FEATURES

www.iop.org/journals/physed

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.

Introduction
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.
3

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.
PHYSICS EDUCATION 44 (3)

0031-9120/09/030253+05$30.00 © 2009 IOP Publishing Ltd

253

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.

14 14–8 [5] Serway R A. 38 193–5 [9] Cordry S 2003 Projectile motion model Phys. The measurements can also be easily and accurately obtained. We believe that such experiments will greatly enhance the learning experience. China Academy of Sciences. C H Lim obtained his MSc degree from the National Institute of Education. 41 430–1 [10] LoPresto M C 2005 Graphs make determination of projectile height and range easy Phys. Singapore. He obtained his masters degree in civil engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). Nanyang Technological University. Educ. His research areas include science education and quantum physics. Before this. Nanyang Technological University. 42 621–4 [14] Foong S K 2008 Improved accessibility Phys. Nanyang Technological University. Lehman J and Hall R 1995 The ballistic cart on an incline revisited Phys. Educ. He obtained his PhD in physics from the University of Texas at Austin under the supervision of Professor Bryce DeWitt. 41 151–4 [13] Day L H 2007 Can physics help win the case? A real-world application of an unusual two-dimensional projectile motion situation Phys. Lim C C and Kuppan L 2009 Projectile motion on an inclined misty surface: II. L Kuppan is an academic associate at the Republic Polytechnic. This concept can also be easily extended to other physics experiments where measurements of the trajectory are required to test a physical theory or model. Teach. 38 37–40 [7] Larabee D 2000 Car collisions. His research interests include theoretical and interdisciplinary physics as well as physics education. One of his interests is in finding ways to simplify the teaching of difficult concepts in physics. Singapore. Carlton L G. Singapore. 43 232–3 [15] Foong S K. Phys.Projectile motion on an inclined misty surface: I an inclined plane. 33 578–80 [6] Chow J W. One ProblemTM method. specializing in telecommunications. Teach. and then worked as a civil engineer in the area of geotechnical and transportation engineering for 16 years before joining the National Institute of Education. Ho S Y.1088/0031-9120/44/3/004 References [1] Lucie P 1979 Projectile motion revisited Am. Educ. He recently obtained a PhD degree for his thesis in quantum field theory from the National Institute of Education. He carried out a brief research assignment at the Institute of Physics. 47 139–41 [2] Hale D P 1980 A tilted plane as a gravitational field model Phys. He worked as a teaching assistant for the pre-university physics programme (SM2) at the Institute before joining World Scientific as an editor in 2004. K Lin is an associate consultant working for a management consultancy Analysys Mason. Educ. Wong D and Kuppan L 2008 Experiments for challenging topics in pre-university physics Science Education at the Nexus of Theory and Practice ed Y-J Lee and A-L Tan (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers) pp 81–109 May 2009 257 . Teach. Teach. 44 364–5 [12] Farkas N and Ramsier R D 2006 Projectile activity for the laboratory: a safe and inexpensive approach to several concepts Phys. National Institute of Education. He graduated from Cambridge University with an MSc in physics. 21 19–23 [4] Strnad J 1993 Relativistic projectile motion Eur. Educ. [16] Foong S K. and carries out problem-based learning through the One Day. J. PHYSICS EDUCATION Acknowledgment This research was funded by a grant (CRP 49/03 FSK) from the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice. Nanyang Technological University. in 2004. in 2003. Scoring a goal Phys. Teach. 15 306–9 [3] Kemp H R 1986 Projectile paths corrected for recoil and air resistance Phys. Phys. Singapore. and was a research and teaching assistant in Cambridge University and in Harvard University. Canada. USA. S K Foong is an associate professor in natural sciences and science education at the National Institute of Education. 38 334–6 [8] Garcia A L 2003 Projectile motion in perspective Phys. physics and the state highway patrol Phys. 40 316–8 [11] Maclnnes I 2006 An inexpensive demonstration of projectile motion Phys. C C Lim taught physics in high school in the early 1980s. as an exchange/visiting student. and his area of research is in quantum many body physics. he taught at Hwa Chong Junior College and headed the physics unit. Educ. Educ. J. in final form 5 December 2008 doi:10. Singapore. Received 31 July 2008. Lim C C. 44 258 S Y Ho is currently a PhD student at the University of Toronto. Ekkekakis P and Hay J G 2000 A web-based video digitizing system for the study of projectile motion Phys. Educ. Singapore.