Projectile motion on an inclined misty surface: I. Capturing and analysing the trajectory
S Y Ho1,3 , S K Foong2 , C H Lim1,4 , C C Lim1 , K Lin1,5 and L Kuppan1,2
1 Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, 1, Nanyang Walk, 637616, Singapore 2 Natural Sciences and Science Education, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, 1, Nanyang Walk, 637616, Singapore

Abstract Projectile motion is usually the first non-uniform two-dimensional motion that students will encounter in a pre-university physics course. In this article, we introduce a novel technique for capturing the trajectory of projectile motion on an inclined Perspex plane. This is achieved by coating the Perspex with a thin layer of fine water droplets that allows the projectile to leave a trail as it passes. The experiment was field-tested in Singapore and the response was very good.

Projectile motion is usually the first nonuniform two-dimensional motion that students will encounter in a pre-university physics course. On the basis of their experience in everyday life, such as from watching football and baseball games, most students are able to ascribe the parabolic shape to the trajectory of a projectile. Their laboratory experiences with projectile motion are usually limited to watching class demonstrations or pre-recorded stroboscopic videos of projectile motions. Consequently, students rarely have an opportunity to carry out a systematic study in order to appreciate the relationship between parameters of the projectile (such as angle of projection, initial velocity) and both the range and the maximum height of the motion.

Present address: Department of Physics, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, M5S 1A7, Canada. 4 Present address: World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte Ltd, 5 Toh Tuck Link, 596224, Singapore. 5 Present address: Jesus College, Cambridge University, UK.

To achieve the above, an experiment is designed to capture the full trajectory of the projectile motion in order for students to study these relationships. While video cameras and digital cameras have become common and cheaper, aligning the cameras to capture the full path of the projectile on its two-dimensional plane is not easy at all. Moreover, measurements of actual distances on the captured images may also be a challenge. In this article, we introduce a logistically simpler and inexpensive alternative inspired by the cloud chamber. Essentially, instead of launching the projectile in a vertical plane, it is launched up along an inclined Perspex plane which is coated with a thin layer of fine water droplets. The projectile, which is a steel ball, slides and leaves a trail as it passes. Although there have been many diverse studies on the subject of projectile motion in physics education literature (see [1–14]), we are not aware of any student experiment that uses a similar technique.

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the non-zero solution of equation (3) gives the range R of the projectile as R= 254 u2 g sin 2θ. as shown in figure 3. (g) A device which can be used to coat a thin layer of fine water droplets on the Perspex. (d) A small steel ball-bearing (about 10 mm in diameter) as the projectile.) (b) A 1 cm interval grid printed on sheets of white paper. The launcher can be improvised using other equipment. (This angle of inclination is found to make use of the board area in an optimal way—if the angle is more gentle. the projectile motion on the inclined plane is effectively the usual projectile motion in a vertical plane in space but with a ‘diluted’ gravity. y = (u sin θ )t − 1 g t 2 . In other words. the ‘press-down’ type of ball-point pen and ball-bearing setup give a typical launching speed of about 1. as illustrated in figure 1. we obtain the equation for the parabolic trajectory which is Procedure (1) Clean the Perspex sheet so that it is free of dirt and stains. Set the angle of inclination φ of the Perspex sheet at about 40◦ . Projectile motion on an inclined plane. Figure 1. a projectile on an inclined plane can be modelled using constant horizontal velocity and the component of g along the inclined plane given by g = g sin φ where φ is the angle of elevation of the inclined plane. (c) An enlarged half-protractor (0◦ –90◦ ) printed on white paper. In our case. A junior college which has adopted this experiment uses a water sprayer instead. If friction is negligible and the projectile slides freely on the plane. Its trajectory is a parabola. (4) PHYSICS EDUCATION . A brief review of theory If air resistance is negligible. its trajectory is again a parabola. (Width: 650 mm. height: 500 mm. Likewise. then at any instant of time t after the projectile is launched with initial velocity u at an angle of projection θ to the x axis. (e) A ‘press-down’ type of ball-point pen as the launcher. The grid and the protractor have been designed to allow measurements to be made easily. the ball might be shot beyond the length of the board. the motion of a projectile in a vertical plane can be modelled using constant horizontal velocity and constant vertical acceleration due to gravity g . the position of the projectile on the inclined surface is given by x = (u cos θ )t. the full length of the board is not used. 2 (1) (2) By eliminating t from equations (1) and (2). Extra caution is required when handling the weights which are near the edge of the table and directing the steamer away from the body when it is in operation. The layout is as shown in figure 2.S Y Ho et al inclined plane and setting x = R/2 in equation (3) gives the maximum height H of the projectile as y u θ trajectory x R H= u2 2g sin2 θ. if it is too steep.5 m s−1 . We have been using a steam sanitizer (steamer) for this purpose. and the x and y axes on the inclined surface as shown. (f) A small piece of copper foil.) May 2009 y = (tan θ )x − 1 2 g u 2 cos2 θ x 2. If we fix the origin. The main items are: (a) A Perspex sheet as the inclined plane. We have independently verified that this also produces good results. to reduce friction. (5) H Preparation for the experiment Figure 2 is a photograph of the actual experimental setup and it shows the material and equipment needed for the experiment. (3) On setting y = 0.

it leaves its trail as it passes on the surface of the Perspex. Alternatively. 4% difference. Discussion The setup has been designed with a grid on the Perspex and an enlarged protractor to make measurements easy and accurate. The values of the correlation coefficient squared are very close to 1. Photograph of the actual experimental setup. let the water boil and then direct the jet of steam from the sanitizer at the surface of the Perspex from a distance of about 5 cm away until a thin and even layer of fine water droplets covers the whole surface of the Perspex. a new layer of steam is applied and a new launch is repeated with a different angle of projection. which is held by hand in the actual experiment. (2) Fill the steamer with water. The values of R and H can then be read off the scale. This is further supported by the consistent values of the initial velocity obtained from figures 5 and 6. The pen launcher. The data are least squares fitted. (4) The surface of Perspex is wiped clean with tissue paper.9915 and 0. The squares of the correlation coefficients for the fits are respectively 0. The design of the experiment fulfils the objective of allowing students to study the relationship between the angle of projection and both the range and the maximum height of the motion with relative ease. showing the trajectory of the projectile motion as shown in figure 4. the gradient obtained from figure 6 is about half that of figure 5. we plot R against sin 2θ in figure 5 and H against sin2 θ in figure 6.Projectile motion on an inclined misty surface: I Figure 2. As expected from the equations. A schematic sketch of the experimental set-up. The initial velocities obtained from figures 5 and 6 are 1. This experiment was used in a field-test in Singapore involving a total of 169 students PHYSICS EDUCATION Results To verify equations (4) and (5). condensation on Perspex surface track left by steel ball u θ x R H Figure 3.9991. another trial can be made and the two trajectories can be compared.48 m s−1 respectively.45 m s−1 and 1. This suggests that the experimental data follow the form of equations (4) and (5). is taped onto the board for illustration purposes. Note that excessive heat from the steam will cause the Perspex to bend. to within May 2009 255 . (3) When the ball-bearing is launched.

0 0. The range R as a function of angle of projection. The carbon paper used should 256 PHYSICS EDUCATION be of the ‘soft’ variety meant for duplicating handwritten work rather than the ‘hard’ type meant for typewritten work. The trail on the carbon paper would also be clearer if the steel ball was of larger mass (more than 4 g) than the 10 mm diameter one used in the experiment.8 1. Our setup is less limited in these respects and allows a greater range of parameters for the projectile motion to be used. He captured the trajectory using carbon paper instead of the thin coat of fine water droplets used here. From equation (4) and the gradient of the graph.48 m s–1. taking GCE (General Certificate of Education.4 0.9915 0.0 0. Cambridge) A-level physics and 13 teachers from two junior colleges. φ = 40° 0. It was also introduced to about 50 teachers in an in-service course. A typical track left by the steel ball-bearing on the Perspex surface.2 0. In a sequel to this paper [16] motivated by enhancing students’ experience.002 R2 = 0.2 0. The maximum height H as a function of angle of projection. the initial velocity of the projectile is 1.4 0.4 y = 0. From equation (5) and the gradient of the graph.16 φ = 40° y = 0.08 0.8 1.0018 R2 = 0.0 Figure 5.1731x + 0.6 0.2 0. A senior teacher adapted the experiment for use in his school. Surveys were carried out and the response was very good.0 0.S Y Ho et al Figure 4.9991 0.1 0. Figure 6.3 0. the initial velocity of the projectile is 1.45 m s–1. The analysis and results have recently been reported in [15].3331x + 0.04 0.00 0. in 2007 and 2008.0 0. using carbon paper requires a smaller angle for the inclined plane. Also. a simple modification to the experiment and an extended analysis of the angle of projection to ‘hit any target’ placed on the surface of the inclined plane are presented.6 0. Conclusion Our idea of capturing the trajectory using a thin layer of fine water droplets on a Perspex grid has been proven to be logistically simple and economical in the case of projectile motion on May 2009 .12 0.

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