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# Accelerated Motion of a Freely Falling Body 25

Experiment 4:
Accelerated Motion of a Freely Falling Body

A. Background

G alileo was the first to introduce the concept of acceleration; he developed it in describing the
motion of falling bodies. As a sixteenth century scientist he was also the first to refute with
observation and experiment Aristotle's falling-bodies hypothesis that objects fell to earth with a rate
proportional to their mass. Although Galileo gave no reason other than his observations for why
bodies fell with equal accelerations we find that a later researcher by the name of Newton provides
the explanation.

A falling body is accelerated towards the earth due to the gravitational attraction between the body
and the earth. This force of attraction acting on the body is called the weight of the body. Newton
deduced that a heavier body was attracted to the earth with more force than a lighter body. The
question is, if this is true, why then is Aristotle's hypothesis incorrect? The answer is that the
acceleration of a body depends not only on the force, but on the mass as well. The more mass a
body has the more tendency the body has to resist a change in its state of motion. This tendency to
resist a change in motion was called by Galileo inertia. Newton later incorporated the concept of
inertia into the first of his three laws of motion. This law, sometimes called "the law on inertia"
states:

Every body continues in its state of rest, or uniform motion in a straight line,
unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.

As an example of why the Galilean explanation is correct, consider two objects whose weights are
10 and 5 pounds respectively. The 10-pound object is attracted to the earth with twice the force as
the 5-pound object. However, the 10-pound object also has twice the inertia, or resistance to a
change in its motion, as a 5-pound body. Twice the force acting against twice the inertia produces
the same acceleration as half the force acting on half the inertia, therefore, both objects accelerate
equally.

B. Theory
r
The average velocity of a body is equal to the vector displacement ! r divided by the time !t
required to travel that distance. In symbols
r r r
r r ! r1 "r
v avg = 2 = Eqn. 1
t2 ! t1 "t

The instantaneous velocity v of a body is defined as the limit of this ratio as the increment ∆t is made
vanishingly small.

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r r
r # !r % d r
v(t) = lim = Eqn. 2
! t" 0 \$ !t & dt

When the velocity of a body varies the motion is said to be accelerated. Acceleration is defined as
the rate of change of velocity. The average acceleration of a body is
r r r
r v2 ! v1 "v
a avg = = Eqn. 3
t2 ! t1 "t

The instantaneous acceleration of a body is defined as the limit of the ratio of change in velocity to
change in time as ∆t → 0;
r r
r # !v % dv
a(t) = lim \$ & = Eqn. 4
! t" 0 !t dt

For one dimensional motion we can dispense with the vector notation and write

ds dv
v(t) = and a(t) = Eqn. 5
dt dt

In this experiment we wish to study the motion of a freely falling object starting from rest and falling
vertically downward along a straight line. Using the apparatus shown in Figure 2 we will obtain a
record of position as a function of time. Since the motion takes place along a straight line, we will
dispense with the vector notation in what follows.

By using our tabulated values of displacement and time, we can plot a graph of distance versus time,
obtaining a curve I similar to that shown in Figure 1. We can see from Equation 2 that the slope of
this curve is the instantaneous velocity of the body. The slope is obtained by constructing a tangent
to the curve at the point for the instant in question and then determining the slope of the tangent.

Curve I
Distance

t Time

Figure 1

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Accelerated Motion of a Freely Falling Body 27

## C.To summarize the main points in the above discussion:

1. The average velocity of a body is obtained by dividing the distance traveled by the time
required to traverse the distance.

2. The instantaneous velocity of an object is the limit approached by the ratio ∆s/∆t as ∆t → 0.
This velocity is also equal to the slope of the tangent to the distance-time curve at the desired
point.

3. The acceleration of an object is the time rate of change of its velocity, or a = ∆v/∆t. It is also
the slope of the tangent to the velocity-time curve at the instant considered.

4. For a constant acceleration, the velocity-time curve is a straight line and the average velocity of
the body is also equal to the instantaneous velocity at the mid-point of the time interval used.

## II. The Experiment

A record of the position of the falling bob as a function of time is produced on waxed tape by a
series of marks that are made by an electric spark which occurs at the rate of 60 per second.

Electromagnet

Freely Tape
Falling
bob

High
Voltage Six Foot
Wire Stand

To High Voltage
Sparking Apparatus

Figure 2

By selecting certain marks, measuring their distance from an arbitrary origin and divided by the
appropriate time interval we are able to determine the average velocity during that time interval from
!s
v= Since the bob is in free-fall and accelerating uniformly, this value of the velocity is also the
!t
instantaneous value of velocity at a time half-way through the time interval.

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The acceleration may now be obtained from the slope of a velocity versus time graph.

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III. Procedure

1. After the instructor has explained the use of the free-fall apparatus, and its dangers, practice
attaching the bob to the electromagnet and dropping it several times, ensuring that the bob does
not touch either of the parallel wires during its fall. If the bob brushes one of the wires during
its fall, have the instructor check to see if the apparatus is level.

2. Pull a piece of waxed paper into position over the rear wire. Then, with the spark running,
drop the bob and produce a trace. (Note: do not run the spark timer too long without dropping
the bob as the waxed paper may catch on fire).

3. Check to see if all the sparks were recorded, if not, or if there is any doubt, check with your
instructor.

## 4. Place the tape on a table next to a 2 meter stick.

Tape

Meter
Stick s1
s2

s3
Figure 3

5. Choose the first distinct spark to use as a "zero" position. This means that the time interval
used for the calculations will be 1/60 sec or ∆t = 1/60 sec. Measure the distance in meters to
each of the dots from the zero position (s1, s2, s3, etc.). Refer to Figure 3

## IV. Calculations and Analysis

1. Complete the table by calculating the velocity and the acceleration. Note that velocity is found
by dividing adjacent distances by the time interval and that acceleration is found by dividing
adjacent velocities by the time interval. Note that the time interval in each case is 1/60 of a
second.

2. Calculate the average acceleration, and record this result on the table.

3. Calculate the % error for your measurement of average acceleration assuming the actual value
is 9.8 m/sec2. %error =

4. Plot a curve showing the relation of distance to time (see Figure 4). At the time 14.5/60
seconds draw a tangent to the distance-time curve.
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5. Plot a curve showing the relation of velocity to time (see Figure 5). Put a "best fit" straight
line on the graph.

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## Time Distance Velocity Acceleration

(in sec/60) (in meters) (in m/s) (in m/s2)

0 0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20

## Average Acceleration -->

6. What value for time do you obtain when you extrapolate your v versus t curve to v = 0 (which
means extend your best fit straight line back to the point where it intercepts the time axis)?

## What does this time value represent?

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7. a) From the slope of the tangent to the distance versus time curve determine the velocity at
time 14.5/ 60 seconds. Velocity (7a) =

b) Find the value of the velocity at this same time from your v versus t graph.
Velocity (7b) =

c) Next calculate the theoretical value of v at this time (vt = v0 + at) using the value of a (the
acceleration) that you have previously determined. Velocity (7c) =

## d) Which of the above methods should be most accurate (a, b, or c)?

Why?

V. Questions
1. What would be the appearance of the velocity-time curve if the falling body were so light that
the effect of air friction could not be neglected? Make a sketch and explain.

## 2. Give an example for each of the following cases:

a) Where the acceleration of an object is zero but the velocity is not zero.
b) Where the velocity of an object is zero but its acceleration is not zero.

3. If the effects of friction are negligible, which will roll down-hill faster, a Cadillac or a Honda?

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Figure 4

Figure 5
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