point of view. Successful science also has more to do with
luck, intuition, and creativity than most people realize, and the
restrictions of the scientific method do not stifle individuality and
self-expression any more than the fugue and sonata forms stifled
Bach and Haydn. There is a recent tendency among social scien-
tists to go even further and to deny that the scientific method even
exists, claiming that science is no more than an arbitrary social sys-
tem that determines what ideas to accept based on an in-group’s
criteria. I think that’s going too far. If science is an arbitrary social
ritual, it would seem difficult to explain its effectiveness in building
such useful items as airplanes, CD players, and sewers. If alchemy
and astrology were no less scientific in their methods than chem-
istry and astronomy, what was it that kept them from producing
anything useful?
Discussion questions
Consider whether or not the scientific method is being applied in the fol-
lowing examples. If the scientific method is not being applied, are the
people whose actions are being described performing a useful human
activity, albeit an unscientific one?
A Acupuncture is a traditional medical technique of Asian origin in
which small needles are inserted in the patient’s body to relieve pain.
Many doctors trained in the west consider acupuncture unworthy of ex-
perimental study because if it had therapeutic effects, such effects could
not be explained by their theories of the nervous system. Who is being
more scientific, the western or eastern practitioners?
Section 0.1 The scientific method 17
B Goethe, a German poet, is less well known for his theory of color.
He published a book on the subject, in which he argued that scientific
apparatus for measuring and quantifying color, such as prisms, lenses
and colored filters, could not give us full insight into the ultimate meaning
of color, for instance the cold feeling evoked by blue and green or the
heroic sentiments inspired by red. Was his work scientific?
C A child asks why things fall down, and an adult answers “because of
gravity.” The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle explained that rocks fell
because it was their nature to seek out their natural place, in contact with
the earth. Are these explanations scientific?
D Buddhism is partly a psychological explanation of human suffering,
and psychology is of course a science. The Buddha could be said to
have engaged in a cycle of theory and experiment, since he worked by
trial and error, and even late in his life he asked his followers to challenge
his ideas. Buddhism could also be considered reproducible, since the
Buddha told his followers they could find enlightenment for themselves
if they followed a certain course of study and discipline. Is Buddhism a
scientific pursuit?
0.2 What is physics?
Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend
all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective
positions of the things which compose it...nothing would be
uncertain, and the future as the past would be laid out before
its eyes.
Pierre Simon de Laplace
Physics is the use of the scientific method to find out the basic
principles governing light and matter, and to discover the implica-
tions of those laws. Part of what distinguishes the modern outlook
from the ancient mind-set is the assumption that there are rules by
which the universe functions, and that those laws can be at least par-
tially understood by humans. From the Age of Reason through the
nineteenth century, many scientists began to be convinced that the
laws of nature not only could be known but, as claimed by Laplace,
those laws could in principle be used to predict everything about
the universe’s future if complete information was available about
the present state of all light and matter. In subsequent sections,
I’ll describe two general types of limitations on prediction using the
laws of physics, which were only recognized in the twentieth century.
Matter can be defined as anything that is affected by gravity,
i.e., that has weight or would have weight if it was near the Earth
or another star or planet massive enough to produce measurable
gravity. Light can be defined as anything that can travel from one
place to another through empty space and can influence matter, but
has no weight. For example, sunlight can influence your body by
heating it or by damaging your DNA and giving you skin cancer.
The physicist’s definition of light includes a variety of phenomena
18 Chapter 0 Introduction and review
c / This telescope picture shows
two images of the same distant
object, an exotic, very luminous
object called a quasar. This is
interpreted as evidence that a
massive, dark object, possibly
a black hole, happens to be
between us and it. Light rays that
would otherwise have missed the
earth on either side have been
bent by the dark object’s gravity
so that they reach us. The actual
direction to the quasar is presum-
ably in the center of the image,
but the light along that central line
doesn’t get to us because it is
absorbed by the dark object. The
quasar is known by its catalog
number, MG1131+0456, or more
informally as Einstein’s Ring.
that are not visible to the eye, including radio waves, microwaves,
x-rays, and gamma rays. These are the “colors” of light that do not
happen to fall within the narrow violet-to-red range of the rainbow
that we can see.
self-check B
At the turn of the 20th century, a strange new phenomenon was discov-
ered in vacuum tubes: mysterious rays of unknown origin and nature.
These rays are the same as the ones that shoot from the back of your
TV’s picture tube and hit the front to make the picture. Physicists in
1895 didn’t have the faintest idea what the rays were, so they simply
named them “cathode rays,” after the name for the electrical contact
from which they sprang. A fierce debate raged, complete with national-
istic overtones, over whether the rays were a form of light or of matter.
What would they have had to do in order to settle the issue?
Answer, p. 522
Many physical phenomena are not themselves light or matter,
but are properties of light or matter or interactions between light
and matter. For instance, motion is a property of all light and some
matter, but it is not itself light or matter. The pressure that keeps
a bicycle tire blown up is an interaction between the air and the
tire. Pressure is not a form of matter in and of itself. It is as
much a property of the tire as of the air. Analogously, sisterhood
and employment are relationships among people but are not people
Some things that appear weightless actually do have weight, and
so qualify as matter. Air has weight, and is thus a form of matter
even though a cubic inch of air weighs less than a grain of sand. A
helium balloon has weight, but is kept from falling by the force of the
surrounding more dense air, which pushes up on it. Astronauts in
orbit around the Earth have weight, and are falling along a curved
arc, but they are moving so fast that the curved arc of their fall
is broad enough to carry them all the way around the Earth in a
circle. They perceive themselves as being weightless because their
space capsule is falling along with them, and the floor therefore does
not push up on their feet.
Optional Topic: Modern Changes in the Definition of Light and
Einstein predicted as a consequence of his theory of relativity that light
would after all be affected by gravity, although the effect would be ex-
tremely weak under normal conditions. His prediction was borne out
by observations of the bending of light rays from stars as they passed
close to the sun on their way to the Earth. Einstein’s theory also implied
the existence of black holes, stars so massive and compact that their
intense gravity would not even allow light to escape. (These days there
is strong evidence that black holes exist.)
Einstein’s interpretation was that light doesn’t really have mass, but
that energy is affected by gravity just like mass is. The energy in a light
Section 0.2 What is physics? 19
d / Reductionism.
beam is equivalent to a certain amount of mass, given by the famous
equation E = mc
, where c is the speed of light. Because the speed
of light is such a big number, a large amount of energy is equivalent to
only a very small amount of mass, so the gravitational force on a light
ray can be ignored for most practical purposes.
There is however a more satisfactory and fundamental distinction
between light and matter, which should be understandable to you if you
have had a chemistry course. In chemistry, one learns that electrons
obey the Pauli exclusion principle, which forbids more than one electron
from occupying the same orbital if they have the same spin. The Pauli
exclusion principle is obeyed by the subatomic particles of which matter
is composed, but disobeyed by the particles, called photons, of which a
beam of light is made.
Einstein’s theory of relativity is discussed more fully in book 6 of this
The boundary between physics and the other sciences is not
always clear. For instance, chemists study atoms and molecules,
which are what matter is built from, and there are some scientists
who would be equally willing to call themselves physical chemists
or chemical physicists. It might seem that the distinction between
physics and biology would be clearer, since physics seems to deal
with inanimate objects. In fact, almost all physicists would agree
that the basic laws of physics that apply to molecules in a test tube
work equally well for the combination of molecules that constitutes
a bacterium. (Some might believe that something more happens in
the minds of humans, or even those of cats and dogs.) What differ-
entiates physics from biology is that many of the scientific theories
that describe living things, while ultimately resulting from the fun-
damental laws of physics, cannot be rigorously derived from physical
Isolated systems and reductionism
To avoid having to study everything at once, scientists isolate the
things they are trying to study. For instance, a physicist who wants
to study the motion of a rotating gyroscope would probably prefer
that it be isolated from vibrations and air currents. Even in biology,
where field work is indispensable for understanding how living things
relate to their entire environment, it is interesting to note the vital
historical role played by Darwin’s study of the Gal´apagos Islands,
which were conveniently isolated from the rest of the world. Any
part of the universe that is considered apart from the rest can be
called a “system.”
Physics has had some of its greatest successes by carrying this
process of isolation to extremes, subdividing the universe into smaller
and smaller parts. Matter can be divided into atoms, and the be-
havior of individual atoms can be studied. Atoms can be split apart
20 Chapter 0 Introduction and review
into their constituent neutrons, protons and electrons. Protons and
neutrons appear to be made out of even smaller particles called
quarks, and there have even been some claims of experimental ev-
idence that quarks have smaller parts inside them. This method
of splitting things into smaller and smaller parts and studying how
those parts influence each other is called reductionism. The hope is
that the seemingly complex rules governing the larger units can be
better understood in terms of simpler rules governing the smaller
units. To appreciate what reductionism has done for science, it is
only necessary to examine a 19th-century chemistry textbook. At
that time, the existence of atoms was still doubted by some, elec-
trons were not even suspected to exist, and almost nothing was
understood of what basic rules governed the way atoms interacted
with each other in chemical reactions. Students had to memorize
long lists of chemicals and their reactions, and there was no way to
understand any of it systematically. Today, the student only needs
to remember a small set of rules about how atoms interact, for in-
stance that atoms of one element cannot be converted into another
via chemical reactions, or that atoms from the right side of the pe-
riodic table tend to form strong bonds with atoms from the left
Discussion questions
A I’ve suggested replacing the ordinary dictionary definition of light
with a more technical, more precise one that involves weightlessness. It’s
still possible, though, that the stuff a lightbulb makes, ordinarily called
“light,” does have some small amount of weight. Suggest an experiment
to attempt to measure whether it does.
B Heat is weightless (i.e., an object becomes no heavier when heated),
and can travel across an empty room from the fireplace to your skin,
where it influences you by heating you. Should heat therefore be con-
sidered a form of light by our definition? Why or why not?
C Similarly, should sound be considered a form of light?
0.3 How to learn physics
For as knowledges are now delivered, there is a kind of con-
tract of error between the deliverer and the receiver; for he
that delivereth knowledge desireth to deliver it in such a form
as may be best believed, and not as may be best examined;
and he that receiveth knowledge desireth rather present sat-
isfaction than expectant inquiry.
Francis Bacon
Many students approach a science course with the idea that they
can succeed by memorizing the formulas, so that when a problem
Section 0.3 How to learn physics 21
is assigned on the homework or an exam, they will be able to plug
numbers in to the formula and get a numerical result on their cal-
culator. Wrong! That’s not what learning science is about! There
is a big difference between memorizing formulas and understanding
concepts. To start with, different formulas may apply in different
situations. One equation might represent a definition, which is al-
ways true. Another might be a very specific equation for the speed
of an object sliding down an inclined plane, which would not be true
if the object was a rock drifting down to the bottom of the ocean.
If you don’t work to understand physics on a conceptual level, you
won’t know which formulas can be used when.
Most students taking college science courses for the first time
also have very little experience with interpreting the meaning of an
equation. Consider the equation w = A/h relating the width of a
rectangle to its height and area. A student who has not developed
skill at interpretation might view this as yet another equation to
memorize and plug in to when needed. A slightly more savvy stu-
dent might realize that it is simply the familiar formula A = wh
in a different form. When asked whether a rectangle would have
a greater or smaller width than another with the same area but
a smaller height, the unsophisticated student might be at a loss,
not having any numbers to plug in on a calculator. The more ex-
perienced student would know how to reason about an equation
involving division — if h is smaller, and A stays the same, then w
must be bigger. Often, students fail to recognize a sequence of equa-
tions as a derivation leading to a final result, so they think all the
intermediate steps are equally important formulas that they should
When learning any subject at all, it is important to become as
actively involved as possible, rather than trying to read through
all the information quickly without thinking about it. It is a good
idea to read and think about the questions posed at the end of each
section of these notes as you encounter them, so that you know you
have understood what you were reading.
Many students’ difficulties in physics boil down mainly to diffi-
culties with math. Suppose you feel confident that you have enough
mathematical preparation to succeed in this course, but you are
having trouble with a few specific things. In some areas, the brief
review given in this chapter may be sufficient, but in other areas
it probably will not. Once you identify the areas of math in which
you are having problems, get help in those areas. Don’t limp along
through the whole course with a vague feeling of dread about some-
thing like scientific notation. The problem will not go away if you
ignore it. The same applies to essential mathematical skills that you
are learning in this course for the first time, such as vector addition.
Sometimes students tell me they keep trying to understand a
22 Chapter 0 Introduction and review
certain topic in the book, and it just doesn’t make sense. The worst
thing you can possibly do in that situation is to keep on staring
at the same page. Every textbook explains certain things badly —
even mine! — so the best thing to do in this situation is to look
at a different book. Instead of college textbooks aimed at the same
mathematical level as the course you’re taking, you may in some
cases find that high school books or books at a lower math level
give clearer explanations.
Finally, when reviewing for an exam, don’t simply read back
over the text and your lecture notes. Instead, try to use an active
method of reviewing, for instance by discussing some of the discus-
sion questions with another student, or doing homework problems
you hadn’t done the first time.
0.4 Self-evaluation
The introductory part of a book like this is hard to write, because
every student arrives at this starting point with a different prepara-
tion. One student may have grown up outside the U.S. and so may
be completely comfortable with the metric system, but may have
had an algebra course in which the instructor passed too quickly
over scientific notation. Another student may have already taken
calculus, but may have never learned the metric system. The fol-
lowing self-evaluation is a checklist to help you figure out what you
need to study to be prepared for the rest of the course.
If you disagree with this state-
ment. . .
you should study this section:
I am familiar with the basic metric
units of meters, kilograms, and sec-
onds, and the most common metric
prefixes: milli- (m), kilo- (k), and
centi- (c).
section 0.5 Basic of the Metric Sys-
I know about the newton, a unit of
section 0.6 The newton, the Metric
Unit of Force
I am familiar with these less com-
mon metric prefixes: mega- (M),
micro- (µ), and nano- (n).
section 0.7 Less Common Metric
I am comfortable with scientific no-
section 0.8 Scientific Notation
I can confidently do metric conver-
section 0.9 Conversions
I understand the purpose and use of
significant figures.
section 0.10 Significant Figures
It wouldn’t hurt you to skim the sections you think you already
know about, and to do the self-checks in those sections.
Section 0.4 Self-evaluation 23
0.5 Basics of the metric system
The metric system
Units were not standardized until fairly recently in history, so
when the physicist Isaac Newton gave the result of an experiment
with a pendulum, he had to specify not just that the string was 37
inches long but that it was “37
London inches long.” The
inch as defined in Yorkshire would have been different. Even after
the British Empire standardized its units, it was still very inconve-
nient to do calculations involving money, volume, distance, time, or
weight, because of all the odd conversion factors, like 16 ounces in
a pound, and 5280 feet in a mile. Through the nineteenth century,
schoolchildren squandered most of their mathematical education in
preparing to do calculations such as making change when a customer
in a shop offered a one-crown note for a book costing two pounds,
thirteen shillings and tuppence. The dollar has always been decimal,
and British money went decimal decades ago, but the United States
is still saddled with the antiquated system of feet, inches, pounds,
ounces and so on.
Every country in the world besides the U.S. uses a system of
units known in English as the “metric system.
” This system is
entirely decimal, thanks to the same eminently logical people who
brought about the French Revolution. In deference to France, the
system’s official name is the Syst`eme International, or SI, meaning
International System. (The phrase “SI system” is therefore redun-
The wonderful thing about the SI is that people who live in
countries more modern than ours do not need to memorize how
many ounces there are in a pound, how many cups in a pint, how
many feet in a mile, etc. The whole system works with a single,
consistent set of Greek and Latin prefixes that modify the basic
units. Each prefix stands for a power of ten, and has an abbreviation
that can be combined with the symbol for the unit. For instance,
the meter is a unit of distance. The prefix kilo- stands for 10
, so a
kilometer, 1 km, is a thousand meters.
The basic units of the metric system are the meter for distance,
the second for time, and the gram for mass.
The following are the most common metric prefixes. You should
memorize them.
prefix meaning example
kilo- k 10
60 kg = a person’s mass
centi- c 10
28 cm = height of a piece of paper
milli- m 10
1 ms = time for one vibration of a guitar
string playing the note D
Liberia and Myanmar have not legally adopted metric units, but use them
in everyday life.
24 Chapter 0 Introduction and review
e / The original definition of
the meter.
The prefix centi-, meaning 10
, is only used in the centimeter;
a hundredth of a gram would not be written as 1 cg but as 10 mg.
The centi- prefix can be easily remembered because a cent is 10
dollars. The official SI abbreviation for seconds is “s” (not “sec”)
and grams are “g” (not “gm”).
The second
When I stated briefly above that the second was a unit of time, it
may not have occurred to you that this was not much of a definition.
We can make a dictionary-style definition of a term like “time,” or
give a general description like Isaac Newton’s: “Absolute, true, and
mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably
without relation to anything external. . . ” Newton’s characterization
sounds impressive, but physicists today would consider it useless as
a definition of time. Today, the physical sciences are based on oper-
ational definitions, which means definitions that spell out the actual
steps (operations) required to measure something numerically.
In an era when our toasters, pens, and coffee pots tell us the
time, it is far from obvious to most people what is the fundamental
operational definition of time. Until recently, the hour, minute, and
second were defined operationally in terms of the time required for
the earth to rotate about its axis. Unfortunately, the Earth’s ro-
tation is slowing down slightly, and by 1967 this was becoming an
issue in scientific experiments requiring precise time measurements.
The second was therefore redefined as the time required for a cer-
tain number of vibrations of the light waves emitted by a cesium
atoms in a lamp constructed like a familiar neon sign but with the
neon replaced by cesium. The new definition not only promises to
stay constant indefinitely, but for scientists is a more convenient
way of calibrating a clock than having to carry out astronomical
self-check C
What is a possible operational definition of how strong a person is?
Answer, p. 522
The meter
The French originally defined the meter as 10
times the dis-
tance from the equator to the north pole, as measured through Paris
(of course). Even if the definition was operational, the operation of
traveling to the north pole and laying a surveying chain behind you
was not one that most working scientists wanted to carry out. Fairly
soon, a standard was created in the form of a metal bar with two
scratches on it. This was replaced by an atomic standard in 1960,
and finally in 1983 by the current definition, which is that the me-
ter is the distance traveled by light in a vacuum over a period of
(1/299792458) seconds.
Section 0.5 Basics of the metric system 25
f / A duplicate of the Paris
kilogram, maintained at the Dan-
ish National Metrology Institute.
The kilogram
The third base unit of the SI is the kilogram, a unit of mass.
Mass is intended to be a measure of the amount of a substance,
but that is not an operational definition. Bathroom scales work by
measuring our planet’s gravitational attraction for the object being
weighed, but using that type of scale to define mass operationally
would be undesirable because gravity varies in strength from place
to place on the earth.
There’s a surprising amount of disagreement among physics text-
books about how mass should be defined, but here’s how it’s actually
handled by the few working physicists who specialize in ultra-high-
precision measurements. They maintain a physical object in Paris,
which is the standard kilogram, a cylinder made of platinum-iridium
alloy. Duplicates are checked against this mother of all kilograms
by putting the original and the copy on the two opposite pans of a
balance. Although this method of comparison depends on gravity,
the problems associated with differences in gravity in different geo-
graphical locations are bypassed, because the two objects are being
compared in the same place. The duplicates can then be removed
from the Parisian kilogram shrine and transported elsewhere in the
world. It would be desirable to replace this at some point with a
universally accessible atomic standard rather than one based on a
specific artifact, but as of 2010 the technology for automated count-
ing of large numbers of atoms has not gotten good enough to make
that work with the desired precision.
Combinations of metric units
Just about anything you want to measure can be measured with
some combination of meters, kilograms, and seconds. Speed can be
measured in m/s, volume in m
, and density in kg/m
. Part of what
makes the SI great is this basic simplicity. No more funny units like
a cord of wood, a bolt of cloth, or a jigger of whiskey. No more
liquid and dry measure. Just a simple, consistent set of units. The
SI measures put together from meters, kilograms, and seconds make
up the mks system. For example, the mks unit of speed is m/s, not
Checking units
A useful technique for finding mistakes in one’s algebra is to
analyze the units associated with the variables.
26 Chapter 0 Introduction and review
Checking units example 1
Jae starts from the formula V =
Ah for the volume of a cone,
where A is the area of its base, and h is its height. He wants to
find an equation that will tell him how tall a conical tent has to be
in order to have a certain volume, given its radius. His algebra
goes like this:
V =
Ah [1]
A = πr
V =
h [3]
h =
Is his algebra correct? If not, find the mistake.
Line 4 is supposed to be an equation for the height, so the units
of the expression on the right-hand side had better equal meters.
The pi and the 3 are unitless, so we can ignore them. In terms of
units, line 4 becomes
m =
This is false, so there must be a mistake in the algebra. The units
of lines 1, 2, and 3 check out, so the mistake must be in the step
from line 3 to line 4. In fact the result should have been
h =
Now the units check: m = m
Discussion question
A Isaac Newton wrote, “. . . the natural days are truly unequal, though
they are commonly considered as equal, and used for a measure of
time. . . It may be that there is no such thing as an equable motion, whereby
time may be accurately measured. All motions may be accelerated or re-
tarded. . . ” Newton was right. Even the modern definition of the second
in terms of light emitted by cesium atoms is subject to variation. For in-
stance, magnetic fields could cause the cesium atoms to emit light with
a slightly different rate of vibration. What makes us think, though, that a
pendulum clock is more accurate than a sundial, or that a cesium atom
is a more accurate timekeeper than a pendulum clock? That is, how can
one test experimentally how the accuracies of different time standards
Section 0.5 Basics of the metric system 27
g / This is a mnemonic to
help you remember the most im-
portant metric prefixes. The word
“little” is to remind you that the
list starts with the prefixes used
for small quantities and builds
upward. The exponent changes
by 3, except that of course that
we do not need a special prefix
for 10
, which equals one.
0.6 The Newton, the metric unit of force
A force is a push or a pull, or more generally anything that can
change an object’s speed or direction of motion. A force is required
to start a car moving, to slow down a baseball player sliding in to
home base, or to make an airplane turn. (Forces may fail to change
an object’s motion if they are canceled by other forces, e.g., the
force of gravity pulling you down right now is being canceled by the
force of the chair pushing up on you.) The metric unit of force is
the Newton, defined as the force which, if applied for one second,
will cause a 1-kilogram object starting from rest to reach a speed of
1 m/s. Later chapters will discuss the force concept in more detail.
In fact, this entire book is about the relationship between force and
In section 0.5, I gave a gravitational definition of mass, but by
defining a numerical scale of force, we can also turn around and de-
fine a scale of mass without reference to gravity. For instance, if a
force of two Newtons is required to accelerate a certain object from
rest to 1 m/s in 1 s, then that object must have a mass of 2 kg.
From this point of view, mass characterizes an object’s resistance
to a change in its motion, which we call inertia or inertial mass.
Although there is no fundamental reason why an object’s resistance
to a change in its motion must be related to how strongly gravity
affects it, careful and precise experiments have shown that the in-
ertial definition and the gravitational definition of mass are highly
consistent for a variety of objects. It therefore doesn’t really matter
for any practical purpose which definition one adopts.
Discussion question
A Spending a long time in weightlessness is unhealthy. One of the
most important negative effects experienced by astronauts is a loss of
muscle and bone mass. Since an ordinary scale won’t work for an astro-
naut in orbit, what is a possible way of monitoring this change in mass?
(Measuring the astronaut’s waist or biceps with a measuring tape is not
good enough, because it doesn’t tell anything about bone mass, or about
the replacement of muscle with fat.)
0.7 Less common metric prefixes
The following are three metric prefixes which, while less common
than the ones discussed previously, are well worth memorizing.
prefix meaning example
mega- M 10
6.4 Mm = radius of the earth
micro- µ 10
10 µm = size of a white blood cell
nano- n 10
0.154 nm = distance between carbon
nuclei in an ethane molecule
Note that the abbreviation for micro is the Greek letter mu, µ
— a common mistake is to confuse it with m (milli) or M (mega).
28 Chapter 0 Introduction and review
There are other prefixes even less common, used for extremely
large and small quantities. For instance, 1 femtometer = 10
m is
a convenient unit of distance in nuclear physics, and 1 gigabyte =
bytes is used for computers’ hard disks. The international com-
mittee that makes decisions about the SI has recently even added
some new prefixes that sound like jokes, e.g., 1 yoctogram = 10
is about half the mass of a proton. In the immediate future, how-
ever, you’re unlikely to see prefixes like “yocto-” and “zepto-” used
except perhaps in trivia contests at science-fiction conventions or
other geekfests.
self-check D
Suppose you could slowdown time so that according to your perception,
a beam of light would move across a room at the speed of a slow walk.
If you perceived a nanosecond as if it was a second, how would you
perceive a microsecond? Answer, p. 522
0.8 Scientific notation
Most of the interesting phenomena in our universe are not on the
human scale. It would take about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
bacteria to equal the mass of a human body. When the physicist
Thomas Young discovered that light was a wave, it was back in the
bad old days before scientific notation, and he was obliged to write
that the time required for one vibration of the wave was 1/500 of
a millionth of a millionth of a second. Scientific notation is a less
awkward way to write very large and very small numbers such as
these. Here’s a quick review.
Scientific notation means writing a number in terms of a product
of something from 1 to 10 and something else that is a power of ten.
For instance,
32 = 3.2 ×10
320 = 3.2 ×10
3200 = 3.2 ×10
. . .
Each number is ten times bigger than the previous one.
Since 10
is ten times smaller than 10
, it makes sense to use
the notation 10
to stand for one, the number that is in turn ten
times smaller than 10
. Continuing on, we can write 10
to stand
for 0.1, the number ten times smaller than 10
. Negative exponents
are used for small numbers:
3.2 = 3.2 ×10
0.32 = 3.2 ×10
0.032 = 3.2 ×10
. . .
Section 0.8 Scientific notation 29
A common source of confusion is the notation used on the dis-
plays of many calculators. Examples:
3.2 ×10
(written notation)
3.2E+6 (notation on some calculators)
(notation on some other calculators)
The last example is particularly unfortunate, because 3.2
stands for the number 3.2 × 3.2 × 3.2 × 3.2 × 3.2 × 3.2 = 1074, a
totally different number from 3.2 × 10
= 3200000. The calculator
notation should never be used in writing. It’s just a way for the
manufacturer to save money by making a simpler display.
self-check E
A student learns that 10
bacteria, standing in line to register for classes
at Paramecium Community College, would form a queue of this size:
The student concludes that 10
bacteria would form a line of this length:
Why is the student incorrect? Answer, p. 522
0.9 Conversions
I suggest you avoid memorizing lots of conversion factors between
SI units and U.S. units, but two that do come in handy are:
1 inch = 2.54 cm
An object with a weight on Earth of 2.2 pounds-force has a
mass of 1 kg.
The first one is the present definition of the inch, so it’s exact. The
second one is not exact, but is good enough for most purposes. (U.S.
units of force and mass are confusing, so it’s a good thing they’re
not used in science. In U.S. units, the unit of force is the pound-
force, and the best unit to use for mass is the slug, which is about
14.6 kg.)
More important than memorizing conversion factors is under-
standing the right method for doing conversions. Even within the
SI, you may need to convert, say, from grams to kilograms. Differ-
ent people have different ways of thinking about conversions, but
the method I’ll describe here is systematic and easy to understand.
The idea is that if 1 kg and 1000 g represent the same mass, then
we can consider a fraction like
1 kg
to be a way of expressing the number one. This may bother you. For
30 Chapter 0 Introduction and review
instance, if you type 1000/1 into your calculator, you will get 1000,
not one. Again, different people have different ways of thinking
about it, but the justification is that it helps us to do conversions,
and it works! Now if we want to convert 0.7 kg to units of grams,
we can multiply kg by the number one:
0.7 kg ×
1 kg
If you’re willing to treat symbols such as “kg” as if they were vari-
ables as used in algebra (which they’re really not), you can then
cancel the kg on top with the kg on the bottom, resulting in

kg ×

= 700 g .
To convert grams to kilograms, you would simply flip the fraction
upside down.
One advantage of this method is that it can easily be applied to
a series of conversions. For instance, to convert one year to units of
year ×
24 $
1 $
60 s
= 3.15 ×10
s .
Should that exponent be positive, or negative?
A common mistake is to write the conversion fraction incorrectly.
For instance the fraction
1 g
does not equal one, because 10
kg is the mass of a car, and 1 g is
the mass of a raisin. One correct way of setting up the conversion
factor would be
1 g
(correct) .
You can usually detect such a mistake if you take the time to check
your answer and see if it is reasonable.
If common sense doesn’t rule out either a positive or a negative
exponent, here’s another way to make sure you get it right. There
are big prefixes and small prefixes:
big prefixes: k M
small prefixes: m µ n
(It’s not hard to keep straight which are which, since “mega” and
“micro” are evocative, and it’s easy to remember that a kilometer
Section 0.9 Conversions 31
is bigger than a meter and a millimeter is smaller.) In the example
above, we want the top of the fraction to be the same as the bottom.
Since k is a big prefix, we need to compensate by putting a small
number like 10
in front of it, not a big number like 10
Solved problem: a simple conversion page 37, problem 6
Solved problem: the geometric mean page 38, problem 8
Discussion question
A Each of the following conversions contains an error. In each case,
explain what the error is.
(a) 1000 kg ×
1 kg
1000 g
= 1 g
(b) 50 m×
1 cm
100 m
= 0.5 cm
(c) “Nano” is 10
, so there are 10
nm in a meter.
(d) “Micro” is 10
, so 1 kg is 10
0.10 Significant figures
An engineer is designing a car engine, and has been told that the
diameter of the pistons (which are being designed by someone else)
is 5 cm. He knows that 0.02 cm of clearance is required for a piston
of this size, so he designs the cylinder to have an inside diameter of
5.04 cm. Luckily, his supervisor catches his mistake before the car
goes into production. She explains his error to him, and mentally
puts him in the “do not promote” category.
What was his mistake? The person who told him the pistons
were 5 cm in diameter was wise to the ways of significant figures,
as was his boss, who explained to him that he needed to go back
and get a more accurate number for the diameter of the pistons.
That person said “5 cm” rather than “5.00 cm” specifically to avoid
creating the impression that the number was extremely accurate. In
reality, the pistons’ diameter was 5.13 cm. They would never have
fit in the 5.04-cm cylinders.
The number of digits of accuracy in a number is referred to as
the number of significant figures, or “sig figs” for short. As in the
example above, sig figs provide a way of showing the accuracy of a
number. In most cases, the result of a calculation involving several
pieces of data can be no more accurate than the least accurate piece
of data. In other words, “garbage in, garbage out.” Since the 5
cm diameter of the pistons was not very accurate, the result of the
engineer’s calculation, 5.04 cm, was really not as accurate as he
thought. In general, your result should not have more than the
number of sig figs in the least accurate piece of data you started
with. The calculation above should have been done as follows:
32 Chapter 0 Introduction and review
5 cm (1 sig fig)
+0.04 cm (1 sig fig)
=5 cm (rounded off to 1 sig fig)
The fact that the final result only has one significant figure then
alerts you to the fact that the result is not very accurate, and would
not be appropriate for use in designing the engine.
Note that the leading zeroes in the number 0.04 do not count
as significant figures, because they are only placeholders. On the
other hand, a number such as 50 cm is ambiguous — the zero could
be intended as a significant figure, or it might just be there as a
placeholder. The ambiguity involving trailing zeroes can be avoided
by using scientific notation, in which 5 × 10
cm would imply one
sig fig of accuracy, while 5.0 ×10
cm would imply two sig figs.
self-check F
The following quote is taken from an editorial by Norimitsu Onishi in the
New York Times, August 18, 2002.
Consider Nigeria. Everyone agrees it is Africa’s most populous
nation. But what is its population? The United Nations says
114 million; the State Department, 120 million. The World Bank
says 126.9 million, while the Central Intelligence Agency puts it
at 126,635,626.
What should bother you about this? Answer, p. 522
Dealing correctly with significant figures can save you time! Of-
ten, students copy down numbers from their calculators with eight
significant figures of precision, then type them back in for a later
calculation. That’s a waste of time, unless your original data had
that kind of incredible precision.
The rules about significant figures are only rules of thumb, and
are not a substitute for careful thinking. For instance, $20.00 +
$0.05 is $20.05. It need not and should not be rounded off to $20.
In general, the sig fig rules work best for multiplication and division,
and we also apply them when doing a complicated calculation that
involves many types of operations. For simple addition and subtrac-
tion, it makes more sense to maintain a fixed number of digits after
the decimal point.
When in doubt, don’t use the sig fig rules at all. Instead, in-
tentionally change one piece of your initial data by the maximum
amount by which you think it could have been off, and recalculate
the final result. The digits on the end that are completely reshuffled
are the ones that are meaningless, and should be omitted.
self-check G
How many significant figures are there in each of the following mea-
Section 0.10 Significant figures 33
(1) 9.937 m
(2) 4.0 s
(3) 0.0000000000000037 kg Answer, p. 522
34 Chapter 0 Introduction and review
Selected vocabulary
matter . . . . . . Anything that is affected by gravity.
light . . . . . . . . Anything that can travel from one place to an-
other through empty space and can influence
matter, but is not affected by gravity.
operational defi-
nition . . . . . . .
A definition that states what operations
should be carried out to measure the thing be-
ing defined.
Syst`eme Interna-
tional . . . . . . .
A fancy name for the metric system.
mks system . . . The use of metric units based on the meter,
kilogram, and second. Example: meters per
second is the mks unit of speed, not cm/s or
mass . . . . . . . A numerical measure of how difficult it is to
change an object’s motion.
significant figures Digits that contribute to the accuracy of a
m . . . . . . . . . meter, the metric distance unit
kg . . . . . . . . . kilogram, the metric unit of mass
s . . . . . . . . . . second, the metric unit of time
M- . . . . . . . . . the metric prefix mega-, 10
k- . . . . . . . . . the metric prefix kilo-, 10
m- . . . . . . . . . the metric prefix milli-, 10
µ- . . . . . . . . . the metric prefix micro-, 10
n- . . . . . . . . . the metric prefix nano-, 10
Physics is the use of the scientific method to study the behavior
of light and matter. The scientific method requires a cycle of the-
ory and experiment, theories with both predictive and explanatory
value, and reproducible experiments.
The metric system is a simple, consistent framework for measure-
ment built out of the meter, the kilogram, and the second plus a set
of prefixes denoting powers of ten. The most systematic method for
doing conversions is shown in the following example:
370 ms ×
1 ms
= 0.37 s
Mass is a measure of the amount of a substance. Mass can be
defined gravitationally, by comparing an object to a standard mass
on a double-pan balance, or in terms of inertia, by comparing the
effect of a force on an object to the effect of the same force on a
standard mass. The two definitions are found experimentally to
be proportional to each other to a high degree of precision, so we
Summary 35
usually refer simply to “mass,” without bothering to specify which
A force is that which can change the motion of an object. The
metric unit of force is the Newton, defined as the force required to
accelerate a standard 1-kg mass from rest to a speed of 1 m/s in 1
Scientific notation means, for example, writing 3.2 ×10
than 320000.
Writing numbers with the correct number of significant figures
correctly communicates how accurate they are. As a rule of thumb,
the final result of a calculation is no more accurate than, and should
have no more significant figures than, the least accurate piece of
36 Chapter 0 Introduction and review

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 Correct use of a calculator: (a) Calculate
on a cal-
culator. [Self-check: The most common mistake results in 97555.40.]

(b) Which would be more like the price of a TV, and which would
be more like the price of a house, $3.5 ×10
or $3.5
2 Compute the following things. If they don’t make sense be-
cause of units, say so.
(a) 3 cm + 5 cm
(b) 1.11 m + 22 cm
(c) 120 miles + 2.0 hours
(d) 120 miles / 2.0 hours
3 Your backyard has brick walls on both ends. You measure a
distance of 23.4 m from the inside of one wall to the inside of the
other. Each wall is 29.4 cm thick. How far is it from the outside
of one wall to the outside of the other? Pay attention to significant
4 The speed of light is 3.0 × 10
m/s. Convert this to furlongs
per fortnight. A furlong is 220 yards, and a fortnight is 14 days. An
inch is 2.54 cm.

5 Express each of the following quantities in micrograms:
(a) 10 mg, (b) 10
g, (c) 10 kg, (d) 100 ×10
g, (e) 1000 ng.

6 Convert 134 mg to units of kg, writing your answer in scientific
notation. Solution, p. 508
7 In the last century, the average age of the onset of puberty for
girls has decreased by several years. Urban folklore has it that this
is because of hormones fed to beef cattle, but it is more likely to be
because modern girls have more body fat on the average and pos-
sibly because of estrogen-mimicking chemicals in the environment
from the breakdown of pesticides. A hamburger from a hormone-
implanted steer has about 0.2 ng of estrogen (about double the
amount of natural beef). A serving of peas contains about 300
ng of estrogen. An adult woman produces about 0.5 mg of estrogen
per day (note the different unit!). (a) How many hamburgers would
a girl have to eat in one day to consume as much estrogen as an
adult woman’s daily production? (b) How many servings of peas?

Problems 37
Problem 10.
8 The usual definition of the mean (average) of two numbers a
and b is (a+b)/2. This is called the arithmetic mean. The geometric
mean, however, is defined as (ab)
(i.e., the square root of ab). For
the sake of definiteness, let’s say both numbers have units of mass.
(a) Compute the arithmetic mean of two numbers that have units
of grams. Then convert the numbers to units of kilograms and
recompute their mean. Is the answer consistent? (b) Do the same
for the geometric mean. (c) If a and b both have units of grams,
what should we call the units of ab? Does your answer make sense
when you take the square root? (d) Suppose someone proposes to
you a third kind of mean, called the superduper mean, defined as
. Is this reasonable? Solution, p. 508
9 In an article on the SARS epidemic, the May 7, 2003 New
York Times discusses conflicting estimates of the disease’s incuba-
tion period (the average time that elapses from infection to the first
symptoms). “The study estimated it to be 6.4 days. But other sta-
tistical calculations ... showed that the incubation period could be
as long as 14.22 days.” What’s wrong here?
10 The photo shows the corner of a bag of pretzels. What’s
wrong here?
11 The distance to the horizon is given by the expression

where r is the radius of the Earth, and h is the observer’s height
above the Earth’s surface. (This can be proved using the Pythagorean
theorem.) Show that the units of this expression make sense. (See
example 1 on p. 27 for an example of how to do this.) Don’t try to
prove the result, just check its units.
38 Chapter 0 Introduction and review
Exercise 0: Models and idealization
coffee filters
ramps (one per group)
balls of various sizes
sticky tape
vacuum pump and “guinea and feather” apparatus (one)
The motion of falling objects has been recognized since ancient times as an important piece of
physics, but the motion is inconveniently fast, so in our everyday experience it can be hard to
tell exactly what objects are doing when they fall. In this exercise you will use several techniques
to get around this problem and study the motion. Your goal is to construct a scientific model of
falling. A model means an explanation that makes testable predictions. Often models contain
simplifications or idealizations that make them easier to work with, even though they are not
strictly realistic.
1. One method of making falling easier to observe is to use objects like feathers that we know
from everyday experience will not fall as fast. You will use coffee filters, in stacks of various
sizes, to test the following two hypotheses and see which one is true, or whether neither is true:
Hypothesis 1A: When an object is dropped, it rapidly speeds up to a certain natural falling
speed, and then continues to fall at that speed. The falling speed is proportional to the object’s
weight. (A proportionality is not just a statement that if one thing gets bigger, the other does
too. It says that if one becomes three times bigger, the other also gets three times bigger, etc.)
Hypothesis 1B: Different objects fall the same way, regardless of weight.
Test these hypotheses and discuss your results with your instructor.
2. A second way to slow down the action is to let a ball roll down a ramp. The steeper the
ramp, the closer to free fall. Based on your experience in part 1, write a hypothesis about what
will happen when you race a heavier ball against a lighter ball down the same ramp, starting
them both from rest.
Show your hypothesis to your instructor, and then test it.
You have probably found that falling was more complicated than you thought! Is there more
than one factor that affects the motion of a falling object? Can you imagine certain idealized
situations that are simpler? Try to agree verbally with your group on an informal model of
falling that can make predictions about the experiments described in parts 3 and 4.
3. You have three balls: a standard “comparison ball” of medium weight, a light ball, and a
heavy ball. Suppose you stand on a chair and (a) drop the light ball side by side with the
comparison ball, then (b) drop the heavy ball side by side with the comparison ball, then (c)
join the light and heavy balls together with sticky tape and drop them side by side with the
comparison ball.
Use your model to make a prediction:
Test your prediction.
Exercise 0: Models and idealization 39
4. Your instructor will pump nearly all the air out of a chamber containing a feather and a
heavier object, then let them fall side by side in the chamber.
Use your model to make a prediction:
40 Chapter 0 Introduction and review
a / Amoebas this size are
seldom encountered.
Life would be very different if you
were the size of an insect.
Chapter 1
Scaling and estimation
1.1 Introduction
Why can’t an insect be the size of a dog? Some skinny stretched-
out cells in your spinal cord are a meter tall — why does nature
display no single cells that are not just a meter tall, but a meter
wide, and a meter thick as well? Believe it or not, these are questions
that can be answered fairly easily without knowing much more about
physics than you already do. The only mathematical technique you
really need is the humble conversion, applied to area and volume.
Area and volume
Area can be defined by saying that we can copy the shape of
interest onto graph paper with 1 cm × 1 cm squares and count the
number of squares inside. Fractions of squares can be estimated by
eye. We then say the area equals the number of squares, in units of
square cm. Although this might seem less “pure” than computing
areas using formulae like A = πr
for a circle or A = wh/2 for a
triangle, those formulae are not useful as definitions of area because
they cannot be applied to irregularly shaped areas.
Units of square cm are more commonly written as cm
in science.
Of course, the unit of measurement symbolized by “cm” is not an
algebra symbol standing for a number that can be literally multiplied
by itself. But it is advantageous to write the units of area that way
and treat the units as if they were algebra symbols. For instance,
if you have a rectangle with an area of 6m
and a width of 2 m,
then calculating its length as (6 m
)/(2 m) = 3 m gives a result
that makes sense both numerically and in terms of units. This
algebra-style treatment of the units also ensures that our methods
of converting units work out correctly. For instance, if we accept
the fraction
100 cm
1 m
as a valid way of writing the number one, then one times one equals
one, so we should also say that one can be represented by
100 cm
1 m
100 cm
1 m
which is the same as
10000 cm
1 m
That means the conversion factor from square meters to square cen-
timeters is a factor of 10
, i.e., a square meter has 10
square cen-
timeters in it.
All of the above can be easily applied to volume as well, using
one-cubic-centimeter blocks instead of squares on graph paper.
To many people, it seems hard to believe that a square meter
equals 10000 square centimeters, or that a cubic meter equals a
million cubic centimeters — they think it would make more sense if
there were 100 cm
in 1 m
, and 100 cm
in 1 m
, but that would be
incorrect. The examples shown in figure b aim to make the correct
answer more believable, using the traditional U.S. units of feet and
yards. (One foot is 12 inches, and one yard is three feet.)
b / Visualizing conversions of
area and volume using traditional
U.S. units.
self-check A
Based on figure b, convince yourself that there are 9 ft
in a square yard,
and 27 ft
in a cubic yard, then demonstrate the same thing symbolically
(i.e., with the method using fractions that equal one). Answer, p.
42 Chapter 1 Scaling and estimation
Solved problem: converting mm
to cm
page 59, problem 10
Solved problem: scaling a liter page 60, problem 19
Discussion question
A How many square centimeters are there in a square inch? (1 inch =
2.54 cm) First find an approximate answer by making a drawing, then de-
rive the conversion factor more accurately using the symbolic method.
c / Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was a Renaissance Italian who brought the
scientific method to bear on physics, creating the modern version of the
science. Coming from a noble but very poor family, Galileo had to drop
out of medical school at the University of Pisa when he ran out of money.
Eventually becoming a lecturer in mathematics at the same school, he
began a career as a notorious troublemaker by writing a burlesque ridi-
culing the university’s regulations — he was forced to resign, but found a
new teaching position at Padua. He invented the pendulum clock, inves-
tigated the motion of falling bodies, and discovered the moons of Jupiter.
The thrust of his life’s work was to discredit Aristotle’s physics by con-
fronting it with contradictory experiments, a program that paved the way
for Newton’s discovery of the relationship between force and motion. In
chapter 3 we’ll come to the story of Galileo’s ultimate fate at the hands of
the Church.
1.2 Scaling of area and volume
Great fleas have lesser fleas
Upon their backs to bite ’em.
And lesser fleas have lesser still,
And so ad infinitum.
Jonathan Swift
Now how do these conversions of area and volume relate to the
questions I posed about sizes of living things? Well, imagine that
you are shrunk like Alice in Wonderland to the size of an insect.
One way of thinking about the change of scale is that what used
to look like a centimeter now looks like perhaps a meter to you,
because you’re so much smaller. If area and volume scaled according
to most people’s intuitive, incorrect expectations, with 1 m
the same as 100 cm
, then there would be no particular reason
why nature should behave any differently on your new, reduced
scale. But nature does behave differently now that you’re small.
For instance, you will find that you can walk on water, and jump
to many times your own height. The physicist Galileo Galilei had
the basic insight that the scaling of area and volume determines
how natural phenomena behave differently on different scales. He
first reasoned about mechanical structures, but later extended his
insights to living things, taking the then-radical point of view that at
the fundamental level, a living organism should follow the same laws
Section 1.2 Scaling of area and volume 43
d / The small boat holds up
just fine.
e / A larger boat built with
the same proportions as the
small one will collapse under its
own weight.
f / A boat this large needs to
have timbers that are thicker
compared to its size.
of nature as a machine. We will follow his lead by first discussing
machines and then living things.
Galileo on the behavior of nature on large and small scales
One of the world’s most famous pieces of scientific writing is
Galileo’s Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences. Galileo was
an entertaining writer who wanted to explain things clearly to laypeo-
ple, and he livened up his work by casting it in the form of a dialogue
among three people. Salviati is really Galileo’s alter ego. Simplicio
is the stupid character, and one of the reasons Galileo got in trouble
with the Church was that there were rumors that Simplicio repre-
sented the Pope. Sagredo is the earnest and intelligent student, with
whom the reader is supposed to identify. (The following excerpts
are from the 1914 translation by Crew and de Salvio.)
SAGREDO: Yes, that is what I mean; and I refer especially to
his last assertion which I have always regarded as false. . . ;
namely, that in speaking of these and other similar machines
one cannot argue from the small to the large, because many
devices which succeed on a small scale do not work on a
large scale. Now, since mechanics has its foundations in ge-
ometry, where mere size [ is unimportant], I do not see that
the properties of circles, triangles, cylinders, cones and other
solid figures will change with their size. If, therefore, a large
machine be constructed in such a way that its parts bear to
one another the same ratio as in a smaller one, and if the
smaller is sufficiently strong for the purpose for which it is
designed, I do not see why the larger should not be able to
withstand any severe and destructive tests to which it may be
Salviati contradicts Sagredo:
SALVIATI: . . . Please observe, gentlemen, how facts which
at first seem improbable will, even on scant explanation, drop
the cloak which has hidden themand stand forth in naked and
simple beauty. Who does not know that a horse falling from a
height of three or four cubits will break his bones, while a dog
falling from the same height or a cat from a height of eight
or ten cubits will suffer no injury? Equally harmless would be
the fall of a grasshopper from a tower or the fall of an ant from
the distance of the moon.
The point Galileo is making here is that small things are sturdier
in proportion to their size. There are a lot of objections that could be
raised, however. After all, what does it really mean for something to
be “strong”, to be “strong in proportion to its size,” or to be strong
“out of proportion to its size?” Galileo hasn’t given operational
definitions of things like “strength,” i.e., definitions that spell out
how to measure them numerically.
44 Chapter 1 Scaling and estimation
g / Galileo discusses planks
made of wood, but the concept
may be easier to imagine with
clay. All three clay rods in the
figure were originally the same
shape. The medium-sized one
was twice the height, twice the
length, and twice the width of
the small one, and similarly the
large one was twice as big as
the medium one in all its linear
dimensions. The big one has
four times the linear dimensions
of the small one, 16 times the
cross-sectional area when cut
perpendicular to the page, and
64 times the volume. That means
that the big one has 64 times the
weight to support, but only 16
times the strength compared to
the smallest one.
Also, a cat is shaped differently from a horse — an enlarged
photograph of a cat would not be mistaken for a horse, even if the
photo-doctoring experts at the National Inquirer made it look like a
person was riding on its back. A grasshopper is not even a mammal,
and it has an exoskeleton instead of an internal skeleton. The whole
argument would be a lot more convincing if we could do some iso-
lation of variables, a scientific term that means to change only one
thing at a time, isolating it from the other variables that might have
an effect. If size is the variable whose effect we’re interested in see-
ing, then we don’t really want to compare things that are different
in size but also different in other ways.
SALVIATI: . . . we asked the reason why [shipbuilders] em-
ployed stocks, scaffolding, and bracing of larger dimensions
for launching a big vessel than they do for a small one; and
[an old man] answered that they did this in order to avoid the
danger of the ship parting under its own heavy weight, a dan-
ger to which small boats are not subject?
After this entertaining but not scientifically rigorous beginning,
Galileo starts to do something worthwhile by modern standards.
He simplifies everything by considering the strength of a wooden
plank. The variables involved can then be narrowed down to the
type of wood, the width, the thickness, and the length. He also
gives an operational definition of what it means for the plank to
have a certain strength “in proportion to its size,” by introducing
the concept of a plank that is the longest one that would not snap
under its own weight if supported at one end. If you increased
its length by the slightest amount, without increasing its width or
thickness, it would break. He says that if one plank is the same
shape as another but a different size, appearing like a reduced or
enlarged photograph of the other, then the planks would be strong
“in proportion to their sizes” if both were just barely able to support
their own weight.
h / 1. This plank is as long as it
can be without collapsing under
its own weight. If it was a hun-
dredth of an inch longer, it would
collapse. 2. This plank is made
out of the same kind of wood. It is
twice as thick, twice as long, and
twice as wide. It will collapse un-
der its own weight.
Section 1.2 Scaling of area and volume 45
Also, Galileo is doing something that would be frowned on in
modern science: he is mixing experiments whose results he has ac-
tually observed (building boats of different sizes), with experiments
that he could not possibly have done (dropping an ant from the
height of the moon). He now relates how he has done actual ex-
periments with such planks, and found that, according to this op-
erational definition, they are not strong in proportion to their sizes.
The larger one breaks. He makes sure to tell the reader how impor-
tant the result is, via Sagredo’s astonished response:
SAGREDO: My brain already reels. My mind, like a cloud
momentarily illuminated by a lightning flash, is for an instant
filled with an unusual light, which now beckons to me and
which now suddenly mingles and obscures strange, crude
ideas. From what you have said it appears to me impossible
to build two similar structures of the same material, but of
different sizes and have them proportionately strong.
In other words, this specific experiment, using things like wooden
planks that have no intrinsic scientific interest, has very wide impli-
cations because it points out a general principle, that nature acts
differently on different scales.
To finish the discussion, Galileo gives an explanation. He says
that the strength of a plank (defined as, say, the weight of the heav-
iest boulder you could put on the end without breaking it) is pro-
portional to its cross-sectional area, that is, the surface area of the
fresh wood that would be exposed if you sawed through it in the
middle. Its weight, however, is proportional to its volume.
How do the volume and cross-sectional area of the longer plank
compare with those of the shorter plank? We have already seen,
while discussing conversions of the units of area and volume, that
these quantities don’t act the way most people naively expect. You
might think that the volume and area of the longer plank would both
be doubled compared to the shorter plank, so they would increase
in proportion to each other, and the longer plank would be equally
able to support its weight. You would be wrong, but Galileo knows
that this is a common misconception, so he has Salviati address the
point specifically:
SALVIATI: . . . Take, for example, a cube two inches on a
side so that each face has an area of four square inches
and the total area, i.e., the sum of the six faces, amounts
to twenty-four square inches; now imagine this cube to be
sawed through three times [with cuts in three perpendicular
planes] so as to divide it into eight smaller cubes, each one
inch on the side, each face one inch square, and the total
Galileo makes a slightly more complicated argument, taking into account
the effect of leverage (torque). The result I’m referring to comes out the same
regardless of this effect.
46 Chapter 1 Scaling and estimation
i / The area of a shape is
proportional to the square of its
linear dimensions, even if the
shape is irregular.
surface of each cube six square inches instead of twenty-
four in the case of the larger cube. It is evident therefore,
that the surface of the little cube is only one-fourth that of
the larger, namely, the ratio of six to twenty-four; but the vol-
ume of the solid cube itself is only one-eighth; the volume,
and hence also the weight, diminishes therefore much more
rapidly than the surface. . . You see, therefore, Simplicio, that
I was not mistaken when . . . I said that the surface of a small
solid is comparatively greater than that of a large one.
The same reasoning applies to the planks. Even though they
are not cubes, the large one could be sawed into eight small ones,
each with half the length, half the thickness, and half the width.
The small plank, therefore, has more surface area in proportion to
its weight, and is therefore able to support its own weight while the
large one breaks.
Scaling of area and volume for irregularly shaped objects
You probably are not going to believe Galileo’s claim that this
has deep implications for all of nature unless you can be convinced
that the same is true for any shape. Every drawing you’ve seen so
far has been of squares, rectangles, and rectangular solids. Clearly
the reasoning about sawing things up into smaller pieces would not
prove anything about, say, an egg, which cannot be cut up into eight
smaller egg-shaped objects with half the length.
Is it always true that something half the size has one quarter
the surface area and one eighth the volume, even if it has an irreg-
ular shape? Take the example of a child’s violin. Violins are made
for small children in smaller size to accomodate their small bodies.
Figure i shows a full-size violin, along with two violins made with
half and 3/4 of the normal length.
Let’s study the surface area of
the front panels of the three violins.
Consider the square in the interior of the panel of the full-size
violin. In the 3/4-size violin, its height and width are both smaller
by a factor of 3/4, so the area of the corresponding, smaller square
becomes 3/4×3/4 = 9/16 of the original area, not 3/4 of the original
area. Similarly, the corresponding square on the smallest violin has
half the height and half the width of the original one, so its area is
1/4 the original area, not half.
The same reasoning works for parts of the panel near the edge,
such as the part that only partially fills in the other square. The
entire square scales down the same as a square in the interior, and
in each violin the same fraction (about 70%) of the square is full, so
the contribution of this part to the total area scales down just the
The customary terms “half-size” and “3/4-size” actually don’t describe the
sizes in any accurate way. They’re really just standard, arbitrary marketing
Section 1.2 Scaling of area and volume 47
j / The muffin comes out of
the oven too hot to eat. Breaking
it up into four pieces increases
its surface area while keeping
the total volume the same. It
cools faster because of the
greater surface-to-volume ratio.
In general, smaller things have
greater surface-to-volume ratios,
but in this example there is no
easy way to compute the effect
exactly, because the small pieces
aren’t the same shape as the
original muffin.
Since any small square region or any small region covering part
of a square scales down like a square object, the entire surface area
of an irregularly shaped object changes in the same manner as the
surface area of a square: scaling it down by 3/4 reduces the area by
a factor of 9/16, and so on.
In general, we can see that any time there are two objects with
the same shape, but different linear dimensions (i.e., one looks like a
reduced photo of the other), the ratio of their areas equals the ratio
of the squares of their linear dimensions:
Note that it doesn’t matter where we choose to measure the linear
size, L, of an object. In the case of the violins, for instance, it could
have been measured vertically, horizontally, diagonally, or even from
the bottom of the left f-hole to the middle of the right f-hole. We
just have to measure it in a consistent way on each violin. Since all
the parts are assumed to shrink or expand in the same manner, the
ratio L
is independent of the choice of measurement.
It is also important to realize that it is completely unnecessary
to have a formula for the area of a violin. It is only possible to
derive simple formulas for the areas of certain shapes like circles,
rectangles, triangles and so on, but that is no impediment to the
type of reasoning we are using.
Sometimes it is inconvenient to write all the equations in terms
of ratios, especially when more than two objects are being compared.
A more compact way of rewriting the previous equation is
A ∝ L
The symbol “∝” means “is proportional to.” Scientists and engi-
neers often speak about such relationships verbally using the phrases
“scales like” or “goes like,” for instance “area goes like length squared.”
All of the above reasoning works just as well in the case of vol-
ume. Volume goes like length cubed:
V ∝ L
If different objects are made of the same material with the same
density, ρ = m/V , then their masses, m = ρV , are proportional
to L
, and so are their weights. (The symbol for density is ρ, the
lower-case Greek letter “rho.”)
An important point is that all of the above reasoning about
scaling only applies to objects that are the same shape. For instance,
a piece of paper is larger than a pencil, but has a much greater
surface-to-volume ratio.
48 Chapter 1 Scaling and estimation
k / Example 1. The big trian-
gle has four times more area than
the little one.
l / A tricky way of solving ex-
ample 1, explained in solution #2.
One of the first things I learned as a teacher was that students
were not very original about their mistakes. Every group of students
tends to come up with the same goofs as the previous class. The
following are some examples of correct and incorrect reasoning about
Scaling of the area of a triangle example 1
In figure k, the larger triangle has sides twice as long. How
many times greater is its area?
Correct solution #1: Area scales in proportion to the square of the
linear dimensions, so the larger triangle has four times more area
= 4).
Correct solution #2: You could cut the larger triangle into four of
the smaller size, as shown in fig. (b), so its area is four times
greater. (This solution is correct, but it would not work for a shape
like a circle, which can’t be cut up into smaller circles.)
Correct solution #3: The area of a triangle is given by
A = bh/2, where b is the base and h is the height. The areas of
the triangles are
= b
= b
= (2b
= 2b
= (2b
= 4
(Although this solution is correct, it is a lot more work than solution
#1, and it can only be used in this case because a triangle is a
simple geometric shape, and we happen to know a formula for its
Correct solution #4: The area of a triangle is A = bh/2. The
comparison of the areas will come out the same as long as the
ratios of the linear sizes of the triangles is as specified, so let’s
just say b
= 1.00 m and b
= 2.00 m. The heights are then also
= 1.00 m and h
= 2.00 m, giving areas A
= 0.50 m
= 2.00 m
, so A
= 4.00.
(The solution is correct, but it wouldn’t work with a shape for
whose area we don’t have a formula. Also, the numerical cal-
culation might make the answer of 4.00 appear inexact, whereas
solution #1 makes it clear that it is exactly 4.)
Incorrect solution: The area of a triangle is A = bh/2, and if you
plug in b = 2.00 m and h = 2.00 m, you get A = 2.00 m
, so
the bigger triangle has 2.00 times more area. (This solution is
incorrect because no comparison has been made with the smaller
Section 1.2 Scaling of area and volume 49
m / Example 2. The big sphere
has 125 times more volume than
the little one.
n / Example 3. The 48-point
“S” has 1.78 times more area
than the 36-point “S.”
Scaling of the volume of a sphere example 2
In figure m, the larger sphere has a radius that is five times
greater. How many times greater is its volume?
Correct solution #1: Volume scales like the third power of the
linear size, so the larger sphere has a volume that is 125 times
greater (5
= 125).
Correct solution #2: The volume of a sphere is V = (4/3)πr
, so
= 125
Incorrect solution: The volume of a sphere is V = (4/3)πr
, so
π · 5r
= 5
(The solution is incorrect because (5r
is not the same as 5r
Scaling of a more complex shape example 3
The first letter “S” in figure n is in a 36-point font, the second in
48-point. How many times more ink is required to make the larger
“S”? (Points are a unit of length used in typography.)
Correct solution: The amount of ink depends on the area to be
covered with ink, and area is proportional to the square of the
linear dimensions, so the amount of ink required for the second
“S” is greater by a factor of (48/36)
= 1.78.
Incorrect solution: The length of the curve of the second “S” is
longer by a factor of 48/36 = 1.33, so 1.33 times more ink is
(The solution is wrong because it assumes incorrectly that the
width of the curve is the same in both cases. Actually both the
50 Chapter 1 Scaling and estimation
width and the length of the curve are greater by a factor of 48/36,
so the area is greater by a factor of (48/36)
= 1.78.)
Solved problem: a telescope gathers light page 59, problem 11
Solved problem: distance from an earthquake page 59, problem 12
Discussion questions
A A toy fire engine is 1/30 the size of the real one, but is constructed
from the same metal with the same proportions. How many times smaller
is its weight? How many times less red paint would be needed to paint
B Galileo spends a lot of time in his dialog discussing what really
happens when things break. He discusses everything in terms of Aristo-
tle’s now-discredited explanation that things are hard to break, because
if something breaks, there has to be a gap between the two halves with
nothing in between, at least initially. Nature, according to Aristotle, “ab-
hors a vacuum,” i.e., nature doesn’t “like” empty space to exist. Of course,
air will rush into the gap immediately, but at the very moment of breaking,
Aristotle imagined a vacuum in the gap. Is Aristotle’s explanation of why
it is hard to break things an experimentally testable statement? If so, how
could it be tested experimentally?
1.3 Scaling applied to biology
Organisms of different sizes with the same shape
The left-hand panel in figure o shows the approximate valid-
ity of the proportionality m ∝ L
for cockroaches (redrawn from
McMahon and Bonner). The scatter of the points around the curve
indicates that some cockroaches are proportioned slightly differently
from others, but in general the data seem well described by m ∝ L
That means that the largest cockroaches the experimenter could
raise (is there a 4-H prize?) had roughly the same shape as the
smallest ones.
Another relationship that should exist for animals of different
sizes shaped in the same way is that between surface area and
body mass. If all the animals have the same average density, then
body mass should be proportional to the cube of the animal’s lin-
ear size, m ∝ L
, while surface area should vary proportionately to
. Therefore, the animals’ surface areas should be proportional to
. As shown in the right-hand panel of figure o, this relationship
appears to hold quite well for the dwarf siren, a type of salamander.
Notice how the curve bends over, meaning that the surface area does
not increase as quickly as body mass, e.g., a salamander with eight
times more body mass will have only four times more surface area.
This behavior of the ratio of surface area to mass (or, equiv-
Section 1.3 Scaling applied to biology 51
o / Geometrical scaling of animals.
alently, the ratio of surface area to volume) has important conse-
quences for mammals, which must maintain a constant body tem-
perature. It would make sense for the rate of heat loss through the
animal’s skin to be proportional to its surface area, so we should
expect small animals, having large ratios of surface area to volume,
to need to produce a great deal of heat in comparison to their size to
avoid dying from low body temperature. This expectation is borne
out by the data of the left-hand panel of figure p, showing the rate
of oxygen consumption of guinea pigs as a function of their body
mass. Neither an animal’s heat production nor its surface area is
convenient to measure, but in order to produce heat, the animal
must metabolize oxygen, so oxygen consumption is a good indicator
of the rate of heat production. Since surface area is proportional to
, the proportionality of the rate of oxygen consumption to m
is consistent with the idea that the animal needs to produce heat at a
rate in proportion to its surface area. Although the smaller animals
metabolize less oxygen and produce less heat in absolute terms, the
amount of food and oxygen they must consume is greater in propor-
tion to their own mass. The Etruscan pigmy shrew, weighing in at
52 Chapter 1 Scaling and estimation
q / Galileo’s original drawing,
showing how larger animals’
bones must be greater in diam-
eter compared to their lengths.
p / Scaling of animals’ bodies related to metabolic rate and skeletal strength.
2 grams as an adult, is at about the lower size limit for mammals.
It must eat continually, consuming many times its body weight each
day to survive.
Changes in shape to accommodate changes in size
Large mammals, such as elephants, have a small ratio of surface
area to volume, and have problems getting rid of their heat fast
enough. An elephant cannot simply eat small enough amounts to
keep from producing excessive heat, because cells need to have a
certain minimum metabolic rate to run their internal machinery.
Hence the elephant’s large ears, which add to its surface area and
help it to cool itself. Previously, we have seen several examples
of data within a given species that were consistent with a fixed
shape, scaled up and down in the cases of individual specimens. The
elephant’s ears are an example of a change in shape necessitated by
a change in scale.
Large animals also must be able to support their own weight.
Returning to the example of the strengths of planks of different
sizes, we can see that if the strength of the plank depends on area
Section 1.3 Scaling applied to biology 53
while its weight depends on volume, then the ratio of strength to
weight goes as follows:
strength/weight ∝ A/V ∝ 1/L .
Thus, the ability of objects to support their own weights decreases
inversely in proportion to their linear dimensions. If an object is to
be just barely able to support its own weight, then a larger version
will have to be proportioned differently, with a different shape.
Since the data on the cockroaches seemed to be consistent with
roughly similar shapes within the species, it appears that the abil-
ity to support its own weight was not the tightest design constraint
that Nature was working under when she designed them. For large
animals, structural strength is important. Galileo was the first to
quantify this reasoning and to explain why, for instance, a large an-
imal must have bones that are thicker in proportion to their length.
Consider a roughly cylindrical bone such as a leg bone or a vertebra.
The length of the bone, L, is dictated by the overall linear size of the
animal, since the animal’s skeleton must reach the animal’s whole
length. We expect the animal’s mass to scale as L
, so the strength
of the bone must also scale as L
. Strength is proportional to cross-
sectional area, as with the wooden planks, so if the diameter of the
bone is d, then
∝ L
d ∝ L
If the shape stayed the same regardless of size, then all linear di-
mensions, including d and L, would be proportional to one another.
If our reasoning holds, then the fact that d is proportional to L
not L, implies a change in proportions of the bone. As shown in the
right-hand panel of figure p, the vertebrae of African Bovidae follow
the rule d ∝ L
fairly well. The vertebrae of the giant eland are
as chunky as a coffee mug, while those of a Gunther’s dik-dik are as
slender as the cap of a pen.
Discussion questions
A Single-celled animals must passively absorb nutrients and oxygen
from their surroundings, unlike humans who have lungs to pump air in and
out and a heart to distribute the oxygenated blood throughout their bodies.
Even the cells composing the bodies of multicellular animals must absorb
oxygen from a nearby capillary through their surfaces. Based on these
facts, explain why cells are always microscopic in size.
B The reasoning of the previous question would seem to be contra-
dicted by the fact that human nerve cells in the spinal cord can be as
much as a meter long, although their widths are still very small. Why is
this possible?
54 Chapter 1 Scaling and estimation
1.4 Order-of-magnitude estimates
It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest satisfied with the
degree of precision that the nature of the subject permits and
not to seek an exactness where only an approximation of the
truth is possible.
It is a common misconception that science must be exact. For
instance, in the Star Trek TV series, it would often happen that
Captain Kirk would ask Mr. Spock, “Spock, we’re in a pretty bad
situation. What do you think are our chances of getting out of
here?” The scientific Mr. Spock would answer with something like,
“Captain, I estimate the odds as 237.345 to one.” In reality, he
could not have estimated the odds with six significant figures of
accuracy, but nevertheless one of the hallmarks of a person with a
good education in science is the ability to make estimates that are
likely to be at least somewhere in the right ballpark. In many such
situations, it is often only necessary to get an answer that is off by no
more than a factor of ten in either direction. Since things that differ
by a factor of ten are said to differ by one order of magnitude, such
an estimate is called an order-of-magnitude estimate. The tilde,
∼, is used to indicate that things are only of the same order of
magnitude, but not exactly equal, as in
odds of survival ∼ 100 to one .
The tilde can also be used in front of an individual number to em-
phasize that the number is only of the right order of magnitude.
Although making order-of-magnitude estimates seems simple and
natural to experienced scientists, it’s a mode of reasoning that is
completely unfamiliar to most college students. Some of the typical
mental steps can be illustrated in the following example.
Cost of transporting tomatoes example 4
Roughly what percentage of the price of a tomato comes from
the cost of transporting it in a truck?
The following incorrect solution illustrates one of the main ways
you can go wrong in order-of-magnitude estimates.
Incorrect solution: Let’s say the trucker needs to make a $400
profit on the trip. Taking into account her benefits, the cost of gas,
and maintenance and payments on the truck, let’s say the total
cost is more like $2000. I’d guess about 5000 tomatoes would fit
in the back of the truck, so the extra cost per tomato is 40 cents.
That means the cost of transporting one tomato is comparable to
the cost of the tomato itself. Transportation really adds a lot to the
cost of produce, I guess.
The problem is that the human brain is not very good at esti-
mating area or volume, so it turns out the estimate of 5000 tomatoes
Section 1.4 Order-of-magnitude estimates 55
r / Consider a spherical cow.
fitting in the truck is way off. That’s why people have a hard time
at those contests where you are supposed to estimate the number of
jellybeans in a big jar. Another example is that most people think
their families use about 10 gallons of water per day, but in reality
the average is about 300 gallons per day. When estimating area
or volume, you are much better off estimating linear dimensions,
and computing volume from the linear dimensions. Here’s a better
Better solution: As in the previous solution, say the cost of the
trip is $2000. The dimensions of the bin are probably 4 m × 2 m ×
1 m, for a volume of 8 m
. Since the whole thing is just an order-
of-magnitude estimate, let’s round that off to the nearest power of
ten, 10 m
. The shape of a tomato is complicated, and I don’t know
any formula for the volume of a tomato shape, but since this is just
an estimate, let’s pretend that a tomato is a cube, 0.05 m × 0.05 m
× 0.05 m, for a volume of 1.25 ×10
. Since this is just a rough
estimate, let’s round that to 10
. We can find the total number
of tomatoes by dividing the volume of the bin by the volume of one
tomato: 10 m
= 10
tomatoes. The transportation cost
per tomato is $2000/10
tomatoes=$0.02/tomato. That means that
transportation really doesn’t contribute very much to the cost of a
Approximating the shape of a tomato as a cube is an example of
another general strategy for making order-of-magnitude estimates.
A similar situation would occur if you were trying to estimate how
many m
of leather could be produced from a herd of ten thousand
cattle. There is no point in trying to take into account the shape of
the cows’ bodies. A reasonable plan of attack might be to consider
a spherical cow. Probably a cow has roughly the same surface area
as a sphere with a radius of about 1 m, which would be 4π(1 m)
Using the well-known facts that pi equals three, and four times three
equals about ten, we can guess that a cow has a surface area of about
10 m
, so the herd as a whole might yield 10
of leather.
Estimating mass indirectly example 5
Usually the best way to estimate mass is to estimate linear di-
mensions, then use those to infer volume, and then get the mass
based on the volume. For example, Amphicoelias, shown in the
figure, may have been the largest land animal ever to live. Fossils
tell us the linear dimensions of an animal, but we can only indi-
rectly guess its mass. Given the length scale in the figure, let’s
estimate the mass of an Amphicoelias.
Its torso looks like it can be approximated by a rectangular box
with dimensions 10 m×5 m×3 m, giving about 2×10
. Living
things are mostly made of water, so we assume the animal to
have the density of water, 1 g/cm
, which converts to 10
This gives a mass of about 2 ×10
kg, or 200 metric tons.
56 Chapter 1 Scaling and estimation
The following list summarizes the strategies for getting a good
order-of-magnitude estimate.
1. Don’t even attempt more than one significant figure of preci-
2. Don’t guess area, volume, or mass directly. Guess linear di-
mensions and get area, volume, or mass from them.
3. When dealing with areas or volumes of objects with complex
shapes, idealize them as if they were some simpler shape, a
cube or a sphere, for example.
4. Check your final answer to see if it is reasonable. If you esti-
mate that a herd of ten thousand cattle would yield 0.01 m
of leather, then you have probably made a mistake with con-
version factors somewhere.
Section 1.4 Order-of-magnitude estimates 57
∝ . . . . . . . . . is proportional to
∼ . . . . . . . . . on the order of, is on the order of
Nature behaves differently on large and small scales. Galileo
showed that this results fundamentally from the way area and vol-
ume scale. Area scales as the second power of length, A ∝ L
, while
volume scales as length to the third power, V ∝ L
An order of magnitude estimate is one in which we do not at-
tempt or expect an exact answer. The main reason why the unini-
tiated have trouble with order-of-magnitude estimates is that the
human brain does not intuitively make accurate estimates of area
and volume. Estimates of area and volume should be approached
by first estimating linear dimensions, which one’s brain has a feel
58 Chapter 1 Scaling and estimation

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 How many cubic inches are there in a cubic foot? The answer
is not 12.

2 Assume a dog’s brain is twice as great in diameter as a cat’s,
but each animal’s brain cells are the same size and their brains are
the same shape. In addition to being a far better companion and
much nicer to come home to, how many times more brain cells does
a dog have than a cat? The answer is not 2.
3 The population density of Los Angeles is about 4000 people/km
That of San Francisco is about 6000 people/km
. How many times
farther away is the average person’s nearest neighbor in LA than in
San Francisco? The answer is not 1.5.

4 A hunting dog’s nose has about 10 square inches of active
surface. How is this possible, since the dog’s nose is only about 1 in
× 1 in × 1 in = 1 in
? After all, 10 is greater than 1, so how can it
5 Estimate the number of blades of grass on a football field.
6 In a computer memory chip, each bit of information (a 0 or
a 1) is stored in a single tiny circuit etched onto the surface of a
silicon chip. The circuits cover the surface of the chip like lots in a
housing development. A typical chip stores 64 Mb (megabytes) of
data, where a byte is 8 bits. Estimate (a) the area of each circuit,
and (b) its linear size.
7 Suppose someone built a gigantic apartment building, mea-
suring 10 km × 10 km at the base. Estimate how tall the building
would have to be to have space in it for the entire world’s population
to live.
8 A hamburger chain advertises that it has sold 10 billion Bongo
Burgers. Estimate the total mass of feed required to raise the cows
used to make the burgers.
9 Estimate the volume of a human body, in cm
10 How many cm
is 1 mm
? Solution, p. 508
11 Compare the light-gathering powers of a 3-cm-diameter tele-
scope and a 30-cm telescope. Solution, p. 508
12 One step on the Richter scale corresponds to a factor of 100
in terms of the energy absorbed by something on the surface of the
Earth, e.g., a house. For instance, a 9.3-magnitude quake would
release 100 times more energy than an 8.3. The energy spreads out
Problems 59
Albert Einstein, and his mous-
tache, problem 14.
Problem 19.
from the epicenter as a wave, and for the sake of this problem we’ll
assume we’re dealing with seismic waves that spread out in three
dimensions, so that we can visualize them as hemispheres spreading
out under the surface of the earth. If a certain 7.6-magnitude earth-
quake and a certain 5.6-magnitude earthquake produce the same
amount of vibration where I live, compare the distances from my
house to the two epicenters. Solution, p. 508
13 In Europe, a piece of paper of the standard size, called A4,
is a little narrower and taller than its American counterpart. The
ratio of the height to the width is the square root of 2, and this has
some useful properties. For instance, if you cut an A4 sheet from left
to right, you get two smaller sheets that have the same proportions.
You can even buy sheets of this smaller size, and they’re called A5.
There is a whole series of sizes related in this way, all with the same
proportions. (a) Compare an A5 sheet to an A4 in terms of area and
linear size. (b) The series of paper sizes starts from an A0 sheet,
which has an area of one square meter. Suppose we had a series
of boxes defined in a similar way: the B0 box has a volume of one
cubic meter, two B1 boxes fit exactly inside an B0 box, and so on.
What would be the dimensions of a B0 box?

14 Estimate the mass of one of the hairs in Albert Einstein’s
moustache, in units of kg.
15 According to folklore, every time you take a breath, you are
inhaling some of the atoms exhaled in Caesar’s last words. Is this
true? If so, how many?
16 The Earth’s surface is about 70% water. Mars’s diameter is
about half the Earth’s, but it has no surface water. Compare the
land areas of the two planets.

17 The traditional Martini glass is shaped like a cone with
the point at the bottom. Suppose you make a Martini by pouring
vermouth into the glass to a depth of 3 cm, and then adding gin
to bring the depth to 6 cm. What are the proportions of gin and
vermouth? Solution, p. 508
18 The central portion of a CD is taken up by the hole and some
surrounding clear plastic, and this area is unavailable for storing
data. The radius of the central circle is about 35% of the outer
radius of the data-storing area. What percentage of the CD’s area
is therefore lost?

19 The one-liter cube in the photo has been marked off into
smaller cubes, with linear dimensions one tenth those of the big
one. What is the volume of each of the small cubes?
Solution, p. 508
60 Chapter 1 Scaling and estimation
Problem 20.
Problem 22.
20 (a) Based on the definitions of the sine, cosine, and tangent,
what units must they have? (b) A cute formula from trigonometry
lets you find any angle of a triangle if you know the lengths of
its sides. Using the notation shown in the figure, and letting s =
(a +b +c)/2 be half the perimeter, we have
tan A/2 =
(s −b)(s −c)
s(s −a)
Show that the units of this equation make sense. In other words,
check that the units of the right-hand side are the same as your
answer to part a of the question. Solution, p. 509
21 Estimate the number of man-hours required for building the
Great Wall of China. Solution, p. 509
22 (a) Using the microscope photo in the figure, estimate the
mass of a one cell of the E. coli bacterium, which is one of the
most common ones in the human intestine. Note the scale at the
lower right corner, which is 1 µm. Each of the tubular objects in
the column is one cell. (b) The feces in the human intestine are
mostly bacteria (some dead, some alive), of which E. coli is a large
and typical component. Estimate the number of bacteria in your
intestines, and compare with the number of human cells in your
body, which is believed to be roughly on the order of 10
. (c)
Interpreting your result from part b, what does this tell you about
the size of a typical human cell compared to the size of a typical
bacterial cell?
23 A taxon (plural taxa) is a group of living things. For ex-
ample, Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis are both taxa —
specifically, they are two different species within the genus Homo.
Surveys by botanists show that the number of plant taxa native
to a given contiguous land area A is usually approximately propor-
tional to A
. (a) There are 70 different species of lupine native
to Southern California, which has an area of about 200, 000 km
The San Gabriel Mountains cover about 1, 600 km
. Suppose that
you wanted to learn to identify all the species of lupine in the San
Gabriels. Approximately how many species would you have to fa-
miliarize yourself with? Answer, p. 528

(b) What is the interpretation of the fact that the exponent, 1/3, is
less than one?
Problems 61
Problem 25.
24 X-ray images aren’t only used with human subjects but also,
for example, on insects and flowers. In 2003, a team of researchers
at Argonne National Laboratory used x-ray imagery to find for the
first time that insects, although they do not have lungs, do not
necessarily breathe completely passively, as had been believed pre-
viously; many insects rapidly compress and expand their trachea,
head, and thorax in order to force air in and out of their bodies.
One difference between x-raying a human and an insect is that if a
medical x-ray machine was used on an insect, virtually 100% of the
x-rays would pass through its body, and there would be no contrast
in the image produced. Less penetrating x-rays of lower energies
have to be used. For comparison, a typical human body mass is
about 70 kg, whereas a typical ant is about 10 mg. Estimate the
ratio of the thicknesses of tissue that must be penetrated by x-rays
in one case compared to the other.

25 Radio was first commercialized around 1920, and ever since
then, radio signals from our planet have been spreading out across
our galaxy. It is possible that alien civilizations could detect these
signals and learn that there is life on earth. In the 90 years that the
signals have been spreading at the speed of light, they have created
a sphere with a radius of 90 light-years. To show an idea of the
size of this sphere, I’ve indicated it in the figure as a tiny white
circle on an image of a spiral galaxy seen edge on. (We don’t have
similar photos of our own Milky Way galaxy, because we can’t see
it from the outside.) So far we haven’t received answering signals
from aliens within this sphere, but as time goes on, the sphere will
expand as suggested by the dashed outline, reaching more and more
stars that might harbor extraterrestrial life. Approximately what
year will it be when the sphere has expanded to fill a volume 100
times greater than the volume it fills today in 2010?

62 Chapter 1 Scaling and estimation
Exercise 1: Scaling applied to leaves
leaves of three sizes, having roughly similar proportions of length, width, and thickness
Each group will have one leaf, and should measure its surface area and volume, and determine
its surface-to-volume ratio. For consistency, every group should use units of cm
and cm
, and
should only find the area of one side of the leaf. The area can be found by tracing the area of
the leaf on graph paper and counting squares. The volume can be found by weighing the leaf
and assuming that its density is 1 g/cm
(the density of water). What implications do your
results have for the plants’ abilities to survive in different environments?
Exercise 1: Scaling applied to leaves 63
Motion in one dimension
a / Rotation.
b / Simultaneous rotation and
motion through space.
c / One person might say that the
tipping chair was only rotating in
a circle about its point of contact
with the floor, but another could
describe it as having both rotation
and motion through space.
Chapter 2
Velocity and relative
2.1 Types of motion
If you had to think consciously in order to move your body, you
would be severely disabled. Even walking, which we consider to
be no great feat, requires an intricate series of motions that your
cerebrum would be utterly incapable of coordinating. The task of
putting one foot in front of the other is controlled by the more prim-
itive parts of your brain, the ones that have not changed much since
the mammals and reptiles went their separate evolutionary ways.
The thinking part of your brain limits itself to general directives
such as “walk faster,” or “don’t step on her toes,” rather than mi-
cromanaging every contraction and relaxation of the hundred or so
muscles of your hips, legs, and feet.
Physics is all about the conscious understanding of motion, but
we’re obviously not immediately prepared to understand the most
complicated types of motion. Instead, we’ll use the divide-and-
conquer technique. We’ll first classify the various types of motion,
and then begin our campaign with an attack on the simplest cases.
To make it clear what we are and are not ready to consider, we need
to examine and define carefully what types of motion can exist.
Rigid-body motion distinguished from motion that changes
an object’s shape
Nobody, with the possible exception of Fred Astaire, can simply
glide forward without bending their joints. Walking is thus an ex-
ample in which there is both a general motion of the whole object
and a change in the shape of the object. Another example is the
motion of a jiggling water balloon as it flies through the air. We are
not presently attempting a mathematical description of the way in
which the shape of an object changes. Motion without a change in
shape is called rigid-body motion. (The word “body” is often used
in physics as a synonym for “object.”)
Center-of-mass motion as opposed to rotation
A ballerina leaps into the air and spins around once before land-
ing. We feel intuitively that her rigid-body motion while her feet
are off the ground consists of two kinds of motion going on simul-
e / No matter what point you
hang the pear from, the string
lines up with the pear’s center
of mass. The center of mass
can therefore be defined as the
intersection of all the lines made
by hanging the pear in this way.
Note that the X in the figure
should not be interpreted as
implying that the center of mass
is on the surface — it is actually
inside the pear.
f / The circus performers hang
with the ropes passing through
their centers of mass.
taneously: a rotation and a motion of her body as a whole through
space, along an arc. It is not immediately obvious, however, what
is the most useful way to define the distinction between rotation
and motion through space. Imagine that you attempt to balance a
chair and it falls over. One person might say that the only motion
was a rotation about the chair’s point of contact with the floor, but
another might say that there was both rotation and motion down
and to the side.
d / The leaping dancer’s motion is complicated, but the motion of
her center of mass is simple.
It turns out that there is one particularly natural and useful way
to make a clear definition, but it requires a brief digression. Every
object has a balance point, referred to in physics as the center of
mass. For a two-dimensional object such as a cardboard cutout, the
center of mass is the point at which you could hang the object from
a string and make it balance. In the case of the ballerina (who is
likely to be three-dimensional unless her diet is particularly severe),
it might be a point either inside or outside her body, depending
on how she holds her arms. Even if it is not practical to attach a
string to the balance point itself, the center of mass can be defined
as shown in figure e.
Why is the center of mass concept relevant to the question of
classifying rotational motion as opposed to motion through space?
As illustrated in figures d and g, it turns out that the motion of an
object’s center of mass is nearly always far simpler than the motion
of any other part of the object. The ballerina’s body is a large object
with a complex shape. We might expect that her motion would be
much more complicated than the motion of a small, simply-shaped
68 Chapter 2 Velocity and relative motion
h / An improperly balanced
wheel has a center of mass that
is not at its geometric center.
When you get a new tire, the
mechanic clamps little weights to
the rim to balance the wheel.
i / This toy was intentionally
designed so that the mushroom-
shaped piece of metal on top
would throw off the center of
mass. When you wind it up, the
mushroom spins, but the center
of mass doesn’t want to move,
so the rest of the toy tends to
counter the mushroom’s motion,
causing the whole thing to jump
object, say a marble, thrown up at the same angle as the angle at
which she leapt. But it turns out that the motion of the ballerina’s
center of mass is exactly the same as the motion of the marble. That
is, the motion of the center of mass is the same as the motion the
ballerina would have if all her mass was concentrated at a point. By
restricting our attention to the motion of the center of mass, we can
therefore simplify things greatly.
g / The same leaping dancer, viewed from above. Her center of
mass traces a straight line, but a point away from her center of mass,
such as her elbow, traces the much more complicated path shown by the
We can now replace the ambiguous idea of “motion as a whole
through space” with the more useful and better defined concept
of “center-of-mass motion.” The motion of any rigid body can be
cleanly split into rotation and center-of-mass motion. By this defini-
tion, the tipping chair does have both rotational and center-of-mass
motion. Concentrating on the center of mass motion allows us to
make a simplified model of the motion, as if a complicated object
like a human body was just a marble or a point-like particle. Science
really never deals with reality; it deals with models of reality.
Note that the word “center” in “center of mass” is not meant
to imply that the center of mass must lie at the geometrical center
of an object. A car wheel that has not been balanced properly has
a center of mass that does not coincide with its geometrical center.
An object such as the human body does not even have an obvious
geometrical center.
It can be helpful to think of the center of mass as the average
location of all the mass in the object. With this interpretation,
we can see for example that raising your arms above your head
raises your center of mass, since the higher position of the arms’
mass raises the average. We won’t be concerned right now with
calculating centers of mass mathematically; the relevant equations
are in chapter 4 of Conservation Laws.
Ballerinas and professional basketball players can create an illu-
sion of flying horizontally through the air because our brains intu-
itively expect them to have rigid-body motion, but the body does
not stay rigid while executing a grand jete or a slam dunk. The legs
are low at the beginning and end of the jump, but come up higher at
Section 2.1 Types of motion 69
j / A fixed point on the dancer’s body follows a trajectory that is flat-
ter than what we expect, creating an illusion of flight.
the middle. Regardless of what the limbs do, the center of mass will
follow the same arc, but the low position of the legs at the beginning
and end means that the torso is higher compared to the center of
mass, while in the middle of the jump it is lower compared to the
center of mass. Our eye follows the motion of the torso and tries
to interpret it as the center-of-mass motion of a rigid body. But
since the torso follows a path that is flatter than we expect, this
attempted interpretation fails, and we experience an illusion that
the person is flying horizontally.
k / Example 1.
The center of mass as an average example 1
Explain how we know that the center of mass of each object is
at the location shown in figure k.
The center of mass is a sort of average, so the height of the
centers of mass in 1 and 2 has to be midway between the two
squares, because that height is the average of the heights of the
two squares. Example 3 is a combination of examples 1 and
2, so we can find its center of mass by averaging the horizontal
positions of their centers of mass. In example 4, each square
has been skewed a little, but just as much mass has been moved
up as down, so the average vertical position of the mass hasn’t
changed. Example 5 is clearly not all that different from example
4, the main difference being a slight clockwise rotation, so just as
70 Chapter 2 Velocity and relative motion
l / The high-jumper’s body
passes over the bar, but his
center of mass passes under it.
m / Self-check B.
in example 4, the center of mass must be hanging in empty space,
where there isn’t actually any mass. Horizontally, the center of
mass must be between the heels and toes, or else it wouldn’t be
possible to stand without tipping over.
Another interesting example from the sports world is the high
jump, in which the jumper’s curved body passes over the bar, but
the center of mass passes under the bar! Here the jumper lowers his
legs and upper body at the peak of the jump in order to bring his
waist higher compared to the center of mass.
Later in this course, we’ll find that there are more fundamental
reasons (based on Newton’s laws of motion) why the center of mass
behaves in such a simple way compared to the other parts of an
object. We’re also postponing any discussion of numerical methods
for finding an object’s center of mass. Until later in the course, we
will only deal with the motion of objects’ centers of mass.
Center-of-mass motion in one dimension
In addition to restricting our study of motion to center-of-mass
motion, we will begin by considering only cases in which the center
of mass moves along a straight line. This will include cases such
as objects falling straight down, or a car that speeds up and slows
down but does not turn.
Note that even though we are not explicitly studying the more
complex aspects of motion, we can still analyze the center-of-mass
motion while ignoring other types of motion that might be occurring
simultaneously . For instance, if a cat is falling out of a tree and
is initially upside-down, it goes through a series of contortions that
bring its feet under it. This is definitely not an example of rigid-
body motion, but we can still analyze the motion of the cat’s center
of mass just as we would for a dropping rock.
self-check A
Consider a person running, a person pedaling on a bicycle, a person
coasting on a bicycle, and a person coasting on ice skates. In which
cases is the center-of-mass motion one-dimensional? Which cases are
examples of rigid-body motion? Answer, p. 522
self-check B
The figure shows a gymnast holding onto the inside of a big wheel.
From inside the wheel, how could he make it roll one way or the other?
Answer, p. 522
2.2 Describing distance and time
Center-of-mass motion in one dimension is particularly easy to deal
with because all the information about it can be encapsulated in two
variables: x, the position of the center of mass relative to the origin,
and t, which measures a point in time. For instance, if someone
Section 2.2 Describing distance and time 71
supplied you with a sufficiently detailed table of x and t values, you
would know pretty much all there was to know about the motion of
the object’s center of mass.
A point in time as opposed to duration
In ordinary speech, we use the word “time” in two different
senses, which are to be distinguished in physics. It can be used,
as in “a short time” or “our time here on earth,” to mean a length
or duration of time, or it can be used to indicate a clock reading, as
in “I didn’t know what time it was,” or “now’s the time.” In sym-
bols, t is ordinarily used to mean a point in time, while ∆t signifies
an interval or duration in time. The capital Greek letter delta, ∆,
means “the change in...,” i.e. a duration in time is the change or
difference between one clock reading and another. The notation ∆t
does not signify the product of two numbers, ∆ and t, but rather
one single number, ∆t. If a matinee begins at a point in time t = 1
o’clock and ends at t = 3 o’clock, the duration of the movie was the
change in t,
∆t = 3 hours −1 hour = 2 hours .
To avoid the use of negative numbers for ∆t, we write the clock
reading “after” to the left of the minus sign, and the clock reading
“before” to the right of the minus sign. A more specific definition
of the delta notation is therefore that delta stands for “after minus
Even though our definition of the delta notation guarantees that
∆t is positive, there is no reason why t can’t be negative. If t
could not be negative, what would have happened one second before
t = 0? That doesn’t mean that time “goes backward” in the sense
that adults can shrink into infants and retreat into the womb. It
just means that we have to pick a reference point and call it t = 0,
and then times before that are represented by negative values of t.
An example is that a year like 2007 A.D. can be thought of as a
positive t value, while one like 370 B.C. is negative. Similarly, when
you hear a countdown for a rocket launch, the phrase “t minus ten
seconds” is a way of saying t = −10 s, where t = 0 is the time of
blastoff, and t > 0 refers to times after launch.
Although a point in time can be thought of as a clock reading, it
is usually a good idea to avoid doing computations with expressions
such as “2:35” that are combinations of hours and minutes. Times
can instead be expressed entirely in terms of a single unit, such as
hours. Fractions of an hour can be represented by decimals rather
than minutes, and similarly if a problem is being worked in terms
of minutes, decimals can be used instead of seconds.
self-check C
Of the following phrases, which refer to points in time, which refer to
time intervals, and which refer to time in the abstract rather than as a
measurable number?
72 Chapter 2 Velocity and relative motion
(1) “The time has come.”
(2) “Time waits for no man.”
(3) “The whole time, he had spit on his chin.” Answer, p. 522
Position as opposed to change in position
As with time, a distinction should be made between a point
in space, symbolized as a coordinate x, and a change in position,
symbolized as ∆x.
As with t, x can be negative. If a train is moving down the
tracks, not only do you have the freedom to choose any point along
the tracks and call it x = 0, but it’s also up to you to decide which
side of the x = 0 point is positive x and which side is negative x.
Since we’ve defined the delta notation to mean “after minus
before,” it is possible that ∆x will be negative, unlike ∆t which is
guaranteed to be positive. Suppose we are describing the motion
of a train on tracks linking Tucson and Chicago. As shown in the
figure, it is entirely up to you to decide which way is positive.
n / Two equally valid ways of de-
scribing the motion of a train from
Tucson to Chicago. In example 1,
the train has a positive ∆x as it
goes from Enid to Joplin. In 2,
the same train going forward in
the same direction has a negative
Note that in addition to x and ∆x, there is a third quantity we
could define, which would be like an odometer reading, or actual
distance traveled. If you drive 10 miles, make a U-turn, and drive
back 10 miles, then your ∆x is zero, but your car’s odometer reading
has increased by 20 miles. However important the odometer reading
is to car owners and used car dealers, it is not very important in
physics, and there is not even a standard name or notation for it.
The change in position, ∆x, is more useful because it is so much
easier to calculate: to compute ∆x, we only need to know the be-
ginning and ending positions of the object, not all the information
about how it got from one position to the other.
self-check D
A ball falls vertically, hits the floor, bounces to a height of one meter,
falls, and hits the floor again. Is the ∆x between the two impacts equal
to zero, one, or two meters? Answer, p. 522
Section 2.2 Describing distance and time 73
o / Motion with constant ve-
p / Motion that decreases x
is represented with negative
values of ∆x and v.
q / Motion with changing ve-
locity. How can we find the
velocity at the time indicated by
the dot?
Frames of reference
The example above shows that there are two arbitrary choices
you have to make in order to define a position variable, x. You have
to decide where to put x = 0, and also which direction will be posi-
tive. This is referred to as choosing a coordinate system or choosing
a frame of reference. (The two terms are nearly synonymous, but
the first focuses more on the actual x variable, while the second is
more of a general way of referring to one’s point of view.) As long as
you are consistent, any frame is equally valid. You just don’t want
to change coordinate systems in the middle of a calculation.
Have you ever been sitting in a train in a station when suddenly
you notice that the station is moving backward? Most people would
describe the situation by saying that you just failed to notice that
the train was moving — it only seemed like the station was moving.
But this shows that there is yet a third arbitrary choice that goes
into choosing a coordinate system: valid frames of reference can
differ from each other by moving relative to one another. It might
seem strange that anyone would bother with a coordinate system
that was moving relative to the earth, but for instance the frame of
reference moving along with a train might be far more convenient
for describing things happening inside the train.
2.3 Graphs of motion; velocity
Motion with constant velocity
In example o, an object is moving at constant speed in one di-
rection. We can tell this because every two seconds, its position
changes by five meters.
In algebra notation, we’d say that the graph of x vs. t shows
the same change in position, ∆x = 5.0 m, over each interval of
∆t = 2.0 s. The object’s velocity or speed is obtained by calculating
v = ∆x/∆t = (5.0 m)/(2.0 s) = 2.5 m/s. In graphical terms, the
velocity can be interpreted as the slope of the line. Since the graph
is a straight line, it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d taken a longer
time interval and calculated v = ∆x/∆t = (10.0 m)/(4.0 s). The
answer would still have been the same, 2.5 m/s.
Note that when we divide a number that has units of meters by
another number that has units of seconds, we get units of meters
per second, which can be written m/s. This is another case where
we treat units as if they were algebra symbols, even though they’re
In example p, the object is moving in the opposite direction: as
time progresses, its x coordinate decreases. Recalling the definition
of the ∆ notation as “after minus before,” we find that ∆t is still
positive, but ∆x must be negative. The slope of the line is therefore
74 Chapter 2 Velocity and relative motion
r / The velocity at any given
moment is defined as the slope
of the tangent line through the
relevant point on the graph.
s / Example: finding the ve-
locity at the point indicated with
the dot.
t / Reversing the direction of
negative, and we say that the object has a negative velocity, v =
∆x/∆t = (−5.0 m)/(2.0 s) = −2.5 m/s. We’ve already seen that
the plus and minus signs of ∆x values have the interpretation of
telling us which direction the object moved. Since ∆t is always
positive, dividing by ∆t doesn’t change the plus or minus sign, and
the plus and minus signs of velocities are to be interpreted in the
same way. In graphical terms, a positive slope characterizes a line
that goes up as we go to the right, and a negative slope tells us that
the line went down as we went to the right.
Solved problem: light-years page 88, problem 4
Motion with changing velocity
Now what about a graph like figure q? This might be a graph
of a car’s motion as the driver cruises down the freeway, then slows
down to look at a car crash by the side of the road, and then speeds
up again, disappointed that there is nothing dramatic going on such
as flames or babies trapped in their car seats. (Note that we are
still talking about one-dimensional motion. Just because the graph
is curvy doesn’t mean that the car’s path is curvy. The graph is not
like a map, and the horizontal direction of the graph represents the
passing of time, not distance.)
Example q is similar to example o in that the object moves a
total of 25.0 m in a period of 10.0 s, but it is no longer true that it
makes the same amount of progress every second. There is no way to
characterize the entire graph by a certain velocity or slope, because
the velocity is different at every moment. It would be incorrect to
say that because the car covered 25.0 m in 10.0 s, its velocity was
2.5 m/s. It moved faster than that at the beginning and end, but
slower in the middle. There may have been certain instants at which
the car was indeed going 2.5 m/s, but the speedometer swept past
that value without “sticking,” just as it swung through various other
values of speed. (I definitely want my next car to have a speedometer
calibrated in m/s and showing both negative and positive values.)
We assume that our speedometer tells us what is happening to
the speed of our car at every instant, but how can we define speed
mathematically in a case like this? We can’t just define it as the
slope of the curvy graph, because a curve doesn’t have a single
well-defined slope as does a line. A mathematical definition that
corresponded to the speedometer reading would have to be one that
attached a different velocity value to a single point on the curve,
i.e., a single instant in time, rather than to the entire graph. If we
wish to define the speed at one instant such as the one marked with
a dot, the best way to proceed is illustrated in r, where we have
drawn the line through that point called the tangent line, the line
that “hugs the curve.” We can then adopt the following definition
of velocity:
Section 2.3 Graphs of motion; velocity 75
definition of velocity
The velocity of an object at any given moment is the slope of the
tangent line through the relevant point on its x −t graph.
One interpretation of this definition is that the velocity tells us
how many meters the object would have traveled in one second, if
it had continued moving at the same speed for at least one second.
To some people the graphical nature of this definition seems “in-
accurate” or “not mathematical.” The equation by itself, however,
is only valid if the velocity is constant, and so cannot serve as a
general definition.
The slope of the tangent line example 2
What is the velocity at the point shown with a dot on the graph?
First we draw the tangent line through that point. To find the
slope of the tangent line, we need to pick two points on it. Theo-
retically, the slope should come out the same regardless of which
two points we pick, but in practical terms we’ll be able to measure
more accurately if we pick two points fairly far apart, such as the
two white diamonds. To save work, we pick points that are directly
above labeled points on the t axis, so that ∆t = 4.0 s is easy to
read off. One diamond lines up with x ≈ 17.5 m, the other with
x ≈ 26.5 m, so ∆x = 9.0 m. The velocity is ∆x/∆t = 2.2 m/s.
Conventions about graphing
The placement of t on the horizontal axis and x on the upright
axis may seem like an arbitrary convention, or may even have dis-
turbed you, since your algebra teacher always told you that x goes
on the horizontal axis and y goes on the upright axis. There is a
reason for doing it this way, however. In example s, we have an
object that reverses its direction of motion twice. It can only be
in one place at any given time, but there can be more than one
time when it is at a given place. For instance, this object passed
through x = 17 m on three separate occasions, but there is no way
it could have been in more than one place at t = 5.0 s. Resurrecting
some terminology you learned in your trigonometry course, we say
that x is a function of t, but t is not a function of x. In situations
such as this, there is a useful convention that the graph should be
oriented so that any vertical line passes through the curve at only
one point. Putting the x axis across the page and t upright would
have violated this convention. To people who are used to interpret-
ing graphs, a graph that violates this convention is as annoying as
fingernails scratching on a chalkboard. We say that this is a graph
of “x versus t.” If the axes were the other way around, it would
be a graph of “t versus x.” I remember the “versus” terminology
by visualizing the labels on the x and t axes and remembering that
when you read, you go from left to right and from top to bottom.
76 Chapter 2 Velocity and relative motion
Discussion question G.
Discussion questions
A Park is running slowly in gym class, but then he notices Jenna
watching him, so he speeds up to try to impress her. Which of the graphs
could represent his motion?
B The figure shows a sequence of positions for two racing tractors.
Compare the tractors’ velocities as the race progresses. When do they
have the same velocity? [Based on a question by Lillian McDermott.]
C If an object had an x − t graph that was a straight line with ∆x=0
and ∆t = 0, what would you say about its velocity? Sketch an example of
such a graph. What about ∆t =0 and ∆x = 0?
D If an object has a wavy motion graph like the one in figure t on p. 75,
what are the times at which the object reverses its direction? Describe
the object’s velocity at these points.
E Discuss anything unusual about the following three graphs.
F I have been using the term “velocity” and avoiding the more common
English word “speed,” because introductory physics texts typically define
them to mean different things. They use the word “speed,” and the symbol
“s” to mean the absolute value of the velocity, s = |v|. Although I’ve
chosen not to emphasize this distinction in technical vocabulary, there
are clearly two different concepts here. Can you think of an example of
a graph of x-versus-t in which the object has constant speed, but not
constant velocity?
G For the graph shown in the figure, describe how the object’s velocity
Section 2.3 Graphs of motion; velocity 77
H Two physicists duck out of a boring scientific conference. On the
street, they witness an accident in which a pedestrian is injured by a hit-
and-run driver. A criminal trial results, and they must testify. In her testi-
mony, Dr. Transverz Waive says, “The car was moving along pretty fast,
I’d say the velocity was +40 mi/hr. They saw the old lady too late, and even
though they slammed on the brakes they still hit her before they stopped.
Then they made a U turn and headed off at a velocity of about -20 mi/hr,
I’d say.” Dr. Longitud N.L. Vibrasheun says, “He was really going too fast,
maybe his velocity was -35 or -40 mi/hr. After he hit Mrs. Hapless, he
turned around and left at a velocity of, oh, I’d guess maybe +20 or +25
mi/hr.” Is their testimony contradictory? Explain.
2.4 The principle of inertia
Physical effects relate only to a change in velocity
Consider two statements of a kind that was at one time made
with the utmost seriousness:
People like Galileo and Copernicus who say the earth is ro-
tating must be crazy. We know the earth can’t be moving.
Why, if the earth was really turning once every day, then our
whole city would have to be moving hundreds of leagues in
an hour. That’s impossible! Buildings would shake on their
foundations. Gale-force winds would knock us over. Trees
would fall down. The Mediterranean would come sweeping
across the east coasts of Spain and Italy. And furthermore,
what force would be making the world turn?
All this talk of passenger trains moving at forty miles an hour
is sheer hogwash! At that speed, the air in a passenger com-
partment would all be forced against the back wall. People in
the front of the car would suffocate, and people at the back
would die because in such concentrated air, they wouldn’t be
able to expel a breath.
Some of the effects predicted in the first quote are clearly just
based on a lack of experience with rapid motion that is smooth and
free of vibration. But there is a deeper principle involved. In each
case, the speaker is assuming that the mere fact of motion must
have dramatic physical effects. More subtly, they also believe that a
force is needed to keep an object in motion: the first person thinks
a force would be needed to maintain the earth’s rotation, and the
second apparently thinks of the rear wall as pushing on the air to
keep it moving.
Common modern knowledge and experience tell us that these
people’s predictions must have somehow been based on incorrect
reasoning, but it is not immediately obvious where the fundamental
flaw lies. It’s one of those things a four-year-old could infuriate
you by demanding a clear explanation of. One way of getting at
the fundamental principle involved is to consider how the modern
78 Chapter 2 Velocity and relative motion
v / Why does Aristotle look
so sad? Has he realized that
his entire system of physics is
w / The earth spins. People
in Shanghai say they’re at rest
and people in Los Angeles are
moving. Angelenos say the same
about the Shanghainese.
x / The jets are at rest. The
Empire State Building is moving.
concept of the universe differs from the popular conception at the
time of the Italian Renaissance. To us, the word “earth” implies
a planet, one of the nine planets of our solar system, a small ball
of rock and dirt that is of no significance to anyone in the universe
except for members of our species, who happen to live on it. To
Galileo’s contemporaries, however, the earth was the biggest, most
solid, most important thing in all of creation, not to be compared
with the wandering lights in the sky known as planets. To us, the
earth is just another object, and when we talk loosely about “how
fast” an object such as a car “is going,” we really mean the car-
object’s velocity relative to the earth-object.
u / This Air Force doctor volunteered to ride a rocket sled as a
medical experiment. The obvious effects on his head and face are not
because of the sled’s speed but because of its rapid changes in speed:
increasing in 2 and 3, and decreasing in 5 and 6. In 4 his speed is
greatest, but because his speed is not increasing or decreasing very
much at this moment, there is little effect on him.
Motion is relative
According to our modern world-view, it really isn’t that reason-
able to expect that a special force should be required to make the
air in the train have a certain velocity relative to our planet. After
all, the “moving” air in the “moving” train might just happen to
have zero velocity relative to some other planet we don’t even know
about. Aristotle claimed that things “naturally” wanted to be at
rest, lying on the surface of the earth. But experiment after exper-
Section 2.4 The principle of inertia 79
Discussion question A.
Discussion question B.
iment has shown that there is really nothing so special about being
at rest relative to the earth. For instance, if a mattress falls out of
the back of a truck on the freeway, the reason it rapidly comes to
rest with respect to the planet is simply because of friction forces
exerted by the asphalt, which happens to be attached to the planet.
Galileo’s insights are summarized as follows:
The principle of inertia
No force is required to maintain motion with constant velocity in
a straight line, and absolute motion does not cause any observable
physical effects.
There are many examples of situations that seem to disprove the
principle of inertia, but these all result from forgetting that friction
is a force. For instance, it seems that a force is needed to keep a
sailboat in motion. If the wind stops, the sailboat stops too. But
the wind’s force is not the only force on the boat; there is also a
frictional force from the water. If the sailboat is cruising and the
wind suddenly disappears, the backward frictional force still exists,
and since it is no longer being counteracted by the wind’s forward
force, the boat stops. To disprove the principle of inertia, we would
have to find an example where a moving object slowed down even
though no forces whatsoever were acting on it.
self-check E
What is incorrect about the following supposed counterexamples to the
principle of inertia?
(1) When astronauts blast off in a rocket, their huge velocity does cause
a physical effect on their bodies — they get pressed back into their
seats, the flesh on their faces gets distorted, and they have a hard time
lifting their arms.
(2) When you’re driving in a convertible with the top down, the wind in
your face is an observable physical effect of your absolute motion.
Answer, p. 523
Solved problem: a bug on a wheel page 88, problem 7
Discussion questions
A A passenger on a cruise ship finds, while the ship is docked, that
he can leap off of the upper deck and just barely make it into the pool
on the lower deck. If the ship leaves dock and is cruising rapidly, will this
adrenaline junkie still be able to make it?
B You are a passenger in the open basket hanging under a helium
balloon. The balloon is being carried along by the wind at a constant
velocity. If you are holding a flag in your hand, will the flag wave? If so,
which way? [Based on a question from PSSC Physics.]
C Aristotle stated that all objects naturally wanted to come to rest, with
the unspoken implication that “rest” would be interpreted relative to the
80 Chapter 2 Velocity and relative motion
Discussion question D.
surface of the earth. Suppose we go back in time and transport Aristotle
to the moon. Aristotle knew, as we do, that the moon circles the earth; he
said it didn’t fall down because, like everything else in the heavens, it was
made out of some special substance whose “natural” behavior was to go
in circles around the earth. We land, put him in a space suit, and kick
him out the door. What would he expect his fate to be in this situation? If
intelligent creatures inhabited the moon, and one of them independently
came up with the equivalent of Aristotelian physics, what would they think
about objects coming to rest?
D The glass is sitting on a level table in a train’s dining car, but the
surface of the water is tilted. What can you infer about the motion of the
2.5 Addition of velocities
Addition of velocities to describe relative motion
Since absolute motion cannot be unambiguously measured, the
only way to describe motion unambiguously is to describe the motion
of one object relative to another. Symbolically, we can write v
for the velocity of object P relative to object Q.
Velocities measured with respect to different reference points can
be compared by addition. In the figure below, the ball’s velocity
relative to the couch equals the ball’s velocity relative to the truck
plus the truck’s velocity relative to the couch:
= v
= 5 cm/s + 10 cm/s
= 15 cm/s
The same equation can be used for any combination of three
objects, just by substituting the relevant subscripts for B, T, and
C. Just remember to write the equation so that the velocities being
added have the same subscript twice in a row. In this example, if
you read off the subscripts going from left to right, you get BC. . . =
. . . BTTC. The fact that the two “inside” subscripts on the right are
the same means that the equation has been set up correctly. Notice
how subscripts on the left look just like the subscripts on the right,
but with the two T’s eliminated.
Negative velocities in relative motion
My discussion of how to interpret positive and negative signs of
velocity may have left you wondering why we should bother. Why
not just make velocity positive by definition? The original reason
why negative numbers were invented was that bookkeepers decided
it would be convenient to use the negative number concept for pay-
ments to distinguish them from receipts. It was just plain easier than
writing receipts in black and payments in red ink. After adding up
Section 2.5 Addition of velocities 81
y / These two highly competent physicists disagree on absolute ve-
locities, but they would agree on relative velocities. Purple Dino
considers the couch to be at rest, while Green Dino thinks of the truck as
being at rest. They agree, however, that the truck’s velocity relative to the
couch is v
= 10 cm/s, the ball’s velocity relative to the truck is v
= 5
cm/s, and the ball’s velocity relative to the couch is v
= v
+ v
= 15
your month’s positive receipts and negative payments, you either got
a positive number, indicating profit, or a negative number, showing
a loss. You could then show that total with a high-tech “+” or “−”
sign, instead of looking around for the appropriate bottle of ink.
Nowadays we use positive and negative numbers for all kinds
of things, but in every case the point is that it makes sense to
add and subtract those things according to the rules you learned
in grade school, such as “minus a minus makes a plus, why this is
true we need not discuss.” Adding velocities has the significance
of comparing relative motion, and with this interpretation negative
and positive velocities can be used within a consistent framework.
For example, the truck’s velocity relative to the couch equals the
truck’s velocity relative to the ball plus the ball’s velocity relative
to the couch:
= v
= −5 cm/s + 15 cm/s
= 10 cm/s
If we didn’t have the technology of negative numbers, we would have
had to remember a complicated set of rules for adding velocities: (1)
if the two objects are both moving forward, you add, (2) if one is
moving forward and one is moving backward, you subtract, but (3)
82 Chapter 2 Velocity and relative motion
aa / Graphs of x and v ver-
sus t for a car accelerating away
from a traffic light, and then
stopping for another red light.
if they’re both moving backward, you add. What a pain that would
have been.
Solved problem: two dimensions page 89, problem 10
z / 1. The same aircraft before the disaster. 2. A Pitot tube. 3. The flight path of flight 447. 4. Wreck-
age being recovered.
Discussion questions
A Interpret the general rule v
= −v
in words.
B Wa-Chuen slips away from her father at the mall and walks up the
down escalator, so that she stays in one place. Write this in terms of
2.6 Graphs of velocity versus time
Since changes in velocity play such a prominent role in physics, we
need a better way to look at changes in velocity than by laboriously
drawing tangent lines on x-versus-t graphs. A good method is to
draw a graph of velocity versus time. The examples on the left show
the x −t and v −t graphs that might be produced by a car starting
from a traffic light, speeding up, cruising for a while at constant
speed, and finally slowing down for a stop sign. If you have an air
freshener hanging from your rear-view mirror, then you will see an
effect on the air freshener during the beginning and ending periods
when the velocity is changing, but it will not be tilted during the
period of constant velocity represented by the flat plateau in the
middle of the v −t graph.
Students often mix up the things being represented on these two
types of graphs. For instance, many students looking at the top
graph say that the car is speeding up the whole time, since “the
graph is becoming greater.” What is getting greater throughout the
graph is x, not v.
Similarly, many students would look at the bottom graph and
think it showed the car backing up, because “it’s going backwards
at the end.” But what is decreasing at the end is v, not x. Having
both the x − t and v − t graphs in front of you like this is often
convenient, because one graph may be easier to interpret than the
other for a particular purpose. Stacking them like this means that
Section 2.6 Graphs of velocity versus time 83
corresponding points on the two graphs’ time axes are lined up with
each other vertically. However, one thing that is a little counter-
intuitive about the arrangement is that in a situation like this one
involving a car, one is tempted to visualize the landscape stretching
along the horizontal axis of one of the graphs. The horizontal axes,
however, represent time, not position. The correct way to visualize
the landscape is by mentally rotating the horizon 90 degrees coun-
terclockwise and imagining it stretching along the upright axis of the
x-t graph, which is the only axis that represents different positions
in space.
Applications of calculus
The integral symbol,
, in the heading for this section indicates that
it is meant to be read by students in calculus-based physics. Stu-
dents in an algebra-based physics course should skip these sections.
The calculus-related sections in this book are meant to be usable
by students who are taking calculus concurrently, so at this early
point in the physics course I do not assume you know any calculus
yet. This section is therefore not much more than a quick preview of
calculus, to help you relate what you’re learning in the two courses.
Newton was the first person to figure out the tangent-line defi-
nition of velocity for cases where the x − t graph is nonlinear. Be-
fore Newton, nobody had conceptualized the description of motion
in terms of x − t and v − t graphs. In addition to the graphical
techniques discussed in this chapter, Newton also invented a set of
symbolic techniques called calculus. If you have an equation for x
in terms of t, calculus allows you, for instance, to find an equation
for v in terms of t. In calculus terms, we say that the function v(t)
is the derivative of the function x(t). In other words, the derivative
of a function is a new function that tells how rapidly the original
function was changing. We now use neither Newton’s name for his
technique (he called it “the method of fluxions”) nor his notation.
The more commonly used notation is due to Newton’s German con-
temporary Leibnitz, whom the English accused of plagiarizing the
calculus from Newton. In the Leibnitz notation, we write
v =
to indicate that the function v(t) equals the slope of the tangent line
of the graph of x(t) at every time t. The Leibnitz notation is meant
to evoke the delta notation, but with a very small time interval.
Because the dx and dt are thought of as very small ∆x’s and ∆t’s,
i.e., very small differences, the part of calculus that has to do with
derivatives is called differential calculus.
Differential calculus consists of three things:
• The concept and definition of the derivative, which is covered
84 Chapter 2 Velocity and relative motion
in this book, but which will be discussed more formally in your
math course.
• The Leibnitz notation described above, which you’ll need to
get more comfortable with in your math course.
• A set of rules that allows you to find an equation for the deriva-
tive of a given function. For instance, if you happened to have
a situation where the position of an object was given by the
equation x = 2t
, you would be able to use those rules to
find dx/dt = 14t
. This bag of tricks is covered in your math
Section 2.7
Applications of calculus 85
Selected vocabulary
center of mass . . the balance point of an object
velocity . . . . . . the rate of change of position; the slope of the
tangent line on an x −t graph.
x . . . . . . . . . . a point in space
t . . . . . . . . . . a point in time, a clock reading
∆ . . . . . . . . . “change in;” the value of a variable afterwards
minus its value before
∆x . . . . . . . . a distance, or more precisely a change in x,
which may be less than the distance traveled;
its plus or minus sign indicates direction
∆t . . . . . . . . . a duration of time
v . . . . . . . . . . velocity
. . . . . . . . the velocity of object A relative to object B
Other terminology and notation
displacement . . a name for the symbol ∆x
speed . . . . . . . the absolute value of the velocity, i.e., the ve-
locity stripped of any information about its
An object’s center of mass is the point at which it can be bal-
anced. For the time being, we are studying the mathematical de-
scription only of the motion of an object’s center of mass in cases
restricted to one dimension. The motion of an object’s center of
mass is usually far simpler than the motion of any of its other parts.
It is important to distinguish location, x, from distance, ∆x,
and clock reading, t, from time interval ∆t. When an object’s x −t
graph is linear, we define its velocity as the slope of the line, ∆x/∆t.
When the graph is curved, we generalize the definition so that the
velocity is the slope of the tangent line at a given point on the graph.
Galileo’s principle of inertia states that no force is required to
maintain motion with constant velocity in a straight line, and abso-
lute motion does not cause any observable physical effects. Things
typically tend to reduce their velocity relative to the surface of our
planet only because they are physically rubbing against the planet
(or something attached to the planet), not because there is anything
special about being at rest with respect to the earth’s surface. When
it seems, for instance, that a force is required to keep a book sliding
across a table, in fact the force is only serving to cancel the contrary
force of friction.
Absolute motion is not a well-defined concept, and if two ob-
servers are not at rest relative to one another they will disagree
about the absolute velocities of objects. They will, however, agree
86 Chapter 2 Velocity and relative motion
about relative velocities. If object A is in motion relative to object
B, and B is in motion relative to C, then A’s velocity relative to C
is given by v
= v
+ v
. Positive and negative signs are used
to indicate the direction of an object’s motion.
Summary 87
Problem 1.
Problem 7.

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 The graph shows the motion of a car stuck in stop-and-go
freeway traffic. (a) If you only knew how far the car had gone
during this entire time period, what would you think its velocity
was? (b) What is the car’s maximum velocity?

2 (a) Let θ be the latitude of a point on the Earth’s surface.
Derive an algebra equation for the distance, L, traveled by that
point during one rotation of the Earth about its axis, i.e., over one
day, expressed in terms of θ and R, the radius of the earth. Check:
Your equation should give L = 0 for the North Pole.
(b) At what speed is Fullerton, at latitude θ = 34

, moving with
the rotation of the Earth about its axis? Give your answer in units
of mi/h. [See the table in the back of the book for the relevant

3 A person is parachute jumping. During the time between
when she leaps out of the plane and when she opens her chute, her
altitude is given by the equation
y = (10000 m) −(50 m/s)
t + (5.0 s)e
−t/5.0 s
Find her velocity at t = 7.0 s. (This can be done on a calculator,
without knowing calculus.) Because of air resistance, her velocity
does not increase at a steady rate as it would for an object falling
in vacuum.

4 A light-year is a unit of distance used in astronomy, and defined
as the distance light travels in one year. The speed of light is 3.0×10
m/s. Find how many meters there are in one light-year, expressing
your answer in scientific notation. Solution, p. 509
5 You’re standing in a freight train, and have no way to see out.
If you have to lean to stay on your feet, what, if anything, does that
tell you about the train’s velocity? Explain. Solution, p. 509
6 A honeybee’s position as a function of time is given by x =
10t −t
, where t is in seconds and x in meters. What is its velocity
at t = 3.0 s?
√ _
7 The figure shows the motion of a point on the rim of a rolling
wheel. (The shape is called a cycloid.) Suppose bug A is riding on
the rim of the wheel on a bicycle that is rolling, while bug B is on
the spinning wheel of a bike that is sitting upside down on the floor.
Bug A is moving along a cycloid, while bug B is moving in a circle.
Both wheels are doing the same number of revolutions per minute.
Which bug has a harder time holding on, or do they find it equally
88 Chapter 2 Velocity and relative motion
Problem 8.
difficult? Solution, p. 509
8 Peanut plants fold up their leaves at night. Estimate the top
speed of the tip of one of the leaves shown in the figure, expressing
your result in scientific notation in SI units.

9 (a) Translate the following information into symbols, using
the notation with two subscripts introduced in section 2.5. Eowyn
is riding on her horse at a velocity of 11 m/s. She twists around in
her saddle and fires an arrow backward. Her bow fires arrows at 25
m/s. (b) Find the velocity of the arrow relative to the ground.
10 Our full discussion of two- and three-dimensional motion is
postponed until the second half of the book, but here is a chance to
use a little mathematical creativity in anticipation of that general-
ization. Suppose a ship is sailing east at a certain speed v, and a
passenger is walking across the deck at the same speed v, so that
his track across the deck is perpendicular to the ship’s center-line.
What is his speed relative to the water, and in what direction is he
moving relative to the water? Solution, p. 509
11 Freddi Fish
has a position as a function of time given
by x = a/(b + t
). (a) Infer the units of the constants a and b. (b)
Find her maximum speed. (c) Check that your answer has the right
√ _
12 Driving along in your car, you take your foot off the gas,
and your speedometer shows a reduction in speed. Describe a frame
of reference in which your car was speeding up during that same
period of time. (The frame of reference should be defined by an
observer who, although perhaps in motion relative to the earth, is
not changing her own speed or direction of motion.)
13 The figure shows the motion of a bluefin tuna, as measured
by a radio tag (Block et al., Nature, v. 434, p. 1121, 2005), over
the course of several years. Until this study, it had been believed
that the populations of the fish in the eastern and western Atlantic
were separate, but this particular fish was observed to cross the
entire Atlantic Ocean, from Virginia to Ireland. Points A, B, and C
show a period of one month, during which the fish made the most
rapid progress. Estimate its speed during that month, in units of
kilometers per hour.

Problems 89
Problem 13.
90 Chapter 2 Velocity and relative motion
Galileo’s contradiction of Aristotle had serious consequences. He was
interrogated by the Church authorities and convicted of teaching that the
earth went around the sun as a matter of fact and not, as he had promised
previously, as a mere mathematical hypothesis. He was placed under per-
manent house arrest, and forbidden to write about or teach his theories.
Immediately after being forced to recant his claim that the earth revolved
around the sun, the old man is said to have muttered defiantly “and yet
it does move.” The story is dramatic, but there are some omissions in
the commonly taught heroic version. There was a rumor that the Sim-
plicio character represented the Pope. Also, some of the ideas Galileo
advocated had controversial religious overtones. He believed in the exis-
tence of atoms, and atomism was thought by some people to contradict
the Church’s doctrine of transubstantiation, which said that in the Catholic
mass, the blessing of the bread and wine literally transformed them into
the flesh and blood of Christ. His support for a cosmology in which the
earth circled the sun was also disreputable because one of its support-
ers, Giordano Bruno, had also proposed a bizarre synthesis of Christianity
with the ancient Egyptian religion.
Chapter 3
Acceleration and free fall
3.1 The motion of falling objects
The motion of falling objects is the simplest and most common
example of motion with changing velocity. The early pioneers of
a / Galileo dropped a cannonball
and a musketball simultaneously
from a tower, and observed that
they hit the ground at nearly the
same time. This contradicted
Aristotle’s long-accepted idea
that heavier objects fell faster.
physics had a correct intuition that the way things drop was a mes-
sage directly from Nature herself about how the universe worked.
Other examples seem less likely to have deep significance. A walking
person who speeds up is making a conscious choice. If one stretch of
a river flows more rapidly than another, it may be only because the
channel is narrower there, which is just an accident of the local ge-
ography. But there is something impressively consistent, universal,
and inexorable about the way things fall.
Stand up now and simultaneously drop a coin and a bit of paper
side by side. The paper takes much longer to hit the ground. That’s
why Aristotle wrote that heavy objects fell more rapidly. Europeans
believed him for two thousand years.
Now repeat the experiment, but make it into a race between the
coin and your shoe. My own shoe is about 50 times heavier than
the nickel I had handy, but it looks to me like they hit the ground at
exactly the same moment. So much for Aristotle! Galileo, who had
a flair for the theatrical, did the experiment by dropping a bullet
and a heavy cannonball from a tall tower. Aristotle’s observations
had been incomplete, his interpretation a vast oversimplification.
It is inconceivable that Galileo was the first person to observe a
discrepancy with Aristotle’s predictions. Galileo was the one who
changed the course of history because he was able to assemble the
observations into a coherent pattern, and also because he carried
out systematic quantitative (numerical) measurements rather than
just describing things qualitatively.
Why is it that some objects, like the coin and the shoe, have sim-
ilar motion, but others, like a feather or a bit of paper, are different?
Galileo speculated that in addition to the force that always pulls ob-
jects down, there was an upward force exerted by the air. Anyone
can speculate, but Galileo went beyond speculation and came up
with two clever experiments to probe the issue. First, he experi-
mented with objects falling in water, which probed the same issues
but made the motion slow enough that he could take time measure-
ments with a primitive pendulum clock. With this technique, he
established the following facts:
• All heavy, streamlined objects (for example a steel rod dropped
point-down) reach the bottom of the tank in about the same
amount of time, only slightly longer than the time they would
take to fall the same distance in air.
• Objects that are lighter or less streamlined take a longer time
to reach the bottom.
This supported his hypothesis about two contrary forces. He
imagined an idealized situation in which the falling object did not
92 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
c / The v − t graph of a falling
object is a line.
have to push its way through any substance at all. Falling in air
would be more like this ideal case than falling in water, but even
a thin, sparse medium like air would be sufficient to cause obvious
effects on feathers and other light objects that were not streamlined.
Today, we have vacuum pumps that allow us to suck nearly all the
air out of a chamber, and if we drop a feather and a rock side by
side in a vacuum, the feather does not lag behind the rock at all.
How the speed of a falling object increases with time
Galileo’s second stroke of genius was to find a way to make quan-
titative measurements of how the speed of a falling object increased
as it went along. Again it was problematic to make sufficiently accu-
rate time measurements with primitive clocks, and again he found a
tricky way to slow things down while preserving the essential physi-
cal phenomena: he let a ball roll down a slope instead of dropping it
vertically. The steeper the incline, the more rapidly the ball would
gain speed. Without a modern video camera, Galileo had invented
a way to make a slow-motion version of falling.
b / Velocity increases more gradually on the gentle slope, but the
motion is otherwise the same as the motion of a falling object.
Although Galileo’s clocks were only good enough to do accurate
experiments at the smaller angles, he was confident after making
a systematic study at a variety of small angles that his basic con-
clusions were generally valid. Stated in modern language, what he
found was that the velocity-versus-time graph was a line. In the lan-
guage of algebra, we know that a line has an equation of the form
y = ax +b, but our variables are v and t, so it would be v = at +b.
(The constant b can be interpreted simply as the initial velocity of
the object, i.e., its velocity at the time when we started our clock,
which we conventionally write as v
self-check A
An object is rolling down an incline. After it has been rolling for a short
time, it is found to travel 13 cm during a certain one-second interval.
During the second after that, if goes 16 cm. How many cm will it travel
in the second after that? Answer, p. 523
Section 3.1 The motion of falling objects 93
d / Galileo’s experiments show
that all falling objects have the
same motion if air resistance is
e / 1. Aristotle said that heavier
objects fell faster than lighter
ones. 2. If two rocks are tied
together, that makes an extra-
heavy rock, which should fall
faster. 3. But Aristotle’s theory
would also predict that the light
rock would hold back the heavy
rock, resulting in a slower fall.
A contradiction in Aristotle’s reasoning
Galileo’s inclined-plane experiment disproved the long-accepted
claim by Aristotle that a falling object had a definite “natural falling
speed” proportional to its weight. Galileo had found that the speed
just kept on increasing, and weight was irrelevant as long as air
friction was negligible. Not only did Galileo prove experimentally
that Aristotle had been wrong, but he also pointed out a logical
contradiction in Aristotle’s own reasoning. Simplicio, the stupid
character, mouths the accepted Aristotelian wisdom:
SIMPLICIO: There can be no doubt but that a particular body
. . . has a fixed velocity which is determined by nature. . .
SALVIATI: If then we take two bodies whose natural speeds
are different, it is clear that, [according to Aristotle], on unit-
ing the two, the more rapid one will be partly held back by
the slower, and the slower will be somewhat hastened by the
swifter. Do you not agree with me in this opinion?
SIMPLICIO: You are unquestionably right.
SALVIATI: But if this is true, and if a large stone moves with a
speed of, say, eight [unspecified units] while a smaller moves
with a speed of four, then when they are united, the system
will move with a speed less than eight; but the two stones
when tied together make a stone larger than that which before
moved with a speed of eight. Hence the heavier body moves
with less speed than the lighter; an effect which is contrary to
your supposition. Thus you see how, from your assumption
that the heavier body moves more rapidly than the lighter one,
I infer that the heavier body moves more slowly.
What is gravity?
The physicist Richard Feynman liked to tell a story about how
when he was a little kid, he asked his father, “Why do things fall?”
As an adult, he praised his father for answering, “Nobody knows why
things fall. It’s a deep mystery, and the smartest people in the world
don’t know the basic reason for it.” Contrast that with the average
person’s off-the-cuff answer, “Oh, it’s because of gravity.” Feynman
liked his father’s answer, because his father realized that simply
giving a name to something didn’t mean that you understood it.
The radical thing about Galileo’s and Newton’s approach to science
was that they concentrated first on describing mathematically what
really did happen, rather than spending a lot of time on untestable
speculation such as Aristotle’s statement that “Things fall because
they are trying to reach their natural place in contact with the
earth.” That doesn’t mean that science can never answer the “why”
questions. Over the next month or two as you delve deeper into
physics, you will learn that there are more fundamental reasons why
all falling objects have v −t graphs with the same slope, regardless
94 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
f / Example 1.
g / Example 2.
of their mass. Nevertheless, the methods of science always impose
limits on how deep our explanation can go.
3.2 Acceleration
Definition of acceleration for linear v −t graphs
Galileo’s experiment with dropping heavy and light objects from
a tower showed that all falling objects have the same motion, and his
inclined-plane experiments showed that the motion was described by
v = at+v
. The initial velocity v
depends on whether you drop the
object from rest or throw it down, but even if you throw it down,
you cannot change the slope, a, of the v −t graph.
Since these experiments show that all falling objects have lin-
ear v − t graphs with the same slope, the slope of such a graph is
apparently an important and useful quantity. We use the word accel-
eration, and the symbol a, for the slope of such a graph. In symbols,
a = ∆v/∆t. The acceleration can be interpreted as the amount of
speed gained in every second, and it has units of velocity divided by
time, i.e., “meters per second per second,” or m/s/s. Continuing to
treat units as if they were algebra symbols, we simplify “m/s/s” to
read “m/s
.” Acceleration can be a useful quantity for describing
other types of motion besides falling, and the word and the symbol
“a” can be used in a more general context. We reserve the more
specialized symbol “g” for the acceleration of falling objects, which
on the surface of our planet equals 9.8 m/s
. Often when doing
approximate calculations or merely illustrative numerical examples
it is good enough to use g = 10 m/s
, which is off by only 2%.
Finding final speed, given time example 1
A despondent physics student jumps off a bridge, and falls for
three seconds before hitting the water. How fast is he going when
he hits the water?
Approximating g as 10 m/s
, he will gain 10 m/s of speed each
second. After one second, his velocity is 10 m/s, after two sec-
onds it is 20 m/s, and on impact, after falling for three seconds,
he is moving at 30 m/s.
Extracting acceleration from a graph example 2
The x − t and v − t graphs show the motion of a car starting
from a stop sign. What is the car’s acceleration?
Acceleration is defined as the slope of the v-t graph. The graph
rises by 3 m/s during a time interval of 3 s, so the acceleration is
(3 m/s)/(3 s) = 1 m/s
Incorrect solution #1: The final velocity is 3 m/s, and acceleration
is velocity divided by time, so the acceleration is (3 m/s)/(10 s) =
0.3 m/s
Section 3.2 Acceleration 95
The solution is incorrect because you can’t find the slope of a
graph from one point. This person was just using the point at the
right end of the v-t graph to try to find the slope of the curve.
Incorrect solution #2: Velocity is distance divided by time so v =
(4.5 m)/(3 s) = 1.5 m/s. Acceleration is velocity divided by time,
so a = (1.5 m/s)/(3 s) = 0.5 m/s
The solution is incorrect because velocity is the slope of the
tangent line. In a case like this where the velocity is changing,
you can’t just pick two points on the x-t graph and use them to
find the velocity.
Converting g to different units example 3
What is g in units of cm/s
The answer is going to be how many cm/s of speed a falling
object gains in one second. If it gains 9.8 m/s in one second, then
it gains 980 cm/s in one second, so g = 980 cm/s
. Alternatively,
we can use the method of fractions that equal one:
&& m
100 cm
&& m
980 cm
What is g in units of miles/hour

9.8 m
1 mile
1600 m
3600 s
1 hour
= 7.9 ×10
This large number can be interpreted as the speed, in miles per
hour, that you would gain by falling for one hour. Note that we had
to square the conversion factor of 3600 s/hour in order to cancel
out the units of seconds squared in the denominator.
What is g in units of miles/hour/s?

9.8 m
1 mile
1600 m
3600 s
1 hour
= 22 mile/hour/s
This is a figure that Americans will have an intuitive feel for. If
your car has a forward acceleration equal to the acceleration of a
falling object, then you will gain 22 miles per hour of speed every
second. However, using mixed time units of hours and seconds
like this is usually inconvenient for problem-solving. It would be
like using units of foot-inches for area instead of ft
or in
The acceleration of gravity is different in different locations.
Everyone knows that gravity is weaker on the moon, but actu-
ally it is not even the same everywhere on Earth, as shown by the
sampling of numerical data in the following table.
96 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
location latitude elevation (m) g (m/s
north pole 90

N 0 9.8322
Reykjavik, Iceland 64

N 0 9.8225
Guayaquil, Ecuador 2

S 0 9.7806
Mt. Cotopaxi, Ecuador 1

S 5896 9.7624
Mt. Everest 28

N 8848 9.7643
The main variables that relate to the value of g on Earth are latitude
and elevation. Although you have not yet learned how g would
be calculated based on any deeper theory of gravity, it is not too
hard to guess why g depends on elevation. Gravity is an attraction
between things that have mass, and the attraction gets weaker with
increasing distance. As you ascend from the seaport of Guayaquil
to the nearby top of Mt. Cotopaxi, you are distancing yourself from
the mass of the planet. The dependence on latitude occurs because
we are measuring the acceleration of gravity relative to the earth’s
surface, but the earth’s rotation causes the earth’s surface to fall
out from under you. (We will discuss both gravity and rotation in
more detail later in the course.)
h / This false-color map shows
variations in the strength of the
earth’s gravity. Purple areas have
the strongest gravity, yellow the
weakest. The overall trend toward
weaker gravity at the equator and
stronger gravity at the poles has
been artificially removed to al-
low the weaker local variations to
show up. The map covers only
the oceans because of the tech-
nique used to make it: satellites
look for bulges and depressions
in the surface of the ocean. A
very slight bulge will occur over an
undersea mountain, for instance,
because the mountain’s gravita-
tional attraction pulls water to-
ward it. The US government orig-
inally began collecting data like
these for military use, to correct
for the deviations in the paths of
missiles. The data have recently
been released for scientific and
commercial use (e.g., searching
for sites for off-shore oil wells).
Much more spectacular differences in the strength of gravity can
be observed away from the Earth’s surface:
Section 3.2 Acceleration 97
location g (m/s
asteroid Vesta (surface) 0.3
Earth’s moon (surface) 1.6
Mars (surface) 3.7
Earth (surface) 9.8
Jupiter (cloud-tops) 26
Sun (visible surface) 270
typical neutron star (surface) 10
black hole (center) infinite according to some theo-
ries, on the order of 10
ing to others
A typical neutron star is not so different in size from a large asteroid,
but is orders of magnitude more massive, so the mass of a body
definitely correlates with the g it creates. On the other hand, a
neutron star has about the same mass as our Sun, so why is its g
billions of times greater? If you had the misfortune of being on the
surface of a neutron star, you’d be within a few thousand miles of all
its mass, whereas on the surface of the Sun, you’d still be millions
of miles from most of its mass.
Discussion questions
A What is wrong with the following definitions of g?
(1) “g is gravity.”
(2) “g is the speed of a falling object.”
(3) “g is how hard gravity pulls on things.”
B When advertisers specify how much acceleration a car is capable
of, they do not give an acceleration as defined in physics. Instead, they
usually specify how many seconds are required for the car to go from rest
to 60 miles/hour. Suppose we use the notation “a” for the acceleration as
defined in physics, and “a
car ad
” for the quantity used in advertisements for
cars. In the US’s non-metric system of units, what would be the units of
a and a
car ad
? How would the use and interpretation of large and small,
positive and negative values be different for a as opposed to a
car ad
C Two people stand on the edge of a cliff. As they lean over the edge,
one person throws a rock down, while the other throws one straight up
with an exactly opposite initial velocity. Compare the speeds of the rocks
on impact at the bottom of the cliff.
3.3 Positive and negative acceleration
Gravity always pulls down, but that does not mean it always speeds
things up. If you throw a ball straight up, gravity will first slow
it down to v = 0 and then begin increasing its speed. When I
took physics in high school, I got the impression that positive signs
of acceleration indicated speeding up, while negative accelerations
represented slowing down, i.e., deceleration. Such a definition would
be inconvenient, however, because we would then have to say that
the same downward tug of gravity could produce either a positive
98 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
i / The ball’s acceleration stays
the same — on the way up, at the
top, and on the way back down.
It’s always negative.
or a negative acceleration. As we will see in the following example,
such a definition also would not be the same as the slope of the v −t
Let’s study the example of the rising and falling ball. In the ex-
ample of the person falling from a bridge, I assumed positive velocity
values without calling attention to it, which meant I was assuming
a coordinate system whose x axis pointed down. In this example,
where the ball is reversing direction, it is not possible to avoid neg-
ative velocities by a tricky choice of axis, so let’s make the more
natural choice of an axis pointing up. The ball’s velocity will ini-
tially be a positive number, because it is heading up, in the same
direction as the x axis, but on the way back down, it will be a neg-
ative number. As shown in the figure, the v − t graph does not do
anything special at the top of the ball’s flight, where v equals 0. Its
slope is always negative. In the left half of the graph, there is a
negative slope because the positive velocity is getting closer to zero.
On the right side, the negative slope is due to a negative velocity
that is getting farther from zero, so we say that the ball is speeding
up, but its velocity is decreasing!
To summarize, what makes the most sense is to stick with the
original definition of acceleration as the slope of the v − t graph,
∆v/∆t. By this definition, it just isn’t necessarily true that things
speeding up have positive acceleration while things slowing down
have negative acceleration. The word “deceleration” is not used
much by physicists, and the word “acceleration” is used unblush-
ingly to refer to slowing down as well as speeding up: “There was a
red light, and we accelerated to a stop.”
Numerical calculation of a negative acceleration example 4
In figure i, what happens if you calculate the acceleration be-
tween t = 1.0 and 1.5 s?
Reading from the graph, it looks like the velocity is about −1 m/s
at t = 1.0 s, and around −6 m/s at t = 1.5 s. The acceleration,
figured between these two points, is
a =
(−6 m/s) −(−1 m/s)
(1.5 s) −(1.0 s)
= −10 m/s
Even though the ball is speeding up, it has a negative accelera-
Another way of convincing you that this way of handling the plus
and minus signs makes sense is to think of a device that measures
acceleration. After all, physics is supposed to use operational defini-
tions, ones that relate to the results you get with actual measuring
devices. Consider an air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror
of your car. When you speed up, the air freshener swings backward.
Suppose we define this as a positive reading. When you slow down,
the air freshener swings forward, so we’ll call this a negative reading
Section 3.3 Positive and negative acceleration 99
on our accelerometer. But what if you put the car in reverse and
start speeding up backwards? Even though you’re speeding up, the
accelerometer responds in the same way as it did when you were
going forward and slowing down. There are four possible cases:
motion of car accelerometer
slope of
v-t graph
of force
acting on
forward, speeding up backward + forward
forward, slowing down forward − backward
backward, speeding up forward − backward
backward, slowing down backward + forward
Note the consistency of the three right-hand columns — nature is
trying to tell us that this is the right system of classification, not
the left-hand column.
Because the positive and negative signs of acceleration depend
on the choice of a coordinate system, the acceleration of an object
under the influence of gravity can be either positive or negative.
Rather than having to write things like “g = 9.8 m/s
or −9.8 m/s

every time we want to discuss g’s numerical value, we simply define
g as the absolute value of the acceleration of objects moving under
the influence of gravity. We consistently let g = 9.8 m/s
, but we
may have either a = g or a = −g, depending on our choice of a
coordinate system.
Acceleration with a change in direction of motion example 5
A person kicks a ball, which rolls up a sloping street, comes to
a halt, and rolls back down again. The ball has constant accel-
eration. The ball is initially moving at a velocity of 4.0 m/s, and
after 10.0 s it has returned to where it started. At the end, it has
sped back up to the same speed it had initially, but in the opposite
direction. What was its acceleration?
By giving a positive number for the initial velocity, the statement
of the question implies a coordinate axis that points up the slope
of the hill. The “same” speed in the opposite direction should
therefore be represented by a negative number, -4.0 m/s. The
acceleration is
a = ∆v/∆t
= (v
)/10.0 s
= [(−4.0 m/s) −(4.0 m/s)]/10.0s
= −0.80 m/s
The acceleration was no different during the upward part of the
roll than on the downward part of the roll.
Incorrect solution: Acceleration is ∆v/∆t, and at the end it’s not
moving any faster or slower than when it started, so ∆v=0 and
100 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
Discussion question C.
a = 0.
The velocity does change, from a positive number to a negative
Discussion question B.
Discussion questions
A A child repeatedly jumps up and down on a trampoline. Discuss the
sign and magnitude of his acceleration, including both the time when he is
in the air and the time when his feet are in contact with the trampoline.
B The figure shows a refugee from a Picasso painting blowing on a
rolling water bottle. In some cases the person’s blowing is speeding the
bottle up, but in others it is slowing it down. The arrow inside the bottle
shows which direction it is going, and a coordinate system is shown at the
bottom of each figure. In each case, figure out the plus or minus signs of
the velocity and acceleration. It may be helpful to draw a v − t graph in
each case.
C Sally is on an amusement park ride which begins with her chair being
hoisted straight up a tower at a constant speed of 60 miles/hour. Despite
stern warnings from her father that he’ll take her home the next time she
misbehaves, she decides that as a scientific experiment she really needs
to release her corndog over the side as she’s on the way up. She does
not throw it. She simply sticks it out of the car, lets it go, and watches it
against the background of the sky, with no trees or buildings as reference
points. What does the corndog’s motion look like as observed by Sally?
Does its speed ever appear to her to be zero? What acceleration does
she observe it to have: is it ever positive? negative? zero? What would
her enraged father answer if asked for a similar description of its motion
as it appears to him, standing on the ground?
D Can an object maintain a constant acceleration, but meanwhile
reverse the direction of its velocity?
E Can an object have a velocity that is positive and increasing at the
same time that its acceleration is decreasing?
Section 3.3 Positive and negative acceleration 101
k / Example 6.
3.4 Varying acceleration
So far we have only been discussing examples of motion for which
the v − t graph is linear. If we wish to generalize our definition to
v-t graphs that are more complex curves, the best way to proceed
is similar to how we defined velocity for curved x −t graphs:
definition of acceleration
The acceleration of an object at any instant is the slope of
the tangent line passing through its v-versus-t graph at the
relevant point.
A skydiver example 6
The graphs in figure k show the results of a fairly realistic com-
puter simulation of the motion of a skydiver, including the effects
of air friction. The x axis has been chosen pointing down, so x
is increasing as she falls. Find (a) the skydiver’s acceleration at
t = 3.0 s, and also (b) at t = 7.0 s.
The solution is shown in figure l. I’ve added tangent lines at the
two points in question.
(a) To find the slope of the tangent line, I pick two points on the
line (not necessarily on the actual curve): (3.0 s, 28m/s) and
(5.0 s, 42 m/s). The slope of the tangent line is (42 m/s−28 m/s)/(5.0 s−
3.0 s) = 7.0 m/s
(b) Two points on this tangent line are (7.0 s, 47 m/s) and (9.0 s, 52 m/s).
The slope of the tangent line is (52 m/s−47 m/s)/(9.0 s−7.0 s) =
2.5 m/s
Physically, what’s happening is that at t = 3.0 s, the skydiver is
not yet going very fast, so air friction is not yet very strong. She
therefore has an acceleration almost as great as g. At t = 7.0 s,
she is moving almost twice as fast (about 100 miles per hour), and
air friction is extremely strong, resulting in a significant departure
from the idealized case of no air friction.
In example 6, the x−t graph was not even used in the solution of
the problem, since the definition of acceleration refers to the slope
of the v − t graph. It is possible, however, to interpret an x − t
graph to find out something about the acceleration. An object with
zero acceleration, i.e., constant velocity, has an x−t graph that is a
straight line. A straight line has no curvature. A change in velocity
requires a change in the slope of the x −t graph, which means that
it is a curve rather than a line. Thus acceleration relates to the
curvature of the x −t graph. Figure m shows some examples.
102 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
l / The solution to example 6.
In example 6, the x − t graph was more strongly curved at the
beginning, and became nearly straight at the end. If the x−t graph
is nearly straight, then its slope, the velocity, is nearly constant, and
the acceleration is therefore small. We can thus interpret the accel-
eration as representing the curvature of the x − t graph, as shown
in figure m. If the “cup” of the curve points up, the acceleration is
positive, and if it points down, the acceleration is negative.
m / Acceleration relates to the curvature of the x −t graph.
Section 3.4 Varying acceleration 103
o / How position, velocity, and
acceleration are related.
Since the relationship between a and v is analogous to the rela-
tionship between v and x, we can also make graphs of acceleration
as a function of time, as shown in figure n.
n / Examples of graphs of x, v, and a versus t . 1. A object in free
fall, with no friction. 2. A continuation of example 6, the skydiver.
Solved problem: Drawing a v −t graph. page 115, problem 14
Solved problem: Drawing v −t and a −t graphs. page 116, problem
Figure o summarizes the relationships among the three types of
Discussion questions
A Describe in words how the changes in the a − t graph in figure n/2
relate to the behavior of the v −t graph.
104 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
B Explain how each set of graphs contains inconsistencies, and fix
C In each case, pick a coordinate system and draw x − t , v − t , and
a −t graphs. Picking a coordinate system means picking where you want
x = 0 to be, and also picking a direction for the positive x axis.
(1) An ocean liner is cruising in a straight line at constant speed.
(2) You drop a ball. Draw two different sets of graphs (a total of 6), with
one set’s positive x axis pointing in the opposite direction compared to the
(3) You’re driving down the street looking for a house you’ve never been
to before. You realize you’ve passed the address, so you slow down, put
the car in reverse, back up, and stop in front of the house.
3.5 The area under the velocity-time graph
A natural question to ask about falling objects is how fast they fall,
but Galileo showed that the question has no answer. The physical
law that he discovered connects a cause (the attraction of the planet
Earth’s mass) to an effect, but the effect is predicted in terms of an
acceleration rather than a velocity. In fact, no physical law predicts
a definite velocity as a result of a specific phenomenon, because
velocity cannot be measured in absolute terms, and only changes in
velocity relate directly to physical phenomena.
The unfortunate thing about this situation is that the definitions
of velocity and acceleration are stated in terms of the tangent-line
technique, which lets you go from x to v to a, but not the other
way around. Without a technique to go backwards from a to v to x,
we cannot say anything quantitative, for instance, about the x − t
graph of a falling object. Such a technique does exist, and I used it
to make the x −t graphs in all the examples above.
Section 3.5 The area under the velocity-time graph 105
p / The area under the v − t
graph gives ∆x.
First let’s concentrate on how to get x information out of a v −t
graph. In example p/1, an object moves at a speed of 20 m/s for
a period of 4.0 s. The distance covered is ∆x = v∆t = (20 m/s) ×
(4.0 s) = 80 m. Notice that the quantities being multiplied are the
width and the height of the shaded rectangle — or, strictly speaking,
the time represented by its width and the velocity represented by
its height. The distance of ∆x = 80 m thus corresponds to the area
of the shaded part of the graph.
The next step in sophistication is an example like p/2, where the
object moves at a constant speed of 10 m/s for two seconds, then
for two seconds at a different constant speed of 20 m/s. The shaded
region can be split into a small rectangle on the left, with an area
representing ∆x = 20 m, and a taller one on the right, corresponding
to another 40 m of motion. The total distance is thus 60 m, which
corresponds to the total area under the graph.
An example like p/3 is now just a trivial generalization; there
is simply a large number of skinny rectangular areas to add up.
But notice that graph p/3 is quite a good approximation to the
smooth curve p/4. Even though we have no formula for the area of
a funny shape like p/4, we can approximate its area by dividing it up
into smaller areas like rectangles, whose area is easier to calculate.
If someone hands you a graph like p/4 and asks you to find the
area under it, the simplest approach is just to count up the little
rectangles on the underlying graph paper, making rough estimates
of fractional rectangles as you go along.
That’s what I’ve done in figure q. Each rectangle on the graph
paper is 1.0 s wide and 2 m/s tall, so it represents 2 m. Adding up
all the numbers gives ∆x = 41 m. If you needed better accuracy,
you could use graph paper with smaller rectangles.
It’s important to realize that this technique gives you ∆x, not
x. The v −t graph has no information about where the object was
when it started.
The following are important points to keep in mind when apply-
ing this technique:
• If the range of v values on your graph does not extend down
to zero, then you will get the wrong answer unless you com-
pensate by adding in the area that is not shown.
• As in the example, one rectangle on the graph paper does not
necessarily correspond to one meter of distance.
• Negative velocity values represent motion in the opposite di-
rection, so as suggested by figure r, area under the t axis should
be subtracted, i.e., counted as “negative area.”
106 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
r / Area underneath the axis
is considered negative.
q / An example using estimation
of fractions of a rectangle.
• Since the result is a ∆x value, it only tells you x
which may be less than the actual distance traveled. For in-
stance, the object could come back to its original position at
the end, which would correspond to ∆x=0, even though it had
actually moved a nonzero distance.
Finally, note that one can find ∆v from an a − t graph using
an entirely analogous method. Each rectangle on the a − t graph
represents a certain amount of velocity change.
Discussion question
A Roughly what would a pendulum’s v −t graph look like? What would
happen when you applied the area-under-the-curve technique to find the
pendulum’s ∆x for a time period covering many swings?
3.6 Algebraic results for constant acceleration
Although the area-under-the-curve technique can be applied to any
graph, no matter how complicated, it may be laborious to carry out,
and if fractions of rectangles must be estimated the result will only
be approximate. In the special case of motion with constant accel-
eration, it is possible to find a convenient shortcut which produces
exact results. When the acceleration is constant, the v − t graph
Section 3.6 Algebraic results for constant acceleration 107
s / The shaded area tells us
how far an object moves while
accelerating at a constant rate.
is a straight line, as shown in the figure. The area under the curve
can be divided into a triangle plus a rectangle, both of whose areas
can be calculated exactly: A = bh for a rectangle and A = bh/2
for a triangle. The height of the rectangle is the initial velocity, v
and the height of the triangle is the change in velocity from begin-
ning to end, ∆v. The object’s ∆x is therefore given by the equation
∆x = v
∆t + ∆v∆t/2. This can be simplified a little by using the
definition of acceleration, a = ∆v/∆t, to eliminate ∆v, giving
∆x = v
∆t +
. [motion with
constant acceleration]
Since this is a second-order polynomial in ∆t, the graph of ∆x versus
∆t is a parabola, and the same is true of a graph of x versus t —
the two graphs differ only by shifting along the two axes. Although
I have derived the equation using a figure that shows a positive v
positive a, and so on, it still turns out to be true regardless of what
plus and minus signs are involved.
Another useful equation can be derived if one wants to relate
the change in velocity to the distance traveled. This is useful, for
instance, for finding the distance needed by a car to come to a stop.
For simplicity, we start by deriving the equation for the special case
of v
= 0, in which the final velocity v
is a synonym for ∆v. Since
velocity and distance are the variables of interest, not time, we take
the equation ∆x =
and use ∆t = ∆v/a to eliminate ∆t. This
gives ∆x = (∆v)
/2a, which can be rewritten as
= 2a∆x . [motion with constant acceleration, v
= 0]
For the more general case where v
= 0, we skip the tedious algebra
leading to the more general equation,
= v
+ 2a∆x . [motion with constant acceleration]
108 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
To help get this all organized in your head, first let’s categorize
the variables as follows:
Variables that change during motion with constant acceleration:
x ,v, t
Variable that doesn’t change:
If you know one of the changing variables and want to find another,
there is always an equation that relates those two:
The symmetry among the three variables is imperfect only be-
cause the equation relating x and t includes the initial velocity.
There are two main difficulties encountered by students in ap-
plying these equations:
• The equations apply only to motion with constant accelera-
tion. You can’t apply them if the acceleration is changing.
• Students are often unsure of which equation to use, or may
cause themselves unnecessary work by taking the longer path
around the triangle in the chart above. Organize your thoughts
by listing the variables you are given, the ones you want to
find, and the ones you aren’t given and don’t care about.
Saving an old lady example 7
You are trying to pull an old lady out of the way of an oncoming
truck. You are able to give her an acceleration of 20 m/s
. Start-
ing from rest, how much time is required in order to move her 2
First we organize our thoughts:
Variables given: ∆x, a, v
Variables desired: ∆t
Irrelevant variables: v
Consulting the triangular chart above, the equation we need is
clearly ∆x = v
∆t +
, since it has the four variables of interest
Section 3.6 Algebraic results for constant acceleration 109
and omits the irrelevant one. Eliminating the v
term and solving
for ∆t gives ∆t =
2∆x/a = 0.4 s.
Solved problem: A stupid celebration page 115, problem 15
Solved problem: Dropping a rock on Mars page 115, problem 16
Solved problem: The Dodge Viper page 116, problem 18
Solved problem: Half-way sped up page 116, problem 22
Discussion questions
A In chapter 1, I gave examples of correct and incorrect reasoning
about proportionality, using questions about the scaling of area and vol-
ume. Try to translate the incorrect modes of reasoning shown there into
mistakes about the following question: If the acceleration of gravity on
Mars is 1/3 that on Earth, how many times longer does it take for a rock
to drop the same distance on Mars?
B Check that the units make sense in the three equations derived in
this section.
Applications of calculus
In section 2.7, I discussed how the slope-of-the-tangent-line idea
related to the calculus concept of a derivative, and the branch of
calculus known as differential calculus. The other main branch of
calculus, integral calculus, has to do with the area-under-the-curve
concept discussed in section 3.5. Again there is a concept, a nota-
tion, and a bag of tricks for doing things symbolically rather than
graphically. In calculus, the area under the v − t graph between
t = t
and t = t
is notated like this:
area under curve = ∆x =
vdt .
The expression on the right is called an integral, and the s-shaped
symbol, the integral sign, is read as “integral of . . . ”
Integral calculus and differential calculus are closely related. For
instance, if you take the derivative of the function x(t), you get
the function v(t), and if you integrate the function v(t), you get
x(t) back again. In other words, integration and differentiation are
inverse operations. This is known as the fundamental theorem of
On an unrelated topic, there is a special notation for taking the
derivative of a function twice. The acceleration, for instance, is the
second (i.e., double) derivative of the position, because differentiat-
ing x once gives v, and then differentiating v gives a. This is written
a =
110 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
The seemingly inconsistent placement of the twos on the top and
bottom confuses all beginning calculus students. The motivation
for this funny notation is that acceleration has units of m/s
, and
the notation correctly suggests that: the top looks like it has units of
meters, the bottom seconds
. The notation is not meant, however,
to suggest that t is really squared.
Section 3.7
Applications of calculus 111
Selected vocabulary
gravity . . . . . . A general term for the phenomenon of attrac-
tion between things having mass. The attrac-
tion between our planet and a human-sized ob-
ject causes the object to fall.
acceleration . . . The rate of change of velocity; the slope of the
tangent line on a v −t graph.
. . . . . . . . . initial velocity
. . . . . . . . . final velocity
a . . . . . . . . . . acceleration
g . . . . . . . . . . the acceleration of objects in free fall; the
strength of the local gravitational field
Galileo showed that when air resistance is negligible all falling
bodies have the same motion regardless of mass. Moreover, their
v −t graphs are straight lines. We therefore define a quantity called
acceleration as the slope, ∆v/∆t, of an object’s v−t graph. In cases
other than free fall, the v−t graph may be curved, in which case the
definition is generalized as the slope of a tangent line on the v − t
graph. The acceleration of objects in free fall varies slightly across
the surface of the earth, and greatly on other planets.
Positive and negative signs of acceleration are defined according
to whether the v−t graph slopes up or down. This definition has the
advantage that a force with a given sign, representing its direction,
always produces an acceleration with the same sign.
The area under the v − t graph gives ∆x, and analogously the
area under the a −t graph gives ∆v.
For motion with constant acceleration, the following three equa-
tions hold:
∆x = v
∆t +
= v
+ 2a∆x
a =
They are not valid if the acceleration is changing.
112 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
Problem 3.

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 The graph represents the velocity of a bee along a straight
line. At t = 0, the bee is at the hive. (a) When is the bee farthest
from the hive? (b) How far is the bee at its farthest point from the
hive? (c) At t = 13 s, how far is the bee from the hive? [Hint: Try
problem 19 first.]

2 A rock is dropped into a pond. Draw plots of its position
versus time, velocity versus time, and acceleration versus time. In-
clude its whole motion, starting from the moment it is dropped, and
continuing while it falls through the air, passes through the water,
and ends up at rest on the bottom of the pond. Do your work on a
photocopy or a printout of page 119.
3 In an 18th-century naval battle, a cannon ball is shot horizon-
tally, passes through the side of an enemy ship’s hull, flies across the
galley, and lodges in a bulkhead. Draw plots of its horizontal posi-
tion, velocity, and acceleration as functions of time, starting while it
is inside the cannon and has not yet been fired, and ending when it
comes to rest. There is not any significant amount of friction from
the air. Although the ball may rise and fall, you are only concerned
with its horizontal motion, as seen from above. Do your work on a
photocopy or a printout of page 119.
4 Draw graphs of position, velocity, and acceleration as functions
of time for a person bunjee jumping. (In bunjee jumping, a person
has a stretchy elastic cord tied to his/her ankles, and jumps off of a
high platform. At the bottom of the fall, the cord brings the person
up short. Presumably the person bounces up a little.) Do your work
on a photocopy or a printout of page 119.
Problems 113
Problem 5.
5 A ball rolls down the ramp shown in the figure, consisting of a
curved knee, a straight slope, and a curved bottom. For each part of
the ramp, tell whether the ball’s velocity is increasing, decreasing,
or constant, and also whether the ball’s acceleration is increasing,
decreasing, or constant. Explain your answers. Assume there is no
air friction or rolling resistance. Hint: Try problem 20 first. [Based
on a problem by Hewitt.]
6 A toy car is released on one side of a piece of track that is bent
into an upright U shape. The car goes back and forth. When the
car reaches the limit of its motion on one side, its velocity is zero.
Is its acceleration also zero? Explain using a v −t graph. [Based on
a problem by Serway and Faughn.]
7 What is the acceleration of a car that moves at a steady
velocity of 100 km/h for 100 seconds? Explain your answer. [Based
on a problem by Hewitt.]
8 A physics homework question asks, “If you start from rest and
accelerate at 1.54 m/s
for 3.29 s, how far do you travel by the end
of that time?” A student answers as follows:
1.54 ×3.29 = 5.07 m
His Aunt Wanda is good with numbers, but has never taken physics.
She doesn’t know the formula for the distance traveled under con-
stant acceleration over a given amount of time, but she tells her
nephew his answer cannot be right. How does she know?
9 You are looking into a deep well. It is dark, and you cannot
see the bottom. You want to find out how deep it is, so you drop
a rock in, and you hear a splash 3.0 seconds later. How deep is the

10 You take a trip in your spaceship to another star. Setting off,
you increase your speed at a constant acceleration. Once you get
half-way there, you start decelerating, at the same rate, so that by
the time you get there, you have slowed down to zero speed. You see
the tourist attractions, and then head home by the same method.
(a) Find a formula for the time, T, required for the round trip, in
terms of d, the distance from our sun to the star, and a, the magni-
tude of the acceleration. Note that the acceleration is not constant
over the whole trip, but the trip can be broken up into constant-
acceleration parts.
(b) The nearest star to the Earth (other than our own sun) is Prox-
ima Centauri, at a distance of d = 4 ×10
m. Suppose you use an
acceleration of a = 10 m/s
, just enough to compensate for the lack
of true gravity and make you feel comfortable. How long does the
round trip take, in years?
(c) Using the same numbers for d and a, find your maximum speed.
Compare this to the speed of light, which is 3.0 ×10
m/s. (Later
in this course, you will learn that there are some new things going
114 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
Problem 14.
on in physics when one gets close to the speed of light, and that it
is impossible to exceed the speed of light. For now, though, just use
the simpler ideas you’ve learned so far.)

11 You climb half-way up a tree, and drop a rock. Then you
climb to the top, and drop another rock. How many times greater
is the velocity of the second rock on impact? Explain. (The answer
is not two times greater.)
12 Alice drops a rock off a cliff. Bubba shoots a gun straight
down from the edge of the same cliff. Compare the accelerations of
the rock and the bullet while they are in the air on the way down.
[Based on a problem by Serway and Faughn.]
13 A person is parachute jumping. During the time between
when she leaps out of the plane and when she opens her chute, her
altitude is given by an equation of the form
y = b −c
t +ke
where e is the base of natural logarithms, and b, c, and k are con-
stants. Because of air resistance, her velocity does not increase at a
steady rate as it would for an object falling in vacuum.
(a) What units would b, c, and k have to have for the equation to
make sense?
(b) Find the person’s velocity, v, as a function of time. [You will
need to use the chain rule, and the fact that d(e
)/dx = e

(c) Use your answer from part (b) to get an interpretation of the
constant c. [Hint: e
approaches zero for large values of x.]
(d) Find the person’s acceleration, a, as a function of time.

(e) Use your answer from part (b) to show that if she waits long
enough to open her chute, her acceleration will become very small.
14 The top part of the figure shows the position-versus-time
graph for an object moving in one dimension. On the bottom part
of the figure, sketch the corresponding v-versus-t graph.
Solution, p. 509
15 On New Year’s Eve, a stupid person fires a pistol straight up.
The bullet leaves the gun at a speed of 100 m/s. How long does it
take before the bullet hits the ground? Solution, p. 510
16 If the acceleration of gravity on Mars is 1/3 that on Earth,
how many times longer does it take for a rock to drop the same
distance on Mars? Ignore air resistance. Solution, p. 510
17 A honeybee’s position as a function of time is given by
x = 10t − t
, where t is in seconds and x in meters. What is its
acceleration at t = 3.0 s? Solution, p. 510
Problems 115
Problem 19.
Problem 20.
Problem 23.
18 In July 1999, Popular Mechanics carried out tests to find
which car sold by a major auto maker could cover a quarter mile
(402 meters) in the shortest time, starting from rest. Because the
distance is so short, this type of test is designed mainly to favor the
car with the greatest acceleration, not the greatest maximum speed
(which is irrelevant to the average person). The winner was the
Dodge Viper, with a time of 12.08 s. The car’s top (and presumably
final) speed was 118.51 miles per hour (52.98 m/s). (a) If a car,
starting from rest and moving with constant acceleration, covers
a quarter mile in this time interval, what is its acceleration? (b)
What would be the final speed of a car that covered a quarter mile
with the constant acceleration you found in part a? (c) Based on
the discrepancy between your answer in part b and the actual final
speed of the Viper, what do you conclude about how its acceleration
changed over time? Solution, p. 510
19 The graph represents the motion of a ball that rolls up a hill
and then back down. When does the ball return to the location it
had at t = 0? Solution, p. 510
20 (a) The ball is released at the top of the ramp shown in the
figure. Friction is negligible. Use physical reasoning to draw v − t
and a −t graphs. Assume that the ball doesn’t bounce at the point
where the ramp changes slope. (b) Do the same for the case where
the ball is rolled up the slope from the right side, but doesn’t quite
have enough speed to make it over the top. Solution, p. 511
21 You throw a rubber ball up, and it falls and bounces sev-
eral times. Draw graphs of position, velocity, and acceleration as
functions of time. Solution, p. 511
22 Starting from rest, a ball rolls down a ramp, traveling a
distance L and picking up a final speed v. How much of the distance
did the ball have to cover before achieving a speed of v/2? [Based
on a problem by Arnold Arons.] Solution, p. 512
23 The graph shows the acceleration of a chipmunk in a TV
cartoon. It consists of two circular arcs and two line segments.
At t = 0.00 s, the chipmunk’s velocity is −3.10 m/s. What is its
velocity at t = 10.00 s?

24 Find the error in the following calculation. A student wants
to find the distance traveled by a car that accelerates from rest for
5.0 s with an acceleration of 2.0 m/s
. First he solves a = ∆v/∆t for
∆v = 10 m/s. Then he multiplies to find (10 m/s)(5.0 s) = 50 m.
Do not just recalculate the result by a different method; if that was
all you did, you’d have no way of knowing which calculation was
correct, yours or his.
116 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
Problem 27.
25 Acceleration could be defined either as ∆v/∆t or as the slope
of the tangent line on the v − t graph. Is either one superior as a
definition, or are they equivalent? If you say one is better, give an
example of a situation where it makes a difference which one you
26 If an object starts accelerating from rest, we have v
2a∆x for its speed after it has traveled a distance ∆x. Explain in
words why it makes sense that the equation has velocity squared, but
distance only to the first power. Don’t recapitulate the derivation
in the book, or give a justification based on units. The point is
to explain what this feature of the equation tells us about the way
speed increases as more distance is covered.
27 The figure shows a practical, simple experiment for determin-
ing g to high precision. Two steel balls are suspended from electro-
magnets, and are released simultaneously when the electric current
is shut off. They fall through unequal heights ∆x
and ∆x
. A
computer records the sounds through a microphone as first one ball
and then the other strikes the floor. From this recording, we can
accurately determine the quantity T defined as T = ∆t
, i.e.,
the time lag between the first and second impacts. Note that since
the balls do not make any sound when they are released, we have
no way of measuring the individual times ∆t
and ∆t
(a) Find an equation for g in terms of the measured quantities T,
and ∆x

(b) Check the units of your equation.
(c) Check that your equation gives the correct result in the case
where ∆x
is very close to zero. However, is this case realistic?
(d) What happens when ∆x
= ∆x
? Discuss this both mathemat-
ically and physically.
28 The speed required for a low-earth orbit is 7.9×10
m/s (see
ch. 10). When a rocket is launched into orbit, it goes up a little at
first to get above almost all of the atmosphere, but then tips over
horizontally to build up to orbital speed. Suppose the horizontal
acceleration is limited to 3g to keep from damaging the cargo (or
hurting the crew, for a crewed flight). (a) What is the minimum
distance the rocket must travel downrange before it reaches orbital
speed? How much does it matter whether you take into account the
initial eastward velocity due to the rotation of the earth? (b) Rather
than a rocket ship, it might be advantageous to use a railgun design,
in which the craft would be accelerated to orbital speeds along a
railroad track. This has the advantage that it isn’t necessary to lift
a large mass of fuel, since the energy source is external. Based on
your answer to part a, comment on the feasibility of this design for
crewed launches from the earth’s surface.
Problems 117
Problem 31.
Problem 29. This spectacular series of photos from a 2011 paper by Bur-
rows and Sutton (“Biomechanics of jumping in the flea,” J. Exp. Biology
214:836) shows the flea jumping at about a 45-degree angle, but for the
sake of this estimate just consider the case of a flea jumping vertically.
29 Some fleas can jump as high as 30 cm. The flea only has a
short time to build up speed — the time during which its center of
mass is accelerating upward but its feet are still in contact with the
ground. Make an order-of-magnitude estimate of the acceleration
the flea needs to have while straightening its legs, and state your
answer in units of g, i.e., how many “g’s it pulls.” (For comparison,
fighter pilots black out or die if they exceed about 5 or 10 g’s.)
30 Consider the following passage from Alice in Wonderland, in
which Alice has been falling for a long time down a rabbit hole:
Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end? “I
wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?” she said aloud.
“I must be getting somewhere near the center of the earth. Let me
see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think” (for, you see,
Alice had learned several things of this sort in her lessons in the
schoolroom, and though this was not a very good opportunity for
showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still
it was good practice to say it over)...
Alice doesn’t know much physics, but let’s try to calculate the
amount of time it would take to fall four thousand miles, starting
from rest with an acceleration of 10 m/s
. This is really only a lower
limit; if there really was a hole that deep, the fall would actually
take a longer time than the one you calculate, both because there
is air friction and because gravity gets weaker as you get deeper (at
the center of the earth, g is zero, because the earth is pulling you
equally in every direction at once).

31 The photo shows Apollo 16 astronaut John Young jumping
on the moon and saluting at the top of his jump. The video footage
of the jump shows him staying aloft for 1.45 seconds. Gravity on
the moon is 1/6 as strong as on the earth. Compute the height of
the jump.

118 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
Problems 119
120 Chapter 3 Acceleration and free fall
Isaac Newton
Chapter 4
Force and motion
If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood
on the shoulders of giants.
Newton, referring to Galileo
Even as great and skeptical a genius as Galileo was unable to
make much progress on the causes of motion. It was not until a gen-
eration later that Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was able to attack the
problem successfully. In many ways, Newton’s personality was the
opposite of Galileo’s. Where Galileo agressively publicized his ideas,
a / Aristotle said motion had
to be caused by a force. To
explain why an arrow kept flying
after the bowstring was no longer
pushing on it, he said the air
rushed around behind the arrow
and pushed it forward. We know
this is wrong, because an arrow
shot in a vacuum chamber does
not instantly drop to the floor
as it leaves the bow. Galileo
and Newton realized that a force
would only be needed to change
the arrow’s motion, not to make
its motion continue.
Newton had to be coaxed by his friends into publishing a book on
his physical discoveries. Where Galileo’s writing had been popular
and dramatic, Newton originated the stilted, impersonal style that
most people think is standard for scientific writing. (Scientific jour-
nals today encourage a less ponderous style, and papers are often
written in the first person.) Galileo’s talent for arousing animos-
ity among the rich and powerful was matched by Newton’s skill at
making himself a popular visitor at court. Galileo narrowly escaped
being burned at the stake, while Newton had the good fortune of be-
ing on the winning side of the revolution that replaced King James
II with William and Mary of Orange, leading to a lucrative post
running the English royal mint.
Newton discovered the relationship between force and motion,
and revolutionized our view of the universe by showing that the
same physical laws applied to all matter, whether living or nonliv-
ing, on or off of our planet’s surface. His book on force and motion,
the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, was un-
contradicted by experiment for 200 years, but his other main work,
Optics, was on the wrong track, asserting that light was composed
of particles rather than waves. Newton was also an avid alchemist,
a fact that modern scientists would like to forget.
4.1 Force
We need only explain changes in motion, not motion itself.
So far you’ve studied the measurement of motion in some detail,
but not the reasons why a certain object would move in a certain
way. This chapter deals with the “why” questions. Aristotle’s ideas
about the causes of motion were completely wrong, just like all his
other ideas about physical science, but it will be instructive to start
with them, because they amount to a road map of modern students’
incorrect preconceptions.
Aristotle thought he needed to explain both why motion occurs
and why motion might change. Newton inherited from Galileo the
important counter-Aristotelian idea that motion needs no explana-
tion, that it is only changes in motion that require a physical cause.
Aristotle’s needlessly complex system gave three reasons for motion:
Natural motion, such as falling, came from the tendency of
objects to go to their “natural” place, on the ground, and
come to rest.
Voluntary motion was the type of motion exhibited by ani-
mals, which moved because they chose to.
Forced motion occurred when an object was acted on by some
other object that made it move.
122 Chapter 4 Force and motion
b / “Our eyes receive blue
light reflected from this painting
because Monet wanted to repre-
sent water with the color blue.”
This is a valid statement at one
level of explanation, but physics
works at the physical level of
explanation, in which blue light
gets to your eyes because it is
reflected by blue pigments in the
Motion changes due to an interaction between two objects.
In the Aristotelian theory, natural motion and voluntary mo-
tion are one-sided phenomena: the object causes its own motion.
Forced motion is supposed to be a two-sided phenomenon, because
one object imposes its “commands” on another. Where Aristotle
conceived of some of the phenomena of motion as one-sided and
others as two-sided, Newton realized that a change in motion was
always a two-sided relationship of a force acting between two phys-
ical objects.
The one-sided “natural motion” description of falling makes a
crucial omission. The acceleration of a falling object is not caused
by its own “natural” tendencies but by an attractive force between
it and the planet Earth. Moon rocks brought back to our planet do
not “want” to fly back up to the moon because the moon is their
“natural” place. They fall to the floor when you drop them, just
like our homegrown rocks. As we’ll discuss in more detail later in
this course, gravitational forces are simply an attraction that occurs
between any two physical objects. Minute gravitational forces can
even be measured between human-scale objects in the laboratory.
The idea of natural motion also explains incorrectly why things
come to rest. A basketball rolling across a beach slows to a stop
because it is interacting with the sand via a frictional force, not
because of its own desire to be at rest. If it was on a frictionless
surface, it would never slow down. Many of Aristotle’s mistakes
stemmed from his failure to recognize friction as a force.
The concept of voluntary motion is equally flawed. You may
have been a little uneasy about it from the start, because it assumes
a clear distinction between living and nonliving things. Today, how-
ever, we are used to having the human body likened to a complex
machine. In the modern world-view, the border between the living
and the inanimate is a fuzzy no-man’s land inhabited by viruses,
prions, and silicon chips. Furthermore, Aristotle’s statement that
you can take a step forward “because you choose to” inappropriately
mixes two levels of explanation. At the physical level of explana-
tion, the reason your body steps forward is because of a frictional
force acting between your foot and the floor. If the floor was covered
with a puddle of oil, no amount of “choosing to” would enable you
to take a graceful stride forward.
Forces can all be measured on the same numerical scale.
In the Aristotelian-scholastic tradition, the description of mo-
tion as natural, voluntary, or forced was only the broadest level of
classification, like splitting animals into birds, reptiles, mammals,
and amphibians. There might be thousands of types of motion,
each of which would follow its own rules. Newton’s realization that
all changes in motion were caused by two-sided interactions made
Section 4.1 Force 123
it seem that the phenomena might have more in common than had
been apparent. In the Newtonian description, there is only one cause
for a change in motion, which we call force. Forces may be of differ-
ent types, but they all produce changes in motion according to the
same rules. Any acceleration that can be produced by a magnetic
force can equally well be produced by an appropriately controlled
stream of water. We can speak of two forces as being equal if they
produce the same change in motion when applied in the same situ-
ation, which means that they pushed or pulled equally hard in the
same direction.
The idea of a numerical scale of force and the newton unit were
introduced in chapter 0. To recapitulate briefly, a force is when a
pair of objects push or pull on each other, and one newton is the
force required to accelerate a 1-kg object from rest to a speed of 1
m/s in 1 second.
More than one force on an object
As if we hadn’t kicked poor Aristotle around sufficiently, his
theory has another important flaw, which is important to discuss
because it corresponds to an extremely common student misconcep-
tion. Aristotle conceived of forced motion as a relationship in which
one object was the boss and the other “followed orders.” It there-
fore would only make sense for an object to experience one force at
a time, because an object couldn’t follow orders from two sources at
once. In the Newtonian theory, forces are numbers, not orders, and
if more than one force acts on an object at once, the result is found
by adding up all the forces. It is unfortunate that the use of the
English word “force” has become standard, because to many people
it suggests that you are “forcing” an object to do something. The
force of the earth’s gravity cannot “force” a boat to sink, because
there are other forces acting on the boat. Adding them up gives a
total of zero, so the boat accelerates neither up nor down.
Objects can exert forces on each other at a distance.
Aristotle declared that forces could only act between objects that
were touching, probably because he wished to avoid the type of oc-
cult speculation that attributed physical phenomena to the influence
of a distant and invisible pantheon of gods. He was wrong, however,
as you can observe when a magnet leaps onto your refrigerator or
when the planet earth exerts gravitational forces on objects that are
in the air. Some types of forces, such as friction, only operate be-
tween objects in contact, and are called contact forces. Magnetism,
on the other hand, is an example of a noncontact force. Although
the magnetic force gets stronger when the magnet is closer to your
refrigerator, touching is not required.
124 Chapter 4 Force and motion
c / Forces are applied to a
saxophone. In this example,
positive signs have been used
consistently for forces to the
right, and negative signs for
forces to the left. (The forces
are being applied to different
places on the saxophone, but the
numerical value of a force carries
no information about that.)
In physics, an object’s weight, F
, is defined as the earth’s
gravitational force on it. The SI unit of weight is therefore the
Newton. People commonly refer to the kilogram as a unit of weight,
but the kilogram is a unit of mass, not weight. Note that an object’s
weight is not a fixed property of that object. Objects weigh more
in some places than in others, depending on the local strength of
gravity. It is their mass that always stays the same. A baseball
pitcher who can throw a 90-mile-per-hour fastball on earth would
not be able to throw any faster on the moon, because the ball’s
inertia would still be the same.
Positive and negative signs of force
We’ll start by considering only cases of one-dimensional center-
of-mass motion in which all the forces are parallel to the direction of
motion, i.e., either directly forward or backward. In one dimension,
plus and minus signs can be used to indicate directions of forces, as
shown in figure c. We can then refer generically to addition of forces,
rather than having to speak sometimes of addition and sometimes of
subtraction. We add the forces shown in the figure and get 11 N. In
general, we should choose a one-dimensional coordinate system with
its x axis parallel the direction of motion. Forces that point along
the positive x axis are positive, and forces in the opposite direction
are negative. Forces that are not directly along the x axis cannot be
immediately incorporated into this scheme, but that’s OK, because
we’re avoiding those cases for now.
Discussion questions
A In chapter 0, I defined 1 N as the force that would accelerate a
1-kg mass from rest to 1 m/s in 1 s. Anticipating the following section, you
might guess that 2 N could be defined as the force that would accelerate
the same mass to twice the speed, or twice the mass to the same speed.
Is there an easier way to define 2 N based on the definition of 1 N?
4.2 Newton’s first law
We are now prepared to make a more powerful restatement of the
principle of inertia.
Newton’s first law
If the total force acting on an object is zero, its center of mass
continues in the same state of motion.
In other words, an object initially at rest is predicted to remain
at rest if the total force on it is zero, and an object in motion remains
in motion with the same velocity in the same direction. The converse
of Newton’s first law is also true: if we observe an object moving
with constant velocity along a straight line, then the total force on
Section 4.2 Newton’s first law 125
it must be zero.
In a future physics course or in another textbook, you may en-
counter the term “net force,” which is simply a synonym for total
What happens if the total force on an object is not zero? It
accelerates. Numerical prediction of the resulting acceleration is the
topic of Newton’s second law, which we’ll discuss in the following
This is the first of Newton’s three laws of motion. It is not
important to memorize which of Newton’s three laws are numbers
one, two, and three. If a future physics teacher asks you something
like, “Which of Newton’s laws are you thinking of?,” a perfectly
acceptable answer is “The one about constant velocity when there’s
zero total force.” The concepts are more important than any spe-
cific formulation of them. Newton wrote in Latin, and I am not
aware of any modern textbook that uses a verbatim translation of
his statement of the laws of motion. Clear writing was not in vogue
in Newton’s day, and he formulated his three laws in terms of a con-
cept now called momentum, only later relating it to the concept of
force. Nearly all modern texts, including this one, start with force
and do momentum later.
An elevator example 1
An elevator has a weight of 5000 N. Compare the forces that the
cable must exert to raise it at constant velocity, lower it at constant
velocity, and just keep it hanging.
In all three cases the cable must pull up with a force of exactly
5000 N. Most people think you’d need at least a little more than
5000 Nto make it go up, and a little less than 5000 N to let it down,
but that’s incorrect. Extra force from the cable is only necessary
for speeding the car up when it starts going up or slowing it down
when it finishes going down. Decreased force is needed to speed
the car up when it gets going down and to slow it down when it
finishes going up. But when the elevator is cruising at constant
velocity, Newton’s first law says that you just need to cancel the
force of the earth’s gravity.
To many students, the statement in the example that the cable’s
upward force “cancels” the earth’s downward gravitational force im-
plies that there has been a contest, and the cable’s force has won,
vanquishing the earth’s gravitational force and making it disappear.
That is incorrect. Both forces continue to exist, but because they
add up numerically to zero, the elevator has no center-of-mass ac-
celeration. We know that both forces continue to exist because they
both have side-effects other than their effects on the car’s center-of-
mass motion. The force acting between the cable and the car con-
tinues to produce tension in the cable and keep the cable taut. The
126 Chapter 4 Force and motion
earth’s gravitational force continues to keep the passengers (whom
we are considering as part of the elevator-object) stuck to the floor
and to produce internal stresses in the walls of the car, which must
hold up the floor.
Terminal velocity for falling objects example 2
An object like a feather that is not dense or streamlined does not
fall with constant acceleration, because air resistance is nonneg-
ligible. In fact, its acceleration tapers off to nearly zero within a
fraction of a second, and the feather finishes dropping at constant
speed (known as its terminal velocity). Why does this happen?
Newton’s first law tells us that the total force on the feather must
have been reduced to nearly zero after a short time. There are
two forces acting on the feather: a downward gravitational force
from the planet earth, and an upward frictional force from the air.
As the feather speeds up, the air friction becomes stronger and
stronger, and eventually it cancels out the earth’s gravitational
force, so the feather just continues with constant velocity without
speeding up any more.
The situation for a skydiver is exactly analogous. It’s just that the
skydiver experiences perhaps a million times more gravitational
force than the feather, and it is not until she is falling very fast
that the force of air friction becomes as strong as the gravita-
tional force. It takes her several seconds to reach terminal veloc-
ity, which is on the order of a hundred miles per hour.
More general combinations of forces
It is too constraining to restrict our attention to cases where
all the forces lie along the line of the center of mass’s motion. For
one thing, we can’t analyze any case of horizontal motion, since
any object on earth will be subject to a vertical gravitational force!
For instance, when you are driving your car down a straight road,
there are both horizontal forces and vertical forces. However, the
vertical forces have no effect on the center of mass motion, because
the road’s upward force simply counteracts the earth’s downward
gravitational force and keeps the car from sinking into the ground.
Later in the book we’ll deal with the most general case of many
forces acting on an object at any angles, using the mathematical
technique of vector addition, but the following slight generalization
of Newton’s first law allows us to analyze a great many cases of
Suppose that an object has two sets of forces acting on it, one
set along the line of the object’s initial motion and another set per-
pendicular to the first set. If both sets of forces cancel, then the
object’s center of mass continues in the same state of motion.
Section 4.2 Newton’s first law 127
d / Example 4.
A passenger riding the subway example 3
Describe the forces acting on a person standing in a subway
train that is cruising at constant velocity.
No force is necessary to keep the person moving relative to
the ground. He will not be swept to the back of the train if the
floor is slippery. There are two vertical forces on him, the earth’s
downward gravitational force and the floor’s upward force, which
cancel. There are no horizontal forces on him at all, so of course
the total horizontal force is zero.
Forces on a sailboat example 4
If a sailboat is cruising at constant velocity with the wind coming
from directly behind it, what must be true about the forces acting
on it?
The forces acting on the boat must be canceling each other
out. The boat is not sinking or leaping into the air, so evidently
the vertical forces are canceling out. The vertical forces are the
downward gravitational force exerted by the planet earth and an
upward force from the water.
The air is making a forward force on the sail, and if the boat is
not accelerating horizontally then the water’s backward frictional
force must be canceling it out.
Contrary to Aristotle, more force is not needed in order to maintain
a higher speed. Zero total force is always needed to maintain
constant velocity. Consider the following made-up numbers:
boat moving at
a low, constant
boat moving at
a high, constant
forward force of
the wind on the
sail . . .
10,000 N 20,000 N
backward force of
the water on the
hull . . .
−10, 000 N −20, 000 N
total force on the
boat . . .
0 N 0 N
The faster boat still has zero total force on it. The forward force
on it is greater, and the backward force smaller (more negative),
but that’s irrelevant because Newton’s first law has to do with the
total force, not the individual forces.
This example is quite analogous to the one about terminal velocity
of falling objects, since there is a frictional force that increases
with speed. After casting off from the dock and raising the sail,
the boat will accelerate briefly, and then reach its terminal velocity,
at which the water’s frictional force has become as great as the
wind’s force on the sail.
128 Chapter 4 Force and motion
Discussion question B.
Discussion question C.
A car crash example 5
If you drive your car into a brick wall, what is the mysterious
force that slams your face into the steering wheel?
Your surgeon has taken physics, so she is not going to believe
your claim that a mysterious force is to blame. She knows that
your face was just following Newton’s first law. Immediately after
your car hit the wall, the only forces acting on your head were
the same canceling-out forces that had existed previously: the
earth’s downward gravitational force and the upward force from
your neck. There were no forward or backward forces on your
head, but the car did experience a backward force from the wall,
so the car slowed down and your face caught up.
Discussion questions
A Newton said that objects continue moving if no forces are acting
on them, but his predecessor Aristotle said that a force was necessary to
keep an object moving. Why does Aristotle’s theory seem more plausible,
even though we now believe it to be wrong? What insight was Aristotle
missing about the reason why things seem to slow down naturally? Give
an example.
B In the figure what would have to be true about the saxophone’s initial
motion if the forces shown were to result in continued one-dimensional
motion of its center of mass?
C This figure requires an ever further generalization of the preceding
discussion. After studying the forces, what does your physical intuition tell
you will happen? Can you state in words how to generalize the conditions
for one-dimensional motion to include situations like this one?
4.3 Newton’s second law
What about cases where the total force on an object is not zero,
so that Newton’s first law doesn’t apply? The object will have an
acceleration. The way we’ve defined positive and negative signs
of force and acceleration guarantees that positive forces produce
positive accelerations, and likewise for negative values. How much
acceleration will it have? It will clearly depend on both the object’s
mass and on the amount of force.
Experiments with any particular object show that its acceler-
ation is directly proportional to the total force applied to it. This
may seem wrong, since we know of many cases where small amounts
of force fail to move an object at all, and larger forces get it going.
This apparent failure of proportionality actually results from for-
getting that there is a frictional force in addition to the force we
apply to move the object. The object’s acceleration is exactly pro-
portional to the total force on it, not to any individual force on it.
In the absence of friction, even a very tiny force can slowly change
the velocity of a very massive object.
Section 4.3 Newton’s second law 129
Experiments also show that the acceleration is inversely propor-
tional to the object’s mass, and combining these two proportional-
ities gives the following way of predicting the acceleration of any
Newton’s second law
a = F
/m ,
m is an object’s mass
is the sum of the forces acting on it, and
a is the acceleration of the object’s center of mass.
We are presently restricted to the case where the forces of interest
are parallel to the direction of motion.
An accelerating bus example 6
A VW bus with a mass of 2000 kg accelerates from 0 to 25 m/s
(freeway speed) in 34 s. Assuming the acceleration is constant,
what is the total force on the bus?
We solve Newton’s second law for F
t ot al
= ma, and substitute
∆v/∆t for a, giving
t ot al
= m∆v/∆t
= (2000 kg)(25 m/s −0 m/s)/(34 s)
= 1.5 kN .
A generalization
As with the first law, the second law can be easily generalized
to include a much larger class of interesting situations:
Suppose an object is being acted on by two sets of forces, one
set lying parallel to the object’s initial direction of motion and
another set acting along a perpendicular line. If the forces
perpendicular to the initial direction of motion cancel out,
then the object accelerates along its original line of motion
according to a = F

/m, where F

is the sum of the forces
parallel to the line.
A coin sliding across a table example 7
Suppose a coin is sliding to the right across a table, e, and let’s
choose a positive x axis that points to the right. The coin’s velocity
130 Chapter 4 Force and motion
e / A coin slides across a ta-
ble. Even for motion in one
dimension, some of the forces
may not lie along the line of the
f / A simple double-pan bal-
ance works by comparing the
weight forces exerted by the
earth on the contents of the two
pans. Since the two pans are
at almost the same location on
the earth’s surface, the value
of g is essentially the same for
each one, and equality of weight
therefore also implies equality of
g / Example 8.
is positive, and we expect based on experience that it will slow
down, i.e., its acceleration should be negative.
Although the coin’s motion is purely horizontal, it feels both ver-
tical and horizontal forces. The Earth exerts a downward gravi-
tational force F
on it, and the table makes an upward force F
that prevents the coin from sinking into the wood. In fact, without
these vertical forces the horizontal frictional force wouldn’t exist:
surfaces don’t exert friction against one another unless they are
being pressed together.
Although F
and F
contribute to the physics, they do so only
indirectly. The only thing that directly relates to the acceleration
along the horizontal direction is the horizontal force: a = F
The relationship between mass and weight
Mass is different from weight, but they’re related. An apple’s
mass tells us how hard it is to change its motion. Its weight measures
the strength of the gravitational attraction between the apple and
the planet earth. The apple’s weight is less on the moon, but its
mass is the same. Astronauts assembling the International Space
Station in zero gravity cannot just pitch massive modules back and
forth with their bare hands; the modules are weightless, but not
We have already seen the experimental evidence that when weight
(the force of the earth’s gravity) is the only force acting on an ob-
ject, its acceleration equals the constant g, and g depends on where
you are on the surface of the earth, but not on the mass of the ob-
ject. Applying Newton’s second law then allows us to calculate the
magnitude of the gravitational force on any object in terms of its
| = mg .
(The equation only gives the magnitude, i.e. the absolute value, of
, because we’re defining g as a positive number, so it equals the
absolute value of a falling object’s acceleration.)
Solved problem: Decelerating a car page 141, problem 7
Weight and mass example 8
Figure g shows masses of one and two kilograms hung from a
spring scale, which measures force in units of newtons. Explain
the readings.
Let’s start with the single kilogram. It’s not accelerating, so
evidently the total force on it is zero: the spring scale’s upward
force on it is canceling out the earth’s downward gravitational
force. The spring scale tells us how much force it is being obliged
to supply, but since the two forces are equal in strength, the
spring scale’s reading can also be interpreted as measuring the
strength of the gravitational force, i.e., the weight of the one-
Section 4.3 Newton’s second law 131
kilogram mass. The weight of a one-kilogram mass should be
= mg
= (1.0 kg)(9.8 m/s
) = 9.8 N ,
and that’s indeed the reading on the spring scale.
Similarly for the two-kilogram mass, we have
= mg
= (2.0 kg)(9.8 m/s
) = 19.6 N .
Calculating terminal velocity example 9
Experiments show that the force of air friction on a falling object
such as a skydiver or a feather can be approximated fairly well
with the equation |F
ai r
| = cρAv
, where c is a constant, ρ is the
density of the air, A is the cross-sectional area of the object as
seen frombelow, and v is the object’s velocity. Predict the object’s
terminal velocity, i.e., the final velocity it reaches after a long time.
As the object accelerates, its greater v causes the upward force
of the air to increase until finally the gravitational force and the
force of air friction cancel out, after which the object continues
at constant velocity. We choose a coordinate system in which
positive is up, so that the gravitational force is negative and the
force of air friction is positive. We want to find the velocity at which
ai r
+ F
= 0 , i .e.,
−mg = 0 .
Solving for v gives
t er mi nal
132 Chapter 4 Force and motion
x (m) t (s)
10 1.84
20 2.86
30 3.80
40 4.67
50 5.53
60 6.38
70 7.23
80 8.10
90 8.96
100 9.83
h / Discussion question D.
self-check A
It is important to get into the habit of interpreting equations. This may be
difficult at first, but eventually you will get used to this kind of reasoning.
(1) Interpret the equation v
t er mi nal
mg/cρA in the case of ρ=0.
(2) How would the terminal velocity of a 4-cm steel ball compare to that
of a 1-cm ball?
(3) In addition to teasing out the mathematical meaning of an equation,
we also have to be able to place it in its physical context. How generally
important is this equation? Answer, p. 523
Discussion questions
A Show that the Newton can be reexpressed in terms of the three
basic mks units as the combination kg·m/s
B What is wrong with the following statements?
(1) “g is the force of gravity.”
(2) “Mass is a measure of how much space something takes up.”
C Criticize the following incorrect statement:
“If an object is at rest and the total force on it is zero, it stays at rest.
There can also be cases where an object is moving and keeps on moving
without having any total force on it, but that can only happen when there’s
no friction, like in outer space.”
D Table h gives laser timing data for Ben Johnson’s 100 m dash at the
1987 World Championship in Rome. (His world record was later revoked
because he tested positive for steroids.) How does the total force on him
change over the duration of the race?
Section 4.3 Newton’s second law 133
4.4 What force is not
Violin teachers have to endure their beginning students’ screeching.
A frown appears on the woodwind teacher’s face as she watches her
student take a breath with an expansion of his ribcage but none
in his belly. What makes physics teachers cringe is their students’
verbal statements about forces. Below I have listed several dicta
about what force is not.
Force is not a property of one object.
A great many of students’ incorrect descriptions of forces could
be cured by keeping in mind that a force is an interaction of two
objects, not a property of one object.
Incorrect statement: “That magnet has a lot of force.”
If the magnet is one millimeter away from a steel ball bearing, they
may exert a very strong attraction on each other, but if they were a
meter apart, the force would be virtually undetectable. The magnet’s
strength can be rated using certain electrical units (ampere −meters
but not in units of force.
Force is not a measure of an object’s motion.
If force is not a property of a single object, then it cannot be
used as a measure of the object’s motion.
Incorrect statement: “The freight train rumbled down the tracks with
awesome force.”
Force is not a measure of motion. If the freight train collides with a
stalled cement truck, then some awesome forces will occur, but if it hits
a fly the force will be small.
Force is not energy.
There are two main approaches to understanding the motion of
objects, one based on force and one on a different concept, called en-
ergy. The SI unit of energy is the Joule, but you are probably more
familiar with the calorie, used for measuring food’s energy, and the
kilowatt-hour, the unit the electric company uses for billing you.
Physics students’ previous familiarity with calories and kilowatt-
hours is matched by their universal unfamiliarity with measuring
forces in units of Newtons, but the precise operational definitions of
the energy concepts are more complex than those of the force con-
cepts, and textbooks, including this one, almost universally place the
force description of physics before the energy description. During
the long period after the introduction of force and before the careful
definition of energy, students are therefore vulnerable to situations
in which, without realizing it, they are imputing the properties of
energy to phenomena of force.
Incorrect statement: “How can my chair be making an upward force on
my rear end? It has no power!”
Power is a concept related to energy, e.g., a 100-watt lightbulb uses
134 Chapter 4 Force and motion
up 100 joules per second of energy. When you sit in a chair, no energy
is used up, so forces can exist between you and the chair without any
need for a source of power.
Force is not stored or used up.
Because energy can be stored and used up, people think force
also can be stored or used up.
Incorrect statement: “If you don’t fill up your tank with gas, you’ll run
out of force.”
Energy is what you’ll run out of, not force.
Forces need not be exerted by living things or machines.
Transforming energy from one form into another usually requires
some kind of living or mechanical mechanism. The concept is not
applicable to forces, which are an interaction between objects, not
a thing to be transferred or transformed.
Incorrect statement: “How can a wooden bench be making an upward
force on my rear end? It doesn’t have any springs or anything inside it.”
No springs or other internal mechanisms are required. If the bench
didn’t make any force on you, you would obey Newton’s second law and
fall through it. Evidently it does make a force on you!
A force is the direct cause of a change in motion.
I can click a remote control to make my garage door change from
being at rest to being in motion. My finger’s force on the button,
however, was not the force that acted on the door. When we speak
of a force on an object in physics, we are talking about a force that
acts directly. Similarly, when you pull a reluctant dog along by its
leash, the leash and the dog are making forces on each other, not
your hand and the dog. The dog is not even touching your hand.
self-check B
Which of the following things can be correctly described in terms of
(1) A nuclear submarine is charging ahead at full steam.
(2) A nuclear submarine’s propellers spin in the water.
(3) A nuclear submarine needs to refuel its reactor periodically.
Answer, p. 523
Discussion questions
A Criticize the following incorrect statement: “If you shove a book
across a table, friction takes away more and more of its force, until finally
it stops.”
B You hit a tennis ball against a wall. Explain any and all incorrect
ideas in the following description of the physics involved: “The ball gets
some force from you when you hit it, and when it hits the wall, it loses part
of that force, so it doesn’t bounce back as fast. The muscles in your arm
are the only things that a force can come from.”
Section 4.4 What force is not 135
4.5 Inertial and noninertial frames of reference
One day, you’re driving down the street in your pickup truck, on
your way to deliver a bowling ball. The ball is in the back of the
truck, enjoying its little jaunt and taking in the fresh air and sun-
shine. Then you have to slow down because a stop sign is coming
up. As you brake, you glance in your rearview mirror, and see your
trusty companion accelerating toward you. Did some mysterious
force push it forward? No, it only seems that way because you and
the car are slowing down. The ball is faithfully obeying Newton’s
first law, and as it continues at constant velocity it gets ahead rela-
tive to the slowing truck. No forces are acting on it (other than the
same canceling-out vertical forces that were always acting on it).
The ball only appeared to violate Newton’s first law because there
was something wrong with your frame of reference, which was based
on the truck.
i / 1. In a frame of reference that
moves with the truck, the bowl-
ing ball appears to violate New-
ton’s first law by accelerating de-
spite having no horizontal forces
on it. 2. In an inertial frame of ref-
erence, which the surface of the
earth approximately is, the bowl-
ing ball obeys Newton’s first law.
It moves equal distances in equal
time intervals, i.e., maintains con-
stant velocity. In this frame of
reference, it is the truck that ap-
pears to have a change in veloc-
ity, which makes sense, since the
road is making a horizontal force
on it.
How, then, are we to tell in which frames of reference Newton’s
laws are valid? It’s no good to say that we should avoid moving
frames of reference, because there is no such thing as absolute rest
or absolute motion. All frames can be considered as being either at
rest or in motion. According to an observer in India, the strip mall
that constituted the frame of reference in panel (b) of the figure
was moving along with the earth’s rotation at hundreds of miles per
The reason why Newton’s laws fail in the truck’s frame of refer-
Let’s assume for simplicity that there is no friction.
136 Chapter 4 Force and motion
ence is not because the truck is moving but because it is accelerating.
(Recall that physicists use the word to refer either to speeding up or
slowing down.) Newton’s laws were working just fine in the moving
truck’s frame of reference as long as the truck was moving at con-
stant velocity. It was only when its speed changed that there was
a problem. How, then, are we to tell which frames are accelerating
and which are not? What if you claim that your truck is not ac-
celerating, and the sidewalk, the asphalt, and the Burger King are
accelerating? The way to settle such a dispute is to examine the
motion of some object, such as the bowling ball, which we know
has zero total force on it. Any frame of reference in which the ball
appears to obey Newton’s first law is then a valid frame of reference,
and to an observer in that frame, Mr. Newton assures us that all
the other objects in the universe will obey his laws of motion, not
just the ball.
Valid frames of reference, in which Newton’s laws are obeyed,
are called inertial frames of reference. Frames of reference that are
not inertial are called noninertial frames. In those frames, objects
violate the principle of inertia and Newton’s first law. While the
truck was moving at constant velocity, both it and the sidewalk
were valid inertial frames. The truck became an invalid frame of
reference when it began changing its velocity.
You usually assume the ground under your feet is a perfectly
inertial frame of reference, and we made that assumption above. It
isn’t perfectly inertial, however. Its motion through space is quite
complicated, being composed of a part due to the earth’s daily rota-
tion around its own axis, the monthly wobble of the planet caused
by the moon’s gravity, and the rotation of the earth around the sun.
Since the accelerations involved are numerically small, the earth is
approximately a valid inertial frame.
Noninertial frames are avoided whenever possible, and we will
seldom, if ever, have occasion to use them in this course. Sometimes,
however, a noninertial frame can be convenient. Naval gunners, for
instance, get all their data from radars, human eyeballs, and other
detection systems that are moving along with the earth’s surface.
Since their guns have ranges of many miles, the small discrepan-
cies between their shells’ actual accelerations and the accelerations
predicted by Newton’s second law can have effects that accumulate
and become significant. In order to kill the people they want to kill,
they have to add small corrections onto the equation a = F
Doing their calculations in an inertial frame would allow them to
use the usual form of Newton’s second law, but they would have
to convert all their data into a different frame of reference, which
would require cumbersome calculations.
Discussion question
A If an object has a linear x − t graph in a certain inertial frame,
Section 4.5 Inertial and noninertial frames of reference 137
what is the effect on the graph if we change to a coordinate system with
a different origin? What is the effect if we keep the same origin but re-
verse the positive direction of the x axis? How about an inertial frame
moving alongside the object? What if we describe the object’s motion in
a noninertial frame?
138 Chapter 4 Force and motion
Selected vocabulary
weight . . . . . . . the force of gravity on an object, equal to mg
inertial frame . . a frame of reference that is not accelerating,
one in which Newton’s first law is true
noninertial frame an accelerating frame of reference, in which
Newton’s first law is violated
. . . . . . . . weight
Other terminology and notation
net force . . . . . another way of saying “total force”
Newton’s first law of motion states that if all the forces on an
object cancel each other out, then the object continues in the same
state of motion. This is essentially a more refined version of Galileo’s
principle of inertia, which did not refer to a numerical scale of force.
Newton’s second law of motion allows the prediction of an ob-
ject’s acceleration given its mass and the total force on it, a
/m. This is only the one-dimensional version of the law; the
full-three dimensional treatment will come in chapter 8, Vectors.
Without the vector techniques, we can still say that the situation
remains unchanged by including an additional set of vectors that
cancel among themselves, even if they are not in the direction of
Newton’s laws of motion are only true in frames of reference that
are not accelerating, known as inertial frames.
Summary 139

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 An object is observed to be moving at constant speed in a
certain direction. Can you conclude that no forces are acting on it?
Explain. [Based on a problem by Serway and Faughn.]
2 At low speeds, every car’s acceleration is limited by traction,
not by the engine’s power. Suppose that at low speeds, a certain
car is normally capable of an acceleration of 3 m/s
. If it is towing
a trailer with half as much mass as the car itself, what acceleration
can it achieve? [Based on a problem from PSSC Physics.]
3 (a) Let T be the maximum tension that an elevator’s cable can
withstand without breaking, i.e., the maximum force it can exert.
If the motor is programmed to give the car an acceleration a, what
is the maximum mass that the car can have, including passengers,
if the cable is not to break?

(b) Interpret the equation you derived in the special cases of a = 0
and of a downward acceleration of magnitude g. (“Interpret” means
to analyze the behavior of the equation, and connect that to reality,
as in the self-check on page 133.)
4 A helicopter of mass m is taking off vertically. The only forces
acting on it are the earth’s gravitational force and the force, F
of the air pushing up on the propeller blades.
(a) If the helicopter lifts off at t = 0, what is its vertical speed at
time t?
(b) Check that the units of your answer to part a make sense.
(c) Discuss how your answer to part a depends on all three variables,
and show that it makes sense. That is, for each variable, discuss
what would happen to the result if you changed it while keeping the
other two variables constant. Would a bigger value give a smaller
result, or a bigger result? Once you’ve figured out this mathematical
relationship, show that it makes sense physically.
(d) Plug numbers into your equation from part a, using m = 2300
kg, F
= 27000 N, and t = 4.0 s.

5 In the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, the best men’s high jump was
2.18 m. Four years later in Mexico City, the gold medal in the same
event was for a jump of 2.24 m. Because of Mexico City’s altitude
(2400 m), the acceleration of gravity there is lower than that in
Tokyo by about 0.01 m/s
. Suppose a high-jumper has a mass of
72 kg.
(a) Compare his mass and weight in the two locations.
(b) Assume that he is able to jump with the same initial vertical
140 Chapter 4 Force and motion
Problem 6.
velocity in both locations, and that all other conditions are the same
except for gravity. How much higher should he be able to jump in
Mexico City?

(Actually, the reason for the big change between ’64 and ’68 was the
introduction of the “Fosbury flop.”)
6 A blimp is initially at rest, hovering, when at t = 0 the pilot
turns on the motor of the propeller. The motor cannot instantly
get the propeller going, but the propeller speeds up steadily. The
steadily increasing force between the air and the propeller is given
by the equation F = kt, where k is a constant. If the mass of the
blimp is m, find its position as a function of time. (Assume that
during the period of time you’re dealing with, the blimp is not yet
moving fast enough to cause a significant backward force due to air
√ _
7 A car is accelerating forward along a straight road. If the force
of the road on the car’s wheels, pushing it forward, is a constant 3.0
kN, and the car’s mass is 1000 kg, then how long will the car take
to go from 20 m/s to 50 m/s? Solution, p. 512
8 Some garden shears are like a pair of scissors: one sharp blade
slices past another. In the “anvil” type, however, a sharp blade
presses against a flat one rather than going past it. A gardening
book says that for people who are not very physically strong, the
anvil type can make it easier to cut tough branches, because it
concentrates the force on one side. Evaluate this claim based on
Newton’s laws. [Hint: Consider the forces acting on the branch,
and the motion of the branch.]
9 A uranium atom deep in the earth spits out an alpha particle.
An alpha particle is a fragment of an atom. This alpha particle has
initial speed v, and travels a distance d before stopping in the earth.
(a) Find the force, F, from the dirt that stopped the particle, in
terms of v, d, and its mass, m. Don’t plug in any numbers yet.
Assume that the force was constant.

(b) Show that your answer has the right units.
(c) Discuss how your answer to part a depends on all three variables,
and show that it makes sense. That is, for each variable, discuss
what would happen to the result if you changed it while keeping the
other two variables constant. Would a bigger value give a smaller
result, or a bigger result? Once you’ve figured out this mathematical
relationship, show that it makes sense physically.
(d) Evaluate your result for m = 6.7×10
kg, v = 2.0×10
and d = 0.71 mm.

Problems 141
Problem 10, part c.
10 You are given a large sealed box, and are not allowed to open
it. Which of the following experiments measure its mass, and which
measure its weight? [Hint: Which experiments would give different
results on the moon?]
(a) Put it on a frozen lake, throw a rock at it, and see how fast it
scoots away after being hit.
(b) Drop it from a third-floor balcony, and measure how loud the
sound is when it hits the ground.
(c) As shown in the figure, connect it with a spring to the wall, and
watch it vibrate.
Solution, p. 512
11 While escaping from the palace of the evil Martian em-
peror, Sally Spacehound jumps from a tower of height h down to
the ground. Ordinarily the fall would be fatal, but she fires her
blaster rifle straight down, producing an upward force of magnitude
. This force is insufficient to levitate her, but it does cancel out
some of the force of gravity. During the time t that she is falling,
Sally is unfortunately exposed to fire from the emperor’s minions,
and can’t dodge their shots. Let m be her mass, and g the strength
of gravity on Mars.
(a) Find the time t in terms of the other variables.
(b) Check the units of your answer to part a.
(c) For sufficiently large values of F
, your answer to part a becomes
nonsense — explain what’s going on.

12 When I cook rice, some of the dry grains always stick to the
measuring cup. To get them out, I turn the measuring cup upside-
down and hit the “roof” with my hand so that the grains come off of
the “ceiling.” (a) Explain why static friction is irrelevant here. (b)
Explain why gravity is negligible. (c) Explain why hitting the cup
works, and why its success depends on hitting the cup hard enough.
142 Chapter 4 Force and motion
Exercise 4: Force and motion
1-meter pieces of butcher paper
wood blocks with hooks
masses to put on top of the blocks to increase friction
spring scales (preferably calibrated in Newtons)
Suppose a person pushes a crate, sliding it across the floor at a certain speed, and then repeats
the same thing but at a higher speed. This is essentially the situation you will act out in this
exercise. What do you think is different about her force on the crate in the two situations?
Discuss this with your group and write down your hypothesis:
1. First you will measure the amount of friction between the wood block and the butcher paper
when the wood and paper surfaces are slipping over each other. The idea is to attach a spring
scale to the block and then slide the butcher paper under the block while using the scale to
keep the block from moving with it. Depending on the amount of force your spring scale was
designed to measure, you may need to put an extra mass on top of the block in order to increase
the amount of friction. It is a good idea to use long piece of string to attach the block to the
spring scale, since otherwise one tends to pull at an angle instead of directly horizontally.
First measure the amount of friction force when sliding the butcher paper as slowly as possi-
Now measure the amount of friction force at a significantly higher speed, say 1 meter per second.
(If you try to go too fast, the motion is jerky, and it is impossible to get an accurate reading.)
Discuss your results. Why are we justified in assuming that the string’s force on the block (i.e.,
the scale reading) is the same amount as the paper’s frictional force on the block?
2. Now try the same thing but with the block moving and the paper standing still. Try two
different speeds.
Do your results agree with your original hypothesis? If not, discuss what’s going on. How does
the block “know” how fast to go?
Exercise 4: Force and motion 143
144 Chapter 4 Force and motion
What forces act on the girl?
Chapter 5
Analysis of forces
5.1 Newton’s third law
Newton created the modern concept of force starting from his insight
that all the effects that govern motion are interactions between two
objects: unlike the Aristotelian theory, Newtonian physics has no
phenomena in which an object changes its own motion.
a / Two magnets exert forces
on each other.
b / Two people’s hands exert
forces on each other.
c / Rockets work by pushing
exhaust gases out the back.
Newton’s third law says that if the
rocket exerts a backward force
on the gases, the gases must
make an equal forward force on
the rocket. Rocket engines can
function above the atmosphere,
unlike propellers and jets, which
work by pushing against the
surrounding air.
Is one object always the “order-giver” and the other the “order-
follower”? As an example, consider a batter hitting a baseball. The
bat definitely exerts a large force on the ball, because the ball ac-
celerates drastically. But if you have ever hit a baseball, you also
know that the ball makes a force on the bat — often with painful
results if your technique is as bad as mine!
How does the ball’s force on the bat compare with the bat’s
force on the ball? The bat’s acceleration is not as spectacular as
the ball’s, but maybe we shouldn’t expect it to be, since the bat’s
mass is much greater. In fact, careful measurements of both objects’
masses and accelerations would show that m
is very nearly
equal to −m
, which suggests that the ball’s force on the bat
is of the same magnitude as the bat’s force on the ball, but in the
opposite direction.
Figures a and b show two somewhat more practical laboratory
experiments for investigating this issue accurately and without too
much interference from extraneous forces.
In experiment a, a large magnet and a small magnet are weighed
separately, and then one magnet is hung from the pan of the top
balance so that it is directly above the other magnet. There is an
attraction between the two magnets, causing the reading on the top
scale to increase and the reading on the bottom scale to decrease.
The large magnet is more “powerful” in the sense that it can pick
up a heavier paperclip from the same distance, so many people have
a strong expectation that one scale’s reading will change by a far
different amount than the other. Instead, we find that the two
changes are equal in magnitude but opposite in direction: the force
of the bottom magnet pulling down on the top one has the same
strength as the force of the top one pulling up on the bottom one.
In experiment b, two people pull on two spring scales. Regardless
of who tries to pull harder, the two forces as measured on the spring
scales are equal. Interposing the two spring scales is necessary in
order to measure the forces, but the outcome is not some artificial
result of the scales’ interactions with each other. If one person slaps
another hard on the hand, the slapper’s hand hurts just as much
as the slappee’s, and it doesn’t matter if the recipient of the slap
tries to be inactive. (Punching someone in the mouth causes just
as much force on the fist as on the lips. It’s just that the lips are
more delicate. The forces are equal, but not the levels of pain and
Newton, after observing a series of results such as these, decided
that there must be a fundamental law of nature at work:
146 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
d / A swimmer doing the breast
stroke pushes backward against
the water. By Newton’s third law,
the water pushes forward on him.
e / Newton’s third law does
not mean that forces always
cancel out so that nothing can
ever move. If these two figure
skaters, initially at rest, push
against each other, they will both
Newton’s third law
Forces occur in equal and opposite pairs: whenever object A exerts
a force on object B, object B must also be exerting a force on object
A. The two forces are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.
In one-dimensional situations, we can use plus and minus signs to
indicate the directions of forces, and Newton’s third law can be
written succinctly as F
A on B
= −F
B on A
self-check A
Figure d analyzes swimming using Newton’s third law. Do a similar
analysis for a sprinter leaving the starting line. Answer, p. 523
There is no cause and effect relationship between the two forces
in Newton’s third law. There is no “original” force, and neither one
is a response to the other. The pair of forces is a relationship, like
marriage, not a back-and-forth process like a tennis match. Newton
came up with the third law as a generalization about all the types of
forces with which he was familiar, such as frictional and gravitational
forces. When later physicists discovered a new type force, such
as the force that holds atomic nuclei together, they had to check
whether it obeyed Newton’s third law. So far, no violation of the
third law has ever been discovered, whereas the first and second
laws were shown to have limitations by Einstein and the pioneers of
atomic physics.
The English vocabulary for describing forces is unfortunately
rooted in Aristotelianism, and often implies incorrectly that forces
are one-way relationships. It is unfortunate that a half-truth such as
“the table exerts an upward force on the book” is so easily expressed,
while a more complete and correct description ends up sounding
awkward or strange: “the table and the book interact via a force,”
or “the table and book participate in a force.”
To students, it often sounds as though Newton’s third law im-
plies nothing could ever change its motion, since the two equal and
opposite forces would always cancel. The two forces, however, are
always on two different objects, so it doesn’t make sense to add
them in the first place — we only add forces that are acting on the
same object. If two objects are interacting via a force and no other
forces are involved, then both objects will accelerate — in opposite
Section 5.1 Newton’s third law 147
f / It doesn’t make sense for the
man to talk about using the
woman’s money to cancel out his
bar tab, because there is no good
reason to combine his debts and
her assets. Similarly, it doesn’t
make sense to refer to the equal
and opposite forces of Newton’s
third law as canceling. It only
makes sense to add up forces
that are acting on the same ob-
ject, whereas two forces related
to each other by Newton’s third
law are always acting on two dif-
ferent objects.
A mnemonic for using Newton’s third law correctly
Mnemonics are tricks for memorizing things. For instance, the
musical notes that lie between the lines on the treble clef spell the
word FACE, which is easy to remember. Many people use the
mnemonic “SOHCAHTOA” to remember the definitions of the sine,
cosine, and tangent in trigonometry. I have my own modest offering,
POFOSTITO, which I hope will make it into the mnemonics hall of
fame. It’s a way to avoid some of the most common problems with
applying Newton’s third law correctly:
A book lying on a table example 1
A book is lying on a table. What force is the Newton’s-third-law
partner of the earth’s gravitational force on the book?
Answer: Newton’s third law works like “B on A, A on B,” so the
partner must be the book’s gravitational force pulling upward on
the planet earth. Yes, there is such a force! No, it does not cause
the earth to do anything noticeable.
Incorrect answer: The table’s upward force on the book is the
Newton’s-third-law partner of the earth’s gravitational force on the
This answer violates two out of three of the commandments of
POFOSTITO. The forces are not of the same type, because the
148 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
Optional Topic: Newton’s Third
Law and Action at a Distance
Newton’s third law is completely
symmetric in the sense that nei-
ther force constitutes a delayed
response to the other. Newton’s
third law does not even mention
time, and the forces are supposed
to agree at any given instant. This
creates an interesting situation
when it comes to noncontact forces.
Suppose two people are hold-
ing magnets, and when one per-
son waves or wiggles her mag-
net, the other person feels an
effect on his. In this way they
can send signals to each other
fromopposite sides of a wall, and
if Newton’s third law is correct, it
would seem that the signals are
transmitted instantly, with no time
lag. The signals are indeed trans-
mitted quite quickly, but experi-
ments with electrically controlled
magnets show that the signals
do not leap the gap instantly: they
travel at the same speed as light,
which is an extremely high speed
but not an infinite one.
Is this a contradiction to New-
ton’s third law? Not really. Ac-
cording to current theories, there
are no true noncontact forces.
Action at a distance does not ex-
ist. Although it appears that the
wiggling of one magnet affects
the other with no need for any-
thing to be in contact with any-
thing, what really happens is that
wiggling a magnet creates a rip-
ple in the magnetic field pattern
that exists even in empty space.
The magnet shoves the ripplies
out with a kick and receives a
kick in return, in strict obedience
to Newton’s third law. The rip-
ples spread out in all directions,
and the ones that hit the other
magnet then interact with it, again
obeying Newton’s third law.
table’s upward force on the book is not gravitational. Also, three
objects are involved instead of two: the book, the table, and the
planet earth.
Pushing a box up a hill example 2
A person is pushing a box up a hill. What force is related by
Newton’s third law to the person’s force on the box?
The box’s force on the person.
Incorrect answer: The person’s force on the box is opposed by
friction, and also by gravity.
This answer fails all three parts of the POFOSTITO test, the
most obvious of which is that three forces are referred to instead
of a pair.
Solved problem: More about example 2 page 171, problem 20
Solved problem: Why did it accelerate? page 171, problem 18
Discussion questions
A When you fire a gun, the exploding gases push outward in all
directions, causing the bullet to accelerate down the barrel. What third-
law pairs are involved? [Hint: Remember that the gases themselves are
an object.]
B Tam Anh grabs Sarah by the hand and tries to pull her. She tries
to remain standing without moving. A student analyzes the situation as
follows. “If Tam Anh’s force on Sarah is greater than her force on him,
he can get her to move. Otherwise, she’ll be able to stay where she is.”
What’s wrong with this analysis?
C You hit a tennis ball against a wall. Explain any and all incorrect
ideas in the following description of the physics involved: “According to
Newton’s third law, there has to be a force opposite to your force on the
ball. The opposite force is the ball’s mass, which resists acceleration, and
also air resistance.”
5.2 Classification and behavior of forces
One of the most basic and important tasks of physics is to classify
the forces of nature. I have already referred informally to “types” of
forces such as friction, magnetism, gravitational forces, and so on.
Classification systems are creations of the human mind, so there is
always some degree of arbitrariness in them. For one thing, the level
of detail that is appropriate for a classification system depends on
what you’re trying to find out. Some linguists, the “lumpers,” like to
emphasize the similarities among languages, and a few extremists
have even tried to find signs of similarities between words in lan-
guages as different as English and Chinese, lumping the world’s lan-
guages into only a few large groups. Other linguists, the “splitters,”
might be more interested in studying the differences in pronuncia-
tion between English speakers in New York and Connecticut. The
Section 5.2 Classification and behavior of forces 149
g / A scientific classification
splitters call the lumpers sloppy, but the lumpers say that science
isn’t worthwhile unless it can find broad, simple patterns within the
seemingly complex universe.
Scientific classification systems are also usually compromises be-
tween practicality and naturalness. An example is the question of
how to classify flowering plants. Most people think that biological
classification is about discovering new species, naming them, and
classifying them in the class-order-family-genus-species system ac-
cording to guidelines set long ago. In reality, the whole system is in
a constant state of flux and controversy. One very practical way of
classifying flowering plants is according to whether their petals are
separate or joined into a tube or cone — the criterion is so clear that
it can be applied to a plant seen from across the street. But here
practicality conflicts with naturalness. For instance, the begonia has
separate petals and the pumpkin has joined petals, but they are so
similar in so many other ways that they are usually placed within
the same order. Some taxonomists have come up with classification
criteria that they claim correspond more naturally to the apparent
relationships among plants, without having to make special excep-
tions, but these may be far less practical, requiring for instance the
examination of pollen grains under an electron microscope.
In physics, there are two main systems of classification for forces.
At this point in the course, you are going to learn one that is very
practical and easy to use, and that splits the forces up into a rel-
atively large number of types: seven very common ones that we’ll
discuss explicitly in this chapter, plus perhaps ten less important
ones such as surface tension, which we will not bother with right
Physicists, however, are obsessed with finding simple patterns,
so recognizing as many as fifteen or twenty types of forces strikes
them as distasteful and overly complex. Since about the year 1900,
physics has been on an aggressive program to discover ways in which
these many seemingly different types of forces arise from a smaller
number of fundamental ones. For instance, when you press your
hands together, the force that keeps them from passing through each
other may seem to have nothing to do with electricity, but at the
atomic level, it actually does arise from electrical repulsion between
atoms. By about 1950, all the forces of nature had been explained
as arising from four fundamental types of forces at the atomic and
nuclear level, and the lumping-together process didn’t stop there.
By the 1960’s the length of the list had been reduced to three, and
some theorists even believe that they may be able to reduce it to
two or one. Although the unification of the forces of nature is one of
the most beautiful and important achievements of physics, it makes
much more sense to start this course with the more practical and
easy system of classification. The unified system of four forces will
be one of the highlights of the end of your introductory physics
150 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
h / A practical classification scheme for forces.
The practical classification scheme which concerns us now can
be laid out in the form of the tree shown in figure h. The most
specific types of forces are shown at the tips of the branches, and
it is these types of forces that are referred to in the POFOSTITO
mnemonic. For example, electrical and magnetic forces belong to
the same general group, but Newton’s third law would never relate
an electrical force to a magnetic force.
The broadest distinction is that between contact and noncontact
forces, which has been discussed in ch. 4. Among the contact forces,
we distinguish between those that involve solids only and those that
have to do with fluids, a term used in physics to include both gases
and liquids.
It should not be necessary to memorize this diagram by rote.
It is better to reinforce your memory of this system by calling to
mind your commonsense knowledge of certain ordinary phenomena.
For instance, we know that the gravitational attraction between us
Section 5.2 Classification and behavior of forces 151
and the planet earth will act even if our feet momentarily leave the
ground, and that although magnets have mass and are affected by
gravity, most objects that have mass are nonmagnetic.
Hitting a wall example 3
A bullet, flying horizontally, hits a steel wall. What type of force
is there between the bullet and the wall?
Starting at the bottom of the tree, we determine that the force
is a contact force, because it only occurs once the bullet touches
the wall. Both objects are solid. The wall forms a vertical plane.
If the nose of the bullet was some shape like a sphere, you might
imagine that it would only touch the wall at one point. Realisti-
cally, however, we know that a lead bullet will flatten out a lot on
impact, so there is a surface of contact between the two, and its
orientation is vertical. The effect of the force on the bullet is to
stop the horizontal motion of the bullet, and this horizontal ac-
celeration must be produced by a horizontal force. The force is
therefore perpendicular to the surface of contact, and it’s also re-
pulsive (tending to keep the bullet from entering the wall), so it
must be a normal force.
Diagram h is meant to be as simple as possible while including
most of the forces we deal with in everyday life. If you were an
insect, you would be much more interested in the force of surface
tension, which allowed you to walk on water. I have not included
the nuclear forces, which are responsible for holding the nuclei of
atoms, because they are not evident in everyday life.
You should not be afraid to invent your own names for types of
forces that do not fit into the diagram. For instance, the force that
holds a piece of tape to the wall has been left off of the tree, and if
you were analyzing a situation involving scotch tape, you would be
absolutely right to refer to it by some commonsense name such as
“sticky force.”
On the other hand, if you are having trouble classifying a certain
force, you should also consider whether it is a force at all. For
instance, if someone asks you to classify the force that the earth has
because of its rotation, you would have great difficulty creating a
place for it on the diagram. That’s because it’s a type of motion,
not a type of force!
Normal forces
A normal force, F
, is a force that keeps one solid object from
passing through another. “Normal” is simply a fancy word for “per-
pendicular,” meaning that the force is perpendicular to the surface
of contact. Intuitively, it seems the normal force magically adjusts
itself to provide whatever force is needed to keep the objects from
occupying the same space. If your muscles press your hands together
152 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
i / A model that correctly ex-
plains many properties of friction.
The microscopic bumps and
holes in two surfaces dig into
each other.
j / Static friction: the tray doesn’t
slip on the waiter’s fingers.
k / Kinetic friction: the car
gently, there is a gentle normal force. Press harder, and the normal
force gets stronger. How does the normal force know how strong to
be? The answer is that the harder you jam your hands together,
the more compressed your flesh becomes. Your flesh is acting like
a spring: more force is required to compress it more. The same is
true when you push on a wall. The wall flexes imperceptibly in pro-
portion to your force on it. If you exerted enough force, would it be
possible for two objects to pass through each other? No, typically
the result is simply to strain the objects so much that one of them
Gravitational forces
As we’ll discuss in more detail later in the course, a gravitational
force exists between any two things that have mass. In everyday life,
the gravitational force between two cars or two people is negligible,
so the only noticeable gravitational forces are the ones between the
earth and various human-scale objects. We refer to these planet-
earth-induced gravitational forces as weight forces, and as we have
already seen, their magnitude is given by |F
| = mg.
Solved problem: Weight and mass page 172, problem 26
Static and kinetic friction
If you have pushed a refrigerator across a kitchen floor, you have
felt a certain series of sensations. At first, you gradually increased
your force on the refrigerator, but it didn’t move. Finally, you sup-
plied enough force to unstick the fridge, and there was a sudden
jerk as the fridge started moving. Once the fridge was unstuck, you
could reduce your force significantly and still keep it moving.
While you were gradually increasing your force, the floor’s fric-
tional force on the fridge increased in response. The two forces on
the fridge canceled, and the fridge didn’t accelerate. How did the
floor know how to respond with just the right amount of force? Fig-
ure i shows one possible model of friction that explains this behavior.
(A scientific model is a description that we expect to be incomplete,
approximate, or unrealistic in some ways, but that nevertheless suc-
ceeds in explaining a variety of phenomena.) Figure i/1 shows a
microscopic view of the tiny bumps and holes in the surfaces of the
floor and the refrigerator. The weight of the fridge presses the two
surfaces together, and some of the bumps in one surface will settle
as deeply as possible into some of the holes in the other surface. In
i/2, your leftward force on the fridge has caused it to ride up a little
higher on the bump in the floor labeled with a small arrow. Still
more force is needed to get the fridge over the bump and allow it to
start moving. Of course, this is occurring simultaneously at millions
of places on the two surfaces.
Once you had gotten the fridge moving at constant speed, you
Section 5.2 Classification and behavior of forces 153
l / Many landfowl, even those
that are competent fliers, prefer
to escape from a predator by
running upward rather than by
flying. This partridge is running
up a vertical tree trunk. Humans
can’t walk up walls because there
is no normal force and therefore
no frictional force; when F
= 0,
the maximum force of static
friction F
= µ
is also
zero. The partridge, however,
has wings that it can flap in order
to create a force between it and
the air. Typically when a bird
flaps its wings, the resulting force
from the air is in the direction
that would tend to lift the bird
up. In this situation, however,
the partridge changes its style
of flapping so that the direction
is reversed. The normal force
between the feet and the tree
allows a nonzero static frictional
force. The mechanism is similar
to that of a spoiler fin on a racing
car. Some evolutionary biologists
believe that when vertebrate
flight first evolved, in dinosaurs,
there was first a stage in which
the wings were used only as an
aid in running up steep inclines,
and only later a transition to
flight. (Redrawn from a figure by
K.P. Dial.)
found that you needed to exert less force on it. Since zero total force
is needed to make an object move with constant velocity, the floor’s
rightward frictional force on the fridge has apparently decreased
somewhat, making it easier for you to cancel it out. Our model also
gives a plausible explanation for this fact: as the surfaces slide past
each other, they don’t have time to settle down and mesh with one
another, so there is less friction.
Even though this model is intuitively appealing and fairly suc-
cessful, it should not be taken too seriously, and in some situations
it is misleading. For instance, fancy racing bikes these days are
made with smooth tires that have no tread — contrary to what
we’d expect from our model, this does not cause any decrease in
friction. Machinists know that two very smooth and clean metal
surfaces may stick to each other firmly and be very difficult to slide
apart. This cannot be explained in our model, but makes more
sense in terms of a model in which friction is described as arising
from chemical bonds between the atoms of the two surfaces at their
points of contact: very flat surfaces allow more atoms to come in
Since friction changes its behavior dramatically once the sur-
faces come unstuck, we define two separate types of frictional forces.
Static friction is friction that occurs between surfaces that are not
slipping over each other. Slipping surfaces experience kinetic fric-
tion. The forces of static and kinetic friction, notated F
and F
, are
always parallel to the surface of contact between the two objects.
self-check B
1. When a baseball player slides in to a base, is the friction static, or
2. A mattress stays on the roof of a slowly accelerating car. Is the
friction static, or kinetic?
3. Does static friction create heat? Kinetic friction? Answer, p. 523
The maximum possible force of static friction depends on what
kinds of surfaces they are, and also on how hard they are being
pressed together. The approximate mathematical relationships can
be expressed as follows:
= µ
where µ
is a unitless number, called the coefficient of static friction,
which depends on what kinds of surfaces they are. The maximum
force that static friction can supply, µ
, represents the boundary
between static and kinetic friction. It depends on the normal force,
which is numerically equal to whatever force is pressing the two
surfaces together. In terms of our model, if the two surfaces are
being pressed together more firmly, a greater sideways force will be
154 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
required in order to make the irregularities in the surfaces ride up
and over each other.
Note that just because we use an adjective such as “applied” to
refer to a force, that doesn’t mean that there is some special type
of force called the “applied force.” The applied force could be any
type of force, or it could be the sum of more than one force trying
to make an object move.
self-check C
The arrows in figure l show the forces of the tree trunk on the partridge.
Describe the forces the bird makes on the tree. Answer, p. 523
The force of kinetic friction on each of the two objects is in the
direction that resists the slippage of the surfaces. Its magnitude is
usually well approximated as
= µ
where µ
is the coefficient of kinetic friction. Kinetic friction is
usually more or less independent of velocity.
m / We choose a coordinate sys-
tem in which the applied force,
i.e., the force trying to move the
objects, is positive. The friction
force is then negative, since it is
in the opposite direction. As you
increase the applied force, the
force of static friction increases to
match it and cancel it out, until the
maximum force of static friction is
surpassed. The surfaces then be-
gin slipping past each other, and
the friction force becomes smaller
in absolute value.
self-check D
Can a frictionless surface exert a normal force? Can a frictional force
exist without a normal force? Answer, p. 523
If you try to accelerate or decelerate your car too quickly, the
forces between your wheels and the road become too great, and they
begin slipping. This is not good, because kinetic friction is weaker
than static friction, resulting in less control. Also, if this occurs
while you are turning, the car’s handling changes abruptly because
the kinetic friction force is in a different direction than the static
friction force had been: contrary to the car’s direction of motion,
rather than contrary to the forces applied to the tire.
Most people respond with disbelief when told of the experimen-
tal evidence that both static and kinetic friction are approximately
Section 5.2 Classification and behavior of forces 155
independent of the amount of surface area in contact. Even after
doing a hands-on exercise with spring scales to show that it is true,
many students are unwilling to believe their own observations, and
insist that bigger tires “give more traction.” In fact, the main rea-
son why you would not want to put small tires on a big heavy car
is that the tires would burst!
Although many people expect that friction would be propor-
tional to surface area, such a proportionality would make predictions
contrary to many everyday observations. A dog’s feet, for example,
have very little surface area in contact with the ground compared
to a human’s feet, and yet we know that a dog can often win a
tug-of-war with a person.
The reason a smaller surface area does not lead to less friction
is that the force between the two surfaces is more concentrated,
causing their bumps and holes to dig into each other more deeply.
self-check E
Find the direction of each of the forces in figure n. Answer, p. 524
n / 1. The cliff’s normal force on
the climber’s feet. 2. The track’s
static frictional force on the wheel
of the accelerating dragster. 3.
The ball’s normal force on the
Locomotives example 4
Looking at a picture of a locomotive, o, we notice two obvious
things that are different from an automobile. Where a car typi-
cally has two drive wheels, a locomotive normally has many —
ten in this example. (Some also have smaller, unpowered wheels
in front of and behind the drive wheels, but this example doesn’t.)
Also, cars these days are generally built to be as light as possi-
ble for their size, whereas locomotives are very massive, and no
effort seems to be made to keep their weight low. (The steam
locomotive in the photo is from about 1900, but this is true even
for modern diesel and electric trains.)
156 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
p / Fluid friction depends on
the fluid’s pattern of flow, so it is
more complicated than friction
between solids, and there are
no simple, universally applicable
formulas to calculate it. From
top to bottom: supersonic wind
tunnel, vortex created by a crop
duster, series of vortices created
by a single object, turbulence.
o / Example 4.
The reason locomotives are built to be so heavy is for traction.
The upward normal force of the rails on the wheels, F
, cancels
the downward force of gravity, F
, so ignoring plus and minus
signs, these two forces are equal in absolute value, F
= F
Given this amount of normal force, the maximum force of static
friction is F
= µ
= µ
. This static frictional force, of the
rails pushing forward on the wheels, is the only force that can
accelerate the train, pull it uphill, or cancel out the force of air
resistance while cruising at constant speed. The coefficient of
static friction for steel on steel is about 1/4, so no locomotive can
pull with a force greater than about 1/4 of its own weight. If the
engine is capable of supplying more than that amount of force, the
result will be simply to break static friction and spin the wheels.
The reason this is all so different from the situation with a car is
that a car isn’t pulling something else. If you put extra weight in
a car, you improve the traction, but you also increase the inertia
of the car, and make it just as hard to accelerate. In a train, the
inertia is almost all in the cars being pulled, not in the locomotive.
The other fact we have to explain is the large number of driv-
ing wheels. First, we have to realize that increasing the num-
ber of driving wheels neither increases nor decreases the total
amount of static friction, because static friction is independent of
the amount of surface area in contact. (The reason four-wheel-
drive is good in a car is that if one or more of the wheels is slip-
ping on ice or in mud, the other wheels may still have traction.
This isn’t typically an issue for a train, since all the wheels experi-
ence the same conditions.) The advantage of having more driving
wheels on a train is that it allows us to increase the weight of the
locomotive without crushing the rails, or damaging bridges.
Fluid friction
Try to drive a nail into a waterfall and you will be confronted
with the main difference between solid friction and fluid friction.
Fluid friction is purely kinetic; there is no static fluid friction. The
nail in the waterfall may tend to get dragged along by the water
flowing past it, but it does not stick in the water. The same is true
for gases such as air: recall that we are using the word “fluid” to
include both gases and liquids.
Section 5.2 Classification and behavior of forces 157
q / What do the golf ball and
the shark have in common? Both
use the same trick to reduce fluid
friction. The dimples on the golf
ball modify the pattern of flow of
the air around it, counterintuitively
reducing friction. Recent studies
have shown that sharks can
accomplish the same thing by
raising, or “bristling,” the scales
on their skin at high speeds.
r / The wheelbases of the
Hummer H3 and the Toyota Prius
are surprisingly similar, differing
by only 10%. The main difference
in shape is that the Hummer is
much taller and wider. It presents
a much greater cross-sectional
area to the wind, and this is the
main reason that it uses about 2.5
times more gas on the freeway.
Unlike kinetic friction between solids, fluid friction increases
rapidly with velocity. It also depends on the shape of the object,
which is why a fighter jet is more streamlined than a Model T. For
objects of the same shape but different sizes, fluid friction typically
scales up with the cross-sectional area of the object, which is one
of the main reasons that an SUV gets worse mileage on the freeway
than a compact car.
Discussion questions
A A student states that when he tries to push his refrigerator, the
reason it won’t move is because Newton’s third law says there’s an equal
and opposite frictional force pushing back. After all, the static friction force
is equal and opposite to the applied force. How would you convince him
he is wrong?
B Kinetic friction is usually more or less independent of velocity. How-
ever, inexperienced drivers tend to produce a jerk at the last moment of
deceleration when they stop at a stop light. What does this tell you about
the kinetic friction between the brake shoes and the brake drums?
C Some of the following are correct descriptions of types of forces that
could be added on as new branches of the classification tree. Others are
not really types of forces, and still others are not force phenomena at all.
In each case, decide what’s going on, and if appropriate, figure out how
you would incorporate them into the tree.
sticky force makes tape stick to things
opposite force the force that Newton’s third law says relates to ev-
ery force you make
flowing force the force that water carries with it as it flows out of a
surface tension lets insects walk on water
horizontal force a force that is horizontal
motor force the force that a motor makes on the thing it is turning
canceled force a force that is being canceled out by some other
5.3 Analysis of forces
Newton’s first and second laws deal with the total of all the forces
exerted on a specific object, so it is very important to be able to
figure out what forces there are. Once you have focused your atten-
tion on one object and listed the forces on it, it is also helpful to
describe all the corresponding forces that must exist according to
Newton’s third law. We refer to this as “analyzing the forces” in
which the object participates.
158 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
A barge example 5
A barge is being pulled to the right along a canal by teams of horses on the shores. Analyze all the forces in
which the barge participates.
force acting on barge force related to it by Newton’s third law
ropes’ normal forces on barge, → barge’s normal force on ropes, ←
water’s fluid friction force on barge, ← barge’s fluid friction force on water, →
planet earth’s gravitational force on barge, ↓ barge’s gravitational force on earth, ↑
water’s “floating” force on barge, ↑ barge’s “floating” force on water, ↓
Here I’ve used the word “floating” force as an example of a sensible invented term for a type of force not
classified on the tree on p. 151. A more formal technical term would be “hydrostatic force.”
Note how the pairs of forces are all structured as “A’s force on B, B’s force on A”: ropes on barge and barge
on ropes; water on barge and barge on water. Because all the forces in the left column are forces acting on
the barge, all the forces in the right column are forces being exerted by the barge, which is why each entry in
the column begins with “barge.”
Often you may be unsure whether you have forgotten one of the
forces. Here are three strategies for checking your list:
1. See what physical result would come from the forces you’ve
found so far. Suppose, for instance, that you’d forgotten the
“floating” force on the barge in the example above. Looking
at the forces you’d found, you would have found that there
was a downward gravitational force on the barge which was
not canceled by any upward force. The barge isn’t supposed
to sink, so you know you need to find a fourth, upward force.
2. Another technique for finding missing forces is simply to go
through the list of all the common types of forces and see if
any of them apply.
3. Make a drawing of the object, and draw a dashed boundary
line around it that separates it from its environment. Look for
points on the boundary where other objects come in contact
with your object. This strategy guarantees that you’ll find
every contact force that acts on the object, although it won’t
help you to find non-contact forces.
Section 5.3 Analysis of forces 159
s / Example 6.
Fifi example 6
Fifi is an industrial espionage dog who loves doing her job and
looks great doing it. She leaps through a window and lands at
initial horizontal speed v
on a conveyor belt which is itself moving
at the greater speed v
. Unfortunately the coefficient of kinetic
friction µ
between her foot-pads and the belt is fairly low, so she
skids for a time ∆t , during which the effect on her coiffure are un
d´ esastre. Find ∆t .
We analyze the forces:
force acting on Fifi force related to it by Newton’s
third law
planet earth’s gravitational
force F
= mg on Fifi, ↓
Fifi’s gravitational force on
earth, ↑
belt’s kinetic frictional force F
on Fifi, →
Fifi’s kinetic frictional force on
belt, ←
belt’s normal force F
on Fifi, ↑ Fifi’s normal force on belt, ↓
Checking the analysis of the forces as described on p. 159:
(1) The physical result makes sense. The left-hand column con-
sists of forces ↓→↑. We’re describing the time when she’s moving
horizontally on the belt, so it makes sense that we have two ver-
tical forces that could cancel. The rightward force is what will
accelerate her until her speed matches that of the belt.
(2) We’ve included every relevant type of force from the tree on
p. 151.
(3) We’ve included forces from the belt, which is the only object
in contact with Fifi.
The purpose of the analysis is to let us set up equations contain-
ing enough information to solve the problem. Let positive x be to
the right. Newton’s second law gives
(→) a = F
Although it’s the horizontal motion we care about, the only way to
find F
is via the relation F
= µ
, and the only way to find F
is from the ↑↓ forces. If the vertical forces are to cancel, they must
be of equal strength:
(↑↓) F
= mg
Using the constant-acceleration equation a = ∆v/∆t , we have
∆t =
160 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
The units check out:
s =
where µ
is omitted as a factor because it’s unitless.
We should also check that the dependence on the variables also
makes sense. If Fifi puts on her rubber ninja booties, increas-
ing µ
, then dividing by a larger number gives a smaller result
for ∆t ; this makes sense physically, because the greater friction
will cause her to come up to the belt’s speed more quickly. The
dependence on g is similar; more gravity would press her harder
against the belt, improving her traction. Increasing v
∆t , which makes sense because it will take her longer to get up
to a bigger speed. Since v
is subtracted, the dependence of ∆t
on it is the other way around, and that makes sense too, because
if she can land with a greater speed, she has less speeding up
left to do.
Discussion questions
A In the example of the barge going down the canal, I referred to
a “floating” or “hydrostatic” force that keeps the boat from sinking. If you
were adding a new branch on the force-classification tree to represent this
force, where would it go?
B The earth’s gravitational force on you, i.e., your weight, is always
equal to mg, where m is your mass. So why can you get a shovel to go
deeper into the ground by jumping onto it? Just because you’re jumping,
that doesn’t mean your mass or weight is any greater, does it?
5.4 Transmission of forces by low-mass
You’re walking your dog. The dog wants to go faster than you do,
and the leash is taut. Does Newton’s third law guarantee that your
force on your end of the leash is equal and opposite to the dog’s
force on its end? If they’re not exactly equal, is there any reason
why they should be approximately equal?
If there was no leash between you, and you were in direct contact
with the dog, then Newton’s third law would apply, but Newton’s
third law cannot relate your force on the leash to the dog’s force
on the leash, because that would involve three separate objects.
Newton’s third law only says that your force on the leash is equal
and opposite to the leash’s force on you,
= −F
and that the dog’s force on the leash is equal and opposite to its
force on the dog
= −F
Section 5.4 Transmission of forces by low-mass objects 161
u / The Golden Gate Bridge’s
roadway is held up by the tension
in the vertical cables.
Still, we have a strong intuitive expectation that whatever force we
make on our end of the leash is transmitted to the dog, and vice-
versa. We can analyze the situation by concentrating on the forces
that act on the leash, F
and F
. According to Newton’s second
law, these relate to the leash’s mass and acceleration:
= m
The leash is far less massive then any of the other objects involved,
and if m
is very small, then apparently the total force on the leash
is also very small, F
+ F
≈ 0, and therefore
≈ −F
Thus even though Newton’s third law does not apply directly to
these two forces, we can approximate the low-mass leash as if it was
not intervening between you and the dog. It’s at least approximately
as if you and the dog were acting directly on each other, in which
case Newton’s third law would have applied.
In general, low-mass objects can be treated approximately as if
they simply transmitted forces from one object to another. This can
be true for strings, ropes, and cords, and also for rigid objects such
as rods and sticks.
t / If we imagine dividing a taut rope up into small segments, then
any segment has forces pulling outward on it at each end. If the rope
is of negligible mass, then all the forces equal +T or −T, where T, the
tension, is a single number.
If you look at a piece of string under a magnifying glass as you
pull on the ends more and more strongly, you will see the fibers
straightening and becoming taut. Different parts of the string are
apparently exerting forces on each other. For instance, if we think of
the two halves of the string as two objects, then each half is exerting
a force on the other half. If we imagine the string as consisting
of many small parts, then each segment is transmitting a force to
the next segment, and if the string has very little mass, then all
the forces are equal in magnitude. We refer to the magnitude of
the forces as the tension in the string, T. Although the tension
is measured in units of Newtons, it is not itself a force. There are
many forces within the string, some in one direction and some in the
other direction, and their magnitudes are only approximately equal.
The concept of tension only makes sense as a general, approximate
statement of how big all the forces are.
162 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
If a rope goes over a pulley or around some other object, then
the tension throughout the rope is approximately equal so long as
the pulley has negligible mass and there is not too much friction. A
rod or stick can be treated in much the same way as a string, but
it is possible to have either compression or tension.
Since tension is not a type of force, the force exerted by a rope
on some other object must be of some definite type such as static
friction, kinetic friction, or a normal force. If you hold your dog’s
leash with your hand through the loop, then the force exerted by the
leash on your hand is a normal force: it is the force that keeps the
leash from occupying the same space as your hand. If you grasp a
plain end of a rope, then the force between the rope and your hand
is a frictional force.
A more complex example of transmission of forces is the way
a car accelerates. Many people would describe the car’s engine as
making the force that accelerates the car, but the engine is part of
the car, so that’s impossible: objects can’t make forces on them-
selves. What really happens is that the engine’s force is transmitted
through the transmission to the axles, then through the tires to the
road. By Newton’s third law, there will thus be a forward force from
the road on the tires, which accelerates the car.
Discussion question
A When you step on the gas pedal, is your foot’s force being transmitted
in the sense of the word used in this section?
5.5 Objects under strain
A string lengthens slightly when you stretch it. Similarly, we have
already discussed how an apparently rigid object such as a wall is
actually flexing when it participates in a normal force. In other
cases, the effect is more obvious. A spring or a rubber band visibly
elongates when stretched.
Common to all these examples is a change in shape of some kind:
lengthening, bending, compressing, etc. The change in shape can
be measured by picking some part of the object and measuring its
position, x. For concreteness, let’s imagine a spring with one end
attached to a wall. When no force is exerted, the unfixed end of the
spring is at some position x
. If a force acts at the unfixed end, its
position will change to some new value of x. The more force, the
greater the departure of x from x
Back in Newton’s time, experiments like this were considered
cutting-edge research, and his contemporary Hooke is remembered
today for doing them and for coming up with a simple mathematical
Section 5.5 Objects under strain 163
v / Defining the quantities F, x,
and x
in Hooke’s law.
generalization called Hooke’s law:
F ≈ k(x −x
) . [force required to stretch a spring; valid
for small forces only]
Here k is a constant, called the spring constant, that depends on
how stiff the object is. If too much force is applied, the spring
exhibits more complicated behavior, so the equation is only a good
approximation if the force is sufficiently small. Usually when the
force is so large that Hooke’s law is a bad approximation, the force
ends up permanently bending or breaking the spring.
Although Hooke’s law may seem like a piece of trivia about
springs, it is actually far more important than that, because all
solid objects exert Hooke’s-law behavior over some range of suffi-
ciently small forces. For example, if you push down on the hood of
a car, it dips by an amount that is directly proportional to the force.
(But the car’s behavior would not be as mathematically simple if
you dropped a boulder on the hood!)
Solved problem: Combining springs page 170, problem 14
Solved problem: Young’s modulus page 170, problem 16
Discussion question
A A car is connected to its axles through big, stiff springs called shock
absorbers, or “shocks.” Although we’ve discussed Hooke’s law above only
in the case of stretching a spring, a car’s shocks are continually going
through both stretching and compression. In this situation, how would
you interpret the positive and negative signs in Hooke’s law?
5.6 Simple machines: the pulley
Even the most complex machines, such as cars or pianos, are built
out of certain basic units called simple machines. The following are
some of the main functions of simple machines:
164 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
transmitting a force: The chain on a bicycle transmits a force
from the crank set to the rear wheel.
changing the direction of a force: If you push down on a see-
saw, the other end goes up.
changing the speed and precision of motion: When you make
the “come here” motion, your biceps only moves a couple of
centimeters where it attaches to your forearm, but your arm
moves much farther and more rapidly.
changing the amount of force: A lever or pulley can be used
to increase or decrease the amount of force.
You are now prepared to understand one-dimensional simple ma-
chines, of which the pulley is the main example.
w / Example 7.
A pulley example 7
Farmer Bill says this pulley arrangement doubles the force of
his tractor. Is he just a dumb hayseed, or does he know what he’s
To use Newton’s first law, we need to pick an object and con-
sider the sum of the forces on it. Since our goal is to relate the
tension in the part of the cable attached to the stump to the ten-
sion in the part attached to the tractor, we should pick an object
to which both those cables are attached, i.e., the pulley itself. The
tension in a string or cable remains approximately constant as it
passes around an idealized pulley.
There are therefore two left-
ward forces acting on the pulley, each equal to the force exerted
by the tractor. Since the acceleration of the pulley is essentially
zero, the forces on it must be canceling out, so the rightward force
of the pulley-stump cable on the pulley must be double the force
exerted by the tractor. Yes, Farmer Bill knows what he’s talking
This was asserted in section 5.4 without proof. Essentially it holds because
of symmetry. E.g., if the U-shaped piece of rope in figure w had unequal tension
in its two legs, then this would have to be caused by some asymmetry between
clockwise and counterclockwise rotation. But such an asymmetry can only be
caused by friction or inertia, which we assume don’t exist.
Section 5.6 Simple machines: the pulley 165
Selected vocabulary
repulsive . . . . . describes a force that tends to push the two
participating objects apart
attractive . . . . describes a force that tends to pull the two
participating objects together
oblique . . . . . . describes a force that acts at some other angle,
one that is not a direct repulsion or attraction
normal force . . . the force that keeps two objects from occupy-
ing the same space
static friction . . a friction force between surfaces that are not
slipping past each other
kinetic friction . a friction force between surfaces that are slip-
ping past each other
fluid . . . . . . . . a gas or a liquid
fluid friction . . . a friction force in which at least one of the
object is is a fluid
spring constant . the constant of proportionality between force
and elongation of a spring or other object un-
der strain
. . . . . . . . . a normal force
. . . . . . . . . a static frictional force
. . . . . . . . . a kinetic frictional force
. . . . . . . . . the coefficient of static friction; the constant of
proportionality between the maximum static
frictional force and the normal force; depends
on what types of surfaces are involved
. . . . . . . . . the coefficient of kinetic friction; the constant
of proportionality between the kinetic fric-
tional force and the normal force; depends on
what types of surfaces are involved
k . . . . . . . . . . the spring constant; the constant of propor-
tionality between the force exerted on an ob-
ject and the amount by which the object is
lengthened or compressed
Newton’s third law states that forces occur in equal and opposite
pairs. If object A exerts a force on object B, then object B must
simultaneously be exerting an equal and opposite force on object A.
Each instance of Newton’s third law involves exactly two objects,
and exactly two forces, which are of the same type.
There are two systems for classifying forces. We are presently
using the more practical but less fundamental one. In this system,
forces are classified by whether they are repulsive, attractive, or
oblique; whether they are contact or noncontact forces; and whether
166 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
the two objects involved are solids or fluids.
Static friction adjusts itself to match the force that is trying to
make the surfaces slide past each other, until the maximum value is
= µ
Once this force is exceeded, the surfaces slip past one another, and
kinetic friction applies,
= µ
Both types of frictional force are nearly independent of surface area,
and kinetic friction is usually approximately independent of the
speed at which the surfaces are slipping. The direction of the force
is in the direction that would tend to stop or prevent slipping.
A good first step in applying Newton’s laws of motion to any
physical situation is to pick an object of interest, and then to list
all the forces acting on that object. We classify each force by its
type, and find its Newton’s-third-law partner, which is exerted by
the object on some other object.
When two objects are connected by a third low-mass object,
their forces are transmitted to each other nearly unchanged.
Objects under strain always obey Hooke’s law to a good approx-
imation, as long as the force is small. Hooke’s law states that the
stretching or compression of the object is proportional to the force
exerted on it,
F ≈ k(x −x
) .
Summary 167
Problem 1.
Problem 6.
Problem 8.

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 A little old lady and a pro football player collide head-on.
Compare their forces on each other, and compare their accelerations.
2 The earth is attracted to an object with a force equal and
opposite to the force of the earth on the object. If this is true,
why is it that when you drop an object, the earth does not have an
acceleration equal and opposite to that of the object?
3 When you stand still, there are two forces acting on you,
the force of gravity (your weight) and the normal force of the floor
pushing up on your feet. Are these forces equal and opposite? Does
Newton’s third law relate them to each other? Explain.
In problems 4-8, analyze the forces using a table in the format shown
in section 5.3. Analyze the forces in which the italicized object par-
4 Some people put a spare car key in a little magnetic box that
they stick under the chassis of their car. Let’s say that the box is
stuck directly underneath a horizontal surface, and the car is parked.
(See instructions above.)
5 Analyze two examples of objects at rest relative to the earth
that are being kept from falling by forces other than the normal
force. Do not use objects in outer space, and do not duplicate
problem 4 or 8. (See instructions above.)
6 A person is rowing a boat, with her feet braced. She is doing
the part of the stroke that propels the boat, with the ends of the
oars in the water (not the part where the oars are out of the water).
(See instructions above.)
7 A farmer is in a stall with a cow when the cow decides to press
him against the wall, pinning him with his feet off the ground. An-
alyze the forces in which the farmer participates. (See instructions
8 A propeller plane is cruising east at constant speed and alti-
tude. (See instructions above.)
168 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
Problem 9.
Problem 10.
9 Today’s tallest buildings are really not that much taller than
the tallest buildings of the 1940’s. One big problem with making an
even taller skyscraper is that every elevator needs its own shaft run-
ning the whole height of the building. So many elevators are needed
to serve the building’s thousands of occupants that the elevator
shafts start taking up too much of the space within the building.
An alternative is to have elevators that can move both horizontally
and vertically: with such a design, many elevator cars can share a
few shafts, and they don’t get in each other’s way too much because
they can detour around each other. In this design, it becomes im-
possible to hang the cars from cables, so they would instead have to
ride on rails which they grab onto with wheels. Friction would keep
them from slipping. The figure shows such a frictional elevator in
its vertical travel mode. (The wheels on the bottom are for when it
needs to switch to horizontal motion.)
(a) If the coefficient of static friction between rubber and steel is
, and the maximum mass of the car plus its passengers is M,
how much force must there be pressing each wheel against the rail
in order to keep the car from slipping? (Assume the car is not

(b) Show that your result has physically reasonable behavior with
respect to µ
. In other words, if there was less friction, would the
wheels need to be pressed more firmly or less firmly? Does your
equation behave that way?
10 Unequal masses M and m are suspended from a pulley as
shown in the figure.
(a) Analyze the forces in which mass m participates, using a table
the format shown in section 5.3. [The forces in which the other mass
participates will of course be similar, but not numerically the same.]
(b) Find the magnitude of the accelerations of the two masses.
[Hints: (1) Pick a coordinate system, and use positive and nega-
tive signs consistently to indicate the directions of the forces and
accelerations. (2) The two accelerations of the two masses have to
be equal in magnitude but of opposite signs, since one side eats up
rope at the same rate at which the other side pays it out. (3) You
need to apply Newton’s second law twice, once to each mass, and
then solve the two equations for the unknowns: the acceleration, a,
and the tension in the rope, T.]

(c) Many people expect that in the special case of M = m, the two
masses will naturally settle down to an equilibrium position side by
side. Based on your answer from part b, is this correct?
(d) Find the tension in the rope, T.

(e) Interpret your equation from part d in the special case where one
of the masses is zero. Here “interpret” means to figure out what hap-
pens mathematically, figure out what should happen physically, and
connect the two.
Problems 169
Problem 13.
Problem 14.
11 A tugboat of mass m pulls a ship of mass M, accelerating it.
The speeds are low enough that you can ignore fluid friction acting
on their hulls, although there will of course need to be fluid friction
acting on the tug’s propellers.
(a) Analyze the forces in which the tugboat participates, using a
table in the format shown in section 5.3. Don’t worry about vertical
(b) Do the same for the ship.
(c) If the force acting on the tug’s propeller is F, what is the tension,
T, in the cable connecting the two ships? [Hint: Write down two
equations, one for Newton’s second law applied to each object. Solve
these for the two unknowns T and a.]

(d) Interpret your answer in the special cases of M = 0 and M = ∞.
12 Someone tells you she knows of a certain type of Central
American earthworm whose skin, when rubbed on polished dia-
mond, has µ
> µ
. Why is this not just empirically unlikely but
logically suspect?
13 In the system shown in the figure, the pulleys on the left and
right are fixed, but the pulley in the center can move to the left or
right. The two masses are identical. Show that the mass on the left
will have an upward acceleration equal to g/5. Assume all the ropes
and pulleys are massless and frictionless.
14 The figure shows two different ways of combining a pair of
identical springs, each with spring constant k. We refer to the top
setup as parallel, and the bottom one as a series arrangement.
(a) For the parallel arrangement, analyze the forces acting on the
connector piece on the left, and then use this analysis to determine
the equivalent spring constant of the whole setup. Explain whether
the combined spring constant should be interpreted as being stiffer
or less stiff.
(b) For the series arrangement, analyze the forces acting on each
spring and figure out the same things. Solution, p. 512
15 Generalize the results of problem 14 to the case where the
two spring constants are unequal.
16 (a) Using the solution of problem 14, which is given in the
back of the book, predict how the spring constant of a fiber will
depend on its length and cross-sectional area.
(b) The constant of proportionality is called the Young’s modulus,
E, and typical values of the Young’s modulus are about 10
. What units would the Young’s modulus have in the SI (meter-
kilogram-second) system? Solution, p. 513
170 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
Problem 17.
Problem 19.
17 This problem depends on the results of problems 14 and
16, whose solutions are in the back of the book. When atoms form
chemical bonds, it makes sense to talk about the spring constant of
the bond as a measure of how “stiff” it is. Of course, there aren’t
really little springs — this is just a mechanical model. The purpose
of this problem is to estimate the spring constant, k, for a single
bond in a typical piece of solid matter. Suppose we have a fiber,
like a hair or a piece of fishing line, and imagine for simplicity that
it is made of atoms of a single element stacked in a cubical manner,
as shown in the figure, with a center-to-center spacing b. A typical
value for b would be about 10
(a) Find an equation for k in terms of b, and in terms of the Young’s
modulus, E, defined in problem 16 and its solution.
(b) Estimate k using the numerical data given in problem 16.
(c) Suppose you could grab one of the atoms in a diatomic molecule
like H
or O
, and let the other atom hang vertically below it. Does
the bond stretch by any appreciable fraction due to gravity?
18 In each case, identify the force that causes the acceleration,
and give its Newton’s-third-law partner. Describe the effect of the
partner force. (a) A swimmer speeds up. (b) A golfer hits the ball
off of the tee. (c) An archer fires an arrow. (d) A locomotive slows
down. Solution, p. 513
19 Ginny has a plan. She is going to ride her sled while her dog
Foo pulls her, and she holds on to his leash. However, Ginny hasn’t
taken physics, so there may be a problem: she may slide right off
the sled when Foo starts pulling.
(a) Analyze all the forces in which Ginny participates, making a
table as in section 5.3.
(b) Analyze all the forces in which the sled participates.
(c) The sled has mass m, and Ginny has mass M. The coefficient
of static friction between the sled and the snow is µ
, and µ
the corresponding quantity for static friction between the sled and
her snow pants. Ginny must have a certain minimum mass so that
she will not slip off the sled. Find this in terms of the other three

(d) Interpreting your equation from part c, under what conditions
will there be no physically realistic solution for M? Discuss what
this means physically.
20 Example 2 on page 149 involves a person pushing a box up a
hill. The incorrect answer describes three forces. For each of these
three forces, give the force that it is related to by Newton’s third
law, and state the type of force. Solution, p. 513
21 Example 7 on page 165 describes a force-doubling setup
involving a pulley. Make up a more complicated arrangement, using
two pulleys, that would multiply the force by four. The basic idea
is to take the output of one force doubler and feed it into the input
Problems 171
of a second one.
22 Pick up a heavy object such as a backpack or a chair, and
stand on a bathroom scale. Shake the object up and down. What
do you observe? Interpret your observations in terms of Newton’s
third law.
23 A cop investigating the scene of an accident measures the
length L of a car’s skid marks in order to find out its speed v at
the beginning of the skid. Express v in terms of L and any other
relevant variables.

24 The following reasoning leads to an apparent paradox; explain
what’s wrong with the logic. A baseball player hits a ball. The ball
and the bat spend a fraction of a second in contact. During that
time they’re moving together, so their accelerations must be equal.
Newton’s third law says that their forces on each other are also
equal. But a = F/m, so how can this be, since their masses are
unequal? (Note that the paradox isn’t resolved by considering the
force of the batter’s hands on the bat. Not only is this force very
small compared to the ball-bat force, but the batter could have just
thrown the bat at the ball.)
25 This problem has been deleted.
26 (a) Compare the mass of a one-liter water bottle on earth,
on the moon, and in interstellar space. Solution, p. 513
(b) Do the same for its weight.
27 An ice skater builds up some speed, and then coasts across
the ice passively in a straight line. (a) Analyze the forces, using a
table the format shown in section 5.3.
(b) If his initial speed is v, and the coefficient of kinetic friction is µ
find the maximum theoretical distance he can glide before coming
to a stop. Ignore air resistance.

(c) Show that your answer to part b has the right units.
(d) Show that your answer to part b depends on the variables in a
way that makes sense physically.
(e) Evaluate your answer numerically for µ
= 0.0046, and a world-
record speed of 14.58 m/s. (The coefficient of friction was measured
by De Koning et al., using special skates worn by real speed skaters.)

(f) Comment on whether your answer in part e seems realistic. If it
doesn’t, suggest possible reasons why.
172 Chapter 5 Analysis of forces
Problem 28.
28 Mountain climbers with masses m and M are roped together
while crossing a horizontal glacier when a vertical crevasse opens up
under the climber with mass M. The climber with mass m drops
down on the snow and tries to stop by digging into the snow with
the pick of an ice ax. Alas, this story does not have a happy ending,
because this doesn’t provide enough friction to stop. Both m and M
continue accelerating, with M dropping down into the crevasse and
m being dragged across the snow, slowed only by the kinetic friction
with coefficient µ
acting between the ax and the snow. There is no
significant friction between the rope and the lip of the crevasse.
(a) Find the acceleration a.

(b) Check the units of your result.
(c) Check the dependence of your equation on the variables. That
means that for each variable, you should determine what its effect
on a should be physically, and then what your answer from part a
says its effect would be mathematically.
Problems 173
Motion in three
Chapter 6
Newton’s laws in three
6.1 Forces have no perpendicular effects
Suppose you could shoot a rifle and arrange for a second bullet to
be dropped from the same height at the exact moment when the
first left the barrel. Which would hit the ground first? Nearly
everyone expects that the dropped bullet will reach the dirt first,
and Aristotle would have agreed. Aristotle would have described it
like this. The shot bullet receives some forced motion from the gun.
It travels forward for a split second, slowing down rapidly because
there is no longer any force to make it continue in motion. Once
it is done with its forced motion, it changes to natural motion, i.e.
falling straight down. While the shot bullet is slowing down, the
dropped bullet gets on with the business of falling, so according to
Aristotle it will hit the ground first.
a / A bullet is shot from a gun, and another bullet is simultaneously dropped from the same height. 1.
Aristotelian physics says that the horizontal motion of the shot bullet delays the onset of falling, so the dropped
bullet hits the ground first. 2. Newtonian physics says the two bullets have the same vertical motion, regardless
of their different horizontal motions.
Luckily, nature isn’t as complicated as Aristotle thought! To
convince yourself that Aristotle’s ideas were wrong and needlessly
complex, stand up now and try this experiment. Take your keys
out of your pocket, and begin walking briskly forward. Without
speeding up or slowing down, release your keys and let them fall
while you continue walking at the same pace.
You have found that your keys hit the ground right next to your
feet. Their horizontal motion never slowed down at all, and the
whole time they were dropping, they were right next to you. The
horizontal motion and the vertical motion happen at the same time,
and they are independent of each other. Your experiment proves
that the horizontal motion is unaffected by the vertical motion, but
it’s also true that the vertical motion is not changed in any way by
the horizontal motion. The keys take exactly the same amount of
time to get to the ground as they would have if you simply dropped
them, and the same is true of the bullets: both bullets hit the ground
178 Chapter 6 Newton’s laws in three dimensions
These have been our first examples of motion in more than one
dimension, and they illustrate the most important new idea that
is required to understand the three-dimensional generalization of
Newtonian physics:
Forces have no perpendicular effects.
When a force acts on an object, it has no effect on the part of the
object’s motion that is perpendicular to the force.
In the examples above, the vertical force of gravity had no effect
on the horizontal motions of the objects. These were examples of
projectile motion, which interested people like Galileo because of
its military applications. The principle is more general than that,
however. For instance, if a rolling ball is initially heading straight
for a wall, but a steady wind begins blowing from the side, the ball
does not take any longer to get to the wall. In the case of projectile
motion, the force involved is gravity, so we can say more specifically
that the vertical acceleration is 9.8 m/s
, regardless of the horizontal
self-check A
In the example of the ball being blown sideways, why doesn’t the ball
take longer to get there, since it has to travel a greater distance?
Answer, p. 524
Relationship to relative motion
These concepts are directly related to the idea that motion is rel-
ative. Galileo’s opponents argued that the earth could not possibly
be rotating as he claimed, because then if you jumped straight up in
the air you wouldn’t be able to come down in the same place. Their
argument was based on their incorrect Aristotelian assumption that
once the force of gravity began to act on you and bring you back
down, your horizontal motion would stop. In the correct Newtonian
theory, the earth’s downward gravitational force is acting before,
during, and after your jump, but has no effect on your motion in
the perpendicular (horizontal) direction.
If Aristotle had been correct, then we would have a handy way
to determine absolute motion and absolute rest: jump straight up
in the air, and if you land back where you started, the surface from
which you jumped must have been in a state of rest. In reality, this
test gives the same result as long as the surface under you is an
inertial frame. If you try this in a jet plane, you land back on the
same spot on the deck from which you started, regardless of whether
the plane is flying at 500 miles per hour or parked on the runway.
The method would in fact only be good for detecting whether the
Section 6.1 Forces have no perpendicular effects 179
c / The shadow on the wall
shows the ball’s y motion, the
shadow on the floor its x motion.
plane was accelerating.
Discussion questions
A The following is an incorrect explanation of a fact about target
“Shooting a high-powered rifle with a high muzzle velocity is different from
shooting a less powerful gun. With a less powerful gun, you have to aim
quite a bit above your target, but with a more powerful one you don’t have
to aim so high because the bullet doesn’t drop as fast.”
Explain why it’s incorrect. What is the correct explanation?
B You have thrown a rock, and it is flying through the air in an arc. If
the earth’s gravitational force on it is always straight down, why doesn’t it
just go straight down once it leaves your hand?
C Consider the example of the bullet that is dropped at the same
moment another bullet is fired from a gun. What would the motion of the
two bullets look like to a jet pilot flying alongside in the same direction as
the shot bullet and at the same horizontal speed?
6.2 Coordinates and components
’Cause we’re all
Bold as love,
Just ask the axis.
Jimi Hendrix
How do we convert these ideas into mathematics? Figure b shows
a good way of connecting the intuitive ideas to the numbers. In one
dimension, we impose a number line with an x coordinate on a
certain stretch of space. In two dimensions, we imagine a grid of
squares which we label with x and y values, as shown in figure b.
But of course motion doesn’t really occur in a series of discrete
hops like in chess or checkers. Figure c shows a way of conceptual-
izing the smooth variation of the x and y coordinates. The ball’s
shadow on the wall moves along a line, and we describe its position
with a single coordinate, y, its height above the floor. The wall
shadow has a constant acceleration of -9.8 m/s
. A shadow on the
floor, made by a second light source, also moves along a line, and we
describe its motion with an x coordinate, measured from the wall.
180 Chapter 6 Newton’s laws in three dimensions
b / This object experiences a force that pulls it down toward the
bottom of the page. In each equal time interval, it moves three units to
the right. At the same time, its vertical motion is making a simple pattern
of +1, 0, −1, −2, −3, −4, . . . units. Its motion can be described by an x
coordinate that has zero acceleration and a y coordinate with constant
acceleration. The arrows labeled x and y serve to explain that we are
defining increasing x to the right and increasing y as upward.
The velocity of the floor shadow is referred to as the x component
of the velocity, written v
. Similarly we can notate the acceleration
of the floor shadow as a
. Since v
is constant, a
is zero.
Similarly, the velocity of the wall shadow is called v
, its accel-
eration a
. This example has a
= −9.8 m/s
Because the earth’s gravitational force on the ball is acting along
the y axis, we say that the force has a negative y component, F
but F
= F
= 0.
The general idea is that we imagine two observers, each of whom
perceives the entire universe as if it was flattened down to a single
line. The y-observer, for instance, perceives y, v
, and a
, and will
infer that there is a force, F
, acting downward on the ball. That
is, a y component means the aspect of a physical phenomenon, such
as velocity, acceleration, or force, that is observable to someone who
can only see motion along the y axis.
All of this can easily be generalized to three dimensions. In the
example above, there could be a z-observer who only sees motion
toward or away from the back wall of the room.
Section 6.2 Coordinates and components 181
d / Example 1.
A car going over a cliff example 1
The police find a car at a distance w = 20 m from the base of a
cliff of height h = 100 m. How fast was the car going when it went
over the edge? Solve the problem symbolically first, then plug in
the numbers.
Let’s choose y pointing up and x pointing away from the cliff.
The car’s vertical motion was independent of its horizontal mo-
tion, so we know it had a constant vertical acceleration of a =
−g = −9.8 m/s
. The time it spent in the air is therefore related
to the vertical distance it fell by the constant-acceleration equa-
∆y =
−h =
Solving for ∆t gives
∆t =
Since the vertical force had no effect on the car’s horizontal mo-
tion, it had a
= 0, i.e., constant horizontal velocity. We can apply
the constant-velocity equation
We now substitute for ∆t to find
= w/
which simplifies to
= w
Plugging in numbers, we find that the car’s speed when it went
over the edge was 4 m/s, or about 10 mi/hr.
182 Chapter 6 Newton’s laws in three dimensions
e / A parabola can be defined as
the shape made by cutting a cone
parallel to its side. A parabola is
also the graph of an equation of
the form y ∝ x
f / Each water droplet follows
a parabola. The faster drops’
parabolas are bigger.
Projectiles move along parabolas.
What type of mathematical curve does a projectile follow through
space? To find out, we must relate x to y, eliminating t. The rea-
soning is very similar to that used in the example above. Arbitrarily
choosing x = y = t = 0 to be at the top of the arc, we conveniently
have x = ∆x, y = ∆y, and t = ∆t, so
y =
< 0)
x = v
We solve the second equation for t = x/v
and eliminate t in the
first equation:
y =
Since everything in this equation is a constant except for x and y,
we conclude that y is proportional to the square of x. As you may
or may not recall from a math class, y ∝ x
describes a parabola.
Solved problem: A cannon page 186, problem 5
Discussion question
A At the beginning of this section I represented the motion of a projec-
tile on graph paper, breaking its motion into equal time intervals. Suppose
instead that there is no force on the object at all. It obeys Newton’s first law
and continues without changing its state of motion. What would the corre-
sponding graph-paper diagram look like? If the time interval represented
by each arrow was 1 second, how would you relate the graph-paper dia-
gram to the velocity components v
and v
B Make up several different coordinate systems oriented in different
ways, and describe the a
and a
of a falling object in each one.
6.3 Newton’s laws in three dimensions
It is now fairly straightforward to extend Newton’s laws to three
Newton’s first law
If all three components of the total force on an object are zero,
then it will continue in the same state of motion.
Newton’s second law
The components of an object’s acceleration are predicted by
the equations
= F
/m ,
= F
/m , and
= F
/m .
Newton’s third law
Section 6.3 Newton’s laws in three dimensions 183
g / Example 2.
If two objects A and B interact via forces, then the compo-
nents of their forces on each other are equal and opposite:
A on B,x
= −F
B on A,x
A on B,y
= −F
B on A,y
, and
A on B,z
= −F
B on A,z
Forces in perpendicular directions on the same objectexample 2
An object is initially at rest. Two constant forces begin acting on
it, and continue acting on it for a while. As suggested by the two
arrows, the forces are perpendicular, and the rightward force is
stronger. What happens?
Aristotle believed, and many students still do, that only one force
can “give orders” to an object at one time. They therefore think
that the object will begin speeding up and moving in the direction
of the stronger force. In fact the object will move along a diagonal.
In the example shown in the figure, the object will respond to the
large rightward force with a large acceleration component to the
right, and the small upward force will give it a small acceleration
component upward. The stronger force does not overwhelm the
weaker force, or have any effect on the upward motion at all. The
force components simply add together:
x,t ot al
= F
y,t ot al
+ F
Discussion question
A The figure shows two trajectories, made by splicing together lines
and circular arcs, which are unphysical for an object that is only being
acted on by gravity. Prove that they are impossible based on Newton’s
184 Chapter 6 Newton’s laws in three dimensions
Selected vocabulary
component . . . . the part of a velocity, acceleration, or force
that would be perceptible to an observer who
could only see the universe projected along a
certain one-dimensional axis
parabola . . . . . the mathematical curve whose graph has y
proportional to x
x, y, z . . . . . . an object’s positions along the x, y, and z axes
, v
, v
. . . . . the x, y, and z components of an object’s ve-
locity; the rates of change of the object’s x, y,
and z coordinates
, a
, a
. . . . . the x, y, and z components of an object’s ac-
celeration; the rates of change of v
, v
, and
A force does not produce any effect on the motion of an object
in a perpendicular direction. The most important application of
this principle is that the horizontal motion of a projectile has zero
acceleration, while the vertical motion has an acceleration equal to g.
That is, an object’s horizontal and vertical motions are independent.
The arc of a projectile is a parabola.
Motion in three dimensions is measured using three coordinates,
x, y, and z. Each of these coordinates has its own corresponding
velocity and acceleration. We say that the velocity and acceleration
both have x, y, and z components
Newton’s second law is readily extended to three dimensions by
rewriting it as three equations predicting the three components of
the acceleration,
= F
/m ,
= F
/m ,
= F
/m ,
and likewise for the first and third laws.
Summary 185

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 (a) A ball is thrown straight up with velocity v. Find an
equation for the height to which it rises.

(b) Generalize your equation for a ball thrown at an angle θ above
horizontal, in which case its initial velocity components are v
v cos θ and v
= v sin θ.

2 At the 2010 Salinas Lettuce Festival Parade, the Lettuce Queen
drops her bouquet while riding on a float moving toward the right.
Sketch the shape of its trajectory in her frame of reference, and
compare with the shape seen by one of her admirers standing on
the sidewalk.
3 Two daredevils, Wendy and Bill, go over Niagara Falls. Wendy
sits in an inner tube, and lets the 30 km/hr velocity of the river throw
her out horizontally over the falls. Bill paddles a kayak, adding an
extra 10 km/hr to his velocity. They go over the edge of the falls
at the same moment, side by side. Ignore air friction. Explain your
(a) Who hits the bottom first?
(b) What is the horizontal component of Wendy’s velocity on im-
(c) What is the horizontal component of Bill’s velocity on impact?
(d) Who is going faster on impact?
4 A baseball pitcher throws a pitch clocked at v
=73.3 mi/h.
He throws horizontally. By what amount, d, does the ball drop by
the time it reaches home plate, L=60.0 ft away?
(a) First find a symbolic answer in terms of L, v
, and g.

(b) Plug in and find a numerical answer. Express your answer in
units of ft. (Note: 1 ft=12 in, 1 mi=5280 ft, and 1 in=2.54 cm)

Problem 4.
5 A cannon standing on a flat field fires a cannonball with a
186 Chapter 6 Newton’s laws in three dimensions
muzzle velocity v, at an angle θ above horizontal. The cannonball
thus initially has velocity components v
= v cos θ and v
= v sin θ.
(a) Show that the cannon’s range (horizontal distance to where the
cannonball falls) is given by the equation R = (2v
/g) sin θ cos θ .
(b) Interpret your equation in the cases of θ = 0 and θ = 90

Solution, p. 514
6 Assuming the result of problem 5 for the range of a projectile,
R = (2v
/g) sin θ cos θ, show that the maximum range is for θ = 45

7 Two cars go over the same bump in the road, Maria’s Maserati
at 25 miles per hour and Park’s Porsche at 37. How many times
greater is the vertical acceleration of the Porsche? Hint: Remember
that acceleration depends both on how much the velocity changes
and on how much time it takes to change.

Problems 187
188 Chapter 6 Newton’s laws in three dimensions
a / Vectors are used in aerial nav-
Chapter 7
7.1 Vector notation
The idea of components freed us from the confines of one-dimensional
physics, but the component notation can be unwieldy, since every
one-dimensional equation has to be written as a set of three separate
equations in the three-dimensional case. Newton was stuck with the
component notation until the day he died, but eventually someone
sufficiently lazy and clever figured out a way of abbreviating three
equations as one.
− →
A on B
= −
− →
B on A
stands for
A on B,x
= −F
B on A,x
A on B,y
= −F
B on A,y
A on B,z
= −F
B on A,z
− →
− →
− →
+. . . stands for
= F
+. . .
= F
+. . .
= F
+. . .
− →
a =

stands for
= ∆v
= ∆v
= ∆v
Example (a) shows both ways of writing Newton’s third law. Which
would you rather write?
The idea is that each of the algebra symbols with an arrow writ-
ten on top, called a vector, is actually an abbreviation for three
different numbers, the x, y, and z components. The three compo-
nents are referred to as the components of the vector, e.g., F
is the
x component of the vector
− →
F . The notation with an arrow on top
is good for handwritten equations, but is unattractive in a printed
book, so books use boldface, F, to represent vectors. After this
point, I’ll use boldface for vectors throughout this book.
In general, the vector notation is useful for any quantity that
has both an amount and a direction in space. Even when you are
not going to write any actual vector notation, the concept itself is a
useful one. We say that force and velocity, for example, are vectors.
A quantity that has no direction in space, such as mass or time,
is called a scalar. The amount of a vector quantity is called its
magnitude. The notation for the magnitude of a vector A is |A|,
like the absolute value sign used with scalars.
Often, as in example (b), we wish to use the vector notation to
represent adding up all the x components to get a total x component,
etc. The plus sign is used between two vectors to indicate this type
of component-by-component addition. Of course, vectors are really
triplets of numbers, not numbers, so this is not the same as the use
of the plus sign with individual numbers. But since we don’t want to
have to invent new words and symbols for this operation on vectors,
we use the same old plus sign, and the same old addition-related
words like “add,” “sum,” and “total.” Combining vectors this way
is called vector addition.
Similarly, the minus sign in example (a) was used to indicate
negating each of the vector’s three components individually. The
equals sign is used to mean that all three components of the vector
on the left side of an equation are the same as the corresponding
components on the right.
Example (c) shows how we abuse the division symbol in a similar
manner. When we write the vector ∆v divided by the scalar ∆t,
we mean the new vector formed by dividing each one of the velocity
components by ∆t.
It’s not hard to imagine a variety of operations that would com-
bine vectors with vectors or vectors with scalars, but only four of
them are required in order to express Newton’s laws:
operation definition
vector +vector Add component by component to
make a new set of three numbers.
vector −vector Subtract component by component
to make a new set of three numbers.
vector · scalar Multiply each component of the vec-
tor by the scalar.
vector/scalar Divide each component of the vector
by the scalar.
190 Chapter 7 Vectors
b / The x an y components
of a vector can be thought of as
the shadows it casts onto the x
and y axes.
c / Self-check B.
As an example of an operation that is not useful for physics, there
just aren’t any useful physics applications for dividing a vector by
another vector component by component. In optional section 7.5,
we discuss in more detail the fundamental reasons why some vector
operations are useful and others useless.
We can do algebra with vectors, or with a mixture of vectors
and scalars in the same equation. Basically all the normal rules of
algebra apply, but if you’re not sure if a certain step is valid, you
should simply translate it into three component-based equations and
see if it works.
Order of addition example 1
If we are adding two force vectors, F + G, is it valid to assume
as in ordinary algebra that F + G is the same as G+ F?
To tell if this algebra rule also applies to vectors, we simply
translate the vector notation into ordinary algebra notation. In
terms of ordinary numbers, the components of the vector F + G
would be F
+ G
, F
+ G
, and F
+ G
, which are certainly the
same three numbers as G
, G
, and G
. Yes, F+G
is the same as G+ F.
It is useful to define a symbol r for the vector whose components
are x, y, and z, and a symbol ∆r made out of ∆x, ∆y, and ∆z.
Although this may all seem a little formidable, keep in mind that
it amounts to nothing more than a way of abbreviating equations!
Also, to keep things from getting too confusing the remainder of this
chapter focuses mainly on the ∆r vector, which is relatively easy to
self-check A
Translate the equations v
= ∆x/∆t , v
= ∆y/∆t , and v
= ∆z/∆t for
motion with constant velocity into a single equation in vector notation.
Answer, p. 524
Drawing vectors as arrows
A vector in two dimensions can be easily visualized by drawing
an arrow whose length represents its magnitude and whose direction
represents its direction. The x component of a vector can then be
visualized as the length of the shadow it would cast in a beam of
light projected onto the x axis, and similarly for the y component.
Shadows with arrowheads pointing back against the direction of the
positive axis correspond to negative components.
In this type of diagram, the negative of a vector is the vector
with the same magnitude but in the opposite direction. Multiplying
a vector by a scalar is represented by lengthening the arrow by that
factor, and similarly for division.
self-check B
Section 7.1 Vector notation 191
d / Example 2.
Given vector Q represented by an arrow in figure c, draw arrows repre-
senting the vectors 1.5Q and −Q. Answer, p.
Discussion questions
A Would it make sense to define a zero vector? Discuss what the
zero vector’s components, magnitude, and direction would be; are there
any issues here? If you wanted to disqualify such a thing from being a
vector, consider whether the system of vectors would be complete. For
comparison, can you think of a simple arithmetic problem with ordinary
numbers where you need zero as the result? Does the same reasoning
apply to vectors, or not? From your group, choose one person to act as
zero’s advocate and one to argue against letting zero in the club. The rest
of the group should act as jurors.
B You drive to your friend’s house. How does the magnitude of your ∆r
vector compare with the distance you’ve added to the car’s odometer?
7.2 Calculations with magnitude and direction
If you ask someone where Las Vegas is compared to Los Angeles,
they are unlikely to say that the ∆x is 290 km and the ∆y is 230
km, in a coordinate system where the positive x axis is east and the
y axis points north. They will probably say instead that it’s 370 km
to the northeast. If they were being precise, they might specify the
direction as 38

counterclockwise from east. In two dimensions, we
can always specify a vector’s direction like this, using a single angle.
A magnitude plus an angle suffice to specify everything about the
vector. The following two examples show how we use trigonometry
and the Pythagorean theorem to go back and forth between the x−y
and magnitude-angle descriptions of vectors.
Finding magnitude and angle from components example 2
Given that the ∆r vector from LA to Las Vegas has ∆x = 290 km
and ∆y = 230 km, how would we find the magnitude and direction
of ∆r?
We find the magnitude of ∆r from the Pythagorean theorem:
|∆r| =
+ ∆y
= 370 km
We know all three sides of the triangle, so the angle θ can be
found using any of the inverse trig functions. For example, we
know the opposite and adjacent sides, so
θ = tan
= 38

192 Chapter 7 Vectors
e / Example 4.
Finding components from magnitude and angle example 3
Given that the straight-line distance from Los Angeles to Las
Vegas is 370 km, and that the angle θ in the figure is 38

, how
can the xand y components of the ∆r vector be found?
The sine and cosine of θ relate the given information to the
information we wish to find:
cos θ =
sinθ =
Solving for the unknowns gives
∆x = |∆r| cos θ
= 290 km and
∆y = |∆r| sinθ
= 230 km .
The following example shows the correct handling of the plus
and minus signs, which is usually the main cause of mistakes.
Negative components example 4
San Diego is 120 km east and 150 km south of Los Angeles. An
airplane pilot is setting course from San Diego to Los Angeles. At
what angle should she set her course, measured counterclock-
wise from east, as shown in the figure?
If we make the traditional choice of coordinate axes, with x
pointing to the right and y pointing up on the map, then her ∆x is
negative, because her final x value is less than her initial x value.
Her ∆y is positive, so we have
∆x = −120 km
∆y = 150 km .
If we work by analogy with example 2, we get
θ = tan
= tan
= −51

According to the usual way of defining angles in trigonometry,
a negative result means an angle that lies clockwise from the x
axis, which would have her heading for the Baja California. What
went wrong? The answer is that when you ask your calculator to
Section 7.2 Calculations with magnitude and direction 193
f / Example 5.
g / Vectors can be added graph-
ically by placing them tip to tail,
and then drawing a vector from
the tail of the first vector to the tip
of the second vector.
take the arctangent of a number, there are always two valid pos-
sibilities differing by 180

. That is, there are two possible angles
whose tangents equal -1.25:
tan 129

= −1.25

= −1.25
You calculator doesn’t know which is the correct one, so it just
picks one. In this case, the one it picked was the wrong one, and
it was up to you to add 180

to it to find the right answer.
Discussion question
A In the example above, we dealt with components that were negative.
Does it make sense to talk about positive and negative vectors?
7.3 Techniques for adding vectors
Addition of vectors given their components
The easiest type of vector addition is when you are in possession
of the components, and want to find the components of their sum.
Adding components example 5
Given the ∆x and ∆y values from the previous examples, find
the ∆x and ∆y from San Diego to Las Vegas.

t ot al
= ∆x
+ ∆x
= −120 km+ 290 km
= 170 km
t ot al
= ∆y
+ ∆y
= 150 km+ 230 km
= 380
Note how the signs of the x components take care of the west-
ward and eastward motions, which partially cancel.
Addition of vectors given their magnitudes and directions
In this case, you must first translate the magnitudes and direc-
tions into components, and the add the components.
Graphical addition of vectors
Often the easiest way to add vectors is by making a scale drawing
on a piece of paper. This is known as graphical addition, as opposed
to the analytic techniques discussed previously. (It has nothing to
do with x − y graphs or graph paper. “Graphical” here simply
means drawing. It comes from the Greek verb “grapho,” to write,
like related English words including “graphic.”)
194 Chapter 7 Vectors
LA to Vegas, graphically example 6
Given the magnitudes and angles of the ∆r vectors from San
Diego to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, find
the magnitude and angle of the ∆r vector from San Diego to Las
Using a protractor and a ruler, we make a careful scale draw-
ing, as shown in figure h. The protractor can be conveniently
aligned with the blue rules on the notebook paper. A scale of
1 mm →2 km was chosen for this solution because it was as big
as possible (for accuracy) without being so big that the drawing
wouldn’t fit on the page. With a ruler, we measure the distance
from San Diego to Las Vegas to be 206 mm, which corresponds
to 412 km. With a protractor, we measure the angle θ to be 65

h / Example 6.
Even when we don’t intend to do an actual graphical calculation
with a ruler and protractor, it can be convenient to diagram the
addition of vectors in this way. With ∆r vectors, it intuitively makes
sense to lay the vectors tip-to-tail and draw the sum vector from the
tail of the first vector to the tip of the second vector. We can do
the same when adding other vectors such as force vectors.
self-check C
How would you subtract vectors graphically? Answer, p. 524
Section 7.3 Techniques for adding vectors 195
Discussion questions
A If you’re doing graphical addition of vectors, does it matter which
vector you start with and which vector you start from the other vector’s
B If you add a vector with magnitude 1 to a vector of magnitude 2,
what magnitudes are possible for the vector sum?
C Which of these examples of vector addition are correct, and which
are incorrect?
7.4 Unit vector notation
When we want to specify a vector by its components, it can be cum-
bersome to have to write the algebra symbol for each component:
∆x = 290 km, ∆y = 230 km
A more compact notation is to write
∆r = (290 km)ˆ x + (230 km)ˆ y ,
where the vectors ˆ x, ˆ y, and ˆ z, called the unit vectors, are defined
as the vectors that have magnitude equal to 1 and directions lying
along the x, y, and z axes. In speech, they are referred to as “x-hat”
and so on.
A slightly different, and harder to remember, version of this
notation is unfortunately more prevalent. In this version, the unit
vectors are called
j, and
∆r = (290 km)
i + (230 km)
j .
7.5 Rotational invariance
Let’s take a closer look at why certain vector operations are use-
ful and others are not. Consider the operation of multiplying two
vectors component by component to produce a third vector:
= P
= P
= P
As a simple example, we choose vectors P and Q to have length
1, and make them perpendicular to each other, as shown in figure
196 Chapter 7 Vectors
i / Component-by-component
multiplication of the vectors in 1
would produce different vectors
in coordinate systems 2 and 3.
i/1. If we compute the result of our new vector operation using the
coordinate system in i/2, we find:
= 0
= 0
= 0
The x component is zero because P
= 0, the y component is zero
because Q
= 0, and the z component is of course zero because both
vectors are in the x − y plane. However, if we carry out the same
operations in coordinate system i/3, rotated 45 degrees with respect
to the previous one, we find
= 1/2
= −1/2
= 0
The operation’s result depends on what coordinate system we use,
and since the two versions of Rhave different lengths (one being zero
and the other nonzero), they don’t just represent the same answer
expressed in two different coordinate systems. Such an operation
will never be useful in physics, because experiments show physics
works the same regardless of which way we orient the laboratory
building! The useful vector operations, such as addition and scalar
multiplication, are rotationally invariant, i.e., come out the same
regardless of the orientation of the coordinate system.
Section 7.5 Rotational invariance 197
Selected vocabulary
vector . . . . . . . a quantity that has both an amount (magni-
tude) and a direction in space
magnitude . . . . the “amount” associated with a vector
scalar . . . . . . . a quantity that has no direction in space, only
an amount
A . . . . . . . . . a vector with components A
, A
, and A
− →
A . . . . . . . . . handwritten notation for a vector
|A| . . . . . . . . the magnitude of vector A
r . . . . . . . . . . the vector whose components are x, y, and z
∆r . . . . . . . . . the vector whose components are ∆x, ∆y, and
ˆ x, ˆ y, ˆ z . . . . . . (optional topic) unit vectors; the vectors with
magnitude 1 lying along the x, y, and z axes
k . . . . . . . a harder to remember notation for the unit
Other terminology and notation
displacement vec-
tor . . . . . . . . .
a name for the symbol ∆r
speed . . . . . . . the magnitude of the velocity vector, i.e., the
velocity stripped of any information about its
A vector is a quantity that has both a magnitude (amount) and
a direction in space, as opposed to a scalar, which has no direction.
The vector notation amounts simply to an abbreviation for writing
the vector’s three components.
In two dimensions, a vector can be represented either by its two
components or by its magnitude and direction. The two ways of
describing a vector can be related by trigonometry.
The two main operations on vectors are addition of a vector to
a vector, and multiplication of a vector by a scalar.
Vector addition means adding the components of two vectors
to form the components of a new vector. In graphical terms, this
corresponds to drawing the vectors as two arrows laid tip-to-tail and
drawing the sum vector from the tail of the first vector to the tip
of the second one. Vector subtraction is performed by negating the
vector to be subtracted and then adding.
Multiplying a vector by a scalar means multiplying each of its
components by the scalar to create a new vector. Division by a
scalar is defined similarly.
198 Chapter 7 Vectors
Problem 1.
Problem 4.

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 The figure shows vectors A and B. Graphically calculate the
A+B, A−B, B−A, −2B, A−2B
No numbers are involved.
2 Phnom Penh is 470 km east and 250 km south of Bangkok.
Hanoi is 60 km east and 1030 km north of Phnom Penh.
(a) Choose a coordinate system, and translate these data into ∆x
and ∆y values with the proper plus and minus signs.
(b) Find the components of the ∆r vector pointing from Bangkok
to Hanoi.

3 If you walk 35 km at an angle 25

counterclockwise from east,
and then 22 km at 230

counterclockwise from east, find the distance
and direction from your starting point to your destination.

4 A machinist is drilling holes in a piece of aluminum according
to the plan shown in the figure. She starts with the top hole, then
moves to the one on the left, and then to the one on the right. Since
this is a high-precision job, she finishes by moving in the direction
and at the angle that should take her back to the top hole, and
checks that she ends up in the same place. What are the distance
and direction from the right-hand hole to the top one?

5 Suppose someone proposes a new operation in which a vector
A and a scalar B are added together to make a new vector C like
= A
= A
= A
Prove that this operation won’t be useful in physics, because it’s
not rotationally invariant.
Problems 199
200 Chapter 7 Vectors
Chapter 8
Vectors and motion
In 1872, capitalist and former California governor Leland Stanford
asked photographer Eadweard Muybridge if he would work for him
on a project to settle a $25,000 bet (a princely sum at that time).
Stanford’s friends were convinced that a galloping horse always had
at least one foot on the ground, but Stanford claimed that there was
a moment during each cycle of the motion when all four feet were
in the air. The human eye was simply not fast enough to settle the
question. In 1878, Muybridge finally succeeded in producing what
amounted to a motion picture of the horse, showing conclusively
that all four feet did leave the ground at one point. (Muybridge was
a colorful figure in San Francisco history, and his acquittal for the
murder of his wife’s lover was considered the trial of the century in
The losers of the bet had probably been influenced by Aris-
totelian reasoning, for instance the expectation that a leaping horse
would lose horizontal velocity while in the air with no force to push
it forward, so that it would be more efficient for the horse to run
without leaping. But even for students who have converted whole-
a / Example 1.
heartedly to Newtonianism, the relationship between force and ac-
celeration leads to some conceptual difficulties, the main one being
a problem with the true but seemingly absurd statement that an
object can have an acceleration vector whose direction is not the
same as the direction of motion. The horse, for instance, has nearly
constant horizontal velocity, so its a
is zero. But as anyone can tell
you who has ridden a galloping horse, the horse accelerates up and
down. The horse’s acceleration vector therefore changes back and
forth between the up and down directions, but is never in the same
direction as the horse’s motion. In this chapter, we will examine
more carefully the properties of the velocity, acceleration, and force
vectors. No new principles are introduced, but an attempt is made
to tie things together and show examples of the power of the vector
formulation of Newton’s laws.
8.1 The velocity vector
For motion with constant velocity, the velocity vector is
v = ∆r/∆t . [only for constant velocity]
The ∆r vector points in the direction of the motion, and dividing
it by the scalar ∆t only changes its length, not its direction, so the
velocity vector points in the same direction as the motion. When the
velocity is not constant, i.e., when the x −t, y −t, and z −t graphs
are not all linear, we use the slope-of-the-tangent-line approach to
define the components v
, v
, and v
, from which we assemble the
velocity vector. Even when the velocity vector is not constant, it
still points along the direction of motion.
Vector addition is the correct way to generalize the one-dimensional
concept of adding velocities in relative motion, as shown in the fol-
lowing example:
Velocity vectors in relative motion example 1
You wish to cross a river and arrive at a dock that is directly
across from you, but the river’s current will tend to carry you
downstream. To compensate, you must steer the boat at an an-
gle. Find the angle θ, given the magnitude, |v
|, of the water’s
velocity relative to the land, and the maximum speed, |v
|, of
which the boat is capable relative to the water.
The boat’s velocity relative to the land equals the vector sum of
its velocity with respect to the water and the water’s velocity with
respect to the land,
= v
+ v
If the boat is to travel straight across the river, i.e., along the y
axis, then we need to have v
= 0. This x component equals
the sum of the x components of the other two vectors,
= v
+ v
202 Chapter 8 Vectors and motion
0 = −|v
| sinθ + |v
| .
Solving for θ, we find
sinθ = |v
| ,
θ = sin
Solved problem: Annie Oakley page 214, problem 8
Discussion questions
A Is it possible for an airplane to maintain a constant velocity vector
but not a constant |v|? How about the opposite – a constant |v| but not a
constant velocity vector? Explain.
B New York and Rome are at about the same latitude, so the earth’s
rotation carries them both around nearly the same circle. Do the two cities
have the same velocity vector (relative to the center of the earth)? If not,
is there any way for two cities to have the same velocity vector?
Section 8.1 The velocity vector 203
b / A change in the magni-
tude of the velocity vector implies
an acceleration.
c / A change in the direction
of the velocity vector also pro-
duces a nonzero ∆v vector, and
thus a nonzero acceleration
vector, ∆v/∆t .
8.2 The acceleration vector
When all three acceleration components are constant, i.e., when
the v
−t, v
−t, and v
−t graphs are all linear, we can define the
acceleration vector as
a = ∆v/∆t , [only for constant acceleration]
which can be written in terms of initial and final velocities as
a = (v
)/∆t . [only for constant acceleration]
If the acceleration is not constant, we define it as the vector made
out of the a
, a
, and a
components found by applying the slope-
of-the-tangent-line technique to the v
−t, v
−t, and v
−t graphs.
Now there are two ways in which we could have a nonzero accel-
eration. Either the magnitude or the direction of the velocity vector
could change. This can be visualized with arrow diagrams as shown
in figures b and c. Both the magnitude and direction can change
simultaneously, as when a car accelerates while turning. Only when
the magnitude of the velocity changes while its direction stays con-
stant do we have a ∆v vector and an acceleration vector along the
same line as the motion.
self-check A
(1) In figure b, is the object speeding up, or slowing down? (2) What
would the diagram look like if v
was the same as v
? (3) Describe how
the ∆v vector is different depending on whether an object is speeding
up or slowing down. Answer, p. 524
If this all seems a little strange and abstract to you, you’re not
alone. It doesn’t mean much to most physics students the first
time someone tells them that acceleration is a vector, and that the
acceleration vector does not have to be in the same direction as the
velocity vector. One way to understand those statements better is
to imagine an object such as an air freshener or a pair of fuzzy dice
hanging from the rear-view mirror of a car. Such a hanging object,
called a bob, constitutes an accelerometer. If you watch the bob
as you accelerate from a stop light, you’ll see it swing backward.
The horizontal direction in which the bob tilts is opposite to the
direction of the acceleration. If you apply the brakes and the car’s
acceleration vector points backward, the bob tilts forward.
After accelerating and slowing down a few times, you think
you’ve put your accelerometer through its paces, but then you make
a right turn. Surprise! Acceleration is a vector, and needn’t point
in the same direction as the velocity vector. As you make a right
turn, the bob swings outward, to your left. That means the car’s
acceleration vector is to your right, perpendicular to your velocity
vector. A useful definition of an acceleration vector should relate
in a systematic way to the actual physical effects produced by the
204 Chapter 8 Vectors and motion
acceleration, so a physically reasonable definition of the acceleration
vector must allow for cases where it is not in the same direction as
the motion.
self-check B
In projectile motion, what direction does the acceleration vector have?
Answer, p. 524
d / Example 2.
Rappelling example 2
In figure d, the rappeller’s velocity has long periods of gradual
change interspersed with short periods of rapid change. These
correspond to periods of small acceleration and force, and peri-
ods of large acceleration and force.
The galloping horse example 3
Figure e on page 206 shows outlines traced from the first, third,
fifth, seventh, and ninth frames in Muybridge’s series of pho-
tographs of the galloping horse. The estimated location of the
horse’s center of mass is shown with a circle, which bobs above
and below the horizontal dashed line.
If we don’t care about calculating velocities and accelerations in
any particular system of units, then we can pretend that the time
between frames is one unit. The horse’s velocity vector as it
moves from one point to the next can then be found simply by
drawing an arrow to connect one position of the center of mass to
the next. This produces a series of velocity vectors which alter-
Section 8.2 The acceleration vector 205
e / Example 3.
nate between pointing above and below horizontal.
The ∆v vector is the vector which we would have to add onto one
velocity vector in order to get the next velocity vector in the series.
The ∆v vector alternates between pointing down (around the time
when the horse is in the air, B) and up (around the time when the
horse has two feet on the ground, D).
Discussion questions
A When a car accelerates, why does a bob hanging from the rearview
mirror swing toward the back of the car? Is it because a force throws it
backward? If so, what force? Similarly, describe what happens in the
other cases described above.
B Superman is guiding a crippled spaceship into port. The ship’s
engines are not working. If Superman suddenly changes the direction of
his force on the ship, does the ship’s velocity vector change suddenly? Its
acceleration vector? Its direction of motion?
206 Chapter 8 Vectors and motion
f / Example 4.
g / The applied force F
the block up the frictionless ramp.
h / Three forces act on the
block. Their vector sum is zero.
i / If the block is to move at
constant velocity, Newton’s first
law says that the three force
vectors acting on it must add
up to zero. To perform vector
addition, we put the vectors tip
to tail, and in this case we are
adding three vectors, so each
one’s tail goes against the tip of
the previous one. Since they are
supposed to add up to zero, the
third vector’s tip must come back
to touch the tail of the first vector.
They form a triangle, and since
the applied force is perpendicular
to the normal force, it is a right
8.3 The force vector and simple machines
Force is relatively easy to intuit as a vector. The force vector points
in the direction in which it is trying to accelerate the object it is
acting on.
Since force vectors are so much easier to visualize than accel-
eration vectors, it is often helpful to first find the direction of the
(total) force vector acting on an object, and then use that informa-
tion to determine the direction of the acceleration vector. Newton’s
second law, F
= ma, tells us that the two must be in the same
A component of a force vector example 4
Figure f, redrawn from a classic 1920 textbook, shows a boy
pulling another child on a sled. His force has both a horizontal
component and a vertical one, but only the horizontal one accel-
erates the sled. (The vertical component just partially cancels the
force of gravity, causing a decrease in the normal force between
the runners and the snow.) There are two triangles in the figure.
One triangle’s hypotenuse is the rope, and the other’s is the mag-
nitude of the force. These triangles are similar, so their internal
angles are all the same, but they are not the same triangle. One
is a distance triangle, with sides measured in meters, the other
a force triangle, with sides in newtons. In both cases, the hori-
zontal leg is 93% as long as the hypotenuse. It does not make
sense, however, to compare the sizes of the triangles — the force
triangle is not smaller in any meaningful sense.
Pushing a block up a ramp example 5
Figure (a) shows a block being pushed up a frictionless ramp
at constant speed by an applied force F
. How much force is
required, in terms of the block’s mass, m, and the angle of the
ramp, θ?
Figure (b) shows the other two forces acting on the block: a
normal force, F
, created by the ramp, and the weight force, F
created by the earth’s gravity. Because the block is being pushed
up at constant speed, it has zero acceleration, and the total force
on it must be zero. From figure (c), we find
| = |F
| sinθ
= mg sinθ .
Since the sine is always less than one, the applied force is always
less than mg, i.e., pushing the block up the ramp is easier than
lifting it straight up. This is presumably the principle on which the
pyramids were constructed: the ancient Egyptians would have
had a hard time applying the forces of enough slaves to equal the
full weight of the huge blocks of stone.
Essentially the same analysis applies to several other simple ma-
Section 8.3 The force vector and simple machines 207
Discussion question A.
j / Discussion question B.
chines, such as the wedge and the screw.
Solved problem: A cargo plane page 214, problem 9
Solved problem: The angle of repose page 215, problem 11
Solved problem: A wagon page 214, problem 10
Discussion questions
A The figure shows a block being pressed diagonally upward against a
wall, causing it to slide up the wall. Analyze the forces involved, including
their directions.
B The figure shows a roller coaster car rolling down and then up under
the influence of gravity. Sketch the car’s velocity vectors and acceleration
vectors. Pick an interesting point in the motion and sketch a set of force
vectors acting on the car whose vector sum could have resulted in the
right acceleration vector.
Calculus with vectors
Using the unit vector notation introduced in section 7.4, the defini-
tions of the velocity and acceleration components given in chapter
6 can be translated into calculus notation as
v =
ˆ x +
ˆ y +
ˆ z
a =
ˆ x +
ˆ y +
ˆ z .
To make the notation less cumbersome, we generalize the concept
of the derivative to include derivatives of vectors, so that we can
abbreviate the above equations as
v =
a =
In words, to take the derivative of a vector, you take the derivatives
of its components and make a new vector out of those. This defini-
tion means that the derivative of a vector function has the familiar
d(cf )
= c
d(f )
[c is a constant]
d(f +g)
d(f )
The integral of a vector is likewise defined as integrating component
by component.
208 Chapter 8 Vectors and motion
The second derivative of a vector example 6
Two objects have positions as functions of time given by the
= 3t
ˆ x + t ˆ y
= 3t
ˆ x + t ˆ y .
Find both objects’ accelerations using calculus. Could either an-
swer have been found without calculus?
Taking the first derivative of each component, we find
= 6t ˆ x + ˆ y
= 12t
ˆ x + ˆ y ,
and taking the derivatives again gives acceleration,
= 6ˆ x
= 36t
ˆ x .
The first object’s acceleration could have been found without cal-
culus, simply by comparing the x and y coordinates with the
constant-acceleration equation ∆x = v
∆t +
. The second
equation, however, isn’t just a second-order polynomial in t , so
the acceleration isn’t constant, and we really did need calculus to
find the corresponding acceleration.
The integral of a vector example 7
Starting from rest, a flying saucer of mass m is observed to
vary its propulsion with mathematical precision according to the
F = bt
ˆ x + ct
ˆ y .
(The aliens inform us that the numbers 42 and 137 have a special
religious significance for them.) Find the saucer’s velocity as a
function of time.
From the given force, we can easily find the acceleration
a =
ˆ x +
ˆ y .
The velocity vector v is the integral with respect to time of the
v =
a dt
_ _
ˆ x +
ˆ y
dt ,
Section 8.4
Calculus with vectors 209
and integrating component by component gives
ˆ x +
ˆ y
ˆ x +
ˆ y ,
where we have omitted the constants of integration, since the
saucer was starting from rest.
A fire-extinguisher stunt on ice example 8
Prof. Puerile smuggles a fire extinguisher into a skating rink.
Climbing out onto the ice without any skates on, he sits down and
pushes off from the wall with his feet, acquiring an initial velocity
ˆ y. At t = 0, he then discharges the fire extinguisher at a 45-
degree angle so that it applies a force to him that is backward
and to the left, i.e., along the negative y axis and the positive x
axis. The fire extinguisher’s force is strong at first, but then dies
down according to the equation |F| = b − ct , where b and c are
constants. Find the professor’s velocity as a function of time.
Measured counterclockwise from the x axis, the angle of the
force vector becomes 315

. Breaking the force down into x and
y components, we have
= |F| cos 315

= (b −ct )
= |F| sin 315

= (−b + ct ) .
In unit vector notation, this is
F = (b −ct )ˆ x + (−b + ct )ˆ y .
Newton’s second law gives
a = F/m
b −ct

ˆ x +
−b + ct

ˆ y .
To find the velocity vector as a function of time, we need to inte-
grate the acceleration vector with respect to time,
v =
a dt
_ _
b −ct

ˆ x +
−b + ct

ˆ y

(b −ct ) ˆ x + (−b + ct ) ˆ y
210 Chapter 8 Vectors and motion
A vector function can be integrated component by component, so
this can be broken down into two integrals,
v =
ˆ x

(b −ct ) dt +
ˆ y

(−b + ct ) dt
bt −

+ constant #1
ˆ x +
−bt +

+ constant #2
ˆ y
Here the physical significance of the two constants of integration
is that they give the initial velocity. Constant #1 is therefore zero,
and constant #2 must equal v
. The final result is
v =
bt −

ˆ x +
−bt +

+ v
ˆ y .
Section 8.4
Calculus with vectors 211
The velocity vector points in the direction of the object’s motion.
Relative motion can be described by vector addition of velocities.
The acceleration vector need not point in the same direction as
the object’s motion. We use the word “acceleration” to describe any
change in an object’s velocity vector, which can be either a change
in its magnitude or a change in its direction.
An important application of the vector addition of forces is the
use of Newton’s first law to analyze mechanical systems.
212 Chapter 8 Vectors and motion

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
Problem 1.
1 A dinosaur fossil is slowly moving down the slope of a glacier
under the influence of wind, rain and gravity. At the same time,
the glacier is moving relative to the continent underneath. The
dashed lines represent the directions but not the magnitudes of the
velocities. Pick a scale, and use graphical addition of vectors to find
the magnitude and the direction of the fossil’s velocity relative to
the continent. You will need a ruler and protractor.

2 Is it possible for a helicopter to have an acceleration due east
and a velocity due west? If so, what would be going on? If not, why
3 A bird is initially flying horizontally east at 21.1 m/s, but one
second later it has changed direction so that it is flying horizontally
and 7

north of east, at the same speed. What are the magnitude
and direction of its acceleration vector during that one second time
interval? (Assume its acceleration was roughly constant.)

Problem 4.
4 A person of mass M stands in the middle of a tightrope,
which is fixed at the ends to two buildings separated by a horizontal
distance L. The rope sags in the middle, stretching and lengthening
the rope slightly.
Problems 213
Problem 5.
Problem 9.
Problem 10.
(a) If the tightrope walker wants the rope to sag vertically by no
more than a height h, find the minimum tension, T, that the rope
must be able to withstand without breaking, in terms of h, g, M,
and L.

(b) Based on your equation, explain why it is not possible to get
h = 0, and give a physical interpretation.
5 Your hand presses a block of mass m against a wall with a
force F
acting at an angle θ, as shown in the figure. Find the
minimum and maximum possible values of |F
| that can keep the
block stationary, in terms of m, g, θ, and µ
, the coefficient of static
friction between the block and the wall. Check both your answers
in the case of θ = 90

, and interpret the case where the maximum
force is infinite.

6 A skier of mass m is coasting down a slope inclined at an angle
θ compared to horizontal. Assume for simplicity that the treatment
of kinetic friction given in chapter 5 is appropriate here, although a
soft and wet surface actually behaves a little differently. The coeffi-
cient of kinetic friction acting between the skis and the snow is µ
and in addition the skier experiences an air friction force of magni-
tude bv
, where b is a constant.
(a) Find the maximum speed that the skier will attain, in terms of
the variables m, g, θ, µ
, and b.

(b) For angles below a certain minimum angle θ
, the equation
gives a result that is not mathematically meaningful. Find an equa-
tion for θ
, and give a physical explanation of what is happening
for θ < θ

7 A gun is aimed horizontally to the west, and fired at t = 0. The
bullet’s position vector as a function of time is r = bˆ x +ctˆ y +dt
ˆ z,
where b, c, and d are positive constants.
(a) What units would b, c, and d need to have for the equation to
make sense?
(b) Find the bullet’s velocity and acceleration as functions of time.
(c) Give physical interpretations of b, c, d, ˆ x, ˆ y, and ˆ z.
8 Annie Oakley, riding north on horseback at 30 mi/hr, shoots
her rifle, aiming horizontally and to the northeast. The muzzle speed
of the rifle is 140 mi/hr. When the bullet hits a defenseless fuzzy
animal, what is its speed of impact? Neglect air resistance, and
ignore the vertical motion of the bullet. Solution, p. 514
9 A cargo plane has taken off from a tiny airstrip in the Andes,
and is climbing at constant speed, at an angle of θ=17

with respect
to horizontal. Its engines supply a thrust of F
= 200 kN, and
the lift from its wings is F
= 654 kN. Assume that air resistance
(drag) is negligible, so the only forces acting are thrust, lift, and
weight. What is its mass, in kg? Solution, p. 515
214 Chapter 8 Vectors and motion
Problem 12.
Problem 13 (Millikan and Gale,
10 A wagon is being pulled at constant speed up a slope θ by a
rope that makes an angle φ with the vertical.
(a) Assuming negligible friction, show that the tension in the rope
is given by the equation
sin θ
sin(θ +φ)
where F
is the weight force acting on the wagon.
(b) Interpret this equation in the special cases of φ = 0 and φ =

−θ. Solution, p. 515
11 The angle of repose is the maximum slope on which an object
will not slide. On airless, geologically inert bodies like the moon or
an asteroid, the only thing that determines whether dust or rubble
will stay on a slope is whether the slope is less steep than the angle
of repose.
(a) Find an equation for the angle of repose, deciding for yourself
what are the relevant variables.
(b) On an asteroid, where g can be thousands of times lower than
on Earth, would rubble be able to lie at a steeper angle of repose?
Solution, p. 516
12 The figure shows an experiment in which a cart is released
from rest at A, and accelerates down the slope through a distance
x until it passes through a sensor’s light beam. The point of the
experiment is to determine the cart’s acceleration. At B, a card-
board vane mounted on the cart enters the light beam, blocking the
light beam, and starts an electronic timer running. At C, the vane
emerges from the beam, and the timer stops.
(a) Find the final velocity of the cart in terms of the width w of
the vane and the time t
for which the sensor’s light beam was

(b) Find the magnitude of the cart’s acceleration in terms of the
measurable quantities x, t
, and w.

(c) Analyze the forces in which the cart participates, using a table in
the format introduced in section 5.3. Assume friction is negligible.
(d) Find a theoretical value for the acceleration of the cart, which
could be compared with the experimentally observed value extracted
in part b. Express the theoretical value in terms of the angle θ of
the slope, and the strength g of the gravitational field.

13 The figure shows a boy hanging in three positions: (1) with
his arms straight up, (2) with his arms at 45 degrees, and (3) with
his arms at 60 degrees with respect to the vertical. Compare the
tension in his arms in the three cases.
Problems 215
Problem 15.
Problem 16.
14 Driving down a hill inclined at an angle θ with respect to
horizontal, you slam on the brakes to keep from hitting a deer. Your
antilock brakes kick in, and you don’t skid.
(a) Analyze the forces. (Ignore rolling resistance and air friction.)
(b) Find the car’s maximum possible deceleration, a (expressed as
a positive number), in terms of g, θ, and the relevant coefficient of

(c) Explain physically why the car’s mass has no effect on your
(d) Discuss the mathematical behavior and physical interpretation
of your result for negative values of θ.
(e) Do the same for very large positive values of θ.
15 The figure shows the path followed by Hurricane Irene in
2005 as it moved north. The dots show the location of the center
of the storm at six-hour intervals, with lighter dots at the time
when the storm reached its greatest intensity. Find the time when
the storm’s center had a velocity vector to the northeast and an
acceleration vector to the southeast. Explain.
16 For safety, mountain climbers often wear a climbing harness
and tie in to other climbers on a rope team or to anchors such as
pitons or snow anchors. When using anchors, the climber usually
wants to tie in to more than one, both for extra strength and for
redundancy in case one fails. The figure shows such an arrangement,
with the climber hanging from a pair of anchors forming a “Y’ at
an angle θ. The usual advice is to make θ < 90

; for large values of
θ, the stress placed on the anchors can be many times greater than
the actual load L, so that two anchors are actually less safe than
(a) Find the force S at each anchor in terms of L and θ.

(b) Verify that your answer makes sense in the case of θ = 0.
(c) Interpret your answer in the case of θ = 180

(d) What is the smallest value of θ for which S exceeds L, so that a
failure of at least one anchor is more likely than it would have been
with a single anchor?

216 Chapter 8 Vectors and motion
Problems 217
Exercise 8: Vectors and motion
Each diagram on page 219 shows the motion of an object in an x − y plane. Each dot is one
location of the object at one moment in time. The time interval from one dot to the next is
always the same, so you can think of the vector that connects one dot to the next as a v vector,
and subtract to find ∆v vectors.
1. Suppose the object in diagram 1 is moving from the top left to the bottom right. Deduce
whatever you can about the force acting on it. Does the force always have the same magnitude?
The same direction?
Invent a physical situation that this diagram could represent.
What if you reinterpret the diagram, and reverse the object’s direction of motion?
2. What can you deduce about the force that is acting in diagram 2?
Invent a physical situation that diagram 2 could represent.
3. What can you deduce about the force that is acting in diagram 3?
Invent a physical situation.
218 Chapter 8 Vectors and motion
Exercise 8: Vectors and motion 219
220 Chapter 8 Vectors and motion
Chapter 9
Circular motion
9.1 Conceptual framework
I now live fifteen minutes from Disneyland, so my friends and family
in my native Northern California think it’s a little strange that I’ve
never visited the Magic Kingdom again since a childhood trip to the
south. The truth is that for me as a preschooler, Disneyland was
not the Happiest Place on Earth. My mother took me on a ride in
which little cars shaped like rocket ships circled rapidly around a
central pillar. I knew I was going to die. There was a force trying to
throw me outward, and the safety features of the ride would surely
have been inadequate if I hadn’t screamed the whole time to make
sure Mom would hold on to me. Afterward, she seemed surprisingly
indifferent to the extreme danger we had experienced.
Circular motion does not produce an outward force
My younger self’s understanding of circular motion was partly
right and partly wrong. I was wrong in believing that there was a
force pulling me outward, away from the center of the circle. The
easiest way to understand this is to bring back the parable of the
bowling ball in the pickup truck from chapter 4. As the truck makes
a left turn, the driver looks in the rearview mirror and thinks that
some mysterious force is pulling the ball outward, but the truck
is accelerating, so the driver’s frame of reference is not an inertial
frame. Newton’s laws are violated in a noninertial frame, so the ball
appears to accelerate without any actual force acting on it. Because
we are used to inertial frames, in which accelerations are caused by
b / This crane fly’s halteres
help it to maintain its orientation
in flight.
forces, the ball’s acceleration creates a vivid illusion that there must
be an outward force.
a / 1. In the turning truck’s frame
of reference, the ball appears
to violate Newton’s laws, dis-
playing a sideways acceleration
that is not the result of a force-
interaction with any other object.
2. In an inertial frame of refer-
ence, such as the frame fixed to
the earth’s surface, the ball obeys
Newton’s first law. No forces are
acting on it, and it continues mov-
ing in a straight line. It is the truck
that is participating in an interac-
tion with the asphalt, the truck that
accelerates as it should according
to Newton’s second law.
In an inertial frame everything makes more sense. The ball has
no force on it, and goes straight as required by Newton’s first law.
The truck has a force on it from the asphalt, and responds to it
by accelerating (changing the direction of its velocity vector) as
Newton’s second law says it should.
The halteres example 1
Another interesting example is an insect organ called the hal-
teres, a pair of small knobbed limbs behind the wings, which vi-
brate up and down and help the insect to maintain its orientation
in flight. The halteres evolved from a second pair of wings pos-
sessed by earlier insects. Suppose, for example, that the halteres
are on their upward stroke, and at that moment an air current
causes the fly to pitch its nose down. The halteres follow New-
ton’s first law, continuing to rise vertically, but in the fly’s rotating
frame of reference, it seems as though they have been subjected
to a backward force. The fly has special sensory organs that per-
ceive this twist, and help it to correct itself by raising its nose.
Circular motion does not persist without a force
I was correct, however, on a different point about the Disneyland
ride. To make me curve around with the car, I really did need some
force such as a force from my mother, friction from the seat, or a
normal force from the side of the car. (In fact, all three forces were
probably adding together.) One of the reasons why Galileo failed to
222 Chapter 9 Circular motion
c / 1. An overhead view of a per-
son swinging a rock on a rope. A
force from the string is required
to make the rock’s velocity vector
keep changing direction. 2. If the
string breaks, the rock will follow
Newton’s first law and go straight
instead of continuing around the
refine the principle of inertia into a quantitative statement like New-
ton’s first law is that he was not sure whether motion without a force
would naturally be circular or linear. In fact, the most impressive
examples he knew of the persistence of motion were mostly circular:
the spinning of a top or the rotation of the earth, for example. New-
ton realized that in examples such as these, there really were forces
at work. Atoms on the surface of the top are prevented from flying
off straight by the ordinary force that keeps atoms stuck together in
solid matter. The earth is nearly all liquid, but gravitational forces
pull all its parts inward.
Uniform and nonuniform circular motion
Circular motion always involves a change in the direction of the
velocity vector, but it is also possible for the magnitude of the ve-
locity to change at the same time. Circular motion is referred to as
uniform if |v| is constant, and nonuniform if it is changing.
Your speedometer tells you the magnitude of your car’s velocity
vector, so when you go around a curve while keeping your speedome-
ter needle steady, you are executing uniform circular motion. If your
speedometer reading is changing as you turn, your circular motion
is nonuniform. Uniform circular motion is simpler to analyze math-
ematically, so we will attack it first and then pass to the nonuniform
self-check A
Which of these are examples of uniform circular motion and which are
(1) the clothes in a clothes dryer (assuming they remain against the
inside of the drum, even at the top)
(2) a rock on the end of a string being whirled in a vertical circle
Answer, p. 525
Section 9.1 Conceptual framework 223
d / To make the brick go in a
circle, I had to exert an inward
force on the rope.
f / When a car is going straight
at constant speed, the forward
and backward forces on it are
canceling out, producing a total
force of zero. When it moves
in a circle at constant speed,
there are three forces on it, but
the forward and backward forces
cancel out, so the vector sum is
an inward force.
Only an inward force is required for uniform circular motion.
Figure c showed the string pulling in straight along a radius of
the circle, but many people believe that when they are doing this
they must be “leading” the rock a little to keep it moving along.
That is, they believe that the force required to produce uniform
circular motion is not directly inward but at a slight angle to the
radius of the circle. This intuition is incorrect, which you can easily
verify for yourself now if you have some string handy. It is only
while you are getting the object going that your force needs to be at
an angle to the radius. During this initial period of speeding up, the
motion is not uniform. Once you settle down into uniform circular
motion, you only apply an inward force.
If you have not done the experiment for yourself, here is a theo-
retical argument to convince you of this fact. We have discussed in
chapter 6 the principle that forces have no perpendicular effects. To
keep the rock from speeding up or slowing down, we only need to
make sure that our force is perpendicular to its direction of motion.
We are then guaranteed that its forward motion will remain unaf-
fected: our force can have no perpendicular effect, and there is no
other force acting on the rock which could slow it down. The rock
requires no forward force to maintain its forward motion, any more
than a projectile needs a horizontal force to “help it over the top”
of its arc.
e / A series of three hammer taps makes the rolling ball trace a tri-
angle, seven hammers a heptagon. If the number of hammers was large
enough, the ball would essentially be experiencing a steady inward force,
and it would go in a circle. In no case is any forward force necessary.
224 Chapter 9 Circular motion
g / Example 2.
Why, then, does a car driving in circles in a parking lot stop
executing uniform circular motion if you take your foot off the gas?
The source of confusion here is that Newton’s laws predict an ob-
ject’s motion based on the total force acting on it. A car driving in
circles has three forces on it
(1) an inward force from the asphalt, controlled with the steering
(2) a forward force from the asphalt, controlled with the gas
pedal; and
(3) backward forces from air resistance and rolling resistance.
You need to make sure there is a forward force on the car so that
the backward forces will be exactly canceled out, creating a vector
sum that points directly inward.
A motorcycle making a turn example 2
The motorcyclist in figure g is moving along an arc of a circle. It
looks like he’s chosen to ride the slanted surface of the dirt at a
place where it makes just the angle he wants, allowing him to get
the force he needs on the tires as a normal force, without needing
any frictional force. The dirt’s normal force on the tires points up
and to our left. The vertical component of that force is canceled
by gravity, while its horizontal component causes him to curve.
In uniform circular motion, the acceleration vector is inward
Since experiments show that the force vector points directly
inward, Newton’s second law implies that the acceleration vector
points inward as well. This fact can also be proven on purely kine-
matical grounds, and we will do so in the next section.
Section 9.1 Conceptual framework 225
Discussion questions A-D
Discussion question E.
Discussion questions
A In the game of crack the whip, a line of people stand holding hands,
and then they start sweeping out a circle. One person is at the center, and
rotates without changing location. At the opposite end is the person who
is running the fastest, in a wide circle. In this game, someone always ends
up losing their grip and flying off. Suppose the person on the end loses
her grip. What path does she follow as she goes flying off? (Assume she
is going so fast that she is really just trying to put one foot in front of the
other fast enough to keep from falling; she is not able to get any significant
horizontal force between her feet and the ground.)
B Suppose the person on the outside is still holding on, but feels that
she may loose her grip at any moment. What force or forces are acting
on her, and in what directions are they? (We are not interested in the
vertical forces, which are the earth’s gravitational force pulling down, and
the ground’s normal force pushing up.)
C Suppose the person on the outside is still holding on, but feels that
she may loose her grip at any moment. What is wrong with the following
analysis of the situation? “The person whose hand she’s holding exerts
an inward force on her, and because of Newton’s third law, there’s an
equal and opposite force acting outward. That outward force is the one
she feels throwing her outward, and the outward force is what might make
her go flying off, if it’s strong enough.”
D If the only force felt by the person on the outside is an inward force,
why doesn’t she go straight in?
E In the amusement park ride shown in the figure, the cylinder spins
faster and faster until the customer can pick her feet up off the floor with-
out falling. In the old Coney Island version of the ride, the floor actually
dropped out like a trap door, showing the ocean below. (There is also a
version in which the whole thing tilts up diagonally, but we’re discussing
the version that stays flat.) If there is no outward force acting on her, why
does she stick to the wall? Analyze all the forces on her.
F What is an example of circular motion where the inward force is a
normal force? What is an example of circular motion where the inward
force is friction? What is an example of circular motion where the inward
force is the sum of more than one force?
G Does the acceleration vector always change continuously in circular
motion? The velocity vector?
226 Chapter 9 Circular motion
h / The law of sines.
i / Deriving |a| = |v|
/r for
uniform circular motion.
9.2 Uniform circular motion
In this section I derive a simple and very useful equation for
the magnitude of the acceleration of an object undergoing constant
acceleration. The law of sines is involved, so I’ve recapped it in
figure h.
The derivation is brief, but the method requires some explana-
tion and justification. The idea is to calculate a ∆v vector describing
the change in the velocity vector as the object passes through an
angle θ. We then calculate the acceleration, a = ∆v/∆t. The as-
tute reader will recall, however, that this equation is only valid for
motion with constant acceleration. Although the magnitude of the
acceleration is constant for uniform circular motion, the acceleration
vector changes its direction, so it is not a constant vector, and the
equation a = ∆v/∆t does not apply. The justification for using it
is that we will then examine its behavior when we make the time
interval very short, which means making the angle θ very small. For
smaller and smaller time intervals, the ∆v/∆t expression becomes
a better and better approximation, so that the final result of the
derivation is exact.
In figure i/1, the object sweeps out an angle θ. Its direction of
motion also twists around by an angle θ, from the vertical dashed
line to the tilted one. Figure i/2 shows the initial and final velocity
vectors, which have equal magnitude, but directions differing by θ.
In i/3, I’ve reassembled the vectors in the proper positions for vector
subtraction. They form an isosceles triangle with interior angles θ,
η, and η. (Eta, η, is my favorite Greek letter.) The law of sines
sin θ
sin η
This tells us the magnitude of ∆v, which is one of the two ingredients
we need for calculating the magnitude of a = ∆v/∆t. The other
ingredient is ∆t. The time required for the object to move through
the angle θ is
∆t =
length of arc
Now if we measure our angles in radians we can use the definition of
radian measure, which is (angle) = (length of arc)/(radius), giving
∆t = θr/|v|. Combining this with the first expression involving
|∆v| gives
|a| = |∆v|/∆t
sin θ
sin η
When θ becomes very small, the small-angle approximation sin θ ≈ θ
applies, and also η becomes close to 90

, so sin η ≈ 1, and we have
Section 9.2 Uniform circular motion 227
j / Example 6.
an equation for |a|:
|a| =
. [uniform circular motion]
Force required to turn on a bike example 3
A bicyclist is making a turn along an arc of a circle with radius
20 m, at a speed of 5 m/s. If the combined mass of the cyclist
plus the bike is 60 kg, how great a static friction force must the
road be able to exert on the tires?
Taking the magnitudes of both sides of Newton’s second law
|F| = |ma|
= m|a| .
Substituting |a| = |v|
/r gives
|F| = m|v|
≈ 80 N
(rounded off to one sig fig).
Don’t hug the center line on a curve! example 4
You’re driving on a mountain road with a steep drop on your
right. When making a left turn, is it safer to hug the center line or
to stay closer to the outside of the road?
You want whichever choice involves the least acceleration, be-
cause that will require the least force and entail the least risk of
exceeding the maximum force of static friction. Assuming the
curve is an arc of a circle and your speed is constant, your car
is performing uniform circular motion, with |a| = |v|
/r . The de-
pendence on the square of the speed shows that driving slowly
is the main safety measure you can take, but for any given speed
you also want to have the largest possible value of r . Even though
your instinct is to keep away from that scary precipice, you are ac-
tually less likely to skid if you keep toward the outside, because
then you are describing a larger circle.
Acceleration related to radius and period of rotation example 5
How can the equation for the acceleration in uniform circular
motion be rewritten in terms of the radius of the circle and the
period, T, of the motion, i.e., the time required to go around once?
The period can be related to the speed as follows:
|v| =
= 2πr /T .
Substituting into the equation |a| = |v|
/r gives
|a| =

228 Chapter 9 Circular motion
A clothes dryer example 6
My clothes dryer has a drum with an inside radius of 35 cm, and
it spins at 48 revolutions per minute. What is the acceleration of
the clothes inside?
We can solve this by finding the period and plugging in to the
result of the previous example. If it makes 48 revolutions in one
minute, then the period is 1/48 of a minute, or 1.25 s. To get an
acceleration in mks units, we must convert the radius to 0.35 m.
Plugging in, the result is 8.8 m/s
More about clothes dryers! example 7
In a discussion question in the previous section, we made the
assumption that the clothes remain against the inside of the drum
as they go over the top. In light of the previous example, is this a
correct assumption?
No. We know that there must be some minimum speed at which
the motor can run that will result in the clothes just barely stay-
ing against the inside of the drum as they go over the top. If the
clothes dryer ran at just this minimum speed, then there would be
no normal force on the clothes at the top: they would be on the
verge of losing contact. The only force acting on them at the top
would be the force of gravity, which would give them an acceler-
ation of g = 9.8 m/s
. The actual dryer must be running slower
than this minimum speed, because it produces an acceleration of
only 8.8 m/s
. My theory is that this is done intentionally, to make
the clothes mix and tumble.
Solved problem: The tilt-a-whirl page 234, problem 6
Solved problem: An off-ramp page 234, problem 7
Discussion questions
A A certain amount of force is needed to provide the acceleration of
circular motion. What if were are exerting a force perpendicular to the
direction of motion in an attempt to make an object trace a circle of radius
r , but the force isn’t as big as m|v|
/r ?
B Suppose a rotating space station, as in figure k on page 230, is built.
It gives its occupants the illusion of ordinary gravity. What happens when
a person in the station lets go of a ball? What happens when she throws
a ball straight “up” in the air (i.e., towards the center)?
Section 9.2 Uniform circular motion 229
l / 1. Moving in a circle while
speeding up. 2. Uniform circular
motion. 3. Slowing down.
k / Discussion question B. An artist’s conception of a rotating space
colony in the form of a giant wheel. A person living in this noninertial
frame of reference has an illusion of a force pulling her outward, toward
the deck, for the same reason that a person in the pickup truck has the
illusion of a force pulling the bowling ball. By adjusting the speed of ro-
tation, the designers can make an acceleration |v|
/r equal to the usual
acceleration of gravity on earth. On earth, your acceleration standing on
the ground is zero, and a falling rock heads for your feet with an accelera-
tion of 9.8 m/s
. A person standing on the deck of the space colony has
an upward acceleration of 9.8 m/s
, and when she lets go of a rock, her
feet head up at the nonaccelerating rock. To her, it seems the same as
true gravity.
9.3 Nonuniform circular motion
What about nonuniform circular motion? Although so far we
have been discussing components of vectors along fixed x and y
axes, it now becomes convenient to discuss components of the accel-
eration vector along the radial line (in-out) and the tangential line
(along the direction of motion). For nonuniform circular motion,
the radial component of the acceleration obeys the same equation
as for uniform circular motion,
= v
/r ,
where v = |v|, but the acceleration vector also has a tangential
= slope of the graph of v versus t .
The latter quantity has a simple interpretation. If you are going
around a curve in your car, and the speedometer needle is mov-
ing, the tangential component of the acceleration vector is simply
what you would have thought the acceleration was if you saw the
speedometer and didn’t know you were going around a curve.
Slow down before a turn, not during it. example 8
When you’re making a turn in your car and you’re afraid you
may skid, isn’t it a good idea to slow down?
If the turn is an arc of a circle, and you’ve already completed
part of the turn at constant speed without skidding, then the road
and tires are apparently capable of enough static friction to sup-
ply an acceleration of |v|
/r . There is no reason why you would
skid out now if you haven’t already. If you get nervous and brake,
however, then you need to have a tangential acceleration com-
ponent in addition to the radial component you were already able
to produce successfully. This would require an acceleration vec-
tor with a greater magnitude, which in turn would require a larger
force. Static friction might not be able to supply that much force,
and you might skid out. As in the previous example on a similar
230 Chapter 9 Circular motion
topic, the safe thing to do is to approach the turn at a comfortably
low speed.
Solved problem: A bike race page 233, problem 5
Section 9.3 Nonuniform circular motion 231
Selected vocabulary
uniform circular
motion . . . . . .
circular motion in which the magnitude of the
velocity vector remains constant
nonuniform circu-
lar motion . . . .
circular motion in which the magnitude of the
velocity vector changes
radial . . . . . . . parallel to the radius of a circle; the in-out
tangential . . . . tangent to the circle, perpendicular to the ra-
dial direction
. . . . . . . . . radial acceleration; the component of the ac-
celeration vector along the in-out direction
. . . . . . . . . tangential acceleration; the component of the
acceleration vector tangent to the circle
If an object is to have circular motion, a force must be exerted on
it toward the center of the circle. There is no outward force on the
object; the illusion of an outward force comes from our experiences
in which our point of view was rotating, so that we were viewing
things in a noninertial frame.
An object undergoing uniform circular motion has an inward
acceleration vector of magnitude
|a| = v
/r ,
where v = |v|. In nonuniform circular motion, the radial and tan-
gential components of the acceleration vector are
= v
= slope of the graph of v versus t .
232 Chapter 9 Circular motion
Problem 5.

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 When you’re done using an electric mixer, you can get most
of the batter off of the beaters by lifting them out of the batter with
the motor running at a high enough speed. Let’s imagine, to make
things easier to visualize, that we instead have a piece of tape stuck
to one of the beaters.
(a) Explain why static friction has no effect on whether or not the
tape flies off.
(b) Suppose you find that the tape doesn’t fly off when the motor
is on a low speed, but at a greater speed, the tape won’t stay on.
Why would the greater speed change things?
2 Show that the expression |v|
/r has the units of acceleration.
3 A plane is flown in a loop-the-loop of radius 1.00 km. The
plane starts out flying upside-down, straight and level, then begins
curving up along the circular loop, and is right-side up when it
reaches the top. (The plane may slow down somewhat on the way
up.) How fast must the plane be going at the top if the pilot is to
experience no force from the seat or the seatbelt while at the top of
the loop?

4 In this problem, you’ll derive the equation |a| = |v|
/r us-
ing calculus. Instead of comparing velocities at two points in the
particle’s motion and then taking a limit where the points are close
together, you’ll just take derivatives. The particle’s position vector
is r = (r cos θ)ˆ x + (r sin θ)ˆ y, where ˆ x and ˆ y are the unit vectors
along the x and y axes. By the definition of radians, the distance
traveled since t = 0 is rθ, so if the particle is traveling at constant
speed v = |v|, we have v = rθ/t.
(a) Eliminate θ to get the particle’s position vector as a function of
(b) Find the particle’s acceleration vector.
(c) Show that the magnitude of the acceleration vector equals v
5 Three cyclists in a race are rounding a semicircular curve.
At the moment depicted, cyclist A is using her brakes to apply a
force of 375 N to her bike. Cyclist B is coasting. Cyclist C is
pedaling, resulting in a force of 375 N on her bike Each cyclist,
with her bike, has a mass of 75 kg. At the instant shown, the
instantaneous speed of all three cyclists is 10 m/s. On the diagram,
draw each cyclist’s acceleration vector with its tail on top of her
present position, indicating the directions and lengths reasonably
Problems 233
Problem 6.
Problem 7.
Problem 9.
accurately. Indicate approximately the consistent scale you are using
for all three acceleration vectors. Extreme precision is not necessary
as long as the directions are approximately right, and lengths of
vectors that should be equal appear roughly equal, etc. Assume all
three cyclists are traveling along the road all the time, not wandering
across their lane or wiping out and going off the road.
Solution, p. 516
6 The amusement park ride shown in the figure consists of a
cylindrical room that rotates about its vertical axis. When the ro-
tation is fast enough, a person against the wall can pick his or her
feet up off the floor and remain “stuck” to the wall without falling.
(a) Suppose the rotation results in the person having a speed v. The
radius of the cylinder is r, the person’s mass is m, the downward
acceleration of gravity is g, and the coefficient of static friction be-
tween the person and the wall is µ
. Find an equation for the speed,
v, required, in terms of the other variables. (You will find that one
of the variables cancels out.)
(b) Now suppose two people are riding the ride. Huy is wearing
denim, and Gina is wearing polyester, so Huy’s coefficient of static
friction is three times greater. The ride starts from rest, and as it
begins rotating faster and faster, Gina must wait longer before being
able to lift her feet without sliding to the floor. Based on your equa-
tion from part a, how many times greater must the speed be before
Gina can lift her feet without sliding down? Solution, p. 516
7 An engineer is designing a curved off-ramp for a freeway.
Since the off-ramp is curved, she wants to bank it to make it less
likely that motorists going too fast will wipe out. If the radius of
the curve is r, how great should the banking angle, θ, be so that
for a car going at a speed v, no static friction force whatsoever is
required to allow the car to make the curve? State your answer in
terms of v, r, and g, and show that the mass of the car is irrelevant.
Solution, p. 517
8 Lionel brand toy trains come with sections of track in standard
lengths and shapes. For circular arcs, the most commonly used
sections have diameters of 662 and 1067 mm at the inside of the outer
rail. The maximum speed at which a train can take the broader
curve without flying off the tracks is 0.95 m/s. At what speed must
the train be operated to avoid derailing on the tighter curve?

9 The figure shows a ball on the end of a string of length L
attached to a vertical rod which is spun about its vertical axis by a
motor. The period (time for one rotation) is P.
(a) Analyze the forces in which the ball participates.
(b) Find how the angle θ depends on P, g, and L. [Hints: (1)
Write down Newton’s second law for the vertical and horizontal
components of force and acceleration. This gives two equations,
which can be solved for the two unknowns, θ and the tension in
234 Chapter 9 Circular motion
Problem 10.
Problem 11.
Problem 12.
the string. (2) If you introduce variables like v and r, relate them
to the variables your solution is supposed to contain, and eliminate

(c) What happens mathematically to your solution if the motor is
run very slowly (very large values of P)? Physically, what do you
think would actually happen in this case?
10 Psychology professor R.O. Dent requests funding for an ex-
periment on compulsive thrill-seeking behavior in guinea pigs, in
which the subject is to be attached to the end of a spring and whirled
around in a horizontal circle. The spring has equilibrium length b,
and obeys Hooke’s law with spring constant k. It is stiff enough to
keep from bending significantly under the guinea pig’s weight.
(a) Calculate the length of the spring when it is undergoing steady
circular motion in which one rotation takes a time T. Express your
result in terms of k, b, T, and the guinea pig’s mass m.

(b) The ethics committee somehow fails to veto the experiment, but
the safety committee expresses concern. Why? Does your equa-
tion do anything unusual, or even spectacular, for any particular
value of T? What do you think is the physical significance of this
mathematical behavior?
11 The figure shows an old-fashioned device called a flyball
governor, used for keeping an engine running at the correct speed.
The whole thing rotates about the vertical shaft, and the mass M
is free to slide up and down. This mass would have a connection
(not shown) to a valve that controlled the engine. If, for instance,
the engine ran too fast, the mass would rise, causing the engine to
slow back down.
(a) Show that in the special case of a = 0, the angle θ is given by
θ = cos

where P is the period of rotation (time required for one complete
(b) There is no closed-form solution for θ in the general case where
a is not zero. However, explain how the undesirable low-speed be-
havior of the a = 0 device would be improved by making a nonzero.

12 The figure shows two blocks of masses m
and m
in circles on a frictionless table. Find the tension in the strings if
the period of rotation (time required for one complete rotation) is

13 The acceleration of an object in uniform circular motion can
be given either by |a| = |v|
/r or, equivalently, by |a| = 4π
where T is the time required for one cycle (example 5 on page 228).
Person A says based on the first equation that the acceleration in
circular motion is greater when the circle is smaller. Person B, ar-
guing from the second equation, says that the acceleration is smaller
Problems 235
when the circle is smaller. Rewrite the two statements so that they
are less misleading, eliminating the supposed paradox. [Based on a
problem by Arnold Arons.]
14 The bright star Sirius has a mass of 4.02 × 10
kg and lies
at a distance of 8.1 ×10
m from our solar system. Suppose you’re
standing on a merry-go-round carousel rotating with a period of 10
seconds. You adopt a rotating, noninertial frame of reference, in
which the carousel is at rest, and the universe is spinning around it.
If you drop a corndog, you see it accelerate horizontally away from
the axis, and you interpret this is the result of some horizontal force.
This force does not actually exist; it only seems to exist because
you’re insisting on using a noninertial frame. Similarly, calculate
the force that seems to act on Sirius in this frame of reference.
Comment on the physical plausibility of this force, and on what
object could be exerting it.

15 In a well known stunt from circuses and carnivals, a motor-
cyclist rides around inside a big bowl, gradually speeding up and
rising higher. Eventually the cyclist can get up to where the walls
of the bowl are vertical. Let’s estimate the conditions under which
a running human could do the same thing.
(a) If the runner can run at speed v, and her shoes have a coefficient
of static friction µ
, what is the maximum radius of the circle?

(b) Show that the units of your answer make sense.
(c) Check that its dependence on the variables makes sense.
(d) Evaluate your result numerically for v = 10 m/s (the speed of
an olympic sprinter) and µ
= 5. (This is roughly the highest coeffi-
cient of static friction ever achieved for surfaces that are not sticky.
The surface has an array of microscopic fibers like a hair brush, and
is inspired by the hairs on the feet of a gecko. These assumptions
are not necessarily realistic, since the person would have to run at
an angle, which would be physically awkward.)

236 Chapter 9 Circular motion
a / Johannes Kepler found a
mathematical description of the
motion of the planets, which led
to Newton’s theory of gravity.
Gravity is the only really important force on the cosmic scale. This false-
color representation of saturn’s rings was made from an image sent back
by the Voyager 2 space probe. The rings are composed of innumerable
tiny ice particles orbiting in circles under the influence of saturn’s gravity.
Chapter 10
Cruise your radio dial today and try to find any popular song that
would have been imaginable without Louis Armstrong. By introduc-
ing solo improvisation into jazz, Armstrong took apart the jigsaw
puzzle of popular music and fit the pieces back together in a dif-
ferent way. In the same way, Newton reassembled our view of the
universe. Consider the titles of some recent physics books written
for the general reader: The God Particle, Dreams of a Final The-
ory. When the subatomic particle called the neutrino was recently
proven for the first time to have mass, specialists in cosmology be-
gan discussing seriously what effect this would have on calculations
of the ultimate fate of the universe: would the neutrinos’ mass cause
enough extra gravitational attraction to make the universe eventu-
ally stop expanding and fall back together? Without Newton, such
attempts at universal understanding would not merely have seemed
a little pretentious, they simply would not have occurred to anyone.
This chapter is about Newton’s theory of gravity, which he used
to explain the motion of the planets as they orbited the sun. Whereas
b / Tycho Brahe made his name
as an astronomer by showing that
the bright new star, today called
a supernova, that appeared in
the skies in 1572 was far beyond
the Earth’s atmosphere. This,
along with Galileo’s discovery of
sunspots, showed that contrary
to Aristotle, the heavens were
not perfect and unchanging.
Brahe’s fame as an astronomer
brought him patronage from King
Frederick II, allowing him to carry
out his historic high-precision
measurements of the planets’
motions. A contradictory charac-
ter, Brahe enjoyed lecturing other
nobles about the evils of dueling,
but had lost his own nose in a
youthful duel and had it replaced
with a prosthesis made of an
alloy of gold and silver. Willing to
endure scandal in order to marry
a peasant, he nevertheless used
the feudal powers given to him by
the king to impose harsh forced
labor on the inhabitants of his
parishes. The result of their work,
an Italian-style palace with an
observatory on top, surely ranks
as one of the most luxurious
science labs ever built. Kepler
described Brahe as dying of a
ruptured bladder after falling from
a wagon on the way home from
a party, but other contemporary
accounts and modern medical
analysis suggest mercury poison-
ing, possibly as a result of court
this book has concentrated on Newton’s laws of motion, leaving
gravity as a dessert, Newton tosses off the laws of motion in the
first 20 pages of the Principia Mathematica and then spends the
next 130 discussing the motion of the planets. Clearly he saw this
as the crucial scientific focus of his work. Why? Because in it he
showed that the same laws of motion applied to the heavens as to
the earth, and that the gravitational force that made an apple fall
was the same as the force that kept the earth’s motion from carrying
it away from the sun. What was radical about Newton was not his
laws of motion but his concept of a universal science of physics.
10.1 Kepler’s laws
Newton wouldn’t have been able to figure out why the planets
move the way they do if it hadn’t been for the astronomer Tycho
Brahe (1546-1601) and his protege Johannes Kepler (1571-1630),
who together came up with the first simple and accurate description
of how the planets actually do move. The difficulty of their task is
suggested by figure c, which shows how the relatively simple orbital
motions of the earth and Mars combine so that as seen from earth
Mars appears to be staggering in loops like a drunken sailor.
c / As the Earth and Mars revolve around the sun at different rates,
the combined effect of their motions makes Mars appear to trace a
strange, looped path across the background of the distant stars.
238 Chapter 10 Gravity
Brahe, the last of the great naked-eye astronomers, collected ex-
tensive data on the motions of the planets over a period of many
years, taking the giant step from the previous observations’ accuracy
of about 10 minutes of arc (10/60 of a degree) to an unprecedented
1 minute. The quality of his work is all the more remarkable consid-
ering that his observatory consisted of four giant brass protractors
mounted upright in his castle in Denmark. Four different observers
would simultaneously measure the position of a planet in order to
check for mistakes and reduce random errors.
With Brahe’s death, it fell to his former assistant Kepler to try
to make some sense out of the volumes of data. Kepler, in con-
tradiction to his late boss, had formed a prejudice, a correct one
as it turned out, in favor of the theory that the earth and planets
revolved around the sun, rather than the earth staying fixed and
everything rotating about it. Although motion is relative, it is not
just a matter of opinion what circles what. The earth’s rotation
and revolution about the sun make it a noninertial reference frame,
which causes detectable violations of Newton’s laws when one at-
tempts to describe sufficiently precise experiments in the earth-fixed
frame. Although such direct experiments were not carried out until
the 19th century, what convinced everyone of the sun-centered sys-
tem in the 17th century was that Kepler was able to come up with
a surprisingly simple set of mathematical and geometrical rules for
describing the planets’ motion using the sun-centered assumption.
After 900 pages of calculations and many false starts and dead-end
ideas, Kepler finally synthesized the data into the following three
Kepler’s elliptical orbit law
The planets orbit the sun in elliptical orbits with the sun at
one focus.
Kepler’s equal-area law
The line connecting a planet to the sun sweeps out equal areas
in equal amounts of time.
Kepler’s law of periods
The time required for a planet to orbit the sun, called its
period, is proportional to the long axis of the ellipse raised to
the 3/2 power. The constant of proportionality is the same
for all the planets.
Although the planets’ orbits are ellipses rather than circles, most
are very close to being circular. The earth’s orbit, for instance, is
only flattened by 1.7% relative to a circle. In the special case of a
planet in a circular orbit, the two foci (plural of “focus”) coincide
at the center of the circle, and Kepler’s elliptical orbit law thus says
that the circle is centered on the sun. The equal-area law implies
that a planet in a circular orbit moves around the sun with constant
speed. For a circular orbit, the law of periods then amounts to a
Section 10.1 Kepler’s laws 239
d / An ellipse is a circle that
has been distorted by shrinking
and stretching along perpendicu-
lar axes.
e / An ellipse can be con-
structed by tying a string to two
pins and drawing like this with the
pencil stretching the string taut.
Each pin constitutes one focus of
the ellipse.
f / If the time interval taken
by the planet to move from P to Q
is equal to the time interval from
R to S, then according to Kepler’s
equal-area law, the two shaded
areas are equal. The planet
is moving faster during interval
RS than it did during PQ, which
Newton later determined was due
to the sun’s gravitational force
accelerating it. The equal-area
law predicts exactly how much it
will speed up.
statement that the time for one orbit is proportional to r
, where
r is the radius. If all the planets were moving in their orbits at the
same speed, then the time for one orbit would simply depend on
the circumference of the circle, so it would only be proportional to
r to the first power. The more drastic dependence on r
that the outer planets must be moving more slowly than the inner
10.2 Newton’s law of gravity
The sun’s force on the planets obeys an inverse square law.
Kepler’s laws were a beautifully simple explanation of what the
planets did, but they didn’t address why they moved as they did.
Did the sun exert a force that pulled a planet toward the center of
its orbit, or, as suggested by Descartes, were the planets circulating
in a whirlpool of some unknown liquid? Kepler, working in the
Aristotelian tradition, hypothesized not just an inward force exerted
by the sun on the planet, but also a second force in the direction
of motion to keep the planet from slowing down. Some speculated
that the sun attracted the planets magnetically.
Once Newton had formulated his laws of motion and taught
them to some of his friends, they began trying to connect them
to Kepler’s laws. It was clear now that an inward force would be
needed to bend the planets’ paths. This force was presumably an
attraction between the sun and each planet. (Although the sun does
accelerate in response to the attractions of the planets, its mass is so
great that the effect had never been detected by the prenewtonian
astronomers.) Since the outer planets were moving slowly along
more gently curving paths than the inner planets, their accelerations
were apparently less. This could be explained if the sun’s force was
determined by distance, becoming weaker for the farther planets.
Physicists were also familiar with the noncontact forces of electricity
and magnetism, and knew that they fell off rapidly with distance,
so this made sense.
In the approximation of a circular orbit, the magnitude of the
sun’s force on the planet would have to be
[1] F = ma = mv
/r .
Now although this equation has the magnitude, v, of the velocity
vector in it, what Newton expected was that there would be a more
fundamental underlying equation for the force of the sun on a planet,
and that that equation would involve the distance, r, from the sun
to the object, but not the object’s speed, v — motion doesn’t make
objects lighter or heavier.
self-check A
If eq. [1] really was generally applicable, what would happen to an
240 Chapter 10 Gravity
g / The moon’s acceleration
is 60
= 3600 times smaller than
the apple’s.
object released at rest in some empty region of the solar system?
Answer, p. 525
Equation [1] was thus a useful piece of information which could
be related to the data on the planets simply because the planets
happened to be going in nearly circular orbits, but Newton wanted
to combine it with other equations and eliminate v algebraically in
order to find a deeper truth.
To eliminate v, Newton used the equation
[2] v =
Of course this equation would also only be valid for planets in nearly
circular orbits. Plugging this into eq. [1] to eliminate v gives
[3] F =

This unfortunately has the side-effect of bringing in the period, T,
which we expect on similar physical grounds will not occur in the
final answer. That’s where the circular-orbit case, T ∝ r
, of
Kepler’s law of periods comes in. Using it to eliminate T gives a
result that depends only on the mass of the planet and its distance
from the sun:
F ∝ m/r
. [force of the sun on a planet of mass
m at a distance r from the sun; same
proportionality constant for all the planets]
(Since Kepler’s law of periods is only a proportionality, the final
result is a proportionality rather than an equation, so there is no
point in hanging on to the factor of 4π
As an example, the “twin planets” Uranus and Neptune have
nearly the same mass, but Neptune is about twice as far from the
sun as Uranus, so the sun’s gravitational force on Neptune is about
four times smaller.
self-check B
Fill in the steps leading from equation [3] to F ∝ m/r
. Answer, p.
The forces between heavenly bodies are the same type of
force as terrestrial gravity.
OK, but what kind of force was it? It probably wasn’t magnetic,
since magnetic forces have nothing to do with mass. Then came
Newton’s great insight. Lying under an apple tree and looking up
at the moon in the sky, he saw an apple fall. Might not the earth
also attract the moon with the same kind of gravitational force?
The moon orbits the earth in the same way that the planets orbit
Section 10.2 Newton’s law of gravity 241
the sun, so maybe the earth’s force on the falling apple, the earth’s
force on the moon, and the sun’s force on a planet were all the same
type of force.
There was an easy way to test this hypothesis numerically. If it
was true, then we would expect the gravitational forces exerted by
the earth to follow the same F ∝ m/r
rule as the forces exerted by
the sun, but with a different constant of proportionality appropriate
to the earth’s gravitational strength. The issue arises now of how to
define the distance, r, between the earth and the apple. An apple
in England is closer to some parts of the earth than to others, but
suppose we take r to be the distance from the center of the earth to
the apple, i.e., the radius of the earth. (The issue of how to measure
r did not arise in the analysis of the planets’ motions because the
sun and planets are so small compared to the distances separating
them.) Calling the proportionality constant k, we have
earth on apple
= k m
earth on moon
= k m
Newton’s second law says a = F/m, so
= k / r
= k / d
The Greek astronomer Hipparchus had already found 2000 years
before that the distance from the earth to the moon was about 60
times the radius of the earth, so if Newton’s hypothesis was right,
the acceleration of the moon would have to be 60
= 3600 times less
than the acceleration of the falling apple.
Applying a = v
/r to the acceleration of the moon yielded an
acceleration that was indeed 3600 times smaller than 9.8 m/s
, and
Newton was convinced he had unlocked the secret of the mysterious
force that kept the moon and planets in their orbits.
Newton’s law of gravity
The proportionality F ∝ m/r
for the gravitational force on an
object of mass m only has a consistent proportionality constant for
various objects if they are being acted on by the gravity of the same
object. Clearly the sun’s gravitational strength is far greater than
the earth’s, since the planets all orbit the sun and do not exhibit
any very large accelerations caused by the earth (or by one another).
What property of the sun gives it its great gravitational strength?
Its great volume? Its great mass? Its great temperature? Newton
reasoned that if the force was proportional to the mass of the object
being acted on, then it would also make sense if the determining
factor in the gravitational strength of the object exerting the force
was its own mass. Assuming there were no other factors affecting
the gravitational force, then the only other thing needed to make
242 Chapter 10 Gravity
h / Students often have a
hard time understanding the
physical meaning of G. It’s just
a proportionality constant that
tells you how strong gravitational
forces are. If you could change it,
all the gravitational forces all over
the universe would get stronger
or weaker. Numerically, the
gravitational attraction between
two 1-kg masses separated by a
distance of 1 m is 6.67×10
and this is what G is in SI units.
i / Example 3. Computer-
enhanced images of Pluto and
Charon, taken by the Hubble
Space Telescope.
quantitative predictions of gravitational forces would be a propor-
tionality constant. Newton called that proportionality constant G,
so here is the complete form of the law of gravity he hypothesized.
Newton’s law of gravity
F =
[gravitational force between objects of mass
and m
, separated by a distance r; r is not
the radius of anything ]
Newton conceived of gravity as an attraction between any two
masses in the universe. The constant G tells us how many newtons
the attractive force is for two 1-kg masses separated by a distance
of 1 m. The experimental determination of G in ordinary units
(as opposed to the special, nonmetric, units used in astronomy)
is described in section 10.5. This difficult measurement was not
accomplished until long after Newton’s death.
The units of G example 1
What are the units of G?
Solving for G in Newton’s law of gravity gives
G =
so the units of G must be N·m
. Fully adorned with units, the
value of G is 6.67 ×10
Newton’s third law example 2
Is Newton’s law of gravity consistent with Newton’s third law?
The third law requires two things. First, m
’s force on m
be the same as m
’s force on m
. This works out, because the
product m
gives the same result if we interchange the labels 1
and 2. Second, the forces should be in opposite directions. This
condition is also satisfied, because Newton’s law of gravity refers
to an attraction: each mass pulls the other toward itself.
Pluto and Charon example 3
Pluto’s moon Charon is unusually large considering Pluto’s size,
giving them the character of a double planet. Their masses are
and 1.9x10
kg, and their average distance from one
another is 1.96 ×10
km. What is the gravitational force between
If we want to use the value of G expressed in SI (meter-kilogram-
second) units, we first have to convert the distance to 1.96 ×
Section 10.2 Newton’s law of gravity 243
j / The conic sections are the
curves made by cutting the
surface of an infinite cone with a
k / An imaginary cannon able
to shoot cannonballs at very high
speeds is placed on top of an
imaginary, very tall mountain
that reaches up above the at-
mosphere. Depending on the
speed at which the ball is fired,
it may end up in a tightly curved
elliptical orbit, 1, a circular orbit,
2, a bigger elliptical orbit, 3, or a
nearly straight hyperbolic orbit, 4.
m. The force is
6.67 ×10
1.25 ×10
_ _
1.9 ×10
1.96 ×10
= 4.1 ×10
The proportionality to 1/r
in Newton’s law of gravity was not
entirely unexpected. Proportionalities to 1/r
are found in many
other phenomena in which some effect spreads out from a point.
For instance, the intensity of the light from a candle is proportional
to 1/r
, because at a distance r from the candle, the light has to
be spread out over the surface of an imaginary sphere of area 4πr
The same is true for the intensity of sound from a firecracker, or the
intensity of gamma radiation emitted by the Chernobyl reactor. It’s
important, however, to realize that this is only an analogy. Force
does not travel through space as sound or light does, and force is
not a substance that can be spread thicker or thinner like butter on
Although several of Newton’s contemporaries had speculated
that the force of gravity might be proportional to 1/r
, none of
them, even the ones who had learned Newton’s laws of motion, had
had any luck proving that the resulting orbits would be ellipses, as
Kepler had found empirically. Newton did succeed in proving that
elliptical orbits would result from a 1/r
force, but we postpone
the proof until the chapter 15 because it can be accomplished much
more easily using the concepts of energy and angular momentum.
Newton also predicted that orbits in the shape of hyperbolas
should be possible, and he was right. Some comets, for instance,
orbit the sun in very elongated ellipses, but others pass through
the solar system on hyperbolic paths, never to return. Just as the
trajectory of a faster baseball pitch is flatter than that of a more
slowly thrown ball, so the curvature of a planet’s orbit depends on
its speed. A spacecraft can be launched at relatively low speed,
resulting in a circular orbit about the earth, or it can be launched
at a higher speed, giving a more gently curved ellipse that reaches
farther from the earth, or it can be launched at a very high speed
which puts it in an even less curved hyperbolic orbit. As you go
very far out on a hyperbola, it approaches a straight line, i.e., its
curvature eventually becomes nearly zero.
Newton also was able to prove that Kepler’s second law (sweep-
ing out equal areas in equal time intervals) was a logical consequence
of his law of gravity. Newton’s version of the proof is moderately
complicated, but the proof becomes trivial once you understand the
concept of angular momentum, which will be covered later in the
course. The proof will therefore be deferred until section section
244 Chapter 10 Gravity
self-check C
Which of Kepler’s laws would it make sense to apply to hyperbolic or-
bits? Answer, p.
Solved problem: Visiting Ceres page 256, problem 10
Solved problem: Geosynchronous orbit page 258, problem 16
Solved problem: Why a equals g page 257, problem 11
Solved problem: Ida and Dactyl page 257, problem 12
Solved problem: Another solar system page 257, problem 15
Solved problem: Weight loss page 258, problem 19
Solved problem: The receding moon page 258, problem 17
Discussion questions
A How could Newton find the speed of the moon to plug in to a =
/r ?
B Two projectiles of different mass shot out of guns on the surface of
the earth at the same speed and angle will follow the same trajectories,
assuming that air friction is negligible. (You can verify this by throwing two
objects together from your hand and seeing if they separate or stay side
by side.) What corresponding fact would be true for satellites of the earth
having different masses?
C What is wrong with the following statement? “A comet in an elliptical
orbit speeds up as it approaches the sun, because the sun’s force on it is
D Why would it not make sense to expect the earth’s gravitational force
on a bowling ball to be inversely proportional to the square of the distance
between their surfaces rather than their centers?
E Does the earth accelerate as a result of the moon’s gravitational
force on it? Suppose two planets were bound to each other gravitationally
the way the earth and moon are, but the two planets had equal masses.
What would their motion be like?
F Spacecraft normally operate by firing their engines only for a few
minutes at a time, and an interplanetary probe will spend months or years
on its way to its destination without thrust. Suppose a spacecraft is in a
circular orbit around Mars, and it then briefly fires its engines in reverse,
causing a sudden decrease in speed. What will this do to its orbit? What
about a forward thrust?
Section 10.2 Newton’s law of gravity 245
10.3 Apparent weightlessness
If you ask somebody at the bus stop why astronauts are weightless,
you’ll probably get one of the following two incorrect answers:
(1) They’re weightless because they’re so far from the earth.
(2) They’re weightless because they’re moving so fast.
The first answer is wrong, because the vast majority of astro-
nauts never get more than a thousand miles from the earth’s surface.
The reduction in gravity caused by their altitude is significant, but
not 100%. The second answer is wrong because Newton’s law of
gravity only depends on distance, not speed.
The correct answer is that astronauts in orbit around the earth
are not really weightless at all. Their weightlessness is only appar-
ent. If there was no gravitational force on the spaceship, it would
obey Newton’s first law and move off on a straight line, rather than
orbiting the earth. Likewise, the astronauts inside the spaceship are
in orbit just like the spaceship itself, with the earth’s gravitational
force continually twisting their velocity vectors around. The reason
they appear to be weightless is that they are in the same orbit as
the spaceship, so although the earth’s gravity curves their trajectory
down toward the deck, the deck drops out from under them at the
same rate.
Apparent weightlessness can also be experienced on earth. Any
time you jump up in the air, you experience the same kind of ap-
parent weightlessness that the astronauts do. While in the air, you
can lift your arms more easily than normal, because gravity does not
make them fall any faster than the rest of your body, which is falling
out from under them. The Russian air force now takes rich foreign
tourists up in a big cargo plane and gives them the feeling of weight-
lessness for a short period of time while the plane is nose-down and
dropping like a rock.
10.4 Vector addition of gravitational forces
Pick a flower on earth and you move the farthest star.
Paul Dirac
When you stand on the ground, which part of the earth is pulling
down on you with its gravitational force? Most people are tempted
to say that the effect only comes from the part directly under you,
since gravity always pulls straight down. Here are three observations
that might help to change your mind:
• If you jump up in the air, gravity does not stop affecting you
just because you are not touching the earth: gravity is a non-
contact force. That means you are not immune from the grav-
246 Chapter 10 Gravity
l / Gravity only appears to
pull straight down because the
near perfect symmetry of the
earth makes the sideways com-
ponents of the total force on an
object cancel almost exactly. If
the symmetry is broken, e.g., by
a dense mineral deposit, the total
force is a little off to the side.
ity of distant parts of our planet just because you are not
touching them.
• Gravitational effects are not blocked by intervening matter.
For instance, in an eclipse of the moon, the earth is lined up
directly between the sun and the moon, but only the sun’s light
is blocked from reaching the moon, not its gravitational force
— if the sun’s gravitational force on the moon was blocked in
this situation, astronomers would be able to tell because the
moon’s acceleration would change suddenly. A more subtle
but more easily observable example is that the tides are caused
by the moon’s gravity, and tidal effects can occur on the side
of the earth facing away from the moon. Thus, far-off parts
of the earth are not prevented from attracting you with their
gravity just because there is other stuff between you and them.
• Prospectors sometimes search for underground deposits of dense
minerals by measuring the direction of the local gravitational
forces, i.e., the direction things fall or the direction a plumb
bob hangs. For instance, the gravitational forces in the region
to the west of such a deposit would point along a line slightly
to the east of the earth’s center. Just because the total grav-
itational force on you points down, that doesn’t mean that
only the parts of the earth directly below you are attracting
you. It’s just that the sideways components of all the force
vectors acting on you come very close to canceling out.
A cubic centimeter of lava in the earth’s mantle, a grain of silica
inside Mt. Kilimanjaro, and a flea on a cat in Paris are all attracting
you with their gravity. What you feel is the vector sum of all the
gravitational forces exerted by all the atoms of our planet, and for
that matter by all the atoms in the universe.
When Newton tested his theory of gravity by comparing the
orbital acceleration of the moon to the acceleration of a falling apple
on earth, he assumed he could compute the earth’s force on the
apple using the distance from the apple to the earth’s center. Was
he wrong? After all, it isn’t just the earth’s center attracting the
apple, it’s the whole earth. A kilogram of dirt a few feet under his
backyard in England would have a much greater force on the apple
than a kilogram of molten rock deep under Australia, thousands of
miles away. There’s really no obvious reason why the force should
come out right if you just pretend that the earth’s whole mass is
concentrated at its center. Also, we know that the earth has some
parts that are more dense, and some parts that are less dense. The
solid crust, on which we live, is considerably less dense than the
molten rock on which it floats. By all rights, the computation of the
vector sum of all the forces exerted by all the earth’s parts should
be a horrendous mess.
Section 10.4 Vector addition of gravitational forces 247
m / An object outside a spherical
shell of mass will feel gravitational
forces from every part of the shell
— stronger forces from the closer
parts, and weaker ones from the
parts farther away. The shell
theorem states that the vector
sum of all the forces is the same
as if all the mass had been
concentrated at the center of the
Actually, Newton had sound mathematical reasons for treating
the earth’s mass as if it was concentrated at its center. First, al-
though Newton no doubt suspected the earth’s density was nonuni-
form, he knew that the direction of its total gravitational force was
very nearly toward the earth’s center. That was strong evidence
that the distribution of mass was very symmetric, so that we can
think of the earth as being made of many layers, like an onion,
with each layer having constant density throughout. (Today there
is further evidence for symmetry based on measurements of how the
vibrations from earthquakes and nuclear explosions travel through
the earth.) Newton then concentrated on the gravitational forces
exerted by a single such thin shell, and proved the following math-
ematical theorem, known as the shell theorem:
If an object lies outside a thin, spherical shell of mass, then
the vector sum of all the gravitational forces exerted by all the
parts of the shell is the same as if the shell’s mass had been
concentrated at its center. If the object lies inside the shell,
then all the gravitational forces cancel out exactly.
For terrestrial gravity, each shell acts as though its mass was con-
centrated at the earth’s center, so the final result is the same as if
the earth’s whole mass was concentrated at its center.
The second part of the shell theorem, about the gravitational
forces canceling inside the shell, is a little surprising. Obviously the
forces would all cancel out if you were at the exact center of a shell,
but why should they still cancel out perfectly if you are inside the
shell but off-center? The whole idea might seem academic, since we
don’t know of any hollow planets in our solar system that astronauts
could hope to visit, but actually it’s a useful result for understanding
gravity within the earth, which is an important issue in geology. It
doesn’t matter that the earth is not actually hollow. In a mine shaft
at a depth of, say, 2 km, we can use the shell theorem to tell us that
the outermost 2 km of the earth has no net gravitational effect, and
the gravitational force is the same as what would be produced if the
remaining, deeper, parts of the earth were all concentrated at its
248 Chapter 10 Gravity
self-check D
Suppose you’re at the bottom of a deep mineshaft, which means you’re
still quite far from the center of the earth. The shell theorem says that
the shell of mass you’ve gone inside exerts zero total force on you.
Discuss which parts of the shell are attracting you in which directions,
and how strong these forces are. Explain why it’s at least plausible that
they cancel. Answer, p. 525
Discussion questions
A If you hold an apple, does the apple exert a gravitational force on
the earth? Is it much weaker than the earth’s gravitational force on the
apple? Why doesn’t the earth seem to accelerate upward when you drop
the apple?
B When astronauts travel from the earth to the moon, how does the
gravitational force on them change as they progress?
C How would the gravity in the first-floor lobby of a massive skyscraper
compare with the gravity in an open field outside of the city?
D In a few billion years, the sun will start undergoing changes that will
eventually result in its puffing up into a red giant star. (Near the beginning
of this process, the earth’s oceans will boil off, and by the end, the sun
will probably swallow the earth completely.) As the sun’s surface starts to
get closer and close to the earth, how will the earth’s orbit be affected?
10.5 Weighing the earth
Let’s look more closely at the application of Newton’s law of gravity
to objects on the earth’s surface. Since the earth’s gravitational
force is the same as if its mass was all concentrated at its center,
the force on a falling object of mass m is given by
F = GM
m/ r
The object’s acceleration equals F/m, so the object’s mass cancels
out and we get the same acceleration for all falling objects, as we
knew we should:
g = GM
/ r
Newton knew neither the mass of the earth nor a numerical value
for the constant G. But if someone could measure G, then it would
be possible for the first time in history to determine the mass of the
earth! The only way to measure G is to measure the gravitational
force between two objects of known mass, but that’s an exceedingly
difficult task, because the force between any two objects of ordinary
Section 10.5 Weighing the earth 249
o / A simplified version of
Cavendish’s apparatus.
n / Cavendish’s apparatus. The two large balls are fixed in place,
but the rod from which the two small balls hang is free to twist under the
influence of the gravitational forces.
size is extremely small. The English physicist Henry Cavendish was
the first to succeed, using the apparatus shown in figures n and o.
The two larger balls were lead spheres 8 inches in diameter, and each
one attracted the small ball near it. The two small balls hung from
the ends of a horizontal rod, which itself hung by a thin thread. The
frame from which the larger balls hung could be rotated by hand
about a vertical axis, so that for instance the large ball on the right
would pull its neighboring small ball toward us and while the small
ball on the left would be pulled away from us. The thread from
which the small balls hung would thus be twisted through a small
angle, and by calibrating the twist of the thread with known forces,
the actual gravitational force could be determined. Cavendish set
up the whole apparatus in a room of his house, nailing all the doors
shut to keep air currents from disturbing the delicate apparatus.
The results had to be observed through telescopes stuck through
holes drilled in the walls. Cavendish’s experiment provided the first
numerical values for G and for the mass of the earth. The presently
accepted value of G is 6.67 ×10
Knowing G not only allowed the determination of the earth’s
mass but also those of the sun and the other planets. For instance,
by observing the acceleration of one of Jupiter’s moons, we can infer
the mass of Jupiter. The following table gives the distances of the
planets from the sun and the masses of the sun and planets. (Other
data are given in the back of the book.)
250 Chapter 10 Gravity
average distance from
the sun, in units of the
earth’s average distance
from the sun
mass, in units of the
earth’s mass
sun — 330,000
mercury 0.38 0.056
venus 0.72 0.82
earth 1 1
mars 1.5 0.11
jupiter 5.2 320
saturn 9.5 95
uranus 19 14
neptune 30 17
pluto 39 0.002
Discussion questions
A It would have been difficult for Cavendish to start designing an
experiment without at least some idea of the order of magnitude of G.
How could he estimate it in advance to within a factor of 10?
B Fill in the details of how one would determine Jupiter’s mass by
observing the acceleration of one of its moons. Why is it only necessary
to know the acceleration of the moon, not the actual force acting on it?
Why don’t we need to know the mass of the moon? What about a planet
that has no moons, such as Venus — how could its mass be found?
10.6 Dark energy
Until recently, physicists thought they understood gravity fairly
well. Einstein had modified Newton’s theory, but certain charac-
teristrics of gravitational forces were firmly established. For one
thing, they were always attractive. If gravity always attracts, then
it is logical to ask why the universe doesn’t collapse. Newton had
answered this question by saying that if the universe was infinite in
all directions, then it would have no geometric center toward which
it would collapse; the forces on any particular star or planet ex-
erted by distant parts of the universe would tend to cancel out by
symmetry. More careful calculations, however, show that Newton’s
universe would have a tendency to collapse on smaller scales: any
part of the universe that happened to be slightly more dense than
average would contract further, and this contraction would result
in stronger gravitational forces, which would cause even more rapid
contraction, and so on.
When Einstein overhauled gravity, the same problem reared its
ugly head. Like Newton, Einstein was predisposed to believe in a
universe that was static, so he added a special repulsive term to his
equations, intended to prevent a collapse. This term was not associ-
ated with any interaction of mass with mass, but represented merely
an overall tendency for space itself to expand unless restrained by
Section 10.6 Dark energy 251
the matter that inhabited it. It turns out that Einstein’s solution,
like Newton’s, is unstable. Furthermore, it was soon discovered
observationally that the universe was expanding, and this was in-
terpreted by creating the Big Bang model, in which the universe’s
current expansion is the aftermath of a fantastically hot explosion.
An expanding universe, unlike a static one, was capable of being ex-
plained with Einstein’s equations, without any repulsion term. The
universe’s expansion would simply slow down over time due to the
attractive gravitational forces. After these developments, Einstein
said woefully that adding the repulsive term, known as the cosmo-
logical constant, had been the greatest blunder of his life.
p / The WMAP probe’s map of the
cosmic microwave background is
like a “baby picture” of the uni-
This was the state of things until 1999, when evidence began to
turn up that the universe’s expansion has been speeding up rather
than slowing down! The first evidence came from using a telescope
as a sort of time machine: light from a distant galaxy may have
taken billions of years to reach us, so we are seeing it as it was far
in the past. Looking back in time, astronomers saw the universe
expanding at speeds that were lower, rather than higher. At first
they were mortified, since this was exactly the opposite of what
had been expected. The statistical quality of the data was also not
good enough to constitute ironclad proof, and there were worries
about systematic errors. The case for an accelerating expansion has
however been supported by high-precision mapping of the dim, sky-
wide afterglow of the Big Bang, known as the cosmic microwave
background. This is discussed in more detail in section 27.4.
So now Einstein’s “greatest blunder” has been resurrected. Since
we don’t actually know whether or not this self-repulsion of space
has a constant strength, the term “cosmological constant” has lost
currency. Nowadays physicists usually refer to the phenomenon as
“dark energy.” Picking an impressive-sounding name for it should
not obscure the fact that we know absolutely nothing about the
nature of the effect or why it exists.
Book 3, section 3.5, presents some of the evidence for the Big Bang.
252 Chapter 10 Gravity
Selected vocabulary
ellipse . . . . . . . a flattened circle; one of the conic sections
conic section . . . a curve formed by the intersection of a plane
and an infinite cone
hyperbola . . . . another conic section; it does not close back
on itself
period . . . . . . . the time required for a planet to complete one
orbit; more generally, the time for one repeti-
tion of some repeating motion
focus . . . . . . . one of two special points inside an ellipse: the
ellipse consists of all points such that the sum
of the distances to the two foci equals a certain
number; a hyperbola also has a focus
G . . . . . . . . . the constant of proportionality in Newton’s
law of gravity; the gravitational force of at-
traction between two 1-kg spheres at a center-
to-center distance of 1 m
Kepler deduced three empirical laws from data on the motion of
the planets:
Kepler’s elliptical orbit law: The planets orbit the sun in ellip-
tical orbits with the sun at one focus.
Kepler’s equal-area law: The line connecting a planet to the sun
sweeps out equal areas in equal amounts of time.
Kepler’s law of periods: The time required for a planet to orbit
the sun is proportional to the long axis of the ellipse raised to
the 3/2 power. The constant of proportionality is the same
for all the planets.
Newton was able to find a more fundamental explanation for these
laws. Newton’s law of gravity states that the magnitude of the
attractive force between any two objects in the universe is given by
F = Gm
Weightlessness of objects in orbit around the earth is only appar-
ent. An astronaut inside a spaceship is simply falling along with
the spaceship. Since the spaceship is falling out from under the as-
tronaut, it appears as though there was no gravity accelerating the
astronaut down toward the deck.
Gravitational forces, like all other forces, add like vectors. A
gravitational force such as we ordinarily feel is the vector sum of all
Summary 253
the forces exerted by all the parts of the earth. As a consequence of
this, Newton proved the shell theorem for gravitational forces:
If an object lies outside a thin, uniform shell of mass, then the
vector sum of all the gravitational forces exerted by all the parts of
the shell is the same as if all the shell’s mass was concentrated at its
center. If the object lies inside the shell, then all the gravitational
forces cancel out exactly.
254 Chapter 10 Gravity

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 Roy has a mass of 60 kg. Laurie has a mass of 65 kg. They
are 1.5 m apart.
(a) What is the magnitude of the gravitational force of the earth on
(b) What is the magnitude of Roy’s gravitational force on the earth?
(c) What is the magnitude of the gravitational force between Roy
and Laurie?
(d) What is the magnitude of the gravitational force between Laurie
and the sun?

2 During a solar eclipse, the moon, earth and sun all lie on
the same line, with the moon between the earth and sun. Define
your coordinates so that the earth and moon lie at greater x values
than the sun. For each force, give the correct sign as well as the
magnitude. (a) What force is exerted on the moon by the sun? (b)
On the moon by the earth? (c) On the earth by the sun? (d) What
total force is exerted on the sun? (e) On the moon? (f) On the

3 Suppose that on a certain day there is a crescent moon, and
you can tell by the shape of the crescent that the earth, sun and
moon form a triangle with a 135

interior angle at the moon’s corner.
What is the magnitude of the total gravitational force of the earth
and the sun on the moon? (If you haven’t done problem 2 already,
you might want to try it first, since it’s easier, and some of its results
can be recycled in this problem.)

Problem 3.
4 How high above the Earth’s surface must a rocket be in order
to have 1/100 the weight it would have at the surface? Express your
answer in units of the radius of the Earth.

5 The star Lalande 21185 was found in 1996 to have two planets
in roughly circular orbits, with periods of 6 and 30 years. What is
the ratio of the two planets’ orbital radii?

6 In a Star Trek episode, the Enterprise is in a circular orbit
around a planet when something happens to the engines. Spock
then tells Kirk that the ship will spiral into the planet’s surface
unless they can fix the engines. Is this scientifically correct? Why?
Problems 255
Problem 8.
7 (a) Suppose a rotating spherical body such as a planet has
a radius r and a uniform density ρ, and the time required for one
rotation is T. At the surface of the planet, the apparent acceleration
of a falling object is reduced by the acceleration of the ground out
from under it. Derive an equation for the apparent acceleration of
gravity, g, at the equator in terms of r, ρ, T, and G.

(b) Applying your equation from a, by what fraction is your appar-
ent weight reduced at the equator compared to the poles, due to the
Earth’s rotation?

(c) Using your equation from a, derive an equation giving the value
of T for which the apparent acceleration of gravity becomes zero,
i.e., objects can spontaneously drift off the surface of the planet.
Show that T only depends on ρ, and not on r.

(d) Applying your equation from c, how long would a day have to
be in order to reduce the apparent weight of objects at the equator
of the Earth to zero? [Answer: 1.4 hours]
(e) Astronomers have discovered objects they called pulsars, which
emit bursts of radiation at regular intervals of less than a second.
If a pulsar is to be interpreted as a rotating sphere beaming out a
natural “searchlight” that sweeps past the earth with each rotation,
use your equation from c to show that its density would have to be
much greater than that of ordinary matter.
(f) Astrophysicists predicted decades ago that certain stars that used
up their sources of energy could collapse, forming a ball of neutrons
with the fantastic density of ∼ 10
. If this is what pulsars
really are, use your equation from c to explain why no pulsar has
ever been observed that flashes with a period of less than 1 ms or
8 You are considering going on a space voyage to Mars, in which
your route would be half an ellipse, tangent to the Earth’s orbit at
one end and tangent to Mars’ orbit at the other. Your spacecraft’s
engines will only be used at the beginning and end, not during the
voyage. How long would the outward leg of your trip last? (Assume
the orbits of Earth and Mars are circular.)

9 (a) If the earth was of uniform density, would your weight be
increased or decreased at the bottom of a mine shaft? Explain.
(b) In real life, objects weigh slightly more at the bottom of a mine
shaft. What does that allow us to infer about the Earth?
10 Ceres, the largest asteroid in our solar system, is a spherical
body with a mass 6000 times less than the earth’s, and a radius
which is 13 times smaller. If an astronaut who weighs 400 N on
earth is visiting the surface of Ceres, what is her weight?
Solution, p. 517
256 Chapter 10 Gravity
Problem 12.
11 Prove, based on Newton’s laws of motion and Newton’s law
of gravity, that all falling objects have the same acceleration if they
are dropped at the same location on the earth and if other forces
such as friction are unimportant. Do not just say, “g = 9.8 m/s

it’s constant.” You are supposed to be proving that g should be the
same number for all objects. Solution, p. 517
12 The figure shows an image from the Galileo space probe
taken during its August 1993 flyby of the asteroid Ida. Astronomers
were surprised when Galileo detected a smaller object orbiting Ida.
This smaller object, the only known satellite of an asteroid in our
solar system, was christened Dactyl, after the mythical creatures
who lived on Mount Ida, and who protected the infant Zeus. For
scale, Ida is about the size and shape of Orange County, and Dactyl
the size of a college campus. Galileo was unfortunately unable to
measure the time, T, required for Dactyl to orbit Ida. If it had,
astronomers would have been able to make the first accurate deter-
mination of the mass and density of an asteroid. Find an equation
for the density, ρ, of Ida in terms of Ida’s known volume, V , the
known radius, r, of Dactyl’s orbit, and the lamentably unknown
variable T. (This is the same technique that was used successfully
for determining the masses and densities of the planets that have
moons.) Solution, p. 517
13 If a bullet is shot straight up at a high enough velocity, it will
never return to the earth. This is known as the escape velocity. We
will discuss escape velocity using the concept of energy later in the
course, but it can also be gotten at using straightforward calculus.
In this problem, you will analyze the motion of an object of mass m
whose initial velocity is exactly equal to escape velocity. We assume
that it is starting from the surface of a spherically symmetric planet
of mass M and radius b. The trick is to guess at the general form
of the solution, and then determine the solution in more detail. As-
sume (as is true) that the solution is of the form r = kt
, where r is
the object’s distance from the center of the planet at time t, and k
and p are constants.
(a) Find the acceleration, and use Newton’s second law and New-
ton’s law of gravity to determine k and p. You should find that the
result is independent of m.

(b) What happens to the velocity as t approaches infinity?
(c) Determine escape velocity from the Earth’s surface.
√ _
14 Astronomers have recently observed stars orbiting at very
high speeds around an unknown object near the center of our galaxy.
For stars orbiting at distances of about 10
m from the object,
the orbital velocities are about 10
m/s. Assuming the orbits are
circular, estimate the mass of the object, in units of the mass of
the sun, 2 × 10
kg. If the object was a tightly packed cluster of
normal stars, it should be a very bright source of light. Since no
visible light is detected coming from it, it is instead believed to be
a supermassive black hole.

Problems 257
15 Astronomers have detected a solar system consisting of three
planets orbiting the star Upsilon Andromedae. The planets have
been named b, c, and d. Planet b’s average distance from the star
is 0.059 A.U., and planet c’s average distance is 0.83 A.U., where an
astronomical unit or A.U. is defined as the distance from the Earth
to the sun. For technical reasons, it is possible to determine the
ratios of the planets’ masses, but their masses cannot presently be
determined in absolute units. Planet c’s mass is 3.0 times that of
planet b. Compare the star’s average gravitational force on planet
c with its average force on planet b. [Based on a problem by Arnold
Arons.] Solution, p. 517
16 Some communications satellites are in orbits called geosyn-
chronous: the satellite takes one day to orbit the earth from west
to east, so that as the earth spins, the satellite remains above the
same point on the equator. What is such a satellite’s altitude above
the surface of the earth? Solution, p. 518
17 As is discussed in more detail in example 3 on p. 364, tidal
interactions with the earth are causing the moon’s orbit to grow
gradually larger. Laser beams bounced off of a mirror left on the
moon by astronauts have allowed a measurement of the moon’s rate
of recession, which is about 1 cm per year. This means that the
gravitational force acting between earth and moon is decreasing. By
what fraction does the force decrease with each 27-day orbit? [Hint:
If you try to calculate the two forces and subtract, your calculator
will probably give a result of zero due to rounding. Instead, reason
about the fractional amount by which the quantity 1/r
will change.
As a warm-up, you may wish to observe the percentage change in
that results from changing r from 1 to 1.01. Based on a problem
by Arnold Arons.] Solution, p. 518
18 Suppose that we inhabited a universe in which, instead of
Newton’s law of gravity, we had F = k

, where k is some
constant with different units than G. (The force is still attrac-
tive.) However, we assume that a = F/m and the rest of Newtonian
physics remains true, and we use a = F/m to define our mass scale,
so that, e.g., a mass of 2 kg is one which exhibits half the accelera-
tion when the same force is applied to it as to a 1 kg mass.
(a) Is this new law of gravity consistent with Newton’s third law?
(b) Suppose you lived in such a universe, and you dropped two un-
equal masses side by side. What would happen?
(c) Numerically, suppose a 1.0-kg object falls with an acceleration
of 10 m/s
. What would be the acceleration of a rain drop with a
mass of 0.1 g? Would you want to go out in the rain?
(d) If a falling object broke into two unequal pieces while it fell,
what would happen?
(e) Invent a law of gravity that results in behavior that is the op-
posite of what you found in part b. [Based on a problem by Arnold
258 Chapter 10 Gravity
Problem 21.
19 (a) A certain vile alien gangster lives on the surface of an
asteroid, where his weight is 0.20 N. He decides he needs to lose
weight without reducing his consumption of princesses, so he’s going
to move to a different asteroid where his weight will be 0.10 N. The
real estate agent’s database has asteroids listed by mass, however,
not by surface gravity. Assuming that all asteroids are spherical
and have the same density, how should the mass of his new asteroid
compare with that of his old one?
(b) Jupiter’s mass is 318 times the Earth’s, and its gravity is about
twice Earth’s. Is this consistent with the results of part a? If not,
how do you explain the discrepancy? Solution, p. 518
20 Where would an object have to be located so that it would
experience zero total gravitational force from the earth and moon?

21 The planet Uranus has a mass of 8.68 ×10
kg and a radius
of 2.56 ×10
km. The figure shows the relative sizes of Uranus and
(a) Compute the ratio g
, where g
is the strength of the grav-
itational field at the surface of Uranus and g
is the corresponding
quantity at the surface of the Earth.

(b) What is surprising about this result? How do you explain it?
22 The International Space Station orbits at an average altitude
of about 370 km above sea level. Compute the value of g at that

Problem 23: New Horizons at
its closest approach to Jupiter.
(Jupiter’s four largest moons are
shown for illustrative purposes.)
The masses are:
sun: 1.9891 ×10
Jupiter: 1.8986 ×10
New Horizons: 465.0 kg
23 On Feb. 28, 2007, the New Horizons space probe, on its way
to a 2015 flyby of Pluto, passed by the planet Jupiter for a gravity-
assisted maneuver that increased its speed and changed its course.
The dashed line in the figure shows the spacecraft’s trajectory, which
is curved because of three forces: the force of the exhaust gases from
Problems 259
the probe’s own engines, the sun’s gravitational force, and Jupiter’s
gravitational force. Find the magnitude of the total gravitational
force acting on the probe. You will find that the sun’s force is much
smaller than Jupiter’s, so that the magnitude of the total force is
determined almost entirely by Jupiter’s force. However, this is a
high-precision problem, and you will find that the total force is
slightly different from Jupiter’s force.

260 Chapter 10 Gravity
Exercise 10: The shell theorem
This exercise is an approximate numerical test of the shell theorem. There are seven masses
A-G, each being one kilogram. Masses A-E, each one meter from the center, form a shape like
two Egyptian pyramids joined at their bases; this is a rough approximation to a six-kilogram
spherical shell of mass. Mass G is five meters from the center of the main group. The class will
divide into six groups and split up the work required in order to calculate the vector sum of the
six gravitational forces exerted on mass G. Depending on the size of the class, more than one
group may be assigned to deal with the contribution of the same mass to the total force, and
the redundant groups can check each other’s results.
1. Discuss as a class what can be done to simplify the task of calculating the vector sum, and
how to organize things so that each group can work in parallel with the others.
2. Each group should write its results on the board in units of piconewtons, retaining five
significant figures of precision. Everyone will need to use the same value for the gravitational
constant, G = 6.6743 ×10
3. The class will determine the vector sum and compare with the result that would be obtained
with the shell theorem.
Exercise 10: The shell theorem 261
Conservation laws
In July of 1994, Comet Shoemaker-Levy struck the planet Jupiter, de-
positing 7 × 10
joules of energy, and incidentally giving rise to a series
of Hollywood movies in which our own planet is threatened by an impact
by a comet or asteroid. There is evidence that such an impact caused
the extinction of the dinosaurs. Left: Jupiter’s gravitational force on the
near side of the comet was greater than on the far side, and this differ-
ence in force tore up the comet into a string of fragments. Two separate
telescope images have been combined to create the illusion of a point of
view just behind the comet. (The colored fringes at the edges of Jupiter
are artifacts of the imaging system.) Top: A series of images of the plume
of superheated gas kicked up by the impact of one of the fragments. The
plume is about the size of North America. Bottom: An image after all the
impacts were over, showing the damage done.
Chapter 11
Conservation of energy
11.1 The search for a perpetual motion
Don’t underestimate greed and laziness as forces for progress. Mod-
ern chemistry was born from the collision of lust for gold with dis-
taste for the hard work of finding it and digging it up. Failed efforts
by generations of alchemists to turn lead into gold led finally to the
conclusion that it could not be done: certain substances, the chem-
a / The magnet draws the
ball to the top of the ramp, where
it falls through the hole and rolls
back to the bottom.
b / As the wheel spins clock-
wise, the flexible arms sweep
around and bend and unbend. By
dropping off its ball on the ramp,
the arm is supposed to make
itself lighter and easier to lift over
the top. Picking its own ball back
up again on the right, it helps to
pull the right side down.
ical elements, are fundamental, and chemical reactions can neither
increase nor decrease the amount of an element such as gold.
Now flash forward to the early industrial age. Greed and laziness
have created the factory, the train, and the ocean liner, but in each
of these is a boiler room where someone gets sweaty shoveling the
coal to fuel the steam engine. Generations of inventors have tried to
create a machine, called a perpetual motion machine, that would run
forever without fuel. Such a machine is not forbidden by Newton’s
laws of motion, which are built around the concepts of force and
inertia. Force is free, and can be multiplied indefinitely with pulleys,
gears, or levers. The principle of inertia seems even to encourage
the belief that a cleverly constructed machine might not ever run
Figures a and b show two of the innumerable perpetual motion
machines that have been proposed. The reason these two examples
don’t work is not much different from the reason all the others have
failed. Consider machine a. Even if we assume that a properly
shaped ramp would keep the ball rolling smoothly through each
cycle, friction would always be at work. The designer imagined that
the machine would repeat the same motion over and over again, so
that every time it reached a given point its speed would be exactly
the same as the last time. But because of friction, the speed would
actually be reduced a little with each cycle, until finally the ball
would no longer be able to make it over the top.
Friction has a way of creeping into all moving systems. The
rotating earth might seem like a perfect perpetual motion machine,
since it is isolated in the vacuum of outer space with nothing to exert
frictional forces on it. But in fact our planet’s rotation has slowed
drastically since it first formed, and the earth continues to slow
its rotation, making today just a little longer than yesterday. The
very subtle source of friction is the tides. The moon’s gravity raises
bulges in the earth’s oceans, and as the earth rotates the bulges
progress around the planet. Where the bulges encounter land, there
is friction, which slows the earth’s rotation very gradually.
11.2 Energy
The analysis based on friction is somewhat superficial, however. One
could understand friction perfectly well and yet imagine the follow-
ing situation. Astronauts bring back a piece of magnetic ore from
the moon which does not behave like ordinary magnets. A normal
bar magnet, c/1, attracts a piece of iron essentially directly toward
it, and has no left- or right-handedness. The moon rock, however,
exerts forces that form a whirlpool pattern around it, 2. NASA
goes to a machine shop and has the moon rock put in a lathe and
machined down to a smooth cylinder, 3. If we now release a ball
bearing on the surface of the cylinder, the magnetic force whips it
266 Chapter 11 Conservation of energy
c / A mysterious moon rock
makes a perpetual motion
d / Example 1.
around and around at ever higher speeds. Of course there is some
friction, but there is a net gain in speed with each revolution.
Physicists would lay long odds against the discovery of such a
moon rock, not just because it breaks the rules that magnets nor-
mally obey but because, like the alchemists, they have discovered
a very deep and fundamental principle of nature which forbids cer-
tain things from happening. The first alchemist who deserved to
be called a chemist was the one who realized one day, “In all these
attempts to create gold where there was none before, all I’ve been
doing is shuffling the same atoms back and forth among different
test tubes. The only way to increase the amount of gold in my lab-
oratory is to bring some in through the door.” It was like having
some of your money in a checking account and some in a savings ac-
count. Transferring money from one account into the other doesn’t
change the total amount.
We say that the number of grams of gold is a conserved quan-
tity. In this context, the word “conserve” does not have its usual
meaning of trying not to waste something. In physics, a conserved
quantity is something that you wouldn’t be able to get rid of even
if you wanted to. Conservation laws in physics always refer to a
closed system, meaning a region of space with boundaries through
which the quantity in question is not passing. In our example, the
alchemist’s laboratory is a closed system because no gold is coming
in or out through the doors.
Conservation of mass example 1
In figure d, the stream of water is fatter near the mouth of the
faucet, and skinnier lower down. This is because the water speeds
up as it falls. If the cross-sectional area of the stream was equal
all along its length, then the rate of flow through a lower cross-
section would be greater than the rate of flow through a cross-
section higher up. Since the flow is steady, the amount of wa-
ter between the two cross-sections stays constant. The cross-
sectional area of the stream must therefore shrink in inverse pro-
portion to the increasing speed of the falling water. This is an
example of conservation of mass.
In general, the amount of any particular substance is not con-
served. Chemical reactions can change one substance into another,
and nuclear reactions can even change one element into another.
The total mass of all substances is however conserved:
the law of conservation of mass
The total mass of a closed system always remains constant. Energy
cannot be created or destroyed, but only transferred from one system
to another.
A similar lightbulb eventually lit up in the heads of the people
Section 11.2 Energy 267
who had been frustrated trying to build a perpetual motion machine.
In perpetual motion machine a, consider the motion of one of the
balls. It performs a cycle of rising and falling. On the way down it
gains speed, and coming up it slows back down. Having a greater
speed is like having more money in your checking account, and being
high up is like having more in your savings account. The device is
simply shuffling funds back and forth between the two. Having more
balls doesn’t change anything fundamentally. Not only that, but
friction is always draining off money into a third “bank account:”
heat. The reason we rub our hands together when we’re cold is that
kinetic friction heats things up. The continual buildup in the “heat
account” leaves less and less for the “motion account” and “height
account,” causing the machine eventually to run down.
These insights can be distilled into the following basic principle
of physics:
the law of conservation of energy
It is possible to give a numerical rating, called energy, to the state
of a physical system. The total energy is found by adding up contri-
butions from characteristics of the system such as motion of objects
in it, heating of the objects, and the relative positions of objects
that interact via forces. The total energy of a closed system always
remains constant. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but only
transferred from one system to another.
The moon rock story violates conservation of energy because the
rock-cylinder and the ball together constitute a closed system. Once
the ball has made one revolution around the cylinder, its position
relative to the cylinder is exactly the same as before, so the numer-
ical energy rating associated with its position is the same as before.
Since the total amount of energy must remain constant, it is im-
possible for the ball to have a greater speed after one revolution. If
it had picked up speed, it would have more energy associated with
motion, the same amount of energy associated with position, and a
little more energy associated with heating through friction. There
cannot be a net increase in energy.
Converting one form of energy to another example 2
Dropping a rock: The rock loses energy because of its changing
position with respect to the earth. Nearly all that energy is trans-
formed into energy of motion, except for a small amount lost to
heat created by air friction.
Sliding in to home base: The runner’s energy of motion is nearly
all converted into heat via friction with the ground.
Accelerating a car: The gasoline has energy stored in it, which
is released as heat by burning it inside the engine. Perhaps 10%
268 Chapter 11 Conservation of energy
e / Example 3.
of this heat energy is converted into the car’s energy of motion.
The rest remains in the form of heat, which is carried away by the
Cruising in a car: As you cruise at constant speed in your car, all
the energy of the burning gas is being converted into heat. The
tires and engine get hot, and heat is also dissipated into the air
through the radiator and the exhaust.
Stepping on the brakes: All the energy of the car’s motion is con-
verted into heat in the brake shoes.
Stevin’s machine example 3
The Dutch mathematician and engineer Simon Stevin proposed
the imaginary machine shown in figure e, which he had inscribed
on his tombstone. This is an interesting example, because it
shows a link between the force concept used earlier in this course,
and the energy concept being developed now.
The point of the imaginary machine is to show the mechanical
advantage of an inclined plane. In this example, the triangle has
the proportions 3-4-5, but the argument works for any right trian-
gle. We imagine that the chain of balls slides without friction, so
that no energy is ever converted into heat. If we were to slide
the chain clockwise by one step, then each ball would take the
place of the one in front of it, and the over all configuration would
be exactly the same. Since energy is something that only de-
pends on the state of the system, the energy would have to be
the same. Similarly for a counterclockwise rotation, no energy of
position would be released by gravity. This means that if we place
the chain on the triangle, and release it at rest, it can’t start mov-
ing, because there would be no way for it to convert energy of
position into energy of motion. Thus the chain must be perfectly
balanced. Now by symmetry, the arc of the chain hanging under-
neath the triangle has equal tension at both ends, so removing
this arc wouldn’t affect the balance of the rest of the chain. This
means that a weight of three units hanging vertically balances a
weight of five units hanging diagonally along the hypotenuse.
The mechanical advantage of the inclined plane is therefore 5/3,
which is exactly the same as the result, 1/ sinθ, that we got
on p. 207 by analyzing force vectors. What this shows is that
Newton’s laws and conservation laws are not logically separate,
but rather are very closely related descriptions of nature. In the
cases where Newton’s laws are true, they give the same answers
as the conservation laws. This is an example of a more gen-
eral idea, called the correspondence principle, about how science
progresses over time. When a newer, more general theory is pro-
posed to replace an older theory, the new theory must agree with
the old one in the realm of applicability of the old theory, since the
old theory only became accepted as a valid theory by being ver-
Section 11.2 Energy 269
Discussion question A. The
water behind the Hoover Dam
has energy because of its posi-
tion relative to the planet earth,
which is attracting it with a gravi-
tational force. Letting water down
to the bottom of the dam converts
that energy into energy of motion.
When the water reaches the
bottom of the dam, it hits turbine
blades that drive generators, and
its energy of motion is converted
into electrical energy.
ified experimentally in a variety of experiments. In other words,
the new theory must be backward-compatible with the old one.
Even though conservation laws can prove things that Newton’s
laws can’t (that perpetual motion is impossible, for example), they
aren’t going to disprove Newton’s laws when applied to mechani-
cal systems where we already knew Newton’s laws were valid.
Discussion question
A Hydroelectric power (water flowing over a dam to spin turbines)
appears to be completely free. Does this violate conservation of energy?
If not, then what is the ultimate source of the electrical energy produced
by a hydroelectric plant?
B How does the proof in example 3 fail if the assumption of a frictionless
surface doesn’t hold?
11.3 A numerical scale of energy
Energy comes in a variety of forms, and physicists didn’t discover all
of them right away. They had to start somewhere, so they picked
one form of energy to use as a standard for creating a numerical
energy scale. (In fact the history is complicated, and several different
energy units were defined before it was realized that there was a
single general energy concept that deserved a single consistent unit
of measurement.) One practical approach is to define an energy
unit based on heating water. The SI unit of energy is the joule,
J, (rhymes with “cool”), named after the British physicist James
Joule. One Joule is the amount of energy required in order to heat
0.24 g of water by 1

C. The number 0.24 is not worth memorizing.
Note that heat, which is a form of energy, is completely differ-
ent from temperature, which is not. Twice as much heat energy
is required to prepare two cups of coffee as to make one, but two
cups of coffee mixed together don’t have double the temperature.
In other words, the temperature of an object tells us how hot it is,
but the heat energy contained in an object also takes into account
the object’s mass and what it is made of.
Later we will encounter other quantities that are conserved in
physics, such as momentum and angular momentum, and the method
for defining them will be similar to the one we have used for energy:
pick some standard form of it, and then measure other forms by
comparison with this standard. The flexible and adaptable nature
of this procedure is part of what has made conservation laws such a
durable basis for the evolution of physics.
In standard, formal terminology, there is another, finer distinction. The
word “heat” is used only to indicate an amount of energy that is transferred,
whereas “thermal energy” indicates an amount of energy contained in an object.
I’m informal on this point, and refer to both as heat, but you should be aware
of the distinction.
270 Chapter 11 Conservation of energy
Heating a swimming pool example 4
If electricity costs 3.9 cents per MJ (1 MJ = 1 megajoule = 10
J), how much does it cost to heat a 26000-gallon swimming pool
from 10

C to 18

Converting gallons to cm
26000 gallons ×
3780 cm
1 gallon
= 9.8 ×10
Water has a density of 1 gram per cubic centimeter, so the mass
of the water is 9.8 × 10
g. One joule is sufficient to heat 0.24 g
by 1

C, so the energy needed to heat the swimming pool is
1 J ×
9.8 ×10
0.24 g


= 3.3 ×10
= 3.3 ×10
MJ .
The cost of the electricity is (3.3 ×10
Irish coffee example 5
You make a cup of Irish coffee out of 300 g of coffee at 100

and 30 g of pure ethyl alcohol at 20

C. One Joule is enough
energy to produce a change of 1

C in 0.42 g of ethyl alcohol (i.e.,
alcohol is easier to heat than water). What temperature is the
final mixture?
Adding up all the energy after mixing has to give the same result
as the total before mixing. We let the subscript i stand for the
initial situation, before mixing, and f for the final situation, and use
subscripts c for the coffee and a for the alcohol. In this notation,
we have
total initial energy = total final energy
+ E
= E
+ E
We assume coffee has the same heat-carrying properties as wa-
ter. Our information about the heat-carrying properties of the two
substances is stated in terms of the change in energy required for
a certain change in temperature, so we rearrange the equation to
express everything in terms of energy differences:
= E
Using the given ratios of temperature change to energy change,
we have
= (T
)/(0.24 g)
= (T
)/(0.42 g)
Setting these two quantities to be equal, we have
)/(0.42 g) = (T
)/(0.24 g) .
Section 11.3 A numerical scale of energy 271
In the final mixture the two substances must be at the same tem-
perature, so we can use a single symbol T
= T
= T
for the
two quantities previously represented by two different symbols,
)/(0.42 g) = (T
)/(0.24 g) .
Solving for T
+ T
= 96

C .
Once a numerical scale of energy has been established for some
form of energy such as heat, it can easily be extended to other types
of energy. For instance, the energy stored in one gallon of gasoline
can be determined by putting some gasoline and some water in an
insulated chamber, igniting the gas, and measuring the rise in the
water’s temperature. (The fact that the apparatus is known as a
“bomb calorimeter” will give you some idea of how dangerous these
experiments are if you don’t take the right safety precautions.) Here
are some examples of other types of energy that can be measured
using the same units of joules:
type of energy example
chemical energy
released by burning
About 50 MJ are released by burning
a kg of gasoline.
energy required to
break an object
When a person suffers a spiral frac-
ture of the thighbone (a common
type in skiing accidents), about 2 J
of energy go into breaking the bone.
energy required to
melt a solid substance
7 MJ are required to melt 1 kg of tin.
chemical energy
released by digesting
A bowl of Cheeries with milk provides
us with about 800 kJ of usable en-
raising a mass against
the force of gravity
Lifting 1.0 kg through a height of 1.0
m requires 9.8 J.
nuclear energy
released in fission
1 kg of uranium oxide fuel consumed
by a reactor releases 2 × 10
J of
stored nuclear energy.
It is interesting to note the disproportion between the megajoule
energies we consume as food and the joule-sized energies we expend
in physical activities. If we could perceive the flow of energy around
us the way we perceive the flow of water, eating a bowl of cereal
would be like swallowing a bathtub’s worth of energy, the continual
loss of body heat to one’s environment would be like an energy-hose
left on all day, and lifting a bag of cement would be like flicking
it with a few tiny energy-drops. The human body is tremendously
272 Chapter 11 Conservation of energy
f / Example 6.
inefficient. The calories we “burn” in heavy exercise are almost all
dissipated directly as body heat.
You take the high road and I’ll take the low road. example 6
Figure f shows two ramps which two balls will roll down. Com-
pare their final speeds, when they reach point B. Assume friction
is negligible.
Each ball loses some energy because of its decreasing height
above the earth, and conservation of energy says that it must gain
an equal amount of energy of motion (minus a little heat created
by friction). The balls lose the same amount of height, so their
final speeds must be equal.
It’s impressive to note the complete impossibility of solving this
problem using only Newton’s laws. Even if the shape of the track
had been given mathematically, it would have been a formidable
task to compute the balls’ final speed based on vector addition of
the normal force and gravitational force at each point along the way.
How new forms of energy are discovered
Textbooks often give the impression that a sophisticated physics
concept was created by one person who had an inspiration one day,
but in reality it is more in the nature of science to rough out an idea
and then gradually refine it over many years. The idea of energy
was tinkered with from the early 1800’s on, and new types of energy
kept getting added to the list.
To establish the existence of a new form of energy, a physicist
has to
(1) show that it could be converted to and from other forms of
energy; and
(2) show that it related to some definite measurable property of
the object, for example its temperature, motion, position relative to
another object, or being in a solid or liquid state.
For example, energy is released when a piece of iron is soaked in
water, so apparently there is some form of energy already stored in
the iron. The release of this energy can also be related to a definite
measurable property of the chunk of metal: it turns reddish-orange.
There has been a chemical change in its physical state, which we
call rusting.
Although the list of types of energy kept getting longer and
longer, it was clear that many of the types were just variations on
a theme. There is an obvious similarity between the energy needed
to melt ice and to melt butter, or between the rusting of iron and
many other chemical reactions. The topic of the next chapter is
how this process of simplification reduced all the types of energy
to a very small number (four, according to the way I’ve chosen to
Section 11.3 A numerical scale of energy 273
count them).
It might seem that if the principle of conservation of energy ever
appeared to be violated, we could fix it up simply by inventing some
new type of energy to compensate for the discrepancy. This would
be like balancing your checkbook by adding in an imaginary deposit
or withdrawal to make your figures agree with the bank’s statements.
Step (2) above guards against this kind of chicanery. In the 1920s
there were experiments that suggested energy was not conserved in
radioactive processes. Precise measurements of the energy released
in the radioactive decay of a given type of atom showed inconsistent
results. One atom might decay and release, say, 1.1 × 10
J of
energy, which had presumably been stored in some mysterious form
in the nucleus. But in a later measurement, an atom of exactly the
same type might release 1.2 ×10
J. Atoms of the same type are
supposed to be identical, so both atoms were thought to have started
out with the same energy. If the amount released was random, then
apparently the total amount of energy was not the same after the
decay as before, i.e., energy was not conserved.
Only later was it found that a previously unknown particle,
which is very hard to detect, was being spewed out in the decay.
The particle, now called a neutrino, was carrying off some energy,
and if this previously unsuspected form of energy was added in,
energy was found to be conserved after all. The discovery of the
energy discrepancies is seen with hindsight as being step (1) in the
establishment of a new form of energy, and the discovery of the neu-
trino was step (2). But during the decade or so between step (1)
and step (2) (the accumulation of evidence was gradual), physicists
had the admirable honesty to admit that the cherished principle of
conservation of energy might have to be discarded.
self-check A
How would you carry out the two steps given above in order to estab-
lish that some form of energy was stored in a stretched or compressed
spring? Answer, p. 525
Mass Into Energy
Einstein showed that mass itself could be converted to and from energy,
according to his celebrated equation E = mc
, in which c is the speed
of light. We thus speak of mass as simply another form of energy, and
it is valid to measure it in units of joules. The mass of a 15-gram pencil
corresponds to about 1.3 ×10
J. The issue is largely academic in the
case of the pencil, because very violent processes such as nuclear re-
actions are required in order to convert any significant fraction of an ob-
ject’s mass into energy. Cosmic rays, however, are continually striking
you and your surroundings and converting part of their energy of motion
into the mass of newly created particles. A single high-energy cosmic
ray can create a “shower” of millions of previously nonexistent particles
when it strikes the atmosphere. Einstein’s theories are discussed later
in this book.
274 Chapter 11 Conservation of energy
Even today, when the energy concept is relatively mature and sta-
ble, a new form of energy has been proposed based on observations
of distant galaxies whose light began its voyage to us billions of years
ago. Astronomers have found that the universe’s continuing expansion,
resulting from the Big Bang, has not been decelerating as rapidly in the
last few billion years as would have been expected from gravitational
forces. They suggest that a new form of energy may be at work.
Discussion question
A I’m not making this up. XS Energy Drink has ads that read like this:
All the “Energy” ... Without the Sugar! Only 8 Calories! Comment on
11.4 Kinetic energy
The technical term for the energy associated with motion is kinetic
energy, from the Greek word for motion. (The root is the same as
the root of the word “cinema” for a motion picture, and in French
the term for kinetic energy is “´energie cin´etique.”) To find how
much kinetic energy is possessed by a given moving object, we must
convert all its kinetic energy into heat energy, which we have chosen
as the standard reference type of energy. We could do this, for
example, by firing projectiles into a tank of water and measuring the
increase in temperature of the water as a function of the projectile’s
mass and velocity. Consider the following data from a series of three
such experiments:
m (kg) v (m/s) energy (J)
1.00 1.00 0.50
1.00 2.00 2.00
2.00 1.00 1.00
Comparing the first experiment with the second, we see that dou-
bling the object’s velocity doesn’t just double its energy, it quadru-
ples it. If we compare the first and third lines, however, we find
that doubling the mass only doubles the energy. This suggests that
kinetic energy is proportional to mass and to the square of veloc-
ity, KE ∝ mv
, and further experiments of this type would indeed
establish such a general rule. The proportionality factor equals 0.5
because of the design of the metric system, so the kinetic energy of
a moving object is given by
KE =
The metric system is based on the meter, kilogram, and second,
with other units being derived from those. Comparing the units on
the left and right sides of the equation shows that the joule can be
reexpressed in terms of the basic units as kg·m
Students are often mystified by the occurrence of the factor of
1/2, but it is less obscure than it looks. The metric system was
Section 11.4 Kinetic energy 275
designed so that some of the equations relating to energy would
come out looking simple, at the expense of some others, which had
to have inconvenient conversion factors in front. If we were using
the old British Engineering System of units in this course, then we’d
have the British Thermal Unit (BTU) as our unit of energy. In
that system, the equation you’d learn for kinetic energy would have
an inconvenient proportionality constant, KE =
1.29 ×10
with KE measured in units of BTUs, v measured in feet per second,
and so on. At the expense of this inconvenient equation for kinetic
energy, the designers of the British Engineering System got a simple
rule for calculating the energy required to heat water: one BTU
per degree Fahrenheit per pound. The inventor of kinetic energy,
Thomas Young, actually defined it as KE = mv
, which meant that
all his other equations had to be different from ours by a factor of
two. All these systems of units work just fine as long as they are
not combined with one another in an inconsistent way.
Energy released by a comet impact example 7
Comet Shoemaker-Levy, which struck the planet Jupiter in 1994,
had a mass of roughly 4 × 10
kg, and was moving at a speed
of 60 km/s. Compare the kinetic energy released in the impact to
the total energy in the world’s nuclear arsenals, which is 2 ×10
J. Assume for the sake of simplicity that Jupiter was at rest.
Since we assume Jupiter was at rest, we can imagine that the
comet stopped completely on impact, and 100% of its kinetic en-
ergy was converted to heat and sound. We first convert the speed
to mks units, v = 6 × 10
m/s, and then plug in to the equation
to find that the comet’s kinetic energy was roughly 7 × 10
J, or
about 3000 times the energy in the world’s nuclear arsenals.
Is there any way to derive the equation KE = (1/2)mv
ematically from first principles? No, it is purely empirical. The
factor of 1/2 in front is definitely not derivable, since it is different
in different systems of units. The proportionality to v
is not even
quite correct; experiments have shown deviations from the v
rule at
high speeds, an effect that is related to Einstein’s theory of relativ-
ity. Only the proportionality to m is inevitable. The whole energy
concept is based on the idea that we add up energy contributions
from all the objects within a system. Based on this philosophy, it
is logically necessary that a 2-kg object moving at 1 m/s have the
same kinetic energy as two 1-kg objects moving side-by-side at the
same speed.
Energy and relative motion
Although I mentioned Einstein’s theory of relativity above, it’s
more relevant right now to consider how conservation of energy re-
lates to the simpler Galilean idea, which we’ve already studied, that
motion is relative. Galileo’s Aristotelian enemies (and it is no ex-
aggeration to call them enemies!) would probably have objected to
276 Chapter 11 Conservation of energy
Discussion question B
conservation of energy. After all, the Galilean idea that an object
in motion will continue in motion indefinitely in the absence of a
force is not so different from the idea that an object’s kinetic energy
stays the same unless there is a mechanism like frictional heating
for converting that energy into some other form.
More subtly, however, it’s not immediately obvious that what
we’ve learned so far about energy is strictly mathematically consis-
tent with the principle that motion is relative. Suppose we verify
that a certain process, say the collision of two pool balls, conserves
energy as measured in a certain frame of reference: the sum of the
balls’ kinetic energies before the collision is equal to their sum after
the collision. (In reality we’d need to add in other forms of energy,
like heat and sound, that are liberated by the collision, but let’s keep
it simple.) But what if we were to measure everything in a frame of
reference that was in a different state of motion? A particular pool
ball might have less kinetic energy in this new frame; for example, if
the new frame of reference was moving right along with it, its kinetic
energy in that frame would be zero. On the other hand, some other
balls might have a greater kinetic energy in the new frame. It’s not
immediately obvious that the total energy before the collision will
still equal the total energy after the collision. After all, the equation
for kinetic energy is fairly complicated, since it involves the square
of the velocity, so it would be surprising if everything still worked
out in the new frame of reference. It does still work out. Homework
problem 13 in this chapter gives a simple numerical example, and
the general proof is taken up in problem 15 on p. 357 (with the
solution given in the back of the book).
Discussion questions
A Suppose that, like Young or Einstein, you were trying out different
equations for kinetic energy to see if they agreed with the experimental
data. Based on the meaning of positive and negative signs of velocity,
why would you suspect that a proportionality to mv would be less likely
than mv
B The figure shows a pendulum that is released at A and caught by a
peg as it passes through the vertical, B. To what height will the bob rise
on the right?
11.5 Power
A car may have plenty of energy in its gas tank, but still may not
be able to increase its kinetic energy rapidly. A Porsche doesn’t
necessarily have more energy in its gas tank than a Hyundai, it is
just able to transfer it more quickly. The rate of transferring energy
from one form to another is called power. The definition can be
written as an equation,
P =
Section 11.5 Power 277
where the use of the delta notation in the symbol ∆E has the usual
interpretation: the final amount of energy in a certain form minus
the initial amount that was present in that form. Power has units
of J/s, which are abbreviated as watts, W (rhymes with “lots”).
If the rate of energy transfer is not constant, the power at any
instant can be defined as the slope of the tangent line on a graph of
E versus t. Likewise ∆E can be extracted from the area under the
P-versus-t curve.
Converting kilowatt-hours to joules example 8
The electric company bills you for energy in units of kilowatt-
hours (kilowatts multiplied by hours) rather than in SI units of
joules. How many joules is a kilowatt-hour?
1 kilowatt-hour = (1 kW)(1 hour) = (1000 J/s)(3600 s) = 3.6 MJ.
Human wattage example 9
A typical person consumes 2000 kcal of food in a day, and con-
verts nearly all of that directly to heat. Compare the person’s heat
output to the rate of energy consumption of a 100-watt lightbulb.
Looking up the conversion factor from calories to joules, we find
∆E = 2000 kcal ×
1000 cal
1 kcal
4.18 J
1 cal
= 8 ×10
for our daily energy consumption. Converting the time interval
likewise into mks,
∆t = 1 day ×
24 hours
1 day
60 min
1 hour
60 s
1 min
= 9 ×10
s .
Dividing, we find that our power dissipated as heat is 90 J/s = 90
W, about the same as a lightbulb.
It is easy to confuse the concepts of force, energy, and power,
especially since they are synonyms in ordinary speech. The table on
the following page may help to clear this up:
278 Chapter 11 Conservation of energy
force energy power
A force is an interaction
between two objects that
causes a push or a pull.
A force can be defined as
anything that is capable
of changing an object’s
state of motion.
Heating an object, mak-
ing it move faster, or in-
creasing its distance from
another object that is at-
tracting it are all exam-
ples of things that would
require fuel or physical ef-
fort. All these things can
be quantified using a sin-
gle scale of measurement,
and we describe them all
as forms of energy.
Power is the rate at
which energy is trans-
formed from one form
to another or transferred
from one object to an-
A spring scale can be used
to measure force.
If we define a unit of en-
ergy as the amount re-
quired to heat a certain
amount of water by a

C, then we can mea-
sure any other quantity
of energy by transferring
it into heat in water and
measuring the tempera-
ture increase.
Measure the change in the
amount of some form of
energy possessed by an
object, and divide by the
amount of time required
for the change to occur.
scalar or
vector — has a direction
in space which is the di-
rection in which it pulls or
scalar — has no direction
in space
scalar — has no direction
in space
unit newtons (N) joules (J) watts (W) = joules/s
Can it run
out? Does it
cost money?
No. I don’t have to
pay a monthly bill for
the meganewtons of force
required to hold up my
Yes. We pay money for
gasoline, electrical energy,
batteries, etc., because
they contain energy.
More power means you
are paying money at a
higher rate. A 100-W
lightbulb costs a certain
number of cents per hour.
Can it be a
property of
an object?
No. A force is a rela-
tionship between two
interacting objects.
A home-run baseball
doesn’t “have” force.
Yes. What a home-run
baseball has is kinetic en-
ergy, not force.
Not really. A 100-W
lightbulb doesn’t “have”
100 W. 100 J/s is the rate
at which it converts elec-
trical energy into light.
Section 11.5 Power 279
Selected vocabulary
energy . . . . . . A numerical scale used to measure the heat,
motion, or other properties that would require
fuel or physical effort to put into an object; a
scalar quantity with units of joules (J).
power . . . . . . . The rate of transferring energy; a scalar quan-
tity with units of watts (W).
kinetic energy . . The energy an object possesses because of its
heat . . . . . . . . A form of energy that relates to temperature.
Heat is different from temperature because an
object with twice as much mass requires twice
as much heat to increase its temperature by
the same amount. Heat is measured in joules,
temperature in degrees. (In standard termi-
nology, there is another, finer distinction be-
tween heat and thermal energy, which is dis-
cussed below. In this book, I informally refer
to both as heat.)
temperature . . . What a thermometer measures. Objects left in
contact with each other tend to reach the same
temperature. Cf. heat. As discussed in more
detail in chapter 2, temperature is essentially
a measure of the average kinetic energy per
E . . . . . . . . . energy
J . . . . . . . . . . joules, the SI unit of energy
KE . . . . . . . . kinetic energy
P . . . . . . . . . power
W . . . . . . . . . watts, the SI unit of power; equivalent to J/s
Other terminology and notation
Q or ∆Q . . . . . the amount of heat transferred into or out of
an object
K or T . . . . . . alternative symbols for kinetic energy, used in
the scientific literature and in most advanced
thermal energy . Careful writers make a distinction between
heat and thermal energy, but the distinction
is often ignored in casual speech, even among
physicists. Properly, thermal energy is used
to mean the total amount of energy possessed
by an object, while heat indicates the amount
of thermal energy transferred in or out. The
term heat is used in this book to include both
280 Chapter 11 Conservation of energy
Heating an object, making it move faster, or increasing its dis-
tance from another object that is attracting it are all examples of
things that would require fuel or physical effort. All these things can
be quantified using a single scale of measurement, and we describe
them all as forms of energy. The SI unit of energy is the Joule.
The reason why energy is a useful and important quantity is that
it is always conserved. That is, it cannot be created or destroyed
but only transferred between objects or changed from one form to
another. Conservation of energy is the most important and broadly
applicable of all the laws of physics, more fundamental and general
even than Newton’s laws of motion.
Heating an object requires a certain amount of energy per degree
of temperature and per unit mass, which depends on the substance
of which the object consists. Heat and temperature are completely
different things. Heat is a form of energy, and its SI unit is the joule
(J). Temperature is not a measure of energy. Heating twice as much
of something requires twice as much heat, but double the amount
of a substance does not have double the temperature.
The energy that an object possesses because of its motion is
called kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is related to the mass of the
object and the magnitude of its velocity vector by the equation
KE =
Power is the rate at which energy is transformed from one form
to another or transferred from one object to another,
P =
. [only for constant power]
The SI unit of power is the watt (W).
Summary 281

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 This problem is now problem 14 in chapter 12, on page 299.
2 Can kinetic energy ever be less than zero? Explain. [Based
on a problem by Serway and Faughn.]
3 Estimate the kinetic energy of an Olympic sprinter.
4 You are driving your car, and you hit a brick wall head on,
at full speed. The car has a mass of 1500 kg. The kinetic energy
released is a measure of how much destruction will be done to the car
and to your body. Calculate the energy released if you are traveling
at (a) 40 mi/hr, and again (b) if you’re going 80 mi/hr. What is
counterintuitive about this, and what implication does this have for
driving at high speeds?

5 A closed system can be a bad thing — for an astronaut
sealed inside a space suit, getting rid of body heat can be difficult.
Suppose a 60-kg astronaut is performing vigorous physical activity,
expending 200 W of power. If none of the heat can escape from her
space suit, how long will it take before her body temperature rises
by 6

C (11

F), an amount sufficient to kill her? Assume that the
amount of heat required to raise her body temperature by 1

C is
the same as it would be for an equal mass of water. Express your
answer in units of minutes.

6 All stars, including our sun, show variations in their light out-
put to some degree. Some stars vary their brightness by a factor of
two or even more, but our sun has remained relatively steady dur-
ing the hundred years or so that accurate data have been collected.
Nevertheless, it is possible that climate variations such as ice ages
are related to long-term irregularities in the sun’s light output. If
the sun was to increase its light output even slightly, it could melt
enough Antarctic ice to flood all the world’s coastal cities. The total
sunlight that falls on Antarctica amounts to about 1 × 10
In the absence of natural or human-caused climate change, this heat
input to the poles is balanced by the loss of heat via winds, ocean
currents, and emission of infrared light, so that there is no net melt-
ing or freezing of ice at the poles from year to year. Suppose that
the sun changes its light output by some small percentage, but there
is no change in the rate of heat loss by the polar caps. Estimate the
percentage by which the sun’s light output would have to increase
in order to melt enough ice to raise the level of the oceans by 10 me-
ters over a period of 10 years. (This would be enough to flood New
York, London, and many other cities.) Melting 1 kg of ice requires
282 Chapter 11 Conservation of energy
3 ×10
7 A bullet flies through the air, passes through a paperback
book, and then continues to fly through the air beyond the book.
When is there a force? When is there energy?
Solution, p. 518
8 Experiments show that the power consumed by a boat’s en-
gine is approximately proportional to third power of its speed. (We
assume that it is moving at constant speed.) (a) When a boat is crus-
ing at constant speed, what type of energy transformation do you
think is being performed? (b) If you upgrade to a motor with double
the power, by what factor is your boat’s crusing speed increased?
[Based on a problem by Arnold Arons.] Solution, p. 518
9 Object A has a kinetic energy of 13.4 J. Object B has a mass
that is greater by a factor of 3.77, but is moving more slowly by
a factor of 2.34. What is object B’s kinetic energy? [Based on a
problem by Arnold Arons.] Solution, p. 518
10 The moon doesn’t really just orbit the Earth. By Newton’s
third law, the moon’s gravitational force on the earth is the same as
the earth’s force on the moon, and the earth must respond to the
moon’s force by accelerating. If we consider the earth in moon in
isolation and ignore outside forces, then Newton’s first law says their
common center of mass doesn’t accelerate, i.e., the earth wobbles
around the center of mass of the earth-moon system once per month,
and the moon also orbits around this point. The moon’s mass is 81
times smaller than the earth’s. Compare the kinetic energies of the
earth and moon. (We know that the center of mass is a kind of
balance point, so it must be closer to the earth than to the moon.
In fact, the distance from the earth to the center of mass is 1/81
of the distance from the moon to the center of mass, which makes
sense intuitively, and can be proved rigorously using the equation
on page 342.)
11 My 1.25 kW microwave oven takes 126 seconds to bring 250
g of water from room temperature to a boil. What percentage of
the power is being wasted? Where might the rest of the energy be
going? Solution, p. 519
Problems 283
12 The multiflash photograph shows a collision between two
pool balls. The ball that was initially at rest shows up as a dark
image in its initial position, because its image was exposed several
times before it was struck and began moving. By making measure-
ments on the figure, determine numerically whether or not energy
appears to have been conserved in the collision. What systematic
effects would limit the accuracy of your test? [From an example in
PSSC Physics.]
Problem 12.
13 This problem is a numerical example of the imaginary exper-
iment discussed on p. 276 regarding the relationship between energy
and relative motion. Let’s say that the pool balls both have masses
of 1.00 kg. Suppose that in the frame of reference of the pool table,
the cue ball moves at a speed of 1.00 m/s toward the eight ball,
which is initially at rest. The collision is head-on, and as you can
verify for yourself the next time you’re playing pool, the result of
such a collision is that the incoming ball stops dead and the ball that
was struck takes off with the same speed originally possessed by the
incoming ball. (This is actually a bit of an idealization. To keep
things simple, we’re ignoring the spin of the balls, and we assume
that no energy is liberated by the collision as heat or sound.) (a)
Calculate the total initial kinetic energy and the total final kinetic
energy, and verify that they are equal. (b) Now carry out the whole
calculation again in the frame of reference that is moving in the same
direction that the cue ball was initially moving, but at a speed of
0.50 m/s. In this frame of reference, both balls have nonzero initial
and final velocities, which are different from what they were in the
table’s frame. [See also problem 15 on p. 357.]
284 Chapter 11 Conservation of energy
14 One theory about the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia
in 2003 is that one of its wings had been damaged on liftoff by a
chunk of foam insulation that fell off of one of its external fuel tanks.
The New York Times reported on June 5, 2003, that NASA engi-
neers had recreated the impact to see if it would damage a mock-up
of the shuttle’s wing. “Before last week’s test, many engineers at
NASA said they thought lightweight foam could not harm the seem-
ingly tough composite panels, and privately predicted that the foam
would bounce off harmlessly, like a Nerf ball.” In fact, the 1.7-pound
piece of foam, moving at 531 miles per hour, did serious damage.
A member of the board investigating the disaster said this demon-
strated that “people’s intuitive sense of physics is sometimes way
off.” (a) Compute the kinetic energy of the foam, and (b) compare
with the energy of a 170-pound boulder moving at 5.3 miles per
hour (the speed it would have if you dropped it from about knee-

(c) The boulder is a hundred times more massive, but its speed
is a hundred times smaller, so what’s counterintuitive about your
15 The figure above is from a classic 1920 physics textbook
by Millikan and Gale. It represents a method for raising the water
from the pond up to the water tower, at a higher level, without
using a pump. Water is allowed into the drive pipe, and once it is
flowing fast enough, it forces the valve at the bottom closed. Explain
how this works in terms of conservation of mass and energy. (Cf.
example 1 on page 267.)
16 The following table gives the amount of energy required in
order to heat, melt, or boil a gram of water.
heat 1 g of ice by 1

C 2.05 J
melt 1 g of ice 333 J
heat 1 g of liquid by 1

C 4.19 J
boil 1 g of water 2500 J
heat 1 g of steam by 1

C 2.01 J
Problems 285
(a) How much energy is required in order to convert 1.00 g of ice at

C into steam at 137


(b) What is the minimum amount of hot water that could melt 1.00
g of ice?

286 Chapter 11 Conservation of energy
Do these forms of energy have anything in common?
Chapter 12
Simplifying the energy zoo
Variety is the spice of life, not of science. The figure shows a few
examples from the bewildering array of forms of energy that sur-
rounds us. The physicist’s psyche rebels against the prospect of a
long laundry list of types of energy, each of which would require
its own equations, concepts, notation, and terminology. The point
at which we’ve arrived in the study of energy is analogous to the
period in the 1960’s when a half a dozen new subatomic particles
were being discovered every year in particle accelerators. It was an
embarrassment. Physicists began to speak of the “particle zoo,”
and it seemed that the subatomic world was distressingly complex.
The particle zoo was simplified by the realization that most of the
new particles being whipped up were simply clusters of a previously
unsuspected set of more fundamental particles (which were whimsi-
cally dubbed quarks, a made-up word from a line of poetry by James
Joyce, “Three quarks for Master Mark.”) The energy zoo can also
be simplified, and it is the purpose of this chapter to demonstrate
the hidden similarities between forms of energy as seemingly differ-
ent as heat and motion.
a / A vivid demonstration that
heat is a form of motion. A small
amount of boiling water is poured
into the empty can, which rapidly
fills up with hot steam. The can
is then sealed tightly, and soon
crumples. This can be explained
as follows. The high tempera-
ture of the steam is interpreted as
a high average speed of random
motions of its molecules. Before
the lid was put on the can, the
rapidly moving steam molecules
pushed their way out of the can,
forcing the slower air molecules
out of the way. As the steam in-
side the can thinned out, a sta-
ble situation was soon achieved,
in which the force from the less
dense steam molecules moving
at high speed balanced against
the force from the more dense but
slower air molecules outside. The
cap was put on, and after a while
the steam inside the can reached
the same temperature as the air
outside. The force from the cool,
thin steam no longer matched the
force from the cool, dense air out-
side, and the imbalance of forces
crushed the can.
12.1 Heat is kinetic energy
What is heat really? Is it an invisible fluid that your bare feet soak
up from a hot sidewalk? Can one ever remove all the heat from an
object? Is there a maximum to the temperature scale?
The theory of heat as a fluid seemed to explain why colder ob-
jects absorbed heat from hotter ones, but once it became clear that
heat was a form of energy, it began to seem unlikely that a material
substance could transform itself into and out of all those other forms
of energy like motion or light. For instance, a compost pile gets hot,
and we describe this as a case where, through the action of bacteria,
chemical energy stored in the plant cuttings is transformed into heat
energy. The heating occurs even if there is no nearby warmer object
that could have been leaking “heat fluid” into the pile.
An alternative interpretation of heat was suggested by the theory
that matter is made of atoms. Since gases are thousands of times less
dense than solids or liquids, the atoms (or clusters of atoms called
molecules) in a gas must be far apart. In that case, what is keeping
all the air molecules from settling into a thin film on the floor of the
room in which you are reading this book? The simplest explanation
is that they are moving very rapidly, continually ricocheting off of
288 Chapter 12 Simplifying the energy zoo
b / Random motion of atoms
in a gas, a liquid, and a solid.
the floor, walls, and ceiling. Though bizarre, the cloud-of-bullets
image of a gas did give a natural explanation for the surprising
ability of something as tenuous as a gas to exert huge forces. Your
car’s tires can hold it up because you have pumped extra molecules
into them. The inside of the tire gets hit by molecules more often
than the outside, forcing it to stretch and stiffen.
The outward forces of the air in your car’s tires increase even
further when you drive on the freeway for a while, heating up the
rubber and the air inside. This type of observation leads naturally
to the conclusion that hotter matter differs from colder in that its
atoms’ random motion is more rapid. In a liquid, the motion could
be visualized as people in a milling crowd shoving past each other
more quickly. In a solid, where the atoms are packed together, the
motion is a random vibration of each atom as it knocks against its
We thus achieve a great simplification in the theory of heat. Heat
is simply a form of kinetic energy, the total kinetic energy of random
motion of all the atoms in an object. With this new understanding,
it becomes possible to answer at one stroke the questions posed at
the beginning of the section. Yes, it is at least theoretically possible
to remove all the heat from an object. The coldest possible temper-
ature, known as absolute zero, is that at which all the atoms have
zero velocity, so that their kinetic energies, (1/2)mv
, are all zero.
No, there is no maximum amount of heat that a certain quantity of
matter can have, and no maximum to the temperature scale, since
arbitrarily large values of v can create arbitrarily large amounts of
kinetic energy per atom.
The kinetic theory of heat also provides a simple explanation of
the true nature of temperature. Temperature is a measure of the
amount of energy per molecule, whereas heat is the total amount of
energy possessed by all the molecules in an object.
There is an entire branch of physics, called thermodynamics,
that deals with heat and temperature and forms the basis for tech-
nologies such as refrigeration. Thermodynamics is discussed in more
detail in optional chapter 16, and I have provided here only a brief
overview of the thermodynamic concepts that relate directly to en-
ergy, glossing over at least one point that would be dealt with more
carefully in a thermodynamics course: it is really only true for a
gas that all the heat is in the form of kinetic energy. In solids and
liquids, the atoms are close enough to each other to exert intense
electrical forces on each other, and there is therefore another type
of energy involved, the energy associated with the atoms’ distances
from each other. Strictly speaking, heat energy is defined not as
energy associated with random motion of molecules but as any form
of energy that can be conducted between objects in contact, without
any force.
Section 12.1 Heat is kinetic energy 289
c / The skater has converted
all his kinetic energy into potential
energy on the way up the side of
the pool. Photo by J.D. Rogge,
12.2 Potential energy: energy of distance or
We have already seen many examples of energy related to the dis-
tance between interacting objects. When two objects participate in
an attractive noncontact force, energy is required to bring them far-
ther apart. In both of the perpetual motion machines that started
off the previous chapter, one of the types of energy involved was the
energy associated with the distance between the balls and the earth,
which attract each other gravitationally. In the perpetual motion
machine with the magnet on the pedestal, there was also energy
associated with the distance between the magnet and the iron ball,
which were attracting each other.
The opposite happens with repulsive forces: two socks with the
same type of static electric charge will repel each other, and cannot
be pushed closer together without supplying energy.
In general, the term potential energy, with algebra symbol PE, is
used for the energy associated with the distance between two objects
that attract or repel each other via a force that depends on the
distance between them. Forces that are not determined by distance
do not have potential energy associated with them. For instance,
the normal force acts only between objects that have zero distance
between them, and depends on other factors besides the fact that
the distance is zero. There is no potential energy associated with
the normal force.
The following are some commonplace examples of potential en-
gravitational potential energy: The skateboarder in the photo
has risen from the bottom of the pool, converting kinetic en-
ergy into gravitational potential energy. After being at rest
for an instant, he will go back down, converting PE back into
magnetic potential energy: When a magnetic compass needle is
allowed to rotate, the poles of the compass change their dis-
tances from the earth’s north and south magnetic poles, con-
verting magnetic potential energy into kinetic energy. (Even-
tually the kinetic energy is all changed into heat by friction,
and the needle settles down in the position that minimizes its
potential energy.)
electrical potential energy: Socks coming out of the dryer cling
together because of attractive electrical forces. Energy is re-
quired in order to separate them.
potential energy of bending or stretching: The force between
the two ends of a spring depends on the distance between
290 Chapter 12 Simplifying the energy zoo
d / As the skater free-falls,
his PE is converted into KE. (The
numbers would be equally valid
as a description of his motion on
the way up.)
them, i.e., on the length of the spring. If a car is pressed
down on its shock absorbers and then released, the potential
energy stored in the spring is transformed into kinetic and
gravitational potential energy as the car bounces back up.
I have deliberately avoided introducing the term potential en-
ergy up until this point, because it tends to produce unfortunate
connotations in the minds of students who have not yet been inoc-
ulated with a careful description of the construction of a numerical
energy scale. Specifically, there is a tendency to generalize the term
inappropriately to apply to any situation where there is the “poten-
tial” for something to happen: “I took a break from digging, but
I had potential energy because I knew I’d be ready to work hard
again in a few minutes.”
An equation for gravitational potential energy
All the vital points about potential energy can be made by focus-
ing on the example of gravitational potential energy. For simplicity,
we treat only vertical motion, and motion close to the surface of the
earth, where the gravitational force is nearly constant. (The gener-
alization to the three dimensions and varying forces is more easily
accomplished using the concept of work, which is the subject the
next chapter.)
To find an equation for gravitational PE, we examine the case
of free fall, in which energy is transformed between kinetic energy
and gravitational PE. Whatever energy is lost in one form is gained
in an equal amount in the other form, so using the notation ∆KE
to stand for KE
and a similar notation for PE, we have
[1] ∆KE = −∆PE
It will be convenient to refer to the object as falling, so that PE
is being changed into KE, but the math applies equally well to an
object slowing down on its way up. We know an equation for kinetic
[2] KE =
so if we can relate v to height, y, we will be able to relate ∆PE to y,
which would tell us what we want to know about potential energy.
The y component of the velocity can be connected to the height via
the constant acceleration equation
[3] v
= v
+ 2a∆y ,
and Newton’s second law provides the acceleration,
[4] a = F/m ,
Section 12.2 Potential energy: energy of distance or closeness 291
in terms of the gravitational force.
The algebra is simple because both equation [2] and equation [3]
have velocity to the second power. Equation [2] can be solved for
to give v
= 2KE/m, and substituting this into equation [3], we
= 2
+ 2a∆y .
Making use of equations [1] and [4] gives the simple result
= −F∆y . [change in gravitational PE
resulting from a change in height ∆y;
F is the gravitational force on the object,
i.e., its weight; valid only near the surface
of the earth, where F is constant]
Dropping a rock example 1
If you drop a 1-kg rock from a height of 1 m, how many joules
of KE does it have on impact with the ground? (Assume that any
energy transformed into heat by air friction is negligible.)
If we choose the y axis to point up, then F
is negative, and
equals −(1 kg)(g) = −9.8 N. A decrease in y is represented by a
negative value of ∆y, ∆y = −1 m, so the change in potential en-
ergy is −(−9.8 N)(−1 m) ≈ −10 J. (The proof that newtons mul-
tiplied by meters give units of joules is left as a homework prob-
lem.) Conservation of energy says that the loss of this amount of
PE must be accompanied by a corresponding increase in KE of
10 J.
It may be dismaying to note how many minus signs had to be
handled correctly even in this relatively simple example: a total
of four. Rather than depending on yourself to avoid any mistakes
with signs, it is better to check whether the final result make sense
physically. If it doesn’t, just reverse the sign.
Although the equation for gravitational potential energy was de-
rived by imagining a situation where it was transformed into kinetic
energy, the equation can be used in any context, because all the
types of energy are freely convertible into each other.
Gravitational PE converted directly into heat example 2
A 50-kg firefighter slides down a 5-m pole at constant velocity.
How much heat is produced?
Since she slides down at constant velocity, there is no change
in KE. Heat and gravitational PE are the only forms of energy that
change. Ignoring plus and minus signs, the gravitational force on
292 Chapter 12 Simplifying the energy zoo
her body equals mg, and the amount of energy transformed is
(mg)(5 m) = 2500 J .
On physical grounds, we know that there must have been an in-
crease (positive change) in the heat energy in her hands and in
the flagpole.
Here are some questions and answers about the interpretation of
the equation ∆PE
= −F∆y for gravitational potential energy.
Question: In a nutshell, why is there a minus sign in the equation?
Answer: It is because we increase the PE by moving the object in
the opposite direction compared to the gravitational force.
Question: Why do we only get an equation for the change in po-
tential energy? Don’t I really want an equation for the potential
energy itself?
Answer: No, you really don’t. This relates to a basic fact about
potential energy, which is that it is not a well defined quantity in
the absolute sense. Only changes in potential energy are unambigu-
ously defined. If you and I both observe a rock falling, and agree
that it deposits 10 J of energy in the dirt when it hits, then we will
be forced to agree that the 10 J of KE must have come from a loss
of 10 joules of PE. But I might claim that it started with 37 J of PE
and ended with 27, while you might swear just as truthfully that it
had 109 J initially and 99 at the end. It is possible to pick some
specific height as a reference level and say that the PE is zero there,
but it’s easier and safer just to work with changes in PE and avoid
absolute PE altogether.
Question: You referred to potential energy as the energy that two
objects have because of their distance from each other. If a rock
falls, the object is the rock. Where’s the other object?
Answer: Newton’s third law guarantees that there will always be
two objects. The other object is the planet earth.
Question: If the other object is the earth, are we talking about the
distance from the rock to the center of the earth or the distance
from the rock to the surface of the earth?
Answer: It doesn’t matter. All that matters is the change in dis-
tance, ∆y, not y. Measuring from the earth’s center or its surface
are just two equally valid choices of a reference point for defining
absolute PE.
Question: Which object contains the PE, the rock or the earth?
Answer: We may refer casually to the PE of the rock, but techni-
cally the PE is a relationship between the earth and the rock, and
we should refer to the earth and the rock together as possessing the
Question: How would this be any different for a force other than
Section 12.2 Potential energy: energy of distance or closeness 293
e / All these energy transfor-
mations turn out at the atomic
level to be changes in potential
energy resulting from changes in
the distances between atoms.
Answer: It wouldn’t. The result was derived under the assumption
of constant force, but the result would be valid for any other situa-
tion where two objects interacted through a constant force. Gravity
is unusual, however, in that the gravitational force on an object is
so nearly constant under ordinary conditions. The magnetic force
between a magnet and a refrigerator, on the other hand, changes
drastically with distance. The math is a little more complex for a
varying force, but the concepts are the same.
Question: Suppose a pencil is balanced on its tip and then falls
over. The pencil is simultaneously changing its height and rotating,
so the height change is different for different parts of the object.
The bottom of the pencil doesn’t lose any height at all. What do
you do in this situation?
Answer: The general philosophy of energy is that an object’s en-
ergy is found by adding up the energy of every little part of it.
You could thus add up the changes in potential energy of all the
little parts of the pencil to find the total change in potential en-
ergy. Luckily there’s an easier way! The derivation of the equation
for gravitational potential energy used Newton’s second law, which
deals with the acceleration of the object’s center of mass (i.e., its
balance point). If you just define ∆y as the height change of the
center of mass, everything works out. A huge Ferris wheel can be
rotated without putting in or taking out any PE, because its center
of mass is staying at the same height.
self-check A
A ball thrown straight up will have the same speed on impact with the
ground as a ball thrown straight down at the same speed. How can this
be explained using potential energy? Answer, p. 525
Discussion question
A You throw a steel ball up in the air. How can you prove based on
conservation of energy that it has the same speed when it falls back into
your hand? What if you throw a feather up — is energy not conserved in
this case?
12.3 All energy is potential or kinetic
In the same way that we found that a change in temperature
is really only a change in kinetic energy at the atomic level, we
now find that every other form of energy turns out to be a form
of potential energy. Boiling, for instance, means knocking some of
the atoms (or molecules) out of the liquid and into the space above,
where they constitute a gas. There is a net attractive force between
essentially any two atoms that are next to each other, which is why
matter always prefers to be packed tightly in the solid or liquid state
unless we supply enough potential energy to pull it apart into a gas.
This explains why water stops getting hotter when it reaches the
294 Chapter 12 Simplifying the energy zoo
f / This figure looks similar to
the previous ones, but the scale
is a million times smaller. The
little balls are the neutrons and
protons that make up the tiny nu-
cleus at the center of the uranium
atom. When the nucleus splits
(fissions), the potential energy
change is partly electrical and
partly a change in the potential
energy derived from the force
that holds atomic nuclei together
(known as the strong nuclear
g / A pellet of plutonium-238
glows with its own heat. Its
nuclear potential energy is being
converted into heat, a form of
kinetic energy. Pellets of this type
are used as power supplies on
some space probes.
boiling point: the power being pumped into the water by your stove
begins going into potential energy rather than kinetic energy.
As shown in figure e, every stored form of energy that we en-
counter in everyday life turns out to be a form of potential energy
at the atomic level. The forces between atoms are electrical and
magnetic in nature, so these are actually electrical and magnetic
potential energies.
Although light is a topic of the second half of this course, it is
useful to have a preview of how it fits in here. Light is a wave com-
posed of oscillating electric and magnetic fields, so we can include
it under the category of electrical and magnetic potential energy.
Even if we wish to include nuclear reactions in the picture, there
still turn out to be only four fundamental types of energy:
kinetic energy (including heat)
gravitational potential energy
electrical and magnetic potential energy
nuclear potential energy
Discussion question
A Referring back to the pictures at the beginning of the chapter, how
do all these forms of energy fit into the shortened list of categories given
Section 12.3 All energy is potential or kinetic 295
Selected vocabulary
potential energy the energy having to do with the distance be-
tween two objects that interact via a noncon-
tact force
PE . . . . . . . . . potential energy
Other terminology and notation
U or V . . . . . . symbols used for potential energy in the scien-
tific literature and in most advanced textbooks
Historically, the energy concept was only invented to include a
few phenomena, but it was later generalized more and more to apply
to new situations, for example nuclear reactions. This generalizing
process resulted in an undesirably long list of types of energy, each
of which apparently behaved according to its own rules.
The first step in simplifying the picture came with the realization
that heat was a form of random motion on the atomic level, i.e., heat
was nothing more than the kinetic energy of atoms.
A second and even greater simplification was achieved with the
realization that all the other apparently mysterious forms of energy
actually had to do with changing the distances between atoms (or
similar processes in nuclei). This type of energy, which relates to
the distance between objects that interact via a force, is therefore
of great importance. We call it potential energy.
Most of the important ideas about potential energy can be un-
derstood by studying the example of gravitational potential energy.
The change in an object’s gravitational potential energy is given by
= −F
∆y , [if F
is constant, i.e., the
the motion is all near the Earth’s surface]
The most important thing to understand about potential energy
is that there is no unambiguous way to define it in an absolute sense.
The only thing that everyone can agree on is how much the potential
energy has changed from one moment in time to some later moment
in time.
296 Chapter 12 Simplifying the energy zoo

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 Can gravitational potential energy ever be negative? Note
that the question refers to PE, not ∆PE, so that you must think
about how the choice of a reference level comes into play. [Based on
a problem by Serway and Faughn.]
2 A ball rolls up a ramp, turns around, and comes back down.
When does it have the greatest gravitational potential energy? The
greatest kinetic energy? [Based on a problem by Serway and Faughn.]
3 (a) You release a magnet on a tabletop near a big piece of iron,
and the magnet leaps across the table to the iron. Does the magnetic
potential energy increase, or decrease? Explain. (b) Suppose instead
that you have two repelling magnets. You give them an initial push
towards each other, so they decelerate while approaching each other.
Does the magnetic potential energy increase, or decrease? Explain.
4 Let E
be the energy required to boil one kg of water. (a) Find
an equation for the minimum height from which a bucket of water
must be dropped if the energy released on impact is to vaporize it.
Assume that all the heat goes into the water, not into the dirt it
strikes, and ignore the relatively small amount of energy required to
heat the water from room temperature to 100

C. [Numerical check,
not for credit: Plugging in E
= 2.3 MJ/kg should give a result of
230 km.]

(b) Show that the units of your answer in part a come out right
based on the units given for E
5 A grasshopper with a mass of 110 mg falls from rest from a
height of 310 cm. On the way down, it dissipates 1.1 mJ of heat due
to air resistance. At what speed, in m/s, does it hit the ground?
Solution, p. 519
6 A person on a bicycle is to coast down a ramp of height h and
then pass through a circular loop of radius r. What is the small-
est value of h for which the cyclist will complete the loop without
falling? (Ignore the kinetic energy of the spinning wheels.)

Problems 297
Problem 7.
7 A skateboarder starts at nearly rest at the top of a giant
cylinder, and begins rolling down its side. (If he started exactly at
rest and exactly at the top, he would never get going!) Show that his
board loses contact with the pipe after he has dropped by a height
equal to one third the radius of the pipe. Solution, p. 519
8 (a) A circular hoop of mass m and radius r spins like a wheel
while its center remains at rest. Its period (time required for one
revolution) is T. Show that its kinetic energy equals 2π
(b) If such a hoop rolls with its center moving at velocity v, its
kinetic energy equals (1/2)mv
, plus the amount of kinetic energy
found in the first part of this problem. Show that a hoop rolls down
an inclined plane with half the acceleration that a frictionless sliding
block would have.
9 Students are often tempted to think of potential energy and
kinetic energy as if they were always related to each other, like
yin and yang. To show this is incorrect, give examples of physical
situations in which (a) PE is converted to another form of PE, and
(b) KE is converted to another form of KE. Solution, p. 520
10 Lord Kelvin, a physicist, told the story of how he encountered
James Joule when Joule was on his honeymoon. As he traveled,
Joule would stop with his wife at various waterfalls, and measure
the difference in temperature between the top of the waterfall and
the still water at the bottom. (a) It would surprise most people
to learn that the temperature increased. Why should there be any
such effect, and why would Joule care? How would this relate to the
energy concept, of which he was the principal inventor? (b) How
much of a gain in temperature should there be between the top
and bottom of a 50-meter waterfall? (c) What assumptions did you
have to make in order to calculate your answer to part b? In reality,
would the temperature change be more than or less than what you
calculated? [Based on a problem by Arnold Arons.]

11 Make an order-of-magnitude estimate of the power repre-
sented by the loss of gravitational energy of the water going over
Niagara Falls. If the hydroelectric plant at the bottom of the falls
could convert 100% of this to electrical power, roughly how many
households could be powered? Solution, p. 520
12 When you buy a helium-filled balloon, the seller has to inflate
it from a large metal cylinder of the compressed gas. The helium
inside the cylinder has energy, as can be demonstrated for example
by releasing a little of it into the air: you hear a hissing sound,
and that sound energy must have come from somewhere. The total
amount of energy in the cylinder is very large, and if the valve is
inadvertently damaged or broken off, the cylinder can behave like
bomb or a rocket.
Suppose the company that puts the gas in the cylinders prepares
298 Chapter 12 Simplifying the energy zoo
cylinder A with half the normal amount of pure helium, and cylinder
B with the normal amount. Cylinder B has twice as much energy,
and yet the temperatures of both cylinders are the same. Explain, at
the atomic level, what form of energy is involved, and why cylinder
B has twice as much.
13 At a given temperature, the average kinetic energy per
molecule is a fixed value, so for instance in air, the more massive
oxygen molecules are moving more slowly on the average than the
nitrogen molecules. The ratio of the masses of oxygen and nitrogen
molecules is 16.00 to 14.01. Now suppose a vessel containing some
air is surrounded by a vacuum, and the vessel has a tiny hole in it,
which allows the air to slowly leak out. The molecules are bouncing
around randomly, so a given molecule will have to “try” many times
before it gets lucky enough to head out through the hole. How many
times more rapidly does the nitrogen escape?

14 Explain in terms of conservation of energy why sweating
cools your body, even though the sweat is at the same temperature
as your body. Describe the forms of energy involved in this energy
transformation. Why don’t you get the same cooling effect if you
wipe the sweat off with a towel? Hint: The sweat is evaporating.
15 Anya and Ivan lean over a balcony side by side. Anya throws
a penny downward with an initial speed of 5 m/s. Ivan throws
a penny upward with the same speed. Both pennies end up on
the ground below. Compare their kinetic energies and velocities on
16 (a) A circular hoop of mass m and radius r spins like a wheel
while its center remains at rest. Let ω (Greek letter omega) be the
number of radians it covers per unit time, i.e., ω = 2π/T, where
the period, T, is the time for one revolution. Show that its kinetic
energy equals (1/2)mω
(b) Show that the answer to part a has the right units. (Note
that radians aren’t really units, since the definition of a radian is a
unitless ratio of two lengths.)
(c) If such a hoop rolls with its center moving at velocity v, its
kinetic energy equals (1/2)mv
, plus the amount of kinetic energy
found in part a. Show that a hoop rolls down an inclined plane with
half the acceleration that a frictionless sliding block would have.

Problems 299
300 Chapter 12 Simplifying the energy zoo
Chapter 13
Work: the transfer of
mechanical energy
13.1 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
The concept of work
The mass contained in a closed system is a conserved quantity,
but if the system is not closed, we also have ways of measuring the
amount of mass that goes in or out. The water company does this
with a meter that records your water use.
Likewise, we often have a system that is not closed, and would
like to know how much energy comes in or out. Energy, however,
is not a physical substance like water, so energy transfer cannot
be measured with the same kind of meter. How can we tell, for
instance, how much useful energy a tractor can “put out” on one
tank of gas?
The law of conservation of energy guarantees that all the chem-
a / Work is a transfer of en-
b / The tractor raises the weight
over the pulley, increasing its
gravitational potential energy.
c / The tractor accelerates
the trailer, increasing its kinetic
d / The tractor pulls a plow.
Energy is expended in frictional
heating of the plow and the dirt,
and in breaking dirt clods and
lifting dirt up to the sides of the
ical energy in the gasoline will reappear in some form, but not nec-
essarily in a form that is useful for doing farm work. Tractors, like
cars, are extremely inefficient, and typically 90% of the energy they
consume is converted directly into heat, which is carried away by
the exhaust and the air flowing over the radiator. We wish to dis-
tinguish the energy that comes out directly as heat from the energy
that serves to accelerate a trailer or to plow a field, so we define
a technical meaning of the ordinary word “work” to express the
definition of work
Work is the amount of energy transferred into or out of a
system, not counting energy transferred by heat conduction.
self-check A
Based on this definition, is work a vector, or a scalar? What are its
units? Answer, p. 526
The conduction of heat is to be distinguished from heating by
friction. When a hot potato heats up your hands by conduction, the
energy transfer occurs without any force, but when friction heats
your car’s brake shoes, there is a force involved. The transfer of en-
ergy with and without a force are measured by completely different
methods, so we wish to include heat transfer by frictional heating
under the definition of work, but not heat transfer by conduction.
The definition of work could thus be restated as the amount of en-
ergy transferred by forces.
Calculating work as force multiplied by distance
The examples in figures b-d show that there are many different
ways in which energy can be transferred. Even so, all these examples
have two things in common:
1. A force is involved.
2. The tractor travels some distance as it does the work.
In b, the increase in the height of the weight, ∆y, is the same as
the distance the tractor travels, which we’ll call d. For simplicity,
we discuss the case where the tractor raises the weight at constant
speed, so that there is no change in the kinetic energy of the weight,
and we assume that there is negligible friction in the pulley, so that
the force the tractor applies to the rope is the same as the rope’s
upward force on the weight. By Newton’s first law, these forces are
also of the same magnitude as the earth’s gravitational force on the
weight. The increase in the weight’s potential energy is given by
F∆y, so the work done by the tractor on the weight equals Fd, the
product of the force and the distance moved:
W = Fd .
302 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
In example c, the tractor’s force on the trailer accelerates it, increas-
ing its kinetic energy. If frictional forces on the trailer are negligible,
then the increase in the trailer’s kinetic energy can be found using
the same algebra that was used on page 291 to find the potential
energy due to gravity. Just as in example b, we have
W = Fd .
Does this equation always give the right answer? Well, sort of.
In example d, there are two quantities of work you might want to
calculate: the work done by the tractor on the plow and the work
done by the plow on the dirt. These two quantities can’t both equal
Fd. Most of the energy transmitted through the cable goes into
frictional heating of the plow and the dirt. The work done by the
plow on the dirt is less than the work done by the tractor on the
plow, by an amount equal to the heat absorbed by the plow. It turns
out that the equation W = Fd gives the work done by the tractor,
not the work done by the plow. How are you supposed to know when
the equation will work and when it won’t? The somewhat complex
answer is postponed until section 13.6. Until then, we will restrict
ourselves to examples in which W = Fd gives the right answer;
essentially the reason the ambiguities come up is that when one
surface is slipping past another, d may be hard to define, because
the two surfaces move different distances.
e / The baseball pitcher put ki-
netic energy into the ball, so he
did work on it. To do the greatest
possible amount of work, he ap-
plied the greatest possible force
over the greatest possible dis-
We have also been using examples in which the force is in the
same direction as the motion, and the force is constant. (If the force
was not constant, we would have to represent it with a function, not
a symbol that stands for a number.) To summarize, we have:
rule for calculating work (simplest version)
The work done by a force can be calculated as
W = Fd ,
if the force is constant and in the same direction as the motion.
Some ambiguities are encountered in cases such as kinetic friction.
Section 13.1 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy 303
f / Example 1.
Mechanical work done in an earthquake example 1
In 1998, geologists discovered evidence for a big prehistoric
earthquake in Pasadena, between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago.
They found that the two sides of the fault moved 6.7 m relative
to one another, and estimated that the force between them was
1.3 ×10
N. How much energy was released?
Multiplying the force by the distance gives 9 ×10
J. For com-
parison, the Northridge earthquake of 1994, which killed 57 peo-
ple and did 40 billion dollars of damage, released 22 times less
machines can increase force, but not work.
Figure g shows a pulley arrangement for doubling the force sup-
plied by the tractor (book 1, section 5.6). The tension in the left-
hand rope is equal throughout, assuming negligible friction, so there
are two forces pulling the pulley to the left, each equal to the origi-
nal force exerted by the tractor on the rope. This doubled force is
transmitted through the right-hand rope to the stump.
g / The pulley doubles the force
the tractor can exert on the
It might seem as though this arrangement would also double the
work done by the tractor, but look again. As the tractor moves
forward 2 meters, 1 meter of rope comes around the pulley, and the
pulley moves 1 m to the left. Although the pulley exerts double the
force on the stump, the pulley and stump only move half as far, so
the work done on the stump is no greater that it would have been
without the pulley.
The same is true for any mechanical arrangement that increases
or decreases force, such as the gears on a ten-speed bike. You can’t
get out more work than you put in, because that would violate
conservation of energy. If you shift gears so that your force on the
pedals is amplified, the result is that you just have to spin the pedals
more times.
No work is done without motion.
It strikes most students as nonsensical when they are told that
if they stand still and hold a heavy bag of cement, they are doing
no work on the bag. Even if it makes sense mathematically that
W = Fd gives zero when d is zero, it seems to violate common
sense. You would certainly become tired! The solution is simple.
304 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
h / Whenever energy is trans-
ferred out of the spring, the same
amount has to be transferred into
the ball, and vice versa. As the
spring compresses, the ball is
doing positive work on the spring
(giving up its KE and transferring
energy into the spring as PE),
and as it decompresses the ball
is doing negative work (extracting
Physicists have taken over the common word “work” and given it a
new technical meaning, which is the transfer of energy. The energy
of the bag of cement is not changing, and that is what the physicist
means by saying no work is done on the bag.
There is a transformation of energy, but it is taking place entirely
within your own muscles, which are converting chemical energy into
heat. Physiologically, a human muscle is not like a tree limb, which
can support a weight indefinitely without the expenditure of energy.
Each muscle cell’s contraction is generated by zillions of little molec-
ular machines, which take turns supporting the tension. When a
particular molecule goes on or off duty, it moves, and since it moves
while exerting a force, it is doing work. There is work, but it is work
done by one molecule in a muscle cell on another.
Positive and negative work
When object A transfers energy to object B, we say that A does
positive work on B. B is said to do negative work on A. In other
words, a machine like a tractor is defined as doing positive work.
This use of the plus and minus signs relates in a logical and consis-
tent way to their use in indicating the directions of force and motion
in one dimension. In figure h, suppose we choose a coordinate sys-
tem with the x axis pointing to the right. Then the force the spring
exerts on the ball is always a positive number. The ball’s motion,
however, changes directions. The symbol d is really just a shorter
way of writing the familiar quantity ∆x, whose positive and negative
signs indicate direction.
While the ball is moving to the left, we use d < 0 to represent
its direction of motion, and the work done by the spring, Fd, comes
out negative. This indicates that the spring is taking kinetic energy
out of the ball, and accepting it in the form of its own potential
As the ball is reaccelerated to the right, it has d > 0, Fd is
positive, and the spring does positive work on the ball. Potential
energy is transferred out of the spring and deposited in the ball as
kinetic energy.
In summary:
rule for calculating work (including cases of negative
The work done by a force can be calculated as
W = Fd ,
if the force is constant and along the same line as the motion.
The quantity d is to be interpreted as a synonym for ∆x, i.e.,
positive and negative signs are used to indicate the direction
of motion. Some ambiguities are encountered in cases such as
kinetic friction.
Section 13.1 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy 305
i / Because the force is in
the opposite direction compared
to the motion, the brake shoe
does negative work on the drum,
i.e., accepts energy from it in the
form of heat.
self-check B
In figure h, what about the work done by the ball on the spring?
Answer, p. 526
There are many examples where the transfer of energy out of an
object cancels out the transfer of energy in. When the tractor pulls
the plow with a rope, the rope does negative work on the tractor
and positive work on the plow. The total work done by the rope is
zero, which makes sense, since it is not changing its energy.
It may seem that when your arms do negative work by lowering
a bag of cement, the cement is not really transferring energy into
your body. If your body was storing potential energy like a com-
pressed spring, you would be able to raise and lower a weight all
day, recycling the same energy. The bag of cement does transfer
energy into your body, but your body accepts it as heat, not as po-
tential energy. The tension in the muscles that control the speed of
the motion also results in the conversion of chemical energy to heat,
for the same physiological reasons discussed previously in the case
where you just hold the bag still.
One of the advantages of electric cars over gasoline-powered cars
is that it is just as easy to put energy back in a battery as it is to
take energy out. When you step on the brakes in a gas car, the brake
shoes do negative work on the rest of the car. The kinetic energy of
the car is transmitted through the brakes and accepted by the brake
shoes in the form of heat. The energy cannot be recovered. Electric
cars, however, are designed to use regenerative braking. The brakes
don’t use friction at all. They are electrical, and when you step on
the brake, the negative work done by the brakes means they accept
the energy and put it in the battery for later use. This is one of the
reasons why an electric car is far better for the environment than a
gas car, even if the ultimate source of the electrical energy happens
to be the burning of oil in the electric company’s plant. The electric
car recycles the same energy over and over, and only dissipates heat
due to air friction and rolling resistance, not braking. (The electric
company’s power plant can also be fitted with expensive pollution-
reduction equipment that would be prohibitively expensive or bulky
for a passenger car.)
306 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
k / A force can do positive,
negative, or zero work, depend-
ing on its direction relative to the
direction of the motion.
Discussion questions
A Besides the presence of a force, what other things differentiate the
processes of frictional heating and heat conduction?
B Criticize the following incorrect statement: “A force doesn’t do any
work unless it’s causing the object to move.”
C To stop your car, you must first have time to react, and then it takes
some time for the car to slow down. Both of these times contribute to the
distance you will travel before you can stop. The figure shows how the
average stopping distance increases with speed. Because the stopping
distance increases more and more rapidly as you go faster, the rule of
one car length per 10 m.p.h. of speed is not conservative enough at high
speeds. In terms of work and kinetic energy, what is the reason for the
more rapid increase at high speeds?
Discussion question C.
13.2 Work in three dimensions
A force perpendicular to the motion does no work.
Suppose work is being done to change an object’s kinetic energy.
A force in the same direction as its motion will speed it up, and a
force in the opposite direction will slow it down. As we have already
seen, this is described as doing positive work or doing negative work
on the object. All the examples discussed up until now have been
of motion in one dimension, but in three dimensions the force can
be at any angle θ with respect to the direction of motion.
What if the force is perpendicular to the direction of motion? We
have already seen that a force perpendicular to the motion results
in circular motion at constant speed. The kinetic energy does not
change, and we conclude that no work is done when the force is
perpendicular to the motion.
So far we have been reasoning about the case of a single force
acting on an object, and changing only its kinetic energy. The result
is more generally true, however. For instance, imagine a hockey puck
sliding across the ice. The ice makes an upward normal force, but
Section 13.2 Work in three dimensions 307
l / Work is only done by the
component of the force parallel to
the motion.
m / Self-check. (Breaking
Trail, by Walter E. Bohl.)
does not transfer energy to or from the puck.
Forces at other angles
Suppose the force is at some other angle with respect to the
motion, say θ = 45

. Such a force could be broken down into two
components, one along the direction of the motion and the other
perpendicular to it. The force vector equals the vector sum of its
two components, and the principle of vector addition of forces thus
tells us that the work done by the total force cannot be any different
than the sum of the works that would be done by the two forces by
themselves. Since the component perpendicular to the motion does
no work, the work done by the force must be
W = F

|d| , [work done by a constant force]
where the vector d is simply a less cumbersome version of the nota-
tion ∆r. This result can be rewritten via trigonometry as
W = |F||d| cos θ . [work done by a constant force]
Even though this equation has vectors in it, it depends only on
their magnitudes, and the magnitude of a vector is a scalar. Work
is therefore still a scalar quantity, which only makes sense if it is
defined as the transfer of energy. Ten gallons of gasoline have the
ability to do a certain amount of mechanical work, and when you
pull in to a full-service gas station you don’t have to say “Fill ’er up
with 10 gallons of south-going gas.”
Students often wonder why this equation involves a cosine rather
than a sine, or ask if it would ever be a sine. In vector addition, the
treatment of sines and cosines seemed more equal and democratic,
so why is the cosine so special now? The answer is that if we are
going to describe, say, a velocity vector, we must give both the
component parallel to the x axis and the component perpendicular
to the x axis (i.e., the y component). In calculating work, however,
the force component perpendicular to the motion is irrelevant — it
changes the direction of motion without increasing or decreasing the
energy of the object on which it acts. In this context, it is only the
parallel force component that matters, so only the cosine occurs.
self-check C
(a) Work is the transfer of energy. According to this definition, is the
horse in the picture doing work on the pack? (b) If you calculate work
by the method described in this section, is the horse in figure m doing
work on the pack? Answer, p. 526
Pushing a broom example 2
If you exert a force of 21 N on a push broom, at an angle 35
degrees below horizontal, and walk for 5.0 m, how much work do
you do? What is the physical significance of this quantity of work?
Using the second equation above, the work done equals
(21 N)(5.0 m)(cos 35

) = 86 J .
308 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
The form of energy being transferred is heat in the floor and the
broom’s bristles. This comes from the chemical energy stored in
your body. (The majority of the calories you burn are dissipated
directly as heat inside your body rather than doing any work on
the broom. The 86 J is only the amount of energy transferred
through the broom’s handle.)
A violin example 3
As a violinist draws the bow across a string, the bow hairs exert
both a normal force and a kinetic frictional force on the string. The
normal force is perpendicular to the direction of motion, and does
no work. However, the frictional force is in the same direction as
the motion of the bow, so it does work: energy is transferred to
the string, causing it to vibrate.
One way of playing a violin more loudly is to use longer strokes.
Since W = Fd, the greater distance results in more work.
A second way of getting a louder sound is to press the bow more
firmly against the strings. This increases the normal force, and
although the normal force itself does no work, an increase in the
normal force has the side effect of increasing the frictional force,
thereby increasing W = Fd.
The violinist moves the bow back and forth, and sound is pro-
duced on both the “up-bow” (the stroke toward the player’s left)
and the “down-bow” (to the right). One may, for example, play a
series of notes in alternation between up-bows and down-bows.
However, if the notes are of unequal length, the up and down mo-
tions tend to be unequal, and if the player is not careful, she can
run out of bow in the middle of a note! To keep this from hap-
pening, one can move the bow more quickly on the shorter notes,
but the resulting increase in d will make the shorter notes louder
than they should be. A skilled player compensates by reducing
the force.
Up until now, we have not found any physically useful way to
define the multiplication of two vectors. It would be possible, for
instance, to multiply two vectors component by component to form
a third vector, but there are no physical situations where such a
multiplication would be useful.
The equation W = |F||d| cos θ is an example of a sort of mul-
tiplication of vectors that is useful. The result is a scalar, not a
vector, and this is therefore often referred to as the scalar product
of the vectors F and d. There is a standard shorthand notation for
this operation,
A· B = |A||B| cos θ , [definition of the notation A· B;
θ is the angle between vectors A and B]
and because of this notation, a more common term for this operation
Section 13.2 Work in three dimensions 309
is the dot product. In dot product notation, the equation for work
is simply
W = F · d .
The dot product has the following geometric interpretation:
A· B = |A|(component of B parallel to A)
= |B|(component of A parallel to B)
The dot product has some of the properties possessed by ordinary
multiplication of numbers,
A· B = B· A
A· (B+C) = A· B+A· C
(cA) · B = c (A· B) ,
but it lacks one other: the ability to undo multiplication by dividing.
If you know the components of two vectors, you can easily cal-
culate their dot product as follows:
A· B = A
(This can be proved by first analyzing the special case where each
vector has only an x component, and the similar cases for y and z.
We can then use the rule A· (B + C) = A· B + A· C to make a
generalization by writing each vector as the sum of its x, y, and z
components. See homework problem 17.)
Magnitude expressed with a dot product example 4
If we take the dot product of any vector b with itself, we find
b · b =
ˆ x + b
ˆ y + b
ˆ z
ˆ x + b
ˆ y + b
ˆ z
= b
+ b
+ b
so its magnitude can be expressed as
|b| =

b · b .
We will often write b
to mean b · b, when the context makes
it clear what is intended. For example, we could express kinetic
energy as (1/2)m|v|
, (1/2)mv·v, or (1/2)mv
. In the third version,
nothing but context tells us that v really stands for the magnitude
of some vector v.
Towing a barge example 5
A mule pulls a barge with a force F=(1100 N)ˆ x + (400 N)ˆ y, and
the total distance it travels is (1000 m)ˆ x. How much work does it
The dot product is 1.1 ×10
N·m = 1.1 ×10
310 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
n / The spring does work on
the cart. (Unlike the ball in
section 13.1, the cart is attached
to the spring.)
o / The area of the shaded
triangle gives the work done by
the spring as the cart moves
from the equilibrium position to
position x.
13.3 Varying force
Up until now we have done no actual calculations of work in cases
where the force was not constant. The question of how to treat
such cases is mathematically analogous to the issue of how to gener-
alize the equation (distance) = (velocity)(time) to cases where the
velocity was not constant. There, we found that the correct gen-
eralization was to find the area under the graph of velocity versus
time. The equivalent thing can be done with work:
general rule for calculating work
The work done by a force F equals the area under the curve
on a graph of F

versus x. (Some ambiguities are encountered
in cases such as kinetic friction.)
The examples in this section are ones in which the force is vary-
ing, but is always along the same line as the motion, so F is the
same as F

self-check D
In which of the following examples would it be OK to calculate work
using Fd, and in which ones would you have to use the area under the
F −x graph?
(a) A fishing boat cruises with a net dragging behind it.
(b) A magnet leaps onto a refrigerator from a distance.
(c) Earth’s gravity does work on an outward-bound space probe.
Answer, p. 526
An important and straightforward example is the calculation of
the work done by a spring that obeys Hooke’s law,
F ≈ −k (x −x
) .
The minus sign is because this is the force being exerted by the
spring, not the force that would have to act on the spring to keep
it at this position. That is, if the position of the cart in figure n
is to the right of equilibrium, the spring pulls back to the left, and
We calculate the work done when the spring is initially at equi-
librium and then decelerates the car as the car moves to the right.
The work done by the spring on the cart equals the minus area of
the shaded triangle, because the triangle hangs below the x axis.
The area of a triangle is half its base multiplied by its height, so
W = −
k (x −x
This is the amount of kinetic energy lost by the cart as the spring
decelerates it.
It was straightforward to calculate the work done by the spring in
this case because the graph of F versus x was a straight line, giving
Section 13.3 Varying force 311
a triangular area. But if the curve had not been so geometrically
simple, it might not have been possible to find a simple equation for
the work done, or an equation might have been derivable only using
calculus. Optional section 13.4 gives an important example of such
an application of calculus.
p / Example 6.
Energy production in the sun example 6
The sun produces energy through nuclear reactions in which nu-
clei collide and stick together. The figure depicts one such reac-
tion, in which a single proton (hydrogen nucleus) collides with
a carbon nucleus, consisting of six protons and six neutrons.
Neutrons and protons attract other neutrons and protons via the
strong nuclear force, so as the proton approaches the carbon nu-
cleus it is accelerated. In the language of energy, we say that
it loses nuclear potential energy and gains kinetic energy. To-
gether, the seven protons and six neutrons make a nitrogen nu-
cleus. Within the newly put-together nucleus, the neutrons and
312 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
protons are continually colliding, and the new proton’s extra ki-
netic energy is rapidly shared out among all the neutrons and
protons. Soon afterward, the nucleus calms down by releasing
some energy in the form of a gamma ray, which helps to heat the
The graph shows the force between the carbon nucleus and the
proton as the proton is on its way in, with the distance in units of
femtometers (1 fm=10
m). Amusingly, the force turns out to be
a few newtons: on the same order of magnitude as the forces we
encounter ordinarily on the human scale. Keep in mind, however,
that a force this big exerted on a single subatomic particle such as
a proton will produce a truly fantastic acceleration (on the order
of 10
Why does the force have a peak around x = 3 fm, and become
smaller once the proton has actually merged with the nucleus?
At x = 3 fm, the proton is at the edge of the crowd of protons and
neutrons. It feels many attractive forces from the left, and none
from the right. The forces add up to a large value. However if
it later finds itself at the center of the nucleus, x = 0, there are
forces pulling it from all directions, and these force vectors cancel
We can now calculate the energy released in this reaction by us-
ing the area under the graph to determine the amount of mechan-
ical work done by the carbon nucleus on the proton. (For simplic-
ity, we assume that the proton came in “aimed” at the center of
the nucleus, and we ignore the fact that it has to shove some neu-
trons and protons out of the way in order to get there.) The area
under the curve is about 17 squares, and the work represented
by each square is
(1 N)(10
m) = 10
J ,
so the total energy released is about
J/square)(17 squares) = 1.7 ×10
J .
This may not seem like much, but remember that this is only a
reaction between the nuclei of two out of the zillions of atoms in
the sun. For comparison, a typical chemical reaction between
two atoms might transform on the order of 10
J of electrical
potential energy into heat — 100,000 times less energy!
As a final note, you may wonder why reactions such as these only
occur in the sun. The reason is that there is a repulsive electrical
force between nuclei. When two nuclei are close together, the
electrical forces are typically about a million times weaker than the
nuclear forces, but the nuclear forces fall off much more quickly
with distance than the electrical forces, so the electrical force is
the dominant one at longer ranges. The sun is a very hot gas, so
Section 13.3 Varying force 313
the random motion of its atoms is extremely rapid, and a collision
between two atoms is sometimes violent enough to overcome this
initial electrical repulsion.
Applications of calculus
The student who has studied integral calculus will recognize that
the graphical rule given in the previous section can be reexpressed
as an integral,
W =
Fdx .
We can then immediately find by the fundamental theorem of cal-
culus that force is the derivative of work with respect to position,
F =
For example, a crane raising a one-ton block on the moon would
be transferring potential energy into the block at only one sixth the
rate that would be required on Earth, and this corresponds to one
sixth the force.
Although the work done by the spring could be calculated with-
out calculus using the area of a triangle, there are many cases where
the methods of calculus are needed in order to find an answer in
closed form. The most important example is the work done by
gravity when the change in height is not small enough to assume a
constant force. Newton’s law of gravity is
F =
which can be integrated to give
W =
= GMm

314 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
13.5 Work and potential energy
The techniques for calculating work can also be applied to the cal-
culation of potential energy. If a certain force depends only on
the distance between the two participating objects, then the energy
released by changing the distance between them is defined as the po-
tential energy, and the amount of potential energy lost equals minus
the work done by the force,
∆PE = −W .
The minus sign occurs because positive work indicates that the po-
tential energy is being expended and converted to some other form.
It is sometimes convenient to pick some arbitrary position as a
reference position, and derive an equation for once and for all that
gives the potential energy relative to this position
= −W
. [potential energy at a point x]
To find the energy transferred into or out of potential energy, one
then subtracts two different values of this equation.
These equations might almost make it look as though work and
energy were the same thing, but they are not. First, potential energy
measures the energy that a system has stored in it, while work
measures how much energy is transferred in or out. Second, the
techniques for calculating work can be used to find the amount of
energy transferred in many situations where there is no potential
energy involved, as when we calculate the amount of kinetic energy
transformed into heat by a car’s brake shoes.
A toy gun example 7
A toy gun uses a spring with a spring constant of 10 N/m to
shoot a ping-pong ball of mass 5 g. The spring is compressed to
10 cm shorter than its equilibrium length when the gun is loaded.
At what speed is the ball released?
The equilibrium point is the natural choice for a reference point.
Using the equation found previously for the work, we have
k (x −x
The spring loses contact with the ball at the equilibrium point, so
the final potential energy is
= 0 .
The initial potential energy is
(10 N/m)(0.10 m)
= 0.05 J.
Section 13.5 Work and potential energy 315
The loss in potential energy of 0.05 J means an increase in kinetic
energy of the same amount. The velocity of the ball is found by
solving the equation KE = (1/2)mv
for v,
v =
(2)(0.05 J)
0.005 kg
= 4 m/s .
Gravitational potential energy example 8
We have already found the equation ∆PE = −F∆y for the gravi-
tational potential energy when the change in height is not enough
to cause a significant change in the gravitational force F. What
if the change in height is enough so that this assumption is no
longer valid? Use the equation W = GMm(1/r
− 1/r
) derived
in section 13.4 to find the potential energy, using r = ∞ as a
reference point.
The potential energy equals minus the work that would have to
be done to bring the object from r
= ∞to r = r
, which is
PE = −
This is simpler than the equation for the work, which is an exam-
ple of why it is advantageous to record an equation for potential
energy relative to some reference point, rather than an equation
for work.
Although the equations derived in the previous two examples
may seem arcane and not particularly useful except for toy design-
ers and rocket scientists, their usefulness is actually greater than
it appears. The equation for the potential energy of a spring can
be adapted to any other case in which an object is compressed,
stretched, twisted, or bent. While you are not likely to use the
equation for gravitational potential energy for anything practical, it
is directly analogous to an equation that is extremely useful in chem-
istry, which is the equation for the potential energy of an electron
at a distance r from the nucleus of its atom. As discussed in more
detail later in the course, the electrical force between the electron
and the nucleus is proportional to 1/r
, just like the gravitational
force between two masses. Since the equation for the force is of the
same form, so is the equation for the potential energy.
316 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
q / The twin Voyager space
probes were perhaps the great-
est scientific successes of the
space program. Over a period
of decades, they flew by all the
planets of the outer solar system,
probably accomplishing more
of scientific interest than the
entire space shuttle program at
a tiny fraction of the cost. Both
Voyager probes completed their
final planetary flybys with speeds
greater than the escape velocity
at that distance from the sun, and
so headed on out of the solar sys-
tem on hyperbolic orbits, never
to return. Radio contact has
been lost, and they are now likely
to travel interstellar space for
billions of years without colliding
with anything or being detected
by any intelligent species.
Discussion questions
A What does the graph of PE = (1/2)k (x −x
look like as a function
of x? Discuss the physical significance of its features.
B What does the graph of PE = −GMm/r look like as a function of r ?
Discuss the physical significance of its features. How would the equation
and graph change if some other reference point was chosen rather than
r = ∞?
C Starting at a distance r from a planet of mass M, how fast must an
object be moving in order to have a hyperbolic orbit, i.e., one that never
comes back to the planet? This velocity is called the escape velocity. In-
terpreting the result, does it matter in what direction the velocity is? Does
it matter what mass the object has? Does the object escape because it is
moving too fast for gravity to act on it?
D Does a spring have an “escape velocity?”
E Calculus-based question: If the form of energy being transferred is
potential energy, then the equations F = dW/dx and W =
Fdx become
F = −dPE/dx and PE = −
Fdx. How would you then apply the fol-
lowing calculus concepts: zero derivative at minima and maxima, and the
second derivative test for concavity up or down.
13.6 When does work equal force times
In the example of the tractor pulling the plow discussed on page
303, the work did not equal Fd. The purpose of this section is to
explain more fully how the quantity Fd can and cannot be used.
To simplify things, I write Fd throughout this section, but more
generally everything said here would be true for the area under the
Section 13.6 When does work equal force times distance? 317
graph of F

versus d.
The following two theorems allow most of the ambiguity to be
cleared up.
the work-kinetic-energy theorem
The change in kinetic energy associated with the motion of an
object’s center of mass is related to the total force acting on
it and to the distance traveled by its center of mass according
to the equation ∆KE
= F
This can be proved based on Newton’s second law and the equa-
tion KE = (1/2)mv
. Note that despite the traditional name, it
does not necessarily tell the amount of work done, since the forces
acting on the object could be changing other types of energy besides
the KE associated with its center of mass motion.
The second theorem does relate directly to work:
When a contact force acts between two objects and the two
surfaces do not slip past each other, the work done equals Fd,
where d is the distance traveled by the point of contact.
This one has no generally accepted name, so we refer to it simply
as the second theorem.
A great number of physical situations can be analyzed with these
two theorems, and often it is advantageous to apply both of them
to the same situation.
An ice skater pushing off from a wall example 9
The work-kinetic energy theorem tells us how to calculate the
skater’s kinetic energy if we know the amount of force and the
distance her center of mass travels while she is pushing off.
The second theorem tells us that the wall does no work on the
skater. This makes sense, since the wall does not have any
source of energy.
Absorbing an impact without recoiling? example 10
Is it possible to absorb an impact without recoiling? For in-
stance, would a brick wall “give” at all if hit by a ping-pong ball?
There will always be a recoil. In the example proposed, the wall
will surely have some energy transferred to it in the form of heat
and vibration. The second theorem tells us that we can only have
nonzero work if the distance traveled by the point of contact is
318 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
Dragging a refrigerator at constant velocity example 11
Newton’s first law tells us that the total force on the refrigerator
must be zero: your force is canceling the floor’s kinetic frictional
force. The work-kinetic energy theorem is therefore true but use-
less. It tells us that there is zero total force on the refrigerator,
and that the refrigerator’s kinetic energy doesn’t change.
The second theorem tells us that the work you do equals your
hand’s force on the refrigerator multiplied by the distance traveled.
Since we know the floor has no source of energy, the only way for
the floor and refrigerator to gain energy is from the work you do.
We can thus calculate the total heat dissipated by friction in the
refrigerator and the floor.
Note that there is no way to find how much of the heat is dissi-
pated in the floor and how much in the refrigerator.
Accelerating a cart example 12
If you push on a cart and accelerate it, there are two forces acting
on the cart: your hand’s force, and the static frictional force of the
ground pushing on the wheels in the opposite direction.
Applying the second theorem to your force tells us how to calcu-
late the work you do.
Applying the second theorem to the floor’s force tells us that the
floor does no work on the cart. There is no motion at the point
of contact, because the atoms in the floor are not moving. (The
atoms in the surface of the wheel are also momentarily at rest
when they touch the floor.) This makes sense, since the floor
does not have any source of energy.
The work-kinetic energy theorem refers to the total force, and be-
cause the floor’s backward force cancels part of your force, the
total force is less than your force. This tells us that only part of
your work goes into the kinetic energy associated with the forward
motion of the cart’s center of mass. The rest goes into rotation of
the wheels.
13.7 The dot product
Up until now, we have not found any physically useful way to define
the multiplication of two vectors. It would be possible, for instance,
to multiply two vectors component by component to form a third
vector, but there are no physical situations where such a multipli-
cation would be useful.
The equation W = |F||d| cos θ is an example of a sort of mul-
tiplication of vectors that is useful. The result is a scalar, not a
vector, and this is therefore often referred to as the scalar product
of the vectors F and d. There is a standard shorthand notation for
Section 13.7 The dot product 319
this operation,
A· B = |A||B| cos θ , [definition of the notation A· B;
θ is the angle between vectors A and B]
and because of this notation, a more common term for this operation
is the dot product. In dot product notation, the equation for work
is simply
W = F · d .
The dot product has the following geometric interpretation:
A· B = |A|(component of B parallel to A)
= |B|(component of A parallel to B)
The dot product has some of the properties possessed by ordinary
multiplication of numbers,
A· B = B· A
A· (B+C) = A· B+A· C
(cA) · B = c (A· B) ,
but it lacks one other: the ability to undo multiplication by dividing.
If you know the components of two vectors, you can easily cal-
culate their dot product as follows:
A· B = A
(This can be proved by first analyzing the special case where each
vector has only an x component, and the similar cases for y and z.
We can then use the rule A· (B + C) = A· B + A· C to make a
generalization by writing each vector as the sum of its x, y, and z
components. See homework problem 17.)
Magnitude expressed with a dot product example 13
If we take the dot product of any vector b with itself, we find
b · b =
ˆ x + b
ˆ y + b
ˆ z
ˆ x + b
ˆ y + b
ˆ z
= b
+ b
+ b
so its magnitude can be expressed as
|b| =

b · b .
We will often write b
to mean b · b, when the context makes
it clear what is intended. For example, we could express kinetic
energy as (1/2)m|v|
, (1/2)mv·v, or (1/2)mv
. In the third version,
nothing but context tells us that v really stands for the magnitude
of some vector v.
Towing a barge example 14
A mule pulls a barge with a force F=(1100 N)ˆ x + (400 N)ˆ y, and
the total distance it travels is (1000 m)ˆ x. How much work does it
The dot product is 1.1 ×10
N·m = 1.1 ×10
320 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
Selected vocabulary
work . . . . . . . . the amount of energy transferred into or out
of a system, excluding energy transferred by
heat conduction
W . . . . . . . . . work
Work is a measure of the transfer of mechanical energy, i.e., the
transfer of energy by a force rather than by heat conduction. When
the force is constant, work can usually be calculated as
W = F

|d| , [only if the force is constant]
where d is simply a less cumbersome notation for ∆r, the vector
from the initial position to the final position. Thus,
• A force in the same direction as the motion does positive work,
i.e., transfers energy into the object on which it acts.
• A force in the opposite direction compared to the motion does
negative work, i.e., transfers energy out of the object on which
it acts.
• When there is no motion, no mechanical work is done. The
human body burns calories when it exerts a force without
moving, but this is an internal energy transfer of energy within
the body, and thus does not fall within the scientific definition
of work.
• A force perpendicular to the motion does no work.
When the force is not constant, the above equation should be gen-
eralized as the area under the graph of F

versus d.
Machines such as pulleys, levers, and gears may increase or de-
crease a force, but they can never increase or decrease the amount
of work done. That would violate conservation of energy unless the
machine had some source of stored energy or some way to accept
and store up energy.
There are some situations in which the equation W = F

|d| is
ambiguous or not true, and these issues are discussed rigorously in
section 13.6. However, problems can usually be avoided by analyzing
the types of energy being transferred before plunging into the math.
In any case there is no substitute for a physical understanding of
the processes involved.
The techniques developed for calculating work can also be ap-
plied to the calculation of potential energy. We fix some position
Summary 321
as a reference position, and calculate the potential energy for some
other position, x, as
= −W
The following two equations for potential energy have broader
significance than might be suspected based on the limited situations
in which they were derived:
PE =
k (x −x
[potential energy of a spring having spring constant
k, when stretched or compressed from the equilibrium
position x
; analogous equations apply for the twisting,
bending, compression, or stretching of any object.]
PE = −
[gravitational potential energy of objects of masses M
and m, separated by a distance r; an analogous equation
applies to the electrical potential energy of an electron
in an atom.]
322 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 Two speedboats are identical, but one has more people aboard
than the other. Although the total masses of the two boats are
unequal, suppose that they happen to have the same kinetic energy.
In a boat, as in a car, it’s important to be able to stop in time to
avoid hitting things. (a) If the frictional force from the water is the
same in both cases, how will the boats’ stopping distances compare?
Explain. (b) Compare the times required for the boats to stop.
2 In each of the following situations, is the work being done
positive, negative, or zero? (a) a bull paws the ground; (b) a fishing
boat pulls a net through the water behind it; (c) the water resists
the motion of the net through it; (d) you stand behind a pickup
truck and lower a bale of hay from the truck’s bed to the ground.
Explain. [Based on a problem by Serway and Faughn.]
3 In the earth’s atmosphere, the molecules are constantly moving
around. Because temperature is a measure of kinetic energy per
molecule, the average kinetic energy of each type of molecule is the
same, e.g., the average KE of the O
molecules is the same as the
average KE of the N
molecules. (a) If the mass of an O
is eight times greater than that of a He atom, what is the ratio of
their average speeds? Which way is the ratio, i.e., which is typically
moving faster? (b) Use your result from part a to explain why any
helium occurring naturally in the atmosphere has long since escaped
into outer space, never to return. (Helium is obtained commercially
by extracting it from rocks.) You may want to do problem 21 first,
for insight.
4 Weiping lifts a rock with a weight of 1.0 N through a height of
1.0 m, and then lowers it back down to the starting point. Bubba
pushes a table 1.0 m across the floor at constant speed, requiring
a force of 1.0 N, and then pushes it back to where it started. (a)
Compare the total work done by Weiping and Bubba. (b) Check
that your answers to part a make sense, using the definition of work:
work is the transfer of energy. In your answer, you’ll need to discuss
what specific type of energy is involved in each case.
5 In one of his more flamboyant moments, Galileo wrote “Who
does not know that a horse falling from a height of three or four
cubits will break his bones, while a dog falling from the same height
or a cat from a height of eight or ten cubits will suffer no injury?
Equally harmless would be the fall of a grasshopper from a tower or
the fall of an ant from the distance of the moon.” Find the speed
of an ant that falls to earth from the distance of the moon at the
Problems 323
Problem 8: A cylinder from
the 1965 Rambler’s engine. The
piston is shown in its pushed out
position. The two bulges at the
top are for the valves that let fresh
air-gas mixture in. Based on a
figure from Motor Service’s Au-
tomotive Encyclopedia, Toboldt
and Purvis.
moment when it is about to enter the atmosphere. Assume it is
released from a point that is not actually near the moon, so the
moon’s gravity is negligible.

6 [Problem 6 has been deleted.]
7 (a) The crew of an 18th century warship is raising the anchor.
The anchor has a mass of 5000 kg. The water is 30 m deep. The
chain to which the anchor is attached has a mass per unit length of
150 kg/m. Before they start raising the anchor, what is the total
weight of the anchor plus the portion of the chain hanging out of the
ship? (Assume that the buoyancy of the anchor and is negligible.)
(b) After they have raised the anchor by 1 m, what is the weight
they are raising?
(c) Define y = 0 when the anchor is resting on the bottom, and
y = +30 m when it has been raised up to the ship. Draw a graph
of the force the crew has to exert to raise the anchor and chain, as
a function of y. (Assume that they are raising it slowly, so water
resistance is negligible.) It will not be a constant! Now find the
area under the graph, and determine the work done by the crew in
raising the anchor, in joules.
(d) Convert your answer from (c) into units of kcal.

8 In the power stroke of a car’s gasoline engine, the fuel-air mix-
ture is ignited by the spark plug, explodes, and pushes the piston
out. The exploding mixture’s force on the piston head is greatest
at the beginning of the explosion, and decreases as the mixture ex-
pands. It can be approximated by F = a/x, where x is the distance
from the cylinder to the piston head, and a is a constant with units
of N.m. (Actually a/x
would be more accurate, but the problem
works out more nicely with a/x!) The piston begins its stroke at
x = x
, and ends at x = x
. The 1965 Rambler had six cylinders,
each with a = 220 N·m, x
= 1.2 cm, and x
= 10.2 cm.
(a) Draw a neat, accurate graph of F vs x, on graph paper.
(b) From the area under the curve, derive the amount of work done
in one stroke by one cylinder.

(c) Assume the engine is running at 4800 r.p.m., so that during
one minute, each of the six cylinders performs 2400 power strokes.
(Power strokes only happen every other revolution.) Find the en-
gine’s power, in units of horsepower (1 hp=746 W).

(d) The compression ratio of an engine is defined as x
. Explain
in words why the car’s power would be exactly the same if x
were, say, halved or tripled, maintaining the same compression
ratio of 8.5. Explain why this would not quite be true with the more
realistic force equation F = a/x
9 The magnitude of the force between two magnets separated
by a distance r can be approximated as kr
for large values of r.
The constant k depends on the strengths of the magnets and the
relative orientations of their north and south poles. Two magnets
324 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
are released on a slippery surface at an initial distance r
, and begin
sliding towards each other. What will be the total kinetic energy
of the two magnets when they reach a final distance r
? (Ignore
√ _
10 A car starts from rest at t = 0, and starts speeding up with
constant acceleration. (a) Find the car’s kinetic energy in terms of
its mass, m, acceleration, a, and the time, t. (b) Your answer in
the previous part also equals the amount of work, W, done from
t = 0 until time t. Take the derivative of the previous expression
to find the power expended by the car at time t. (c) Suppose two
cars with the same mass both start from rest at the same time, but
one has twice as much acceleration as the other. At any moment,
how many times more power is being dissipated by the more quickly
accelerating car? (The answer is not 2.)
√ _
11 A space probe of mass m is dropped into a previously un-
explored spherical cloud of gas and dust, and accelerates toward
the center of the cloud under the influence of the cloud’s gravity.
Measurements of its velocity allow its potential energy, U, to be
determined as a function of the distance r from the cloud’s center.
The mass in the cloud is distributed in a spherically symmetric way,
so its density, ρ(r), depends only on r and not on the angular coor-
dinates. Show that by finding U(r), one can infer ρ(r) as follows:
ρ(r) =

12 A rail gun is a device like a train on a track, with the train
propelled by a powerful electrical pulse. Very high speeds have been
demonstrated in test models, and rail guns have been proposed as
an alternative to rockets for sending into outer space any object
that would be strong enough to survive the extreme accelerations.
Suppose that the rail gun capsule is launched straight up, and that
the force of air friction acting on it is given by F = be
, where x
is the altitude, b and c are constants, and e is the base of natural
logarithms. The exponential decay occurs because the atmosphere
gets thinner with increasing altitude. (In reality, the force would
probably drop off even faster than an exponential, because the cap-
sule would be slowing down somewhat.) Find the amount of kinetic
energy lost by the capsule due to air friction between when it is
launched and when it is completely beyond the atmosphere. (Grav-
ity is negligible, since the air friction force is much greater than the
gravitational force.)
√ _
13 A certain binary star system consists of two stars with masses
and m
, separated by a distance b. A comet, originally nearly
at rest in deep space, drops into the system and at a certain point
in time arrives at the midpoint between the two stars. For that
Problems 325
moment in time, find its velocity, v, symbolically in terms of b, m
, and fundamental constants.

14 An airplane flies in the positive direction along the x axis,
through crosswinds that exert a force F = (a + bx)ˆ x + (c + dx)ˆ y.
Find the work done by the wind on the plane, and by the plane on
the wind, in traveling from the origin to position x.
15 In 1935, Yukawa proposed an early theory of the force that
held the neutrons and protons together in the nucleus. His equa-
tion for the potential energy of two such particles, at a center-to-
center distance r, was PE(r) = gr
, where g parametrizes the
strength of the interaction, e is the base of natural logarithms, and
a is about 10
m. Find the force between two nucleons that would
be consistent with this equation for the potential energy.
√ _
16 Prove that the dot product defined in section 13.7 is rota-
tionally invariant in the sense of section 7.5.
17 Fill in the details of the proof of A·B = A
on page 320.
18 Does it make sense to say that work is conserved?
Solution, p. 520
19 (a) Suppose work is done in one-dimensional motion. What
happens to the work if you reverse the direction of the positive
coordinate axis? Base your answer directly on the definition of work.
(b) Now answer the question based on the W = Fd rule.
20 A microwave oven works by twisting molecules one way and
then the other, counterclockwise and then clockwise about their own
centers, millions of times a second. If you put an ice cube or a stick
of butter in a microwave, you’ll observe that the oven doesn’t heat
the solid very quickly, although eventually melting begins in one
small spot. Once a melted spot forms, it grows rapidly, while the
rest of the solid remains solid. In other words, it appears based on
this experiment that a microwave oven heats a liquid much more
rapidly than a solid. Explain why this should happen, based on the
atomic-level description of heat, solids, and liquids. (See, e.g., figure
b on page 289.)
Please don’t repeat the following common mistakes in your expla-
In a solid, the atoms are packed more tightly and have less
space between them. Not true. Ice floats because it’s less
dense than water.
In a liquid, the atoms are moving much faster. No, the differ-
ence in average speed between ice at −1

C and water at 1

is only 0.4%.
326 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
Problem 22.
21 Starting at a distance r from a planet of mass M, how fast
must an object be moving in order to have a hyperbolic orbit, i.e.,
one that never comes back to the planet? This velocity is called
the escape velocity. Interpreting the result, does it matter in what
direction the velocity is? Does it matter what mass the object has?
Does the object escape because it is moving too fast for gravity to
act on it?

22 The figure, redrawn from Gray’s Anatomy, shows the ten-
sion of which a muscle is capable. The variable x is defined as the
contraction of the muscle from its maximum length L, so that at
x = 0 the muscle has length L, and at x = L the muscle would the-
oretically have zero length. In reality, the muscle can only contract
to x = cL, where c is less than 1. When the muscle is extended to
its maximum length, at x = 0, it is capable of the greatest tension,
. As the muscle contracts, however, it becomes weaker. Gray sug-
gests approximating this function as a linear decrease, which would
theoretically extrapolate to zero at x = L. (a) Find the maximum
work the muscle can do in one contraction, in terms of c, L, and

(b) Show that your answer to part a has the right units.
(c) Show that your answer to part a has the right behavior when
c = 0 and when c = 1.
(d) Gray also states that the absolute maximum tension T
been found to be approximately proportional to the muscle’s cross-
sectional area A (which is presumably measured at x = 0), with
proportionality constant k. Approximating the muscle as a cylin-
der, show that your answer from part a can be reexpressed in terms
of the volume, V , eliminating L and A.

(e) Evaluate your result numerically for a biceps muscle with a vol-
ume of 200 cm
, with c = 0.8 and k = 100 N/cm
as estimated by

23 A car accelerates from rest. At low speeds, its acceleration
is limited by static friction, so that if we press too hard on the
gas, we will “burn rubber” (or, for many newer cars, a computer-
ized traction-control system will override the gas pedal). At higher
speeds, the limit on acceleration comes from the power of the engine,
which puts a limit on how fast kinetic energy can be developed.
(a) Show that if a force F is applied to an object moving at speed
v, the power required is given by P = vF.
(b) Find the speed v at which we cross over from the first regime de-
scribed above to the second. At speeds higher than this, the engine
does not have enough power to burn rubber. Express your result
in terms of the car’s power P, its mass m, the coefficient of static
friction µ
, and g.

(c) Show that your answer to part b has units that make sense.
(d) Show that the dependence of your answer on each of the four
Problems 327
Problem 24.
variables makes sense physically.
(e) The 2010 Maserati Gran Turismo Convertible has a maximum
power of 3.23×10
W (433 horsepower) and a mass (including a 50-
kg driver) of 2.03 ×10
kg. (This power is the maximum the engine
can supply at its optimum frequency of 7600 r.p.m. Presumably the
automatic transmission is designed so a gear is available in which
the engine will be running at very nearly this frequency when the
car is at moving at v.) Rubber on asphalt has µ
≈ 0.9. Find v for
this car. Answer: 18 m/s, or about 40 miles per hour.
(f) Our analysis has neglected air friction, which can probably be
approximated as a force proportional to v
. The existence of this
force is the reason that the car has a maximum speed, which is 176
miles per hour. To get a feeling for how good an approximation
it is to ignore air friction, find what fraction of the engine’s maxi-
mum power is being used to overcome air resistance when the car is
moving at the speed v found in part e. Answer: 1%
24 Most modern bow hunters in the U.S. use a fancy mechanical
bow called a compound bow, which looks nothing like what most
people imagine when they think of a bow and arrow. It has a system
of pulleys designed to produce the force curve shown in the figure,
where F is the force required to pull the string back, and x is the
distance between the string and the center of the bow’s body. It is
not a linear Hooke’s-law graph, as it would be for an old-fashioned
bow. The big advantage of the design is that relatively little force
is required to hold the bow stretched to point B on the graph. This
is the force required from the hunter in order to hold the bow ready
while waiting for a shot. Since it may be necessary to wait a long
time, this force can’t be too big. An old-fashioned bow, designed
to require the same amount of force when fully drawn, would shoot
arrows at much lower speeds, since its graph would be a straight line
from A to B. For the graph shown in the figure (taken from realistic
data), find the speed at which a 26 g arrow is released, assuming that
70% of the mechanical work done by the hand is actually transmitted
to the arrow. (The other 30% is lost to frictional heating inside the
bow and kinetic energy of the recoiling and vibrating bow.)

328 Chapter 13 Work: the transfer of mechanical energy
Pool balls exchange momentum.
Chapter 14
Conservation of
In many subfields of physics these days, it is possible to read an
entire issue of a journal without ever encountering an equation in-
volving force or a reference to Newton’s laws of motion. In the last
hundred and fifty years, an entirely different framework has been
developed for physics, based on conservation laws.
The new approach is not just preferred because it is in fashion.
It applies inside an atom or near a black hole, where Newton’s laws
do not. Even in everyday situations the new approach can be supe-
rior. We have already seen how perpetual motion machines could be
designed that were too complex to be easily debunked by Newton’s
laws. The beauty of conservation laws is that they tell us something
must remain the same, regardless of the complexity of the process.
So far we have discussed only two conservation laws, the laws of
conservation of mass and energy. Is there any reason to believe that
further conservation laws are needed in order to replace Newton’s
laws as a complete description of nature? Yes. Conservation of mass
and energy do not relate in any way to the three dimensions of space,
because both are scalars. Conservation of energy, for instance, does
not prevent the planet earth from abruptly making a 90-degree turn
and heading straight into the sun, because kinetic energy does not
depend on direction. In this chapter, we develop a new conserved
quantity, called momentum, which is a vector.
14.1 Momentum
A conserved quantity of motion
Your first encounter with conservation of momentum may have
come as a small child unjustly confined to a shopping cart. You spot
something interesting to play with, like the display case of imported
wine down at the end of the aisle, and decide to push the cart over
there. But being imprisoned by Dad in the cart was not the only
injustice that day. There was a far greater conspiracy to thwart
your young id, one that originated in the laws of nature. Pushing
forward did nudge the cart forward, but it pushed you backward.
If the wheels of the cart were well lubricated, it wouldn’t matter
how you jerked, yanked, or kicked off from the back of the cart.
You could not cause any overall forward motion of the entire system
consisting of the cart with you inside.
In the Newtonian framework, we describe this as arising from
Newton’s third law. The cart made a force on you that was equal
and opposite to your force on it. In the framework of conservation
laws, we cannot attribute your frustration to conservation of energy.
It would have been perfectly possible for you to transform some of
the internal chemical energy stored in your body to kinetic energy
of the cart and your body.
The following characteristics of the situation suggest that there
may be a new conservation law involved:
A closed system is involved. All conservation laws deal with
closed systems. You and the cart are a closed system, since the
well-oiled wheels prevent the floor from making any forward force
on you.
Something remains unchanged. The overall velocity of the
system started out being zero, and you cannot change it. This
vague reference to “overall velocity” can be made more precise:
it is the velocity of the system’s center of mass that cannot be
Something can be transferred back and forth without
changing the total amount. If we define forward as positive
and backward as negative, then one part of the system can gain
positive motion if another part acquires negative motion. If we
don’t want to worry about positive and negative signs, we can
imagine that the whole cart was initially gliding forward on its
well-oiled wheels. By kicking off from the back of the cart, you
could increase your own velocity, but this inevitably causes the
cart to slow down.
330 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
It thus appears that there is some numerical measure of an object’s
quantity of motion that is conserved when you add up all the objects
within a system.
Although velocity has been referred to, it is not the total velocity
of a closed system that remains constant. If it was, then firing a
gun would cause the gun to recoil at the same velocity as the bullet!
The gun does recoil, but at a much lower velocity than the bullet.
Newton’s third law tells us
gun on bullet
= −F
bullet on gun
and assuming a constant force for simplicity, Newton’s second law
allows us to change this to
= −m
Thus if the gun has 100 times more mass than the bullet, it will
recoil at a velocity that is 100 times smaller and in the opposite
direction, represented by the opposite sign. The quantity mv is
therefore apparently a useful measure of motion, and we give it a
name, momentum, and a symbol, p. (As far as I know, the letter
“p” was just chosen at random, since “m” was already being used for
mass.) The situations discussed so far have been one-dimensional,
but in three-dimensional situations it is treated as a vector.
definition of momentum for material objects
The momentum of a material object, i.e., a piece of matter, is defined
p = mv ,
the product of the object’s mass and its velocity vector.
The units of momentum are kg·m/s, and there is unfortunately no
abbreviation for this clumsy combination of units.
The reasoning leading up to the definition of momentum was all
based on the search for a conservation law, and the only reason why
we bother to define such a quantity is that experiments show it is
the law of conservation of momentum
In any closed system, the vector sum of all the momenta remains
+. . . = p
+. . . ,
where i labels the initial and f the final momenta. (A closed system
is one on which no external forces act.)
Section 14.1 Momentum 331
This chapter first addresses the one-dimensional case, in which the
direction of the momentum can be taken into account by using plus
and minus signs. We then pass to three dimensions, necessitating
the use of vector addition.
A subtle point about conservation laws is that they all refer to
“closed systems,” but “closed” means different things in different
cases. When discussing conservation of mass, “closed” means a sys-
tem that doesn’t have matter moving in or out of it. With energy,
we mean that there is no work or heat transfer occurring across
the boundary of the system. For momentum conservation, “closed”
means there are no external forces reaching into the system.
A cannon example 1
A cannon of mass 1000 kg fires a 10-kg shell at a velocity of
200 m/s. At what speed does the cannon recoil?
The law of conservation of momentum tells us that
+ p
shel l ,i
= p
+ p
shel l ,f
Choosing a coordinate system in which the cannon points in the
positive direction, the given information is
= 0
shel l ,i
= 0
shel l ,f
= 2000 kg·m/s .
We must have p
= −2000 kg·m/s, so the recoil velocity of
the cannon is −2 m/s.
Ion drive for propelling spacecraft example 2
The experimental solar-powered ion drive of the Deep Space 1
space probe expels its xenon gas exhaust at a speed of 30,000
m/s, ten times faster than the exhaust velocity for a typical chem-
ical-fuel rocket engine. Roughly how many times greater is the
maximumspeed this spacecraft can reach, compared with a chem-
ical-fueled probe with the same mass of fuel (“reaction mass”)
available for pushing out the back as exhaust?
Momentum equals mass multiplied by velocity. Both spacecraft
are assumed to have the same amount of reaction mass, and the
ion drive’s exhaust has a velocity ten times greater, so the mo-
mentum of its exhaust is ten times greater. Before the engine
starts firing, neither the probe nor the exhaust has any momen-
tum, so the total momentum of the system is zero. By conserva-
tion of momentum, the total momentum must also be zero after
332 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
a / The ion drive engine of the NASA Deep Space 1 probe, shown
under construction (left) and being tested in a vacuum chamber (right)
prior to its October 1998 launch. Intended mainly as a test vehicle for new
technologies, the craft nevertheless carried out a successful scientific
program that included a flyby of a comet.
all the exhaust has been expelled. If we define the positive di-
rection as the direction the spacecraft is going, then the negative
momentum of the exhaust is canceled by the positive momen-
tum of the spacecraft. The ion drive allows a final speed that is
ten times greater. (This simplified analysis ignores the fact that
the reaction mass expelled later in the burn is not moving back-
ward as fast, because of the forward speed of the already-moving
Generalization of the momentum concept
As with all the conservation laws, the law of conservation of mo-
mentum has evolved over time. In the 1800’s it was found that a
beam of light striking an object would give it some momentum, even
though light has no mass, and would therefore have no momentum
Section 14.1 Momentum 333
b / Steam and other gases
boiling off of the nucleus of Hal-
ley’s comet. This close-up photo
was taken by the European Giotto
space probe, which passed within
596 km of the nucleus on March
13, 1986.
c / Halley’s comet, in a much
less magnified view from a
ground-based telescope.
according to the above definition. Rather than discarding the princi-
ple of conservation of momentum, the physicists of the time decided
to see if the definition of momentum could be extended to include
momentum carried by light. The process is analogous to the process
outlined on page 273 for identifying new forms of energy. The first
step was the discovery that light could impart momentum to matter,
and the second step was to show that the momentum possessed by
light could be related in a definite way to observable properties of
the light. They found that conservation of momentum could be suc-
cessfully generalized by attributing to a beam of light a momentum
vector in the direction of the light’s motion and having a magnitude
proportional to the amount of energy the light possessed. The mo-
mentum of light is negligible under ordinary circumstances, e.g., a
flashlight left on for an hour would only absorb about 10
of momentum as it recoiled.
The tail of a comet example 3
Momentum is not always equal to mv. Like many comets, Hal-
ley’s comet has a very elongated elliptical orbit. About once per
century, its orbit brings it close to the sun. The comet’s head, or
nucleus, is composed of dirty ice, so the energy deposited by the
intense sunlight boils off steam and dust, b. The sunlight does
not just carry energy, however — it also carries momentum. The
momentum of the sunlight impacting on the smaller dust particles
pushes them away from the sun, forming a tail, c. By analogy
with matter, for which momentum equals mv, you would expect
that massless light would have zero momentum, but the equation
p = mv is not the correct one for light, and light does have mo-
mentum. (The gases typically form a second, distinct tail whose
motion is controlled by the sun’s magnetic field.)
The reason for bringing this up is not so that you can plug
numbers into a formulas in these exotic situations. The point is
that the conservation laws have proven so sturdy exactly because
they can easily be amended to fit new circumstances. Newton’s
laws are no longer at the center of the stage of physics because they
did not have the same adaptability. More generally, the moral of
this story is the provisional nature of scientific truth.
It should also be noted that conservation of momentum is not
a consequence of Newton’s laws, as is often asserted in textbooks.
Newton’s laws do not apply to light, and therefore could not pos-
sibly be used to prove anything about a concept as general as the
conservation of momentum in its modern form.
Momentum compared to kinetic energy
Momentum and kinetic energy are both measures of the quan-
tity of motion, and a sideshow in the Newton-Leibnitz controversy
over who invented calculus was an argument over whether mv (i.e.,
momentum) or mv
(i.e., kinetic energy without the 1/2 in front)
334 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
was the “true” measure of motion. The modern student can cer-
tainly be excused for wondering why we need both quantities, when
their complementary nature was not evident to the greatest minds
of the 1700’s. The following table highlights their differences.
kinetic energy . . . momentum . . .
is a scalar. is a vector
is not changed by a force perpendic-
ular to the motion, which changes
only the direction of the velocity
is changed by any force, since a
change in either the magnitude or
the direction of the velocity vector
will result in a change in the mo-
mentum vector.
is always positive, and cannot cancel
cancels with momentum in the op-
posite direction.
can be traded for other forms of en-
ergy that do not involve motion. KE
is not a conserved quantity by itself.
is always conserved in a closed sys-
is quadrupled if the velocity is dou-
is doubled if the velocity is doubled.
A spinning top example 4
A spinning top has zero total momentum, because for every mov-
ing point, there is another point on the opposite side that cancels
its momentum. It does, however, have kinetic energy.
Momentum and kinetic energy in firing a rifle example 5
The rifle and bullet have zero momentum and zero kinetic energy
to start with. When the trigger is pulled, the bullet gains some mo-
mentum in the forward direction, but this is canceled by the rifle’s
backward momentum, so the total momentum is still zero. The
kinetic energies of the gun and bullet are both positive scalars,
however, and do not cancel. The total kinetic energy is allowed to
increase, because kinetic energy is being traded for other forms
of energy. Initially there is chemical energy in the gunpowder.
This chemical energy is converted into heat, sound, and kinetic
energy. The gun’s “backward” kinetic energy does not refrigerate
the shooter’s shoulder!
The wobbly earth example 6
As the moon completes half a circle around the earth, its motion
reverses direction. This does not involve any change in kinetic
energy, and the earth’s gravitational force does not do any work
on the moon. The reversed velocity vector does, however, imply
a reversed momentum vector, so conservation of momentum in
the closed earth-moon system tells us that the earth must also
change its momentum. In fact, the earth wobbles in a little “or-
bit” about a point below its surface on the line connecting it and
the moon. The two bodies’ momentum vectors always point in
opposite directions and cancel each other out.
Section 14.1 Momentum 335
d / This Hubble Space Tele-
scope photo shows a small
galaxy (yellow blob in the lower
right) that has collided with a
larger galaxy (spiral near the
center), producing a wave of star
formation (blue track) due to the
shock waves passing through
the galaxies’ clouds of gas. This
is considered a collision in the
physics sense, even though it is
statistically certain that no star in
either galaxy ever struck a star in
the other. (This is because the
stars are very small compared to
the distances between them.)
The earth and moon get a divorce example 7
Why can’t the moon suddenly decide to fly off one way and the
earth the other way? It is not forbidden by conservation of mo-
mentum, because the moon’s newly acquired momentum in one
direction could be canceled out by the change in the momentum
of the earth, supposing the earth headed the opposite direction
at the appropriate, slower speed. The catastrophe is forbidden by
conservation of energy, because both their energies would have
to increase greatly.
Momentum and kinetic energy of a glacier example 8
A cubic-kilometer glacier would have a mass of about 10
kg. If
it moves at a speed of 10
m/s, then its momentum is 10
m/s. This is the kind of heroic-scale result we expect, perhaps
the equivalent of the space shuttle taking off, or all the cars in LA
driving in the same direction at freeway speed. Its kinetic energy,
however, is only 50 J, the equivalent of the calories contained
in a poppy seed or the energy in a drop of gasoline too small
to be seen without a microscope. The surprisingly small kinetic
energy is because kinetic energy is proportional to the square of
the velocity, and the square of a small number is an even smaller
Discussion questions
A If all the air molecules in the room settled down in a thin film on the
floor, would that violate conservation of momentum as well as conserva-
tion of energy?
B A refrigerator has coils in back that get hot, and heat is molecular
motion. These moving molecules have both energy and momentum. Why
doesn’t the refrigerator need to be tied to the wall to keep it from recoiling
from the momentum it loses out the back?
14.2 Collisions in one dimension
Physicists employ the term “collision” in a broader sense than
ordinary usage, applying it to any situation where objects interact
for a certain period of time. A bat hitting a baseball, a radioactively
emitted particle damaging DNA, and a gun and a bullet going their
separate ways are all examples of collisions in this sense. Physical
contact is not even required. A comet swinging past the sun on a
hyperbolic orbit is considered to undergo a collision, even though it
never touches the sun. All that matters is that the comet and the
sun exerted gravitational forces on each other.
The reason for broadening the term “collision” in this way is
that all of these situations can be attacked mathematically using
the same conservation laws in similar ways. In the first example,
conservation of momentum is all that is required.
336 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
Getting rear-ended example 9
Ms. Chang is rear-ended at a stop light by Mr. Nelson, and sues
to make him pay her medical bills. He testifies that he was only
going 35 miles per hour when he hit Ms. Chang. She thinks he
was going much faster than that. The cars skidded together after
the impact, and measurements of the length of the skid marks
and the coefficient of friction show that their joint velocity immedi-
ately after the impact was 19 miles per hour. Mr. Nelson’s Nissan
weighs 3100 pounds, and Ms. Chang ’s Cadillac weighs 5200
pounds. Is Mr. Nelson telling the truth?
Since the cars skidded together, we can write down the equation
for conservation of momentum using only two velocities, v for Mr.
Nelson’s velocity before the crash, and v

for their joint velocity
v = m

+ m

Solving for the unknown, v, we find
v =
1 +

Although we are given the weights in pounds, a unit of force, the
ratio of the masses is the same as the ratio of the weights, and
we find v = 51 miles per hour. He is lying.
The above example was simple because both cars had the same
velocity afterward. In many one-dimensional collisions, however, the
two objects do not stick. If we wish to predict the result of such a
collision, conservation of momentum does not suffice, because both
velocities after the collision are unknown, so we have one equation
in two unknowns.
Conservation of energy can provide a second equation, but its
application is not as straightforward, because kinetic energy is only
the particular form of energy that has to do with motion. In many
collisions, part of the kinetic energy that was present before the
collision is used to create heat or sound, or to break the objects
or permanently bend them. Cars, in fact, are carefully designed to
crumple in a collision. Crumpling the car uses up energy, and that’s
good because the goal is to get rid of all that kinetic energy in a
relatively safe and controlled way. At the opposite extreme, a su-
perball is “super” because it emerges from a collision with almost all
its original kinetic energy, having only stored it briefly as potential
energy while it was being squashed by the impact.
Collisions of the superball type, in which almost no kinetic en-
ergy is converted to other forms of energy, can thus be analyzed
more thoroughly, because they have KE
= KE
, as opposed to
the less useful inequality KE
< KE
for a case like a tennis ball
bouncing on grass.
Section 14.2 Collisions in one dimension 337
Gory Details of the Proof in
Example 10
The equation A + B = C + D says
that the change in one ball’s ve-
locity is equal and opposite to the
change in the other’s. We invent a
symbol x = C − A for the change
in ball 1’s velocity. The second
equation can then be rewritten as
= (A+x)
. Squar-
ing out the quantities in parenthe-
ses and then simplifying, we get
0 = Ax − Bx + x
. The equation
has the trivial solution x = 0, i.e.,
neither ball’s velocity is changed,
but this is physically impossible be-
cause the balls can’t travel through
each other like ghosts. Assuming
x = 0, we can divide by x and
solve for x = B − A. This means
that ball 1 has gained an amount
of velocity exactly right to match
ball 2’s initial velocity, and vice-
versa. The balls must have swap-
ped velocities.
Pool balls colliding head-on example 10
Two pool balls collide head-on, so that the collision is restricted
to one dimension. Pool balls are constructed so as to lose as little
kinetic energy as possible in a collision, so under the assumption
that no kinetic energy is converted to any other form of energy,
what can we predict about the results of such a collision?
Pool balls have identical masses, so we use the same symbol
m for both. Conservation of momentum and no loss of kinetic
energy give us the two equations
+ mv
= mv
+ mv
The masses and the factors of 1/2 can be divided out, and we
eliminate the cumbersome subscripts by replacing the symbols
,... with the symbols A, B, C, and D:
A + B = C + D
+ B
= C
+ D
A little experimentation with numbers shows that given values of A
and B, it is impossible to find C and D that satisfy these equations
unless C and D equal A and B, or C and D are the same as A
and B but swapped around. A formal proof of this fact is given
in the sidebar. In the special case where ball 2 is initially at rest,
this tells us that ball 1 is stopped dead by the collision, and ball
2 heads off at the velocity originally possessed by ball 1. This
behavior will be familiar to players of pool.
Often, as in the example above, the details of the algebra are
the least interesting part of the problem, and considerable physical
insight can be gained simply by counting the number of unknowns
and comparing to the number of equations. Suppose a beginner at
pool notices a case where her cue ball hits an initially stationary
ball and stops dead. “Wow, what a good trick,” she thinks. “I
bet I could never do that again in a million years.” But she tries
again, and finds that she can’t help doing it even if she doesn’t
want to. Luckily she has just learned about collisions in her physics
course. Once she has written down the equations for conservation
of energy and no loss of kinetic energy, she really doesn’t have to
complete the algebra. She knows that she has two equations in
two unknowns, so there must be a well-defined solution. Once she
has seen the result of one such collision, she knows that the same
thing must happen every time. The same thing would happen with
colliding marbles or croquet balls. It doesn’t matter if the masses or
velocities are different, because that just multiplies both equations
by some constant factor.
338 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
The discovery of the neutron
This was the type of reasoning employed by James Chadwick in
his 1932 discovery of the neutron. At the time, the atom was imag-
ined to be made out of two types of fundamental particles, protons
and electrons. The protons were far more massive, and clustered
together in the atom’s core, or nucleus. Attractive electrical forces
caused the electrons to orbit the nucleus in circles, in much the
same way that gravitational forces kept the planets from cruising
out of the solar system. Experiments showed that the helium nu-
cleus, for instance, exerted exactly twice as much electrical force on
an electron as a nucleus of hydrogen, the smallest atom, and this was
explained by saying that helium had two protons to hydrogen’s one.
The trouble was that according to this model, helium would have
two electrons and two protons, giving it precisely twice the mass of
a hydrogen atom with one of each. In fact, helium has about four
times the mass of hydrogen.
Chadwick suspected that the helium nucleus possessed two addi-
tional particles of a new type, which did not participate in electrical
forces at all, i.e., were electrically neutral. If these particles had very
nearly the same mass as protons, then the four-to-one mass ratio of
helium and hydrogen could be explained. In 1930, a new type of
radiation was discovered that seemed to fit this description. It was
electrically neutral, and seemed to be coming from the nuclei of light
elements that had been exposed to other types of radiation. At this
time, however, reports of new types of particles were a dime a dozen,
and most of them turned out to be either clusters made of previ-
ously known particles or else previously known particles with higher
energies. Many physicists believed that the “new” particle that had
attracted Chadwick’s interest was really a previously known particle
called a gamma ray, which was electrically neutral. Since gamma
rays have no mass, Chadwick decided to try to determine the new
particle’s mass and see if it was nonzero and approximately equal
to the mass of a proton.
Unfortunately a subatomic particle is not something you can
just put on a scale and weigh. Chadwick came up with an ingenious
solution. The masses of the nuclei of the various chemical elements
were already known, and techniques had already been developed for
measuring the speed of a rapidly moving nucleus. He therefore set
out to bombard samples of selected elements with the mysterious
new particles. When a direct, head-on collision occurred between
a mystery particle and the nucleus of one of the target atoms, the
nucleus would be knocked out of the atom, and he would measure
its velocity.
Suppose, for instance, that we bombard a sample of hydrogen
atoms with the mystery particles. Since the participants in the
collision are fundamental particles, there is no way for kinetic energy
Section 14.2 Collisions in one dimension 339
e / Chadwick’s subatomic pool table. A disk of the naturally occur-
ring metal polonium provides a source of radiation capable of kicking
neutrons out of the beryllium nuclei. The type of radiation emitted by
the polonium is easily absorbed by a few mm of air, so the air has to be
pumped out of the left-hand chamber. The neutrons, Chadwick’s mystery
particles, penetrate matter far more readily, and fly out through the wall
and into the chamber on the right, which is filled with nitrogen or hydrogen
gas. When a neutron collides with a nitrogen or hydrogen nucleus, it
kicks it out of its atom at high speed, and this recoiling nucleus then rips
apart thousands of other atoms of the gas. The result is an electrical
pulse that can be detected in the wire on the right. Physicists had already
calibrated this type of apparatus so that they could translate the strength
of the electrical pulse into the velocity of the recoiling nucleus. The
whole apparatus shown in the figure would fit in the palm of your hand, in
dramatic contrast to today’s giant particle accelerators.
to be converted into heat or any other form of energy, and Chadwick
thus had two equations in three unknowns:
equation #1: conservation of momentum
equation #2: no loss of kinetic energy
unknown #1: mass of the mystery particle
unknown #2: initial velocity of the mystery particle
unknown #3: final velocity of the mystery particle
The number of unknowns is greater than the number of equa-
tions, so there is no unique solution. But by creating collisions with
nuclei of another element, nitrogen, he gained two more equations
at the expense of only one more unknown:
equation #3: conservation of momentum in the new collision
equation #4: no loss of kinetic energy in the new collision
unknown #4: final velocity of the mystery particle in the new
340 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
g / Two hockey pucks collide.
Their mutual center of mass
traces the straight path shown by
the dashed line.
He was thus able to solve for all the unknowns, including the
mass of the mystery particle, which was indeed within 1% of the
mass of a proton. He named the new particle the neutron, since it
is electrically neutral.
Discussion question
A Good pool players learn to make the cue ball spin, which can cause
it not to stop dead in a head-on collision with a stationary ball. If this does
not violate the laws of physics, what hidden assumption was there in the
example above?
14.3 Relationship of momentum to the
center of mass
f / In this multiple-flash photo-
graph, we see the wrench from
above as it flies through the air,
rotating as it goes. Its center
of mass, marked with the black
cross, travels along a straight line,
unlike the other points on the
wrench, which execute loops.
We have already discussed the idea of the center of mass on
p. 67, but using the concept of momentum we can now find a math-
ematical method for defining the center of mass, explain why the
motion of an object’s center of mass usually exhibits simpler mo-
tion than any other point, and gain a very simple and powerful way
of understanding collisions.
The first step is to realize that the center of mass concept can
be applied to systems containing more than one object. Even some-
thing like a wrench, which we think of as one object, is really made
of many atoms. The center of mass is particularly easy to visualize
in the case shown on the left, where two identical hockey pucks col-
lide. It is clear on grounds of symmetry that their center of mass
must be at the midpoint between them. After all, we previously de-
fined the center of mass as the balance point, and if the two hockey
pucks were joined with a very lightweight rod whose own mass was
negligible, they would obviously balance at the midpoint. It doesn’t
matter that the hockey pucks are two separate objects. It is still
true that the motion of their center of mass is exceptionally simple,
just like that of the wrench’s center of mass.
The x coordinate of the hockey pucks’ center of mass is thus
given by x
= (x
+ x
)/2, i.e., the arithmetic average of their
x coordinates. Why is its motion so simple? It has to do with
conservation of momentum. Since the hockey pucks are not being
acted on by any net external force, they constitute a closed system,
Section 14.3 Relationship of momentum to the center of mass 341
and their total momentum is conserved. Their total momentum is
= m(v
= m
= m
= m
In other words, the total momentum of the system is the same as
if all its mass was concentrated at the center of mass point. Since
the total momentum is conserved, the x component of the center of
mass’s velocity vector cannot change. The same is also true for the
other components, so the center of mass must move along a straight
line at constant speed.
The above relationship between the total momentum and the
motion of the center of mass applies to any system, even if it is not
total momentum related to center of mass motion
The total momentum of any system is related to its total mass
and the velocity of its center of mass by the equation
= m
What about a system containing objects with unequal masses,
or containing more than two objects? The reasoning above can be
generalized to a weighted average
+. . .
+. . .
with similar equations for the y and z coordinates.
Momentum in different frames of reference
Absolute motion is supposed to be undetectable, i.e., the laws
of physics are supposed to be equally valid in all inertial frames
of reference. If we first calculate some momenta in one frame of
reference and find that momentum is conserved, and then rework
the whole problem in some other frame of reference that is moving
with respect to the first, the numerical values of the momenta will
all be different. Even so, momentum will still be conserved. All that
matters is that we work a single problem in one consistent frame of
One way of proving this is to apply the equation p
. If the velocity of frame B relative to frame A is v
then the only effect of changing frames of reference is to change
from its original value to v
+ v
. This adds a constant
onto the momentum vector, which has no effect on conservation of
342 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
h / Moving your head so that
you are always looking down
from right above the center of
mass, you observe the collision
of the two hockey pucks in the
center of mass frame.
i / The slingshot effect viewed
in the sun’s frame of reference.
Jupiter is moving to the left, and
the collision is head-on.
j / The slingshot viewed in
the frame of the center of mass of
the Jupiter-spacecraft system.
The center of mass frame of reference
A particularly useful frame of reference in many cases is the
frame that moves along with the center of mass, called the center
of mass (c.m.) frame. In this frame, the total momentum is zero.
The following examples show how the center of mass frame can be
a powerful tool for simplifying our understanding of collisions.
A collision of pool balls viewed in the c.m. frame example 11
If you move your head so that your eye is always above the point
halfway in between the two pool balls, you are viewing things in
the center of mass frame. In this frame, the balls come toward the
center of mass at equal speeds. By symmetry, they must there-
fore recoil at equal speeds along the lines on which they entered.
Since the balls have essentially swapped paths in the center of
mass frame, the same must also be true in any other frame. This
is the same result that required laborious algebra to prove previ-
ously without the concept of the center of mass frame.
The slingshot effect example 12
It is a counterintuitive fact that a spacecraft can pick up speed
by swinging around a planet, if arrives in the opposite direction
compared to the planet’s motion. Although there is no physical
contact, we treat the encounter as a one-dimensional collision,
and analyze it in the center of mass frame. Figure i shows such
a “collision,” with a space probe whipping around Jupiter. In the
sun’s frame of reference, Jupiter is moving.
What about the center of mass frame? Since Jupiter is so much
more massive than the spacecraft, the center of mass is essen-
tially fixed at Jupiter’s center, and Jupiter has zero velocity in the
center of mass frame, as shown in figure j. The c.m. frame is
moving to the left compared to the sun-fixed frame used in i, so
the spacecraft’s initial velocity is greater in this frame.
Things are simpler in the center of mass frame, because it is more
symmetric. In the complicated sun-fixed frame, the incoming leg
of the encounter is rapid, because the two bodies are rushing to-
ward each other, while their separation on the outbound leg is
more gradual, because Jupiter is trying to catch up. In the c.m.
frame, Jupiter is sitting still, and there is perfect symmetry be-
tween the incoming and outgoing legs, so by symmetry we have
= −v
. Going back to the sun-fixed frame, the spacecraft’s
final velocity is increased by the frames’ motion relative to each
other. In the sun-fixed frame, the spacecraft’s velocity has in-
creased greatly.
The result can also be understood in terms of work and energy.
In Jupiter’s frame, Jupiter is not doing any work on the spacecraft
as it rounds the back of the planet, because the motion is per-
pendicular to the force. But in the sun’s frame, the spacecraft’s
Section 14.3 Relationship of momentum to the center of mass 343
k / Power and force are the
rates at which energy and
momentum are transferred.
velocity vector at the same moment has a large component to the
left, so Jupiter is doing work on it.
Discussion questions
A Make up a numerical example of two unequal masses moving in one
dimension at constant velocity, and verify the equation p
t ot al
= m
t ot al
over a time interval of one second.
B A more massive tennis racquet or baseball bat makes the ball fly
off faster. Explain why this is true, using the center of mass frame. For
simplicity, assume that the racquet or bat is simply sitting still before the
collision, and that the hitter’s hands do not make any force large enough
to have a significant effect over the short duration of the impact.
14.4 Momentum transfer
The rate of change of momentum
As with conservation of energy, we need a way to measure and
calculate the transfer of momentum into or out of a system when the
system is not closed. In the case of energy, the answer was rather
complicated, and entirely different techniques had to be used for
measuring the transfer of mechanical energy (work) and the transfer
of heat by conduction. For momentum, the situation is far simpler.
In the simplest case, the system consists of a single object acted
on by a constant external force. Since it is only the object’s velocity
that can change, not its mass, the momentum transferred is
∆p = m∆v ,
which with the help of a = F/m and the constant-acceleration equa-
tion a = ∆v/∆t becomes
∆p = ma∆t
= F∆t .
Thus the rate of transfer of momentum, i.e., the number of kg·m/s
absorbed per second, is simply the external force,
F =
[relationship between the force on an object and the
rate of change of its momentum; valid only if the force
is constant]
This is just a restatement of Newton’s second law, and in fact New-
ton originally stated it this way. As shown in figure k, the rela-
tionship between force and momentum is directly analogous to that
between power and energy.
The situation is not materially altered for a system composed
of many objects. There may be forces between the objects, but the
344 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
l / The airbag increases ∆t
so as to reduce F = ∆p/∆t .
internal forces cannot change the system’s momentum. (If they did,
then removing the external forces would result in a closed system
that could change its own momentum, like the mythical man who
could pull himself up by his own bootstraps. That would violate
conservation of momentum.) The equation above becomes
[relationship between the total external force on a sys-
tem and the rate of change of its total momentum; valid
only if the force is constant]
Walking into a lamppost example 13
Starting from rest, you begin walking, bringing your momentum
up to 100 kg·m/s. You walk straight into a lamppost. Why is the
momentum change of −100 kg· m/s caused by the lamppost so
much more painful than the change of +100 kg· m/s when you
started walking?
The situation is one-dimensional, so we can dispense with the
vector notation. It probably takes you about 1 s to speed up ini-
tially, so the ground’s force on you is F = ∆p/∆t ≈ 100 N. Your
impact with the lamppost, however, is over in the blink of an eye,
say 1/10 s or less. Dividing by this much smaller ∆t gives a much
larger force, perhaps thousands of newtons. (The negative sign
simply indicates that the force is in the opposite direction.)
This is also the principle of airbags in cars. The time required for
the airbag to decelerate your head is fairly long, the time required
for your face to travel 20 or 30 cm. Without an airbag, your face
would hit the dashboard, and the time interval would be the much
shorter time taken by your skull to move a couple of centimeters
while your face compressed. Note that either way, the same amount
of mechanical work has to be done on your head: enough to eliminate
all its kinetic energy.
Ion drive for spacecraft example 14
The ion drive of the Deep Space 1 spacecraft, pictured on page
333 and discussed in example 2, produces a thrust of 90 mN
(millinewtons). It carries about 80 kg of reaction mass, which it
ejects at a speed of 30,000 m/s. For how long can the engine
continue supplying this amount of thrust before running out of
reaction mass to shove out the back?
Solving the equation F = ∆p/∆t for the unknown ∆t , and treat-
ing force and momentum as scalars since the problem is one-
Section 14.4 Momentum transfer 345
m / Example 15.
n / The F − t graph for a
tennis racquet hitting a ball might
look like this. The amount of
momentum transferred equals
the area under the curve.
dimensional, we find
∆t =
(80 kg)(30, 000 m/s)
0.090 N
= 2.7 ×10
= 300 days
A toppling box example 15
If you place a box on a frictionless surface, it will fall over with a
very complicated motion that is hard to predict in detail. We know,
however, that its center of mass moves in the same direction as
its momentum vector points. There are two forces, a normal force
and a gravitational force, both of which are vertical. (The grav-
itational force is actually many gravitational forces acting on all
the atoms in the box.) The total force must be vertical, so the
momentum vector must be purely vertical too, and the center of
mass travels vertically. This is true even if the box bounces and
tumbles. [Based on an example by Kleppner and Kolenkow.]
The area under the force-time graph
Few real collisions involve a constant force. For example, when
a tennis ball hits a racquet, the strings stretch and the ball flattens
dramatically. They are both acting like springs that obey Hooke’s
law, which says that the force is proportional to the amount of
stretching or flattening. The force is therefore small at first, ramps
up to a maximum when the ball is about to reverse directions, and
ramps back down again as the ball is on its way back out. The
equation F = ∆p/∆t, derived under the assumption of constant
acceleration, does not apply here, and the force does not even have
a single well-defined numerical value that could be plugged in to the
As with similar-looking equations such as v = ∆p/∆t, the equa-
tion F = ∆p/∆t is correctly generalized by saying that the force is
the slope of the p −t graph.
Conversely, if we wish to find ∆p from a graph such as the one
in figure n, one approach would be to divide the force by the mass of
the ball, rescaling the F axis to create a graph of acceleration versus
time. The area under the acceleration-versus-time graph gives the
change in velocity, which can then be multiplied by the mass to
find the change in momentum. An unnecessary complication was
introduced, however, because we began by dividing by the mass
and ended by multiplying by it. It would have made just as much
346 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
o / Example 16.
sense to find the area under the original F − t graph, which would
have given us the momentum change directly.
Discussion question
A Many collisions, like the collision of a bat with a baseball, appear to
be instantaneous. Most people also would not imagine the bat and ball as
bending or being compressed during the collision. Consider the following
1. The collision is instantaneous.
2. The collision takes a finite amount of time, during which the ball and
bat retain their shapes and remain in contact.
3. The collision takes a finite amount of time, during which the ball and
bat are bending or being compressed.
How can two of these be ruled out based on energy or momentum con-
14.5 Momentum in three dimensions
In this section we discuss how the concepts applied previously to
one-dimensional situations can be used as well in three dimensions.
Often vector addition is all that is needed to solve a problem:
An explosion example 16
Astronomers observe the planet Mars as the Martians fight a
nuclear war. The Martian bombs are so powerful that they rip the
planet into three separate pieces of liquified rock, all having the
same mass. If one fragment flies off with velocity components
= 0
= 1.0 ×10
km/hr ,
and the second with
= 1.0 ×10
= 0 ,
(all in the center of mass frame) what is the magnitude of the third
one’s velocity?
In the center of mass frame, the planet initially had zero momen-
tum. After the explosion, the vector sum of the momenta must still
be zero. Vector addition can be done by adding components, so
+ mv
+ mv
= 0 , and
+ mv
+ mv
= 0 ,
Section 14.5 Momentum in three dimensions 347
p / Example 17.
where we have used the same symbol m for all the terms, be-
cause the fragments all have the same mass. The masses can
be eliminated by dividing each equation by m, and we find
= −1.0 ×10
= −1.0 ×10
which gives a magnitude of
| =
+ v
= 1.4 ×10
The center of mass
In three dimensions, we have the vector equations
= m
The following is an example of their use.
The bola example 17
The bola, similar to the North American lasso, is used by South
American gauchos to catch small animals by tangling up their
legs in the three leather thongs. The motion of the whirling bola
through the air is extremely complicated, and would be a chal-
lenge to analyze mathematically. The motion of its center of
mass, however, is much simpler. The only forces on it are gravi-
tational, so
t ot al
= m
t ot al
g .
Using the equation F
t ot al
= ∆p
t ot al
/∆t , we find
t ot al
/∆t = m
t ot al
g ,
and since the mass is constant, the equation p
t ot al
= m
t ot al
allows us to change this to
t ot al
/∆t = m
t ot al
g .
The mass cancels, and ∆v
/∆t is simply the acceleration of the
center of mass, so
= g .
In other words, the motion of the system is the same as if all its
mass was concentrated at and moving with the center of mass.
The bola has a constant downward acceleration equal to g, and
flies along the same parabola as any other projectile thrown with
the same initial center of mass velocity. Throwing a bola with the
correct rotation is presumably a difficult skill, but making it hit its
target is no harder than it is with a ball or a single rock.
[Based on an example by Kleppner & Kolenkow.]
348 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
Counting equations and unknowns
Counting equations and unknowns is just as useful as in one
dimension, but every object’s momentum vector has three compo-
nents, so an unknown momentum vector counts as three unknowns.
Conservation of momentum is a single vector equation, but it says
that all three components of the total momentum vector stay con-
stant, so we count it as three equations. Of course if the motion
happens to be confined to two dimensions, then we need only count
vectors as having two components.
A two-car crash with sticking example 18
Suppose two cars collide, stick together, and skid off together. If
we know the cars’ initial momentum vectors, we can count equa-
tions and unknowns as follows:
unknown #1: x component of cars’ final, total momentum
unknown #2: y component of cars’ final, total momentum
equation #1: conservation of the total p
equation #2: conservation of the total p
Since the number of equations equals the number of unknowns,
there must be one unique solution for their total momentum vector
after the crash. In other words, the speed and direction at which
their common center of mass moves off together is unaffected by
factors such as whether the cars collide center-to-center or catch
each other a little off-center.
Shooting pool example 19
Two pool balls collide, and as before we assume there is no de-
crease in the total kinetic energy, i.e., no energy converted from
KE into other forms. As in the previous example, we assume we
are given the initial velocities and want to find the final velocities.
The equations and unknowns are:
unknown #1: x component of ball #1’s final momentum
unknown #2: y component of ball #1’s final momentum
unknown #3: x component of ball #2’s final momentum
unknown #4: y component of ball #2’s final momentum
equation #1: conservation of the total p
equation #2: conservation of the total p
equation #3: no decrease in total KE
Note that we do not count the balls’ final kinetic energies as un-
knowns, because knowing the momentum vector, one can always
find the velocity and thus the kinetic energy. The number of equa-
tions is less than the number of unknowns, so no unique result is
guaranteed. This is what makes pool an interesting game. By
Section 14.5 Momentum in three dimensions 349
q / Example 20.
aiming the cue ball to one side of the target ball you can have
some control over the balls’ speeds and directions of motion after
the collision.
It is not possible, however, to choose any combination of final
speeds and directions. For instance, a certain shot may give the
correct direction of motion for the target ball, making it go into a
pocket, but may also have the undesired side-effect of making the
cue ball go in a pocket.
Calculations with the momentum vector
The following example illustrates how a force is required to
change the direction of the momentum vector, just as one would
be required to change its magnitude.
A turbine example 20
In a hydroelectric plant, water flowing over a dam drives a tur-
bine, which runs a generator to make electric power. The figure
shows a simplified physical model of the water hitting the turbine,
in which it is assumed that the stream of water comes in at a

angle with respect to the turbine blade, and bounces off at a

angle at nearly the same speed. The water flows at a rate R,
in units of kg/s, and the speed of the water is v. What are the
magnitude and direction of the water’s force on the turbine?
In a time interval ∆t, the mass of water that strikes the blade is
R∆t, and the magnitude of its initial momentum is mv = vR∆t .
The water’s final momentum vector is of the same magnitude, but
in the perpendicular direction. By Newton’s third law, the water’s
force on the blade is equal and opposite to the blade’s force on
the water. Since the force is constant, we can use the equation
blade on water
wat er
Choosing the x axis to be to the right and the y axis to be up, this
can be broken down into components as
blade on water,x
−vR∆t −0
= −vR
blade on water,y
0 −(−vR∆t )
= vR .
350 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
The water’s force on the blade thus has components
water on blade,x
= vR
water on blade,y
= −vR .
In situations like this, it is always a good idea to check that the
result makes sense physically. The x component of the water’s
force on the blade is positive, which is correct since we know the
blade will be pushed to the right. The y component is negative,
which also makes sense because the water must push the blade
down. The magnitude of the water’s force on the blade is
water on blade
| =

and its direction is at a 45-degree angle down and to the right.
Discussion questions
A The figures show a jet of water striking two different objects. How
does the total downward force compare in the two cases? How could this
fact be used to create a better waterwheel? (Such a waterwheel is known
as a Pelton wheel.)
Discussion question A.
Applications of calculus
By now you will have learned to recognized the circumlocutions I
use in the sections without calculus in order to introduce calculus-
like concepts without using the notation, terminology, or techniques
of calculus. It will therefore come as no surprise to you that the rate
of change of momentum can be represented with a derivative,
And of course the business about the area under the F −t curve is
really an integral, ∆p
dt, which can be made into an
integral of a vector in the more general three-dimensional case:
dt .
In the case of a material object that is neither losing nor picking up
mass, these are just trivially rearranged versions of familiar equa-
tions, e.g., F = mdv/dt rewritten as F = d(mv)/dt. The following
is a less trivial example, where F = ma alone would not have been
very easy to work with.
Section 14.6
Applications of calculus 351
Rain falling into a moving cart example 21
If 1 kg/s of rain falls vertically into a 10-kg cart that is rolling
without friction at an initial speed of 1.0 m/s, what is the effect on
the speed of the cart when the rain first starts falling?
The rain and the cart make horizontal forces on each other, but
there is no external horizontal force on the rain-plus-cart system,
so the horizontal motion obeys
F =
= 0
We use the product rule to find
0 =
v + m
We are trying to find how v changes, so we solve for dv/dt ,
= −
= −
1 m/s
10 kg
(1 kg/s)
= −0.1 m/s
(This is only at the moment when the rain starts to fall.)
Finally we note that there are cases where F = ma is not just
less convenient than F = dp/dt but in fact F = ma is wrong and
F = dp/dt is right. A good example is the formation of a comet’s
tail by sunlight. We cannot use F = ma to describe this process,
since we are dealing with a collision of light with matter, whereas
Newton’s laws only apply to matter. The equation F = dp/dt, on
the other hand, allows us to find the force experienced by an atom of
gas in the comet’s tail if we know the rate at which the momentum
vectors of light rays are being turned around by reflection from the
352 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
Selected vocabulary
momentum . . . a measure of motion, equal to mv for material
collision . . . . . an interaction between moving objects that
lasts for a certain time
center of mass . . the balance point or average position of the
mass in a system
p . . . . . . . . . . the momentum vector
cm . . . . . . . . . center of mass, as in x
, a
, etc.
Other terminology and notation
impulse, I, J . . the amount of momentum transferred, ∆p
elastic collision . one in which no KE is converted into other
forms of energy
inelastic collision one in which some KE is converted to other
forms of energy
If two objects interact via a force, Newton’s third law guaran-
tees that any change in one’s velocity vector will be accompanied
by a change in the other’s which is in the opposite direction. Intu-
itively, this means that if the two objects are not acted on by any
external force, they cannot cooperate to change their overall state of
motion. This can be made quantitative by saying that the quantity
+ m
must remain constant as long as the only forces are
the internal ones between the two objects. This is a conservation
law, called the conservation of momentum, and like the conserva-
tion of energy, it has evolved over time to include more and more
phenomena unknown at the time the concept was invented. The
momentum of a material object is
p = mv ,
but this is more like a standard for comparison of momenta rather
than a definition. For instance, light has momentum, but has no
mass, and the above equation is not the right equation for light. The
law of conservation of momentum says that the total momentum of
any closed system, i.e., the vector sum of the momentum vectors of
all the things in the system, is a constant.
An important application of the momentum concept is to colli-
sions, i.e., interactions between moving objects that last for a certain
amount of time while the objects are in contact or near each other.
Conservation of momentum tells us that certain outcomes of a col-
lision are impossible, and in some cases may even be sufficient to
predict the motion after the collision. In other cases, conservation
of momentum does not provide enough equations to find all the un-
knowns. In some collisions, such as the collision of a superball with
Summary 353
the floor, very little kinetic energy is converted into other forms of
energy, and this provides one more equation, which may suffice to
predict the outcome.
The total momentum of a system can be related to its total mass
and the velocity of its center of mass by the equation
= m
The center of mass, introduced on an intuitive basis in book 1 as
the “balance point” of an object, can be generalized to any system
containing any number of objects, and is defined mathematically
as the weighted average of the positions of all the parts of all the
+. . .
+. . .
with similar equations for the y and z coordinates.
The frame of reference moving with the center of mass of a closed
system is always a valid inertial frame, and many problems can be
greatly simplified by working them in the inertial frame. For exam-
ple, any collision between two objects appears in the c.m. frame as
a head-on one-dimensional collision.
When a system is not closed, the rate at which momentum is
transferred in or out is simply the total force being exerted externally
on the system. If the force is constant,
When the force is not constant, the force equals the slope of the
tangent line on a graph of p versus t, and the change in momentum
equals the area under the F −t graph.
354 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 Derive a formula expressing the kinetic energy of an object in
terms of its momentum and mass.

2 Two people in a rowboat wish to move around without causing
the boat to move. What should be true about their total momen-
tum? Explain.
3 A learjet traveling due east at 300 mi/hr collides with a
jumbo jet which was heading southwest at 150 mi/hr. The jumbo
jet’s mass is five times greater than that of the learjet. When they
collide, the learjet sticks into the fuselage of the jumbo jet, and they
fall to earth together. Their engines stop functioning immediately
after the collision. On a map, what will be the direction from the
location of the collision to the place where the wreckage hits the
ground? (Give an angle.)

4 A bullet leaves the barrel of a gun with a kinetic energy of 90
J. The gun barrel is 50 cm long. The gun has a mass of 4 kg, the
bullet 10 g.
(a) Find the bullet’s final velocity.

(b) Find the bullet’s final momentum.

(c) Find the momentum of the recoiling gun.
(d) Find the kinetic energy of the recoiling gun, and explain why
the recoiling gun does not kill the shooter.

Problem 5
5 The graph shows the force, in meganewtons, exerted by a
rocket engine on the rocket as a function of time. If the rocket’s
mass is 4000 kg, at what speed is the rocket moving when the engine
Problems 355
Problem 8
stops firing? Assume it goes straight up, and neglect the force of
gravity, which is much less than a meganewton.

6 Cosmic rays are particles from outer space, mostly protons and
atomic nuclei, that are continually bombarding the earth. Most of
them, although they are moving extremely fast, have no discernible
effect even if they hit your body, because their masses are so small.
Their energies vary, however, and a very small minority of them
have extremely large energies. In some cases the energy is as much
as several Joules, which is comparable to the KE of a well thrown
rock! If you are in a plane at a high altitude and are so incredibly
unlucky as to be hit by one of these rare ultra-high-energy cosmic
rays, what would you notice, the momentum imparted to your body,
the energy dissipated in your body as heat, or both? Base your con-
clusions on numerical estimates, not just random speculation. (At
these high speeds, one should really take into account the devia-
tions from Newtonian physics described by Einstein’s special theory
of relativity. Don’t worry about that, though.)
7 Show that for a body made up of many equal masses, the
equation for the center of mass becomes a simple average of all the
positions of the masses.
8 The figure shows a view from above of a collision about to
happen between two air hockey pucks sliding without friction. They
have the same speed, v
, before the collision, but the big puck is 2.3
times more massive than the small one. Their sides have sticky stuff
on them, so when they collide, they will stick together. At what
angle will they emerge from the collision? In addition to giving a
numerical answer, please indicate by drawing on the figure how your
angle is defined. Solution, p. 520
9 A flexible rope of mass m and length L slides without friction
over the edge of a table. Let x be the length of the rope that is
hanging over the edge at a given moment in time.
(a) Show that x satisfies the equation of motion d
= gx/L.
[Hint: Use F = dp/dt, which allows you to handle the two parts of
the rope separately even though mass is moving out of one part and
into the other.]
(b) Give a physical explanation for the fact that a larger value of
x on the right-hand side of the equation leads to a greater value of
the acceleration on the left side.
(c) When we take the second derivative of the function x(t) we are
supposed to get essentially the same function back again, except
for a constant out in front. The function e
has the property that
it is unchanged by differentiation, so it is reasonable to look for
solutions to this problem that are of the form x = be
, where b and
c are constants. Show that this does indeed provide a solution for
two specific values of c (and for any value of b).
(d) Show that the sum of any two solutions to the equation of motion
356 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
is also a solution.
(e) Find the solution for the case where the rope starts at rest at
t = 0 with some nonzero value of x.

10 A very massive object with velocity v collides head-on with
an object at rest whose mass is very small. No kinetic energy is
converted into other forms. Prove that the low-mass object recoils
with velocity 2v. [Hint: Use the center-of-mass frame of reference.]
11 When the contents of a refrigerator cool down, the changed
molecular speeds imply changes in both momentum and energy.
Why, then, does a fridge transfer power through its radiator coils,
but not force? Solution, p. 520
12 A 10-kg bowling ball moving at 2.0 m/s hits a 1.0-kg bowling
pin, which is initially at rest. The other pins are all gone already,
and the collision is head-on, so that the motion is one-dimensional.
Assume that negligible amounts of heat and sound are produced.
Find the velocity of the pin immediately after the collision.
13 A rocket ejects exhaust with an exhaust velocity u. The
rate at which the exhaust mass is used (mass per unit time) is b.
We assume that the rocket accelerates in a straight line starting
from rest, and that no external forces act on it. Let the rocket’s
initial mass (fuel plus the body and payload) be m
, and m
be its
final mass, after all the fuel is used up. (a) Find the rocket’s final
velocity, v, in terms of u, m
, and m
. (b) A typical exhaust velocity
for chemical rocket engines is 4000 m/s. Estimate the initial mass
of a rocket that could accelerate a one-ton payload to 10% of the
speed of light, and show that this design won’t work. (For the sake
of the estimate, ignore the mass of the fuel tanks.)
√ _

14 A firework shoots up into the air, and just before it explodes
it has a certain momentum and kinetic energy. What can you say
about the momenta and kinetic energies of the pieces immediately
after the explosion? [Based on a problem from PSSC Physics.]
Solution, p. 520
15 Suppose a system consisting of pointlike particles has a total
kinetic energy K
measured in the center-of-mass frame of refer-
ence. Since they are pointlike, they cannot have any energy due to
internal motion.
(a) Prove that in a different frame of reference, moving with veloc-
ity u relative to the center-of-mass frame, the total kinetic energy
equals K
/2, where M is the total mass. [Hint: You can
save yourself a lot of writing if you express the total kinetic energy
using the dot product.] Solution, p. 520
(b) Use this to prove that if energy is conserved in one frame of
reference, then it is conserved in every frame of reference. The total
energy equals the total kinetic energy plus the sum of the potential
Problems 357
energies due to the particles’ interactions with each other, which
we assume depends only on the distance between particles. [For a
simpler numerical example, see problem 13 on p. 284.]
16 The big difference between the equations for momentum and
kinetic energy is that one is proportional to v and one to v
. Both,
however, are proportional to m. Suppose someone tells you that
there’s a third quantity, funkosity, defined as f = m
v, and that
funkosity is conserved. How do you know your leg is being pulled?
Solution, p. 521
17 A mass m moving at velocity v collides with a stationary
target having the same mass m. Find the maximum amount of
energy that can be released as heat and sound.

358 Chapter 14 Conservation of momentum
A tornado touches down in Spring Hill, Kansas, May 20, 1957.
Chapter 15
Conservation of angular
“Sure, and maybe the sun won’t come up tomorrow.” Of course,
the sun only appears to go up and down because the earth spins,
so the cliche should really refer to the unlikelihood of the earth’s
stopping its rotation abruptly during the night. Why can’t it stop?
It wouldn’t violate conservation of momentum, because the earth’s
rotation doesn’t add anything to its momentum. While California
spins in one direction, some equally massive part of India goes the
opposite way, canceling its momentum. A halt to Earth’s rotation
would entail a drop in kinetic energy, but that energy could simply
be converted into some other form, such as heat.
Other examples along these lines are not hard to find. A hydro-
gen atom spins at the same rate for billions of years. A high-diver
who is rotating when he comes off the board does not need to make
any physical effort to continue rotating, and indeed would be unable
to stop rotating before he hit the water.
These observations have the hallmarks of a conservation law:
A closed system is involved. Nothing is making an effort to
twist the earth, the hydrogen atom, or the high-diver. They are
isolated from rotation-changing influences, i.e., they are closed
Something remains unchanged. There appears to be a numer-
ical quantity for measuring rotational motion such that the total
amount of that quantity remains constant in a closed system.
Something can be transferred back and forth without
changing the total amount. In figure a, the jumper wants to
get his feet out in front of him so he can keep from doing a “face
plant” when he lands. Bringing his feet forward would involve a
certain quantity of counterclockwise rotation, but he didn’t start
out with any rotation when he left the ground. Suppose we con-
sider counterclockwise as positive and clockwise as negative. The
only way his legs can acquire some positive rotation is if some other
part of his body picks up an equal amount of negative rotation.
This is why he swings his arms up behind him, clockwise.
a / An early photograph of an old-fashioned long-jump.
What numerical measure of rotational motion is conserved? Car
engines and old-fashioned LP records have speeds of rotation mea-
sured in rotations per minute (r.p.m.), but the number of rota-
tions per minute (or per second) is not a conserved quantity. A
twirling figure skater, for instance, can pull her arms in to increase
her r.p.m.’s. The first section of this chapter deals with the nu-
merical definition of the quantity of rotation that results in a valid
conservation law.
360 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
b / An overhead view of a
piece of putty being thrown at
a door. Even though the putty
is neither spinning nor traveling
along a curve, we must define it
as having some kind of “rotation”
because it is able to make the
door rotate.
c / As seen by someone standing
at the axis, the putty changes
its angular position. We there-
fore define it as having angular
15.1 Conservation of angular momentum
When most people think of rotation, they think of a solid object
like a wheel rotating in a circle around a fixed point. Examples of
this type of rotation, called rigid rotation or rigid-body rotation, in-
clude a spinning top, a seated child’s swinging leg, and a helicopter’s
spinning propeller. Rotation, however, is a much more general phe-
nomenon, and includes noncircular examples such as a comet in
an elliptical orbit around the sun, or a cyclone, in which the core
completes a circle more quickly than the outer parts.
If there is a numerical measure of rotational motion that is a
conserved quantity, then it must include nonrigid cases like these,
since nonrigid rotation can be traded back and forth with rigid ro-
tation. For instance, there is a trick for finding out if an egg is
raw or hardboiled. If you spin a hardboiled egg and then stop it
briefly with your finger, it stops dead. But if you do the same with
a raw egg, it springs back into rotation because the soft interior was
still swirling around within the momentarily motionless shell. The
pattern of flow of the liquid part is presumably very complex and
nonuniform due to the asymmetric shape of the egg and the differ-
ent consistencies of the yolk and the white, but there is apparently
some way to describe the liquid’s total amount of rotation with a
single number, of which some percentage is given back to the shell
when you release it.
The best strategy is to devise a way of defining the amount of
rotation of a single small part of a system. The amount of rotation
of a system such as a cyclone will then be defined as the total of all
the contributions from its many small parts.
The quest for a conserved quantity of rotation even requires us
to broaden the rotation concept to include cases where the motion
doesn’t repeat or even curve around. If you throw a piece of putty
at a door, the door will recoil and start rotating. The putty was
traveling straight, not in a circle, but if there is to be a general
conservation law that can cover this situation, it appears that we
must describe the putty as having had some “rotation,” which it
then gave up to the door. The best way of thinking about it is to
attribute rotation to any moving object or part of an object that
changes its angle in relation to the axis of rotation. In the putty-
and-door example, the hinge of the door is the natural point to think
of as an axis, and the putty changes its angle as seen by someone
standing at the hinge. For this reason, the conserved quantity we are
investigating is called angular momentum. The symbol for angular
momentum can’t be a or m, since those are used for acceleration
and mass, so the symbol L is arbitrarily chosen instead.
Imagine a 1-kg blob of putty, thrown at the door at a speed of
1 m/s, which hits the door at a distance of 1 m from the hinge.
We define this blob to have 1 unit of angular momentum. When
Section 15.1 Conservation of angular momentum 361
d / A putty blob thrown di-
rectly at the axis has no angular
motion, and therefore no angular
momentum. It will not cause the
door to rotate.
e / Only the component of
the velocity vector perpendicular
to the dashed line should be
counted into the definition of
angular momentum.
it hits the door, the door will recoil and start rotating. We can
use the speed at which the door recoils as a measure of the angular
momentum the blob brought in.
Experiments show, not surprisingly, that a 2-kg blob thrown in
the same way makes the door rotate twice as fast, so the angular
momentum of the putty blob must be proportional to mass,
L ∝ m .
Similarly, experiments show that doubling the velocity of the
blob will have a doubling effect on the result, so its angular momen-
tum must be proportional to its velocity as well,
L ∝ mv .
You have undoubtedly had the experience of approaching a closed
door with one of those bar-shaped handles on it and pushing on the
wrong side, the side close to the hinges. You feel like an idiot, be-
cause you have so little leverage that you can hardly budge the door.
The same would be true with the putty blob. Experiments would
show that the amount of rotation the blob can give to the door is
proportional to the distance, r, from the axis of rotation, so angular
momentum must also be proportional to r,
L ∝ mvr .
We are almost done, but there is one missing ingredient. We
know on grounds of symmetry that a putty ball thrown directly
inward toward the hinge will have no angular momentum to give
to the door. After all, there would not even be any way to de-
cide whether the ball’s rotation was clockwise or counterclockwise
in this situation. It is therefore only the component of the blob’s
velocity vector perpendicular to the door that should be counted in
its angular momentum,
L = mv

r .
More generally, v

should be thought of as the component of the
object’s velocity vector that is perpendicular to the line joining the
object to the axis of rotation.
We find that this equation agrees with the definition of the origi-
nal putty blob as having one unit of angular momentum, and we can
now see that the units of angular momentum are (kg·m/s)·m, i.e.,
/s. This gives us a way of calculating the angular momentum
of any material object or any system consisting of material objects:
We assume that the door is much more massive than the blob. Under this
assumption, the speed at which the door recoils is much less than the original
speed of the blob, so the blob has lost essentially all its angular momentum, and
given it to the door.
362 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
f / A figure skater pulls in her
arms so that she can execute a
spin more rapidly.
angular momentum of a material object
The angular momentum of a moving particle is
L = mv

r ,
where m is its mass, v

is the component of its velocity vector
perpendicular to the line joining it to the axis of rotation, and r is
its distance from the axis. Positive and negative signs are used to
describe opposite directions of rotation.
The angular momentum of a finite-sized object or a system
of many objects is found by dividing it up into many small parts,
applying the equation to each part, and adding to find the total
amount of angular momentum.
Note that r is not necessarily the radius of a circle. (As implied
by the qualifiers, matter isn’t the only thing that can have angular
momentum. Light can also have angular momentum, and the above
equation would not apply to light.)
Conservation of angular momentum has been verified over and
over again by experiment, and is now believed to be one of the three
most fundamental principles of physics, along with conservation of
energy and momentum.
A figure skater pulls her arms in example 1
When a figure skater is twirling, there is very little friction between
her and the ice, so she is essentially a closed system, and her
angular momentum is conserved. If she pulls her arms in, she is
decreasing r for all the atoms in her arms. It would violate con-
servation of angular momentum if she then continued rotating at
the same speed, i.e., taking the same amount of time for each
revolution, because her arms’ contributions to her angular mo-
mentum would have decreased, and no other part of her would
have increased its angular momentum. This is impossible be-
cause it would violate conservation of angular momentum. If her
total angular momentum is to remain constant, the decrease in r
for her arms must be compensated for by an overall increase in
her rate of rotation. That is, by pulling her arms in, she substan-
tially reduces the time for each rotation.
Section 15.1 Conservation of angular momentum 363
h / Example 3. A view of the
earth-moon system from above
the north pole. All distances
have been highly distorted for
legibility. The earth’s rotation is
counterclockwise from this point
of view (arrow). The moon’s grav-
ity creates a bulge on the side
near it, because its gravitational
pull is stronger there, and an
“anti-bulge” on the far side, since
its gravity there is weaker. For
simplicity, let’s focus on the tidal
bulge closer to the moon. Its
frictional force is trying to slow
down the earth’s rotation, so its
force on the earth’s solid crust is
toward the bottom of the figure.
By Newton’s third law, the crust
must thus make a force on the
bulge which is toward the top of
the figure. This causes the bulge
to be pulled forward at a slight
angle, and the bulge’s gravity
therefore pulls the moon forward,
accelerating its orbital motion
about the earth and flinging it
g / Example 2.
Changing the axis example 2
An object’s angular momentum can be different depending on the
axis about which it rotates. Figure g shows shows two double-
exposure photographs a viola player tipping the bow in order to
cross from one string to another. Much more angular momentum
is required when playing near the bow’s handle, called the frog,
as in the panel on the right; not only are most of the atoms in the
bow at greater distances, r , from the axis of rotation, but the ones
in the tip also have more momentum, p. It is difficult for the player
to quickly transfer a large angular momentum into the bow, and
then transfer it back out just as quickly. (In the language of section
15.4, large torques are required.) This is one of the reasons that
string players tend to stay near the middle of the bow as much as
Earth’s slowing rotation and the receding moon example 3
As noted in chapter 1, the earth’s rotation is actually slowing down
very gradually, with the kinetic energy being dissipated as heat by
friction between the land and the tidal bulges raised in the seas
by the earth’s gravity. Does this mean that angular momentum is
not really perfectly conserved? No, it just means that the earth
is not quite a closed system by itself. If we consider the earth
and moon as a system, then the angular momentum lost by the
earth must be gained by the moon somehow. In fact very precise
measurements of the distance between the earth and the moon
have been carried out by bouncing laser beams off of a mirror
left there by astronauts, and these measurements show that the
moon is receding from the earth at a rate of 4 centimeters per
year! The moon’s greater value of r means that it has a greater
364 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
angular momentum, and the increase turns out to be exactly the
amount lost by the earth. In the days of the dinosaurs, the days
were significantly shorter, and the moon was closer and appeared
bigger in the sky.
But what force is causing the moon to speed up, drawing it out
into a larger orbit? It is the gravitational forces of the earth’s tidal
bulges. The effect is described qualitatively in the caption of the
figure. The result would obviously be extremely difficult to calcu-
late directly, and this is one of those situations where a conserva-
tion law allows us to make precise quantitative statements about
the outcome of a process when the calculation of the process
itself would be prohibitively complex.
Restriction to rotation in a plane
Is angular momentum a vector, or a scalar? It does have a di-
rection in space, but it’s a direction of rotation, not a straight-line
direction like the directions of vectors such as velocity or force. It
turns out (see problem 29) that there is a way of defining angular
momentum as a vector, but in this book the examples will be con-
fined to a single plane of rotation, i.e., effectively two-dimensional
situations. In this special case, we can choose to visualize the plane
of rotation from one side or the other, and to define clockwise and
counterclockwise rotation as having opposite signs of angular mo-
Discussion question
A Conservation of plain old momentum, p, can be thought of as the
greatly expanded and modified descendant of Galileo’s original principle
of inertia, that no force is required to keep an object in motion. The princi-
ple of inertia is counterintuitive, and there are many situations in which it
appears superficially that a force is needed to maintain motion, as main-
tained by Aristotle. Think of a situation in which conservation of angular
momentum, L, also seems to be violated, making it seem incorrectly that
something external must act on a closed system to keep its angular mo-
mentum from “running down.”
15.2 Angular momentum in planetary motion
We now discuss the application of conservation of angular momen-
tum to planetary motion, both because of its intrinsic importance
and because it is a good way to develop a visual intuition for angular
Kepler’s law of equal areas states that the area swept out by
a planet in a certain length of time is always the same. Angular
momentum had not been invented in Kepler’s time, and he did not
even know the most basic physical facts about the forces at work. He
thought of this law as an entirely empirical and unexpectedly simple
way of summarizing his data, a rule that succeeded in describing
Section 15.2 Angular momentum in planetary motion 365
i / The planet’s angular mo-
mentum is related to the rate at
which it sweeps out area.
and predicting how the planets sped up and slowed down in their
elliptical paths. It is now fairly simple, however, to show that the
equal area law amounts to a statement that the planet’s angular
momentum stays constant.
There is no simple geometrical rule for the area of a pie wedge
cut out of an ellipse, but if we consider a very short time interval,
as shown in figure i, the shaded shape swept out by the planet is
very nearly a triangle. We do know how to compute the area of a
triangle. It is one half the product of the base and the height:
area =
bh .
We wish to relate this to angular momentum, which contains
the variables r and v

. If we consider the sun to be the axis of
rotation, then the variable r is identical to the base of the triangle,
r = b. Referring to the magnified portion of the figure, v

can be
related to h, because the two right triangles are similar:
distance traveled

The area can thus be rewritten as
area =

(distance traveled)
The distance traveled equals |v|∆t, so this simplifies to
area =

∆t .
We have found the following relationship between angular momen-
tum and the rate at which area is swept out:
L = 2m
The factor of 2 in front is simply a matter of convention, since any
conserved quantity would be an equally valid conserved quantity if
you multiplied it by a constant. The factor of m was not relevant
to Kepler, who did not know the planets’ masses, and who was only
describing the motion of one planet at a time.
We thus find that Kepler’s equal-area law is equivalent to a state-
ment that the planet’s angular momentum remains constant. But
wait, why should it remain constant? — the planet is not a closed
system, since it is being acted on by the sun’s gravitational force.
There are two valid answers. The first is that it is actually the to-
tal angular momentum of the sun plus the planet that is conserved.
The sun, however, is millions of times more massive than the typical
planet, so it accelerates very little in response to the planet’s gravi-
tational force. It is thus a good approximation to say that the sun
366 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
Discussion question A.
doesn’t move at all, so that no angular momentum is transferred
between it and the planet.
The second answer is that to change the planet’s angular mo-
mentum requires not just a force but a force applied in a certain
way. In section 15.4 we discuss the transfer of angular momentum
by a force, but the basic idea here is that a force directly in toward
the axis does not change the angular momentum.
Discussion questions
A Suppose an object is simply traveling in a straight line at constant
speed. If we pick some point not on the line and call it the axis of rotation,
is area swept out by the object at a constant rate? Would it matter if we
chose a different axis?
B The figure is a strobe photo of a pendulum bob, taken from under-
neath the pendulum looking straight up. The black string can’t be seen
in the photograph. The bob was given a slight sideways push when it
was released, so it did not swing in a plane. The bright spot marks the
center, i.e., the position the bob would have if it hung straight down at us.
Does the bob’s angular momentum appear to remain constant if we con-
sider the center to be the axis of rotation? What if we choose a different
Discussion question B.
15.3 Two theorems about angular momentum
With plain old momentum, p, we had the freedom to work in any
inertial frame of reference we liked. The same object could have
different values of momentum in two different frames, if the frames
were not at rest with respect to each other. Conservation of mo-
mentum, however, would be true in either frame. As long as we
employed a single frame consistently throughout a calculation, ev-
erything would work.
The same is true for angular momentum, and in addition there
is an ambiguity that arises from the definition of an axis of rotation.
For a wheel, the natural choice of an axis of rotation is obviously
the axle, but what about an egg rotating on its side? The egg
Section 15.3 Two theorems about angular momentum 367
j / Example 4.
k / Everyone has a strong
tendency to think of the diver as
rotating about his own center of
mass. However, he is flying in
an arc, and he also has angular
momentum because of this
l / This rigid object has angu-
lar momentum both because it is
spinning about its center of mass
and because it is moving through
has an asymmetric shape, and thus no clearly defined geometric
center. A similar issue arises for a cyclone, which does not even
have a sharply defined shape, or for a complicated machine with
many gears. The following theorem, the first of two presented in
this section without proof, explains how to deal with this issue.
Although I have put descriptive titles above both theorems, they
have no generally accepted names.
the choice of axis theorem
It is entirely arbitrary what point one defines as the axis for
purposes of calculating angular momentum. If a closed sys-
tem’s angular momentum is conserved when calculated with
one choice of axis, then it will also be conserved for any other
choice. Likewise, any inertial frame of reference may be used.
Colliding asteroids described with different axes example 4
Observers on planets A and B both see the two asteroids collid-
ing. The asteroids are of equal mass and their impact speeds are
the same. Astronomers on each planet decide to define their own
planet as the axis of rotation. Planet A is twice as far from the col-
lision as planet B. The asteroids collide and stick. For simplicity,
assume planets A and B are both at rest.
With planet A as the axis, the two asteroids have the same amount
of angular momentum, but one has positive angular momentum
and the other has negative. Before the collision, the total angular
momentum is therefore zero. After the collision, the two asteroids
will have stopped moving, and again the total angular momen-
tum is zero. The total angular momentum both before and after
the collision is zero, so angular momentum is conserved if you
choose planet A as the axis.
The only difference with planet B as axis is that r is smaller by a
factor of two, so all the angular momenta are halved. Even though
the angular momenta are different than the ones calculated by
planet A, angular momentum is still conserved.
The earth spins on its own axis once a day, but simultaneously
travels in its circular one-year orbit around the sun, so any given
part of it traces out a complicated loopy path. It would seem difficult
to calculate the earth’s angular momentum, but it turns out that
there is an intuitively appealing shortcut: we can simply add up the
angular momentum due to its spin plus that arising from its center
of mass’s circular motion around the sun. This is a special case of
the following general theorem:
the spin theorem
An object’s angular momentum with respect to some outside
axis A can be found by adding up two parts:
(1) The first part is the object’s angular momentum found
by using its own center of mass as the axis, i.e., the angular
368 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
momentum the object has because it is spinning.
(2) The other part equals the angular momentum that the
object would have with respect to the axis A if it had all its
mass concentrated at and moving with its center of mass.
A system with its center of mass at rest example 5
In the special case of an object whose center of mass is at rest,
the spin theorem implies that the object’s angular momentum is
the same regardless of what axis we choose. (This is an even
stronger statement than the choice of axis theorem, which only
guarantees that angular momentum is conserved for any given
choice of axis, without specifying that it is the same for all such
Angular momentum of a rigid object example 6
A motorcycle wheel has almost all its mass concentrated at
the outside. If the wheel has mass m and radius r , and the time
required for one revolution is T, what is the spin part of its angular
This is an example of the commonly encountered special case
of rigid motion, as opposed to the rotation of a system like a hur-
ricane in which the different parts take different amounts of time
to go around. We don’t really have to go through a laborious
process of adding up contributions from all the many parts of a
wheel, because they are all at about the same distance from the
axis, and are all moving around the axis at about the same speed.
The velocity is all perpendicular to the spokes,

= v
= (circumference)/T
= 2πr /T ,
and the angular momentum of the wheel about its center is
L = mv

= m(2πr /T)r
= 2πmr
/T .
Note that although the factors of 2π in this expression is peculiar
to a wheel with its mass concentrated on the rim, the proportional-
ity to m/T would have been the same for any other rigidly rotating
object. Although an object with a noncircular shape does not have
a radius, it is also true in general that angular momentum is pro-
portional to the square of the object’s size for fixed values of m and
T. For instance doubling an object’s size doubles both the v

r factors in the contribution of each of its parts to the total angular
momentum, resulting in an overall factor of four increase.
Section 15.3 Two theorems about angular momentum 369
The figure shows some examples of angular momenta of various
shapes rotating about their centers of mass. The equations for their
angular momenta were derived using calculus, as described in my
calculus-based book Simple Nature. Do not memorize these equa-
The hammer throw example 7
In the men’s Olympic hammer throw, a steel ball of radius 6.1 cm
is swung on the end of a wire of length 1.22 m. What fraction of
the ball’s angular momentum comes from its rotation, as opposed
to its motion through space?
It’s always important to solve problems symbolically first, and
plug in numbers only at the end, so let the radius of the ball be b,
and the length of the wire . If the time the ball takes to go once
around the circle is T, then this is also the time it takes to revolve
once around its own axis. Its speed is v = 2π/T, so its angular
momentum due to its motion through space is mv = 2πm
Its angular momentum due to its rotation around its own cen-
ter is (4π/5)mb
/T. The ratio of these two angular momenta is
= 1.0×10
. The angular momentum due to the ball’s
spin is extremely small.
370 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
m / Example 8.
Toppling a rod example 8
A rod of length b and mass m stands upright. We want to strike
the rod at the bottom, causing it to fall and land flat. Find the
momentum, p, that should be delivered, in terms of m, b, and
g. Can this really be done without having the rod scrape on the
This is a nice example of a question that can very nearly be
answered based only on units. Since the three variables, m, b,
and g, all have different units, they can’t be added or subtracted.
The only way to combine them mathematically is by multiplication
or division. Multiplying one of them by itself is exponentiation, so
in general we expect that the answer must be of the form
p = Am
where A, j , k, and l are unitless constants. The result has to have
units of kg·m/s. To get kilograms to the first power, we need
j = 1 ,
meters to the first power requires
k + l = 1 ,
and seconds to the power −1 implies
l = 1/2 .
We find j = 1, k = 1/2, and l = 1/2, so the solution must be of the
p = Am
bg .
Note that no physics was required!
Consideration of units, however, won’t help us to find the unit-
less constant A. Let t be the time the rod takes to fall, so that
= b/2. If the rod is going to land exactly on its side,
then the number of revolutions it completes while in the air must
be 1/4, or 3/4, or 5/4, . . . , but all the possibilities greater than 1/4
would cause the head of the rod to collide with the floor prema-
turely. The rod must therefore rotate at a rate that would cause
it to complete a full rotation in a time T = 4t , and it has angular
momentum L = (π/6)mb
The momentum lost by the object striking the rod is p, and by
conservation of momentum, this is the amount of momentum, in
the horizontal direction, that the rod acquires. In other words,
the rod will fly forward a little. However, this has no effect on
the solution to the problem. More importantly, the object striking
the rod loses angular momentum bp/2, which is also transferred
to the rod. Equating this to the expression above for L, we find
p = (π/12)m
Section 15.3 Two theorems about angular momentum 371
n / Energy, momentum, and
angular momentum can be trans-
ferred. The rates of transfer are
called power, force, and torque.
Finally, we need to know whether this can really be done without
having the foot of the rod scrape on the floor. The figure shows
that the answer is no for this rod of finite width, but it appears
that the answer would be yes for a sufficiently thin rod. This is
analyzed further in homework problem 28 on page 393.
Discussion question
A In the example of the colliding asteroids, suppose planet A was mov-
ing toward the top of the page, at the same speed as the bottom asteroid.
How would planet A’s astronomers describe the angular momenta of the
asteroids? Would angular momentum still be conserved?
15.4 Torque: the rate of transfer of angular
Force can be interpreted as the rate of transfer of momentum. The
equivalent in the case of angular momentum is called torque (rhymes
with “fork”). Where force tells us how hard we are pushing or
pulling on something, torque indicates how hard we are twisting on
it. Torque is represented by the Greek letter tau, τ, and the rate
of change of an object’s angular momentum equals the total torque
acting on it,
(If the angular momentum does not change at a constant rate, the
total torque equals the slope of the tangent line on a graph of L
versus t.)
As with force and momentum, it often happens that angular
momentum recedes into the background and we focus our interest on
the torques. The torque-focused point of view is exemplified by the
fact that many scientifically untrained but mechanically apt people
know all about torque, but none of them have heard of angular
momentum. Car enthusiasts eagerly compare engines’ torques, and
there is a tool called a torque wrench which allows one to apply a
desired amount of torque to a screw and avoid overtightening it.
Torque distinguished from force
Of course a force is necessary in order to create a torque — you
can’t twist a screw without pushing on the wrench — but force and
torque are two different things. One distinction between them is
direction. We use positive and negative signs to represent forces in
the two possible directions along a line. The direction of a torque,
however, is clockwise or counterclockwise, not a linear direction.
The other difference between torque and force is a matter of
leverage. A given force applied at a door’s knob will change the
door’s angular momentum twice as rapidly as the same force applied
halfway between the knob and the hinge. The same amount of force
produces different amounts of torque in these two cases.
372 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
o / The plane’s four engines
produce zero total torque but not
zero total force.
p / The simple physical situa-
tion we use to derive an equation
for torque. A force that points
directly in at or out away from the
axis produces neither clockwise
nor counterclockwise angular
momentum. A force in the per-
pendicular direction does transfer
angular momentum.
It is possible to have a zero total torque with a nonzero total
force. An airplane with four jet engines, o, would be designed so
that their forces are balanced on the left and right. Their forces are
all in the same direction, but the clockwise torques of two of the
engines are canceled by the counterclockwise torques of the other
two, giving zero total torque.
Conversely we can have zero total force and nonzero total torque.
A merry-go-round’s engine needs to supply a nonzero torque on it
to bring it up to speed, but there is zero total force on it. If there
was not zero total force on it, its center of mass would accelerate!
Relationship between force and torque
How do we calculate the amount of torque produced by a given
force? Since it depends on leverage, we should expect it to depend
on the distance between the axis and the point of application of
the force. We’ll derive an equation relating torque to force for a
particular very simple situation, and state without proof that the
equation actually applies to all situations.
Consider a pointlike object which is initially at rest at a distance
r from the axis we have chosen for defining angular momentum.
We first observe that a force directly inward or outward, along the
line connecting the axis to the object, does not impart any angular
momentum to the object.
A force perpendicular to the line connecting the axis and the
object does, however, make the object pick up angular momentum.
Newton’s second law gives
a =
and assuming for simplicity that the force is constant, the constant
acceleration equation a = ∆v/∆t allows us to find the velocity the
object acquires after a time ∆t,
∆v =
We are trying to relate force to a change in angular momentum, so
we multiply both sides of the equation by mr to give
m∆vr = F∆tr
∆L = F∆tr .
Dividing by ∆t gives the torque:
= Fr
τ = Fr .
Section 15.4 Torque: the rate of transfer of angular momentum 373
q / The geometric relationships
refered to in the relationship
between force and torque.
If a force acts at an angle other than 0 or 90

with respect to the
line joining the object and the axis, it would be only the component
of the force perpendicular to the line that would produce a torque,
τ = F

r .
Although this result was proved under a simplified set of circum-
stances, it is more generally valid:
relationship between force and torque
The rate at which a force transfers angular momentum to an
object, i.e., the torque produced by the force, is given by
|τ| = r|F

| ,
where r is the distance from the axis to the point of applica-
tion of the force, and F

is the component of the force that
is perpendicular to the line joining the axis to the point of
The equation is stated with absolute value signs because the
positive and negative signs of force and torque indicate different
things, so there is no useful relationship between them. The sign
of the torque must be found by physical inspection of the case at
From the equation, we see that the units of torque can be writ-
ten as newtons multiplied by meters. Metric torque wrenches are
calibrated in N·m, but American ones use foot-pounds, which is also
a unit of distance multiplied by a unit of force. We know from our
study of mechanical work that newtons multiplied by meters equal
joules, but torque is a completely different quantity from work, and
nobody writes torques with units of joules, even though it would be
technically correct.
self-check A
Compare the magnitudes and signs of the four torques shown in the
figure. Answer, p. 526
374 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
r / The quantity r

How torque depends on the direction of the force example 9
How can the torque applied to the wrench in the figure be ex-
pressed in terms of r , |F|, and the angle θ?
The force vector and its F

component form the hypotenuse
and one leg of a right triangle,
and the interior angle opposite to F

equals θ. The absolute value
of F

can thus be expressed as

= |F| sinθ ,
leading to
|τ| = r |F| sinθ .
Sometimes torque can be more neatly visualized in terms of the
quantity r

shown in figure r, which gives us a third way of express-
ing the relationship between torque and force:
|τ| = r

|F| .
Of course you would not want to go and memorize all three
equations for torque. Starting from any one of them you could easily
derive the other two using trigonometry. Familiarizing yourself with
them can however clue you in to easier avenues of attack on certain
The torque due to gravity
Up until now we’ve been thinking in terms of a force that acts
at a single point on an object, such as the force of your hand on the
wrench. This is of course an approximation, and for an extremely
realistic calculation of your hand’s torque on the wrench you might
need to add up the torques exerted by each square millimeter where
your skin touches the wrench. This is seldom necessary. But in
the case of a gravitational force, there is never any single point at
which the force is applied. Our planet is exerting a separate tug on
every brick in the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the total gravitational
torque on the tower is the sum of the torques contributed by all the
little forces. Luckily there is a trick that allows us to avoid such
a massive calculation. It turns out that for purposes of computing
the total gravitational torque on an object, you can get the right
answer by just pretending that the whole gravitational force acts at
the object’s center of mass.
Section 15.4 Torque: the rate of transfer of angular momentum 375
s / Example 10.
t / Example 11.
Gravitational torque on an outstretched arm example 10
Your arm has a mass of 3.0 kg, and its center of mass is 30
cm from your shoulder. What is the gravitational torque on your
arm when it is stretched out horizontally to one side, taking the
shoulder to be the axis?
The total gravitational force acting on your arm is
|F| = (3.0 kg)(9.8 m/s
) = 29 N .
For the purpose of calculating the gravitational torque, we can
treat the force as if it acted at the arm’s center of mass. The force
is straight down, which is perpendicular to the line connecting the
shoulder to the center of mass, so

= |F| = 29 N .
Continuing to pretend that the force acts at the center of the arm,
r equals 30 cm = 0.30 m, so the torque is
τ = r F

= 9 N·m .
Cow tipping example 11
In 2005, Dr. Margo Lillie and her graduate student Tracy Boech-
ler published a study claiming to debunk cow tipping. Their claim
was based on an analysis of the torques that would be required
to tip a cow, which showed that one person wouldn’t be able to
make enough torque to do it. A lively discussion ensued on the
popular web site slashdot.org (“news for nerds, stuff that mat-
ters”) concerning the validity of the study. Personally, I had al-
ways assumed that cow-tipping was a group sport anyway, but as
a physicist, I also had some quibbles with their calculation. Here’s
my own analysis.
There are three forces on the cow: the force of gravity F
, the
ground’s normal force F
, and the tippers’ force F
As soon as the cow’s left hooves (on the right from our point of
view) break contact with the ground, the ground’s force is being
applied only to hooves on the other side. We don’t know the
ground’s force, and we don’t want to find it. Therefore we take
the axis to be at its point of application, so that its torque is zero.
For the purpose of computing torques, we can pretend that grav-
ity acts at the cow’s center of mass, which I’ve placed a little
lower than the center of its torso, since its legs and head also
have some mass, and the legs are more massive than the head
and stick out farther, so they lower the c.m. more than the head
raises it. The angle θ
between the vertical gravitational force
and the line r
is about 14

. (An estimate by Matt Semke at the
376 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
University of Nebraska-Lincoln gives 20

, which is in the same
To generate the maximum possible torque with the least possible
force, the tippers want to push at a point as far as possible from
the axis, which will be the shoulder on the other side, and they
want to push at a 90 degree angle with respect to the radius line
When the tippers are just barely applying enough force to raise
the cow’s hooves on one side, the total torque has to be just
slightly more than zero. (In reality, they want to push a lot harder
than this — hard enough to impart a lot of angular momentum to
the cow fair in a short time, before it gets mad and hurts them.
We’re just trying to calculate the bare minimum force they can
possibly use, which is the question that science can answer.) Set-
ting the total torque equal to zero,
+ τ
+ τ
= 0 ,
and letting counterclockwise torques be positive, we have
0 −mgr
+ F
sin 90

= 0
mg sinθ

(680 kg)(9.8 m/s
) sin14

= 1100 N .
The 680 kg figure for the typical mass of a cow is due to Lillie
and Boechler, who are veterinarians, so I assume it’s fairly accu-
rate. My estimate of 1100 N comes out significantly lower than
their 1400 N figure, mainly because their incorrect placement of
the center of mass gives θ
= 24

. I don’t think 1100 N is an
impossible amount of force to require of one big, strong person
(it’s equivalent to lifting about 110 kg, or 240 pounds), but given
that the tippers need to impart a large angular momentum fairly
quickly, it’s probably true that several people would be required.
The main practical issue with cow tipping is that cows generally
sleep lying down. Falling on its side can also seriously injure a
Section 15.4 Torque: the rate of transfer of angular momentum 377
Discussion question B.
Discussion question E.
Discussion questions
A This series of discussion questions deals with past students’ incorrect
reasoning about the following problem.
Suppose a comet is at the point in its orbit shown in the figure. The
only force on the comet is the sun’s gravitational force.
Throughout the question, define all torques and angular momenta
using the sun as the axis.
(1) Is the sun producing a nonzero torque on the comet? Explain.
(2) Is the comet’s angular momentum increasing, decreasing, or
staying the same? Explain.
Explain what is wrong with the following answers. In some cases, the an-
swer is correct, but the reasoning leading up to it is wrong. (a) Incorrect
answer to part (1): “Yes, because the sun is exerting a force on the comet,
and the comet is a certain distance from the sun.”
(b) Incorrect answer to part (1): “No, because the torques cancel out.”
(c) Incorrect answer to part (2): “Increasing, because the comet is speed-
ing up.”
B Which claw hammer would make it easier to get the nail out of the
wood if the same force was applied in the same direction?
C You whirl a rock over your head on the end of a string, and gradually
pull in the string, eventually cutting the radius in half. What happens to
the rock’s angular momentum? What changes occur in its speed, the time
required for one revolution, and its acceleration? Why might the string
D A helicopter has, in addition to the huge fan blades on top, a smaller
propeller mounted on the tail that rotates in a vertical plane. Why?
E The photo shows an amusement park ride whose two cars rotate in
opposite directions. Why is this a good design?
378 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
u / The windmills are not closed
systems, but angular momentum
is being transferred out of them
at the same rate it is transferred
in, resulting in constant angular
momentum. To get an idea of
the huge scale of the modern
windmill farm, note the sizes of
the trucks and trailers.
15.5 Statics
There are many cases where a system is not closed but maintains
constant angular momentum. When a merry-go-round is running at
constant angular momentum, the engine’s torque is being canceled
by the torque due to friction.
When an object has constant momentum and constant angular
momentum, we say that it is in equilibrium. This is a scientific
redefinition of the common English word, since in ordinary speech
nobody would describe a car spinning out on an icy road as being
in equilibrium.
Very commonly, however, we are interested in cases where an ob-
ject is not only in equilibrium but also at rest, and this corresponds
more closely to the usual meaning of the word. Trees and bridges
have been designed by evolution and engineers to stay at rest, and
to do so they must have not just zero total force acting on them but
zero total torque. It is not enough that they don’t fall down, they
also must not tip over. Statics is the branch of physics concerned
with problems such as these.
Solving statics problems is now simply a matter of applying and
combining some things you already know:
• You know the behaviors of the various types of forces, for
example that a frictional force is always parallel to the surface
of contact.
• You know about vector addition of forces. It is the vector sum
of the forces that must equal zero to produce equilibrium.
• You know about torque. The total torque acting on an object
must be zero if it is to be in equilibrium.
• You know that the choice of axis is arbitrary, so you can make
a choice of axis that makes the problem easy to solve.
In general, this type of problem could involve four equations in four
unknowns: three equations that say the force components add up
to zero, and one equation that says the total torque is zero. Most
cases you’ll encounter will not be this complicated. In the following
example, only the equation for zero total torque is required in order
to get an answer.
Section 15.5 Statics 379
v / Example 12.
A flagpole example 12
A 10-kg flagpole is being held up by a lightweight horizontal
cable, and is propped against the foot of a wall as shown in the
figure. If the cable is only capable of supporting a tension of 70
N, how great can the angle α be without breaking the cable?
All three objects in the figure are supposed to be in equilibrium:
the pole, the cable, and the wall. Whichever of the three objects
we pick to investigate, all the forces and torques on it have to
cancel out. It is not particularly helpful to analyze the forces and
torques on the wall, since it has forces on it from the ground that
are not given and that we don’t want to find. We could study the
forces and torques on the cable, but that doesn’t let us use the
given information about the pole. The object we need to analyze
is the pole.
The pole has three forces on it, each of which may also result in
a torque: (1) the gravitational force, (2) the cable’s force, and (3)
the wall’s force.
We are free to define an axis of rotation at any point we wish, and
it is helpful to define it to lie at the bottom end of the pole, since
by that definition the wall’s force on the pole is applied at r = 0
and thus makes no torque on the pole. This is good, because we
don’t know what the wall’s force on the pole is, and we are not
trying to find it.
With this choice of axis, there are two nonzero torques on the
pole, a counterclockwise torque from the cable and a clockwise
torque fromgravity. Choosing to represent counterclockwise torques
as positive numbers, and using the equation |τ| = r |F| sinθ, we
cabl e
cabl e
| sinθ
cabl e
gr av
gr av
| sinθ
gr av
= 0 .
A little geometry gives θ
cabl e
= 90

−α and θ
gr av
= α, so
cabl e
cabl e
| sin(90

−α) −r
gr av
gr av
| sinα = 0 .
The gravitational force can be considered as acting at the pole’s
center of mass, i.e., at its geometrical center, so r
cabl e
is twice
gr av
, and we can simplify the equation to read
cabl e
| sin(90

−α) −|F
gr av
| sinα = 0 .
These are all quantities we were given, except for α, which is the
angle we want to find. To solve for α we need to use the trig
identity sin(90

−x) = cos x,
cabl e
| cos α −|F
gr av
| sinα = 0 ,
380 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
w / Example 13.
which allows us to find
tanα = 2
cabl e
gr av
α = tan
cabl e
gr av
= tan
2 ×
70 N
98 N
= 55

Art! example 13
The abstract sculpture shown in figure w contains a cube of
mass m and sides of length b. The cube rests on top of a cylinder,
which is off-center by a distance a. Find the tension in the cable.
There are four forces on the cube: a gravitational force mg, the
force F
from the cable, the upward normal force from the cylin-
der, F
, and the horizontal static frictional force from the cylinder,
The total force on the cube in the vertical direction is zero:
−mg = 0 .
As our axis for defining torques, it’s convenient to choose the point
of contact between the cube and the cylinder, because then nei-
ther F
nor F
makes any torque. The cable’s torque is counter-
clockwise, the torque due to gravity is clockwise. Letting counter-
clockwise torques be positive, and using the convenient equation
τ = r

F, we find the equation for the total torque:
−mga = 0 .
We could also write down the equation saying that the total hori-
zontal force is zero, but that would bring in the cylinder’s frictional
force on the cube, which we don’t knowand don’t need to find. We
already have two equations in the two unknowns F
and F
, so
there’s no need to make it into three equations in three unknowns.
Solving the first equation for F
= mg, we then substitute into the
second equation to eliminate F
, and solve for F
= (a/b)mg.
As a check, our result makes sense when a = 0; the cube is
balanced on the cylinder, so the cable goes slack.
Section 15.5 Statics 381
x / Stable and unstable equi-
y / The dancer’s equilibrium
is unstable. If she didn’t con-
stantly make tiny adjustments,
she would tip over.
z / Example 14.
Stable and unstable equilibria
A pencil balanced upright on its tip could theoretically be in
equilibrium, but even if it was initially perfectly balanced, it would
topple in response to the first air current or vibration from a pass-
ing truck. The pencil can be put in equilibrium, but not in stable
equilibrium. The things around us that we really do see staying still
are all in stable equilibrium.
Why is one equilibrium stable and another unstable? Try push-
ing your own nose to the left or the right. If you push it a millimeter
to the left, your head responds with a gentle force to the right, which
keeps your nose from flying off of your face. If you push your nose a
centimeter to the left, your face’s force on your nose becomes much
stronger. The defining characteristic of a stable equilibrium is that
the farther the object is moved away from equilibrium, the stronger
the force is that tries to bring it back.
The opposite is true for an unstable equilibrium. In the top
figure, the ball resting on the round hill theoretically has zero total
force on it when it is exactly at the top. But in reality the total
force will not be exactly zero, and the ball will begin to move off to
one side. Once it has moved, the net force on the ball is greater than
it was, and it accelerates more rapidly. In an unstable equilibrium,
the farther the object gets from equilibrium, the stronger the force
that pushes it farther from equilibrium.
This idea can be rephrased in terms of energy. The difference
between the stable and unstable equilibria shown in figure x is that
in the stable equilibrium, the potential energy is at a minimum, and
moving to either side of equilibrium will increase it, whereas the
unstable equilibrium represents a maximum.
Note that we are using the term “stable” in a weaker sense than
in ordinary speech. A domino standing upright is stable in the sense
we are using, since it will not spontaneously fall over in response to
a sneeze from across the room or the vibration from a passing truck.
We would only call it unstable in the technical sense if it could be
toppled by any force, no matter how small. In everyday usage, of
course, it would be considered unstable, since the force required to
topple it is so small.
An application of calculus example 14
Nancy Neutron is living in a uranium nucleus that is undergoing
fission. Nancy’s potential energy as a function of position can be
approximated by PE = x
− x
, where all the units and numeri-
cal constants have been suppressed for simplicity. Use calculus
to locate the equilibrium points, and determine whether they are
stable or unstable.
The equilibrium points occur where the PE is at a minimum or
maximum, and minima and maxima occur where the derivative
382 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
aa / The biceps muscle flexes the
ab / The triceps extends the
(which equals minus the force on Nancy) is zero. This deriva-
tive is dPE/dx = 4x
− 2x, and setting it equal to zero, we have
x = 0, ±1/

2. Minima occur where the second derivative is pos-
itive, and maxima where it is negative. The second derivative
is 12x
− 2, which is negative at x = 0 (unstable) and positive at
x = ±1/

2 (stable). Interpretation: the graph of the PE is shaped
like a rounded letter ‘W,’ with the two troughs representing the two
halves of the splitting nucleus. Nancy is going to have to decide
which half she wants to go with.
15.6 Simple machines: the lever
Although we have discussed some simple machines such as the pul-
ley, without the concept of torque we were not yet ready to ad-
dress the lever, which is the machine nature used in designing living
things, almost to the exclusion of all others. (We can speculate what
life on our planet might have been like if living things had evolved
wheels, gears, pulleys, and screws.) The figures show two examples
of levers within your arm. Different muscles are used to flex and
extend the arm, because muscles work only by contraction.
Analyzing example aa physically, there are two forces that do
work. When we lift a load with our biceps muscle, the muscle does
positive work, because it brings the bone in the forearm in the direc-
tion it is moving. The load’s force on the arm does negative work,
because the arm moves in the direction opposite to the load’s force.
This makes sense, because we expect our arm to do positive work on
the load, so the load must do an equal amount of negative work on
the arm. (If the biceps was lowering a load, the signs of the works
would be reversed. Any muscle is capable of doing either positive
or negative work.)
There is also a third force on the forearm: the force of the upper
arm’s bone exerted on the forearm at the elbow joint (not shown
with an arrow in the figure). This force does no work, because the
elbow joint is not moving.
Because the elbow joint is motionless, it is natural to define our
torques using the joint as the axis. The situation now becomes
quite simple, because the upper arm bone’s force exerted at the
elbow neither does work nor creates a torque. We can ignore it
completely. In any lever there is such a point, called the fulcrum.
If we restrict ourselves to the case in which the forearm rotates
with constant angular momentum, then we know that the total
torque on the forearm is zero,

= 0 .
If we choose to represent counterclockwise torques as positive, then
the muscle’s torque is positive, and the load’s is negative. In terms
Section 15.6 Simple machines: the lever 383
of their absolute values,

| = |τ
| .
Assuming for simplicity that both forces act at angles of 90

respect to the lines connecting the axis to the points at which they
act, the absolute values of the torques are
= r
where r
, the distance from the elbow joint to the biceps’ point
of insertion on the forearm, is only a few cm, while r
might be 30
cm or so. The force exerted by the muscle must therefore be about
ten times the force exerted by the load. We thus see that this lever
is a force reducer. In general, a lever may be used either to increase
or to reduce a force.
Why did our arms evolve so as to reduce force? In general,
your body is built for compactness and maximum speed of motion
rather than maximum force. This is the main anatomical difference
between us and the Neanderthals (their brains covered the same
range of sizes as those of modern humans), and it seems to have
worked for us.
As with all machines, the lever is incapable of changing the
amount of mechanical work we can do. A lever that increases force
will always reduce motion, and vice versa, leaving the amount of
work unchanged.
It is worth noting how simple and yet how powerful this analysis
was. It was simple because we were well prepared with the concepts
of torque and mechanical work. In anatomy textbooks, whose read-
ers are assumed not to know physics, there is usually a long and
complicated discussion of the different types of levers. For example,
the biceps lever, aa, would be classified as a class III lever, since it
has the fulcrum and load on the ends and the muscle’s force acting
in the middle. The triceps, ab, is called a class I lever, because the
load and muscle’s force are on the ends and the fulcrum is in the
middle. How tiresome! With a firm grasp of the concept of torque,
we realize that all such examples can be analyzed in much the same
way. Physics is at its best when it lets us understand many appar-
ently complicated phenomena in terms of a few simple yet powerful
384 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
ac / The r −φ representation of a
ad / Proof that the two an-
gles labeled φ are in fact equal:
The definition of an ellipse is that
the sum of the distances from
the two foci stays constant. If we
move a small distance along the
ellipse, then one distance shrinks
by an amount cos φ
, while the
other grows by cos φ
. These
are equal, so φ
= φ
15.7 Proof of Kepler’s elliptical orbit law
Kepler determined purely empirically that the planets’ orbits were
ellipses, without understanding the underlying reason in terms of
physical law. Newton’s proof of this fact based on his laws of motion
and law of gravity was considered his crowning achievement both
by him and by his contemporaries, because it showed that the same
physical laws could be used to analyze both the heavens and the
earth. Newton’s proof was very lengthy, but by applying the more
recent concepts of conservation of energy and angular momentum
we can carry out the proof quite simply and succinctly, and without
The basic idea of the proof is that we want to describe the shape
of the planet’s orbit with an equation, and then show that this equa-
tion is exactly the one that represents an ellipse. Newton’s original
proof had to be very complicated because it was based directly on
his laws of motion, which include time as a variable. To make any
statement about the shape of the orbit, he had to eliminate time
from his equations, leaving only space variables. But conservation
laws tell us that certain things don’t change over time, so they have
already had time eliminated from them.
There are many ways of representing a curve by an equation, of
which the most familiar is y = ax + b for a line in two dimensions.
It would be perfectly possible to describe a planet’s orbit using an
x − y equation like this, but remember that we are applying con-
servation of angular momentum, and the space variables that occur
in the equation for angular momentum are the distance from the
axis, r, and the angle between the velocity vector and the r vector,
which we will call φ. The planet will have φ=90

when it is moving
perpendicular to the r vector, i.e., at the moments when it is at its
smallest or greatest distances from the sun. When φ is less than

the planet is approaching the sun, and when it is greater than

it is receding from it. Describing a curve with an r −φ equation
is like telling a driver in a parking lot a certain rule for what direc-
tion to steer based on the distance from a certain streetlight in the
middle of the lot.
The proof is broken into the three parts for easier digestion.
The first part is a simple and intuitively reasonable geometrical fact
about ellipses, whose proof we relegate to the caption of figure ad;
you will not be missing much if you merely absorb the result without
reading the proof.
(1) If we use one of the two foci of an ellipse as an axis for
defining the variables r and φ, then the angle between the tangent
line and the line drawn to the other focus is the same as φ, i.e., the
two angles labeled φ in figure ad are in fact equal.
The other two parts form the meat of our proof. We state the
Section 15.7 Proof of Kepler’s elliptical orbit law 385
ae / Proof of part (3).
results first and then prove them.
(2) A planet, moving under the influence of the sun’s gravity
with less then the energy required to escape, obeys an equation of
the form
sin φ =
where p and q are positive constants that depend on the planet’s
energy and angular momentum.
(3) A curve is an ellipse if and only if its r −φ equation is of the
sin φ =
where p and q are constants that depend on the size and shape of
the ellipse and p is greater than zero.
Proof of part (2)
The component of the planet’s velocity vector that is perpen-
dicular to the r vector is v

= v sin φ, so conservation of angular
momentum tells us that L = mrv sin φ is a constant. Since the
planet’s mass is a constant, this is the same as the condition
rv sin φ = constant .
Conservation of energy gives

= constant .
We solve the first equation for v and plug into the second equation
to eliminate v. Straightforward algebra then leads to the equation
claimed above, with the constant p being positive because of our
assumption that the planet’s energy is insufficient to escape from
the sun, i.e., its total energy is negative.
Proof of part (3)
We define the quantities α, d, and s as shown in the figure. The
law of cosines gives
= r
−2rs cos α .
Using α = 180

−2φ and the trigonometric identities cos(180

−x) =
−cos x and cos 2x = 1 −2 sin
x, we can rewrite this as
= r
2 sin
φ −1
Straightforward algebra transforms this into
sin φ =
(r +s)
Since r + s is constant, the top of the fraction is constant, and the
denominator can be rewritten as 4rs = 4r(constant − r), which is
equivalent to the desired form.
386 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
Selected vocabulary
angular momen-
tum . . . . . . . .
a measure of rotational motion; a conserved
quantity for a closed system
axis . . . . . . . . An arbitrarily chosen point used in the defini-
tion of angular momentum. Any object whose
direction changes relative to the axis is consid-
ered to have angular momentum. No matter
what axis is chosen, the angular momentum of
a closed system is conserved.
torque . . . . . . the rate of change of angular momentum; a
numerical measure of a force’s ability to twist
on an object
equilibrium . . . a state in which an object’s momentum and
angular momentum are constant
stable equilibrium one in which a force always acts to bring the
object back to a certain point
unstable equilib-
rium . . . . . . . .
one in which any deviation of the object from
its equilibrium position results in a force push-
ing it even farther away
L . . . . . . . . . . angular momentum
t . . . . . . . . . . torque
T . . . . . . . . . the time required for a rigidly rotating body
to complete one rotation
Other terminology and notation
period . . . . . . . a name for the variable T defined above
moment of iner-
tia, I . . . . . . .
the proportionality constant in the equation
L = 2πI/T
Angular momentum is a measure of rotational motion which is
conserved for a closed system. This book only discusses angular
momentum for rotation of material objects in two dimensions. Not
all rotation is rigid like that of a wheel or a spinning top. An example
of nonrigid rotation is a cyclone, in which the inner parts take less
time to complete a revolution than the outer parts. In order to define
a measure of rotational motion general enough to include nonrigid
rotation, we define the angular momentum of a system by dividing
it up into small parts, and adding up all the angular momenta of
the small parts, which we think of as tiny particles. We arbitrarily
choose some point in space, the axis, and we say that anything
that changes its direction relative to that point possesses angular
momentum. The angular momentum of a single particle is
L = mv

r ,
where v

is the component of its velocity perpendicular to the line
Summary 387
joining it to the axis, and r is its distance from the axis. Positive and
negative signs of angular momentum are used to indicate clockwise
and counterclockwise rotation.
The choice of axis theorem states that any axis may be used for
defining angular momentum. If a system’s angular momentum is
constant for one choice of axis, then it is also constant for any other
choice of axis.
The spin theorem states that an object’s angular momentum
with respect to some outside axis A can be found by adding up two
(1) The first part is the object’s angular momentum found by
using its own center of mass as the axis, i.e., the angular momentum
the object has because it is spinning.
(2) The other part equals the angular momentum that the ob-
ject would have with respect to the axis A if it had all its mass
concentrated at and moving with its center of mass.
Torque is the rate of change of angular momentum. The torque
a force can produce is a measure of its ability to twist on an object.
The relationship between force and torque is
|τ| = r|F

| ,
where r is the distance from the axis to the point where the force is
applied, and F

is the component of the force perpendicular to the
line connecting the axis to the point of application. Statics problems
can be solved by setting the total force and total torque on an object
equal to zero and solving for the unknowns.
388 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
Problem 5.

A computerized answer check is available online.
A problem that requires calculus.
A difficult problem.
1 You are trying to loosen a stuck bolt on your RV using a big
wrench that is 50 cm long. If you hang from the wrench, and your
mass is 55 kg, what is the maximum torque you can exert on the

2 A physical therapist wants her patient to rehabilitate his in-
jured elbow by laying his arm flat on a table, and then lifting a 2.1
kg mass by bending his elbow. In this situation, the weight is 33
cm from his elbow. He calls her back, complaining that it hurts him
to grasp the weight. He asks if he can strap a bigger weight onto
his arm, only 17 cm from his elbow. How much mass should she
tell him to use so that he will be exerting the same torque? (He is
raising his forearm itself, as well as the weight.)

3 An object thrown straight up in the air is momentarily at rest
when it reaches the top of its motion. Does that mean that it is in
equilibrium at that point? Explain.
4 An object is observed to have constant angular momentum.
Can you conclude that no torques are acting on it? Explain. [Based
on a problem by Serway and Faughn.]
5 A person of weight W stands on the ball of one foot. Find
the tension in the calf muscle and the force exerted by the shinbones
on the bones of the foot, in terms of W, a, and b. For simplicity,
assume that all the forces are at 90-degree angles to the foot, i.e.,
neglect the angle between the foot and the floor.
6 Two objects have the same momentum vector. Assume that
they are not spinning; they only have angular momentum due to
their motion through space. Can you conclude that their angular
momenta are the same? Explain. [Based on a problem by Serway
and Faughn.]
Problems 389
Problem 7.
Problems 8 and 9.
Problem 10.
7 The sun turns on its axis once every 26.0 days. Its mass is
2.0 × 10
kg and its radius is 7.0 × 10
m. Assume it is a rigid
sphere of uniform density.
(a) What is the sun’s angular momentum?

In a few billion years, astrophysicists predict that the sun will use
up all its sources of nuclear energy, and will collapse into a ball of
exotic, dense matter known as a white dwarf. Assume that its radius
becomes 5.8 × 10
m (similar to the size of the Earth.) Assume it
does not lose any mass between now and then. (Don’t be fooled
by the photo, which makes it look like nearly all of the star was
thrown off by the explosion. The visually prominent gas cloud is
actually thinner than the best laboratory vacuum ever produced on
earth. Certainly a little bit of mass is actually lost, but it is not at
all unreasonable to make an approximation of zero loss of mass as
we are doing.)
(b) What will its angular momentum be?
(c) How long will it take to turn once on its axis?

8 A uniform ladder of mass m and length L leans against a
smooth wall, making an angle q with respect to the ground. The dirt
exerts a normal force and a frictional force on the ladder, producing
a force vector with magnitude F
at an angle φ with respect to the
ground. Since the wall is smooth, it exerts only a normal force on
the ladder; let its magnitude be F
(a) Explain why φ must be greater than θ. No math is needed.
(b) Choose any numerical values you like for m and L, and show
that the ladder can be in equilibrium (zero torque and zero total
force vector) for θ = 45.00

and φ = 63.43

9 Continuing the previous problem, find an equation for φ in
terms of θ, and show that m and L do not enter into the equation.
Do not assume any numerical values for any of the variables. You
will need the trig identity sin(a − b) = sin a cos b − sin b cos a. (As
a numerical check on your result, you may wish to check that the
angles given in part b of the previous problem satisfy your equation.)

10 (a) Find the minimum horizontal force which, applied at
the axle, will pull a wheel over a step. Invent algebra symbols for
whatever quantities you find to be relevant, and give your answer
in symbolic form. [Hints: There are four forces on the wheel at
first, but only three when it lifts off. Normal forces are always
perpendicular to the surface of contact. Note that the corner of the
step cannot be perfectly sharp, so the surface of contact for this
force really coincides with the surface of the wheel.]
(b) Under what circumstances does your result become infinite?
Give a physical interpretation.
390 Chapter 15 Conservation of angular momentum
Problem 16.
Problem 17.
11 A yo-yo of total mass m consists of two solid cylinders
of radius R, connected by a small spindle of negligible mass and
radius r. The top of the string is held motionless while the string
unrolls from the spindle. Show that the acceleration of the yo-yo
is g/(1 + R
). [Hint: The acceleration and the tension in the
string are unknown. Use τ = ∆L/∆t and F = ma to determine
these two unknowns.]
12 A ball is connected by a string to a vertical post. The ball is
set in horizontal motion so that it starts winding the string around
the post. Assume that the motion is confined to a horizontal plane,
i.e., ignore gravity. Michelle and Astrid are trying to predict the
final velocity of the ball when it reaches the post. Michelle says
that according to conservation of angular momentum, the ball has
to speed up as it approaches the post. Astrid says that according to
conservation of energy, the ball has to keep a constant speed. Who
is right? [Hint: How is this different from the case where you whirl
a rock in a circle on a string and gradually reel in the string?]
13 In the 1950’s, serious articles began appearing in magazines
like Life predicting that world domination would be achieved by the
nation that could put nuclear bombs in orbiting space stations, from
which they could be dropped at will. In fact it can be quite difficult
to get an orbiting object to come down. Let the object have energy
E = KE +PE and angular momentum L. Assume that the energy
is negative, i.e., the object is moving at less than escape velocity.
Show that it can never reach a radius less than
−1 +
1 +
[Note that both factors are negative, giving a positive result.]
14 [Problem 14 has been deleted.]
15 [Problem 15 has been deleted.]
16 Two bars of length L are connected with a hinge and placed
on a frictionless cylinder of radius r. (a) Show that the angle θ shown
in the figure is related to the unitless ratio r/L by the equation
2 tan θ
(b) Discuss the physical behavior of this equation for very large and
very small values of r/L.
17 You wish to determine the mass of a ship in a bottle without
taking it out. Show that this can be done with the setup shown in
the figure, with a scale supporting the bottle at one end, provided
that it is possible to take readings with the ship slid to several
different locations. Note that you can’t determine the position of
Problems 391
Problem 20.
Problem 23.
the ship’s center of mass just by looking at it, and likewise for the
bottle. In particular, you can’t just say, “position the ship right on
top of the fulcrum” or “position it right on top of the balance.”
18 Two atoms will interact via electrical forces between their
protons and electrons. One fairly good approximation to the poten-
tial energy is the Lennard-Jones formula,
PE(r) = k
where r is the center-to-center distance between the atoms and k is
a positive constant. Show that (a) there is an equilibrium point at
r = a,
(b) the equilibrium is stable, and
(c) the energy required to bring the atoms from their equilibrium
separation to infinity is k. Hint, p. 508
19 Suppose that we lived in a universe in which Newton’s law
of gravity gave forces proportional to r
rather than r
. Which,
if any, of Kepler’s laws would still be true? Which would be com-
pletely false? Which would be different, but in a way that could be
calculated with straightforward algebra?
20 The figure shows scale drawing of a pair of pl