Curvilinear Systems,
Central Forces
Dale E. Gary
NJIT Physics Department
September 29, 2009
4.7 Curvilinear OneDimensional
Systems
In addition to an object moving in one dimension in space, such as the
horizontal or vertical motions we have been dealing with, we can also treat
constrained motion along a curved path in terms of 1 dimension. An
example is a bead threaded onto a curved, rigid wire on which it can slide
without friction.
Such a curve can be specified in terms of its threedimensional (x, y, z)
coordinates, which might require three separate equations, but we could
instead use a single, parametric equation, i.e. specified the beads
location in terms of a single parameter, say its distance s along the wire
from some origin O. With such a choice, problems can be solved as if they
were onedimensional.
The speed (not velocity) is written so the kinetic energy is
compared with for a straight track. However, the force is a little more
complicated, since the wire exerts a force of constraint.
But notice that the constraint force does no work, since
it is not in the direction of motion, but only perpen
dicular. We only care about the tangential force F
tang
, which is
s
2
2
1
s m T =
2
2
1
x m
O
s m F =
tang
September 29, 2009
Potential Energy of Tangential
Forces
If all of the tangential forces are due to conservative forces, then we can
define a potential energy U(s) such that F
tang
= dU/ds. In this case, the
total energy E = T + U is constant, and we can use all of the ideas we have
discussed for the onedimensional case.
In particular, points along s where U(s) is a minimum are stable equilibrium
points, and points where U(s) is a maximum are unstable.
There are many problems that at first appear to be more complicated than
a bead on a wire, but they are nevertheless onedimensional and so can be
solved using these ideas.
A system composed of many bodies all in motion may seem multi
dimensional, but if they are connected by struts or strings so that the
position of the system can be described by a single parameter, then they
can be considered onedimensional.
Lets take a look at a couple of examples.
September 29, 2009
Example 4.7 Stability of a Cube
Balanced on a Cylinder
Statement of Problem:
A hard rubber cylinder of radius r is held fixed with its axis horizontal, and a wooden
cube of mass m and side 2b is balanced on top of the cylinder, with its center
vertically above the cylinders axis and four of its sides parallel to the axis. The cube
cannot slip on the rubber of the cylinder, but can of course rock from side to side, as
shown in the figure. By examining the cubes potential energy, find out if the
equilibrium with the cube centered above the cylinder is stable or unstable.
h
O
C
B
b
r u
Solution:
Note that the system is onedimensional, since its position can
be parameterized by a single parameter, u. The constraint
forces are the normal and frictional forces of the cylinder on
the cube (because the cube does not slide), which do no work
(because they are perpendicular to the motion). The only
other force is gravity, which is a conservative force, so we can
define the potential energy as U = mgh, where h is the height
of the CM of the cube above the CM of the cylinder.
If there is any trick, it is to recognize that BC = ru.
September 29, 2009
Example 4.7 Stability of a Cube
Balanced on a Cylinder
The value of u for which the derivative is zero is found by
This is zero when u = 0, which confirms the obviousthe cube can be balanced
directly on top of the cylinder. But is the balance precarious? To find out:
At the equilibrium position u = 0, this is just mg(r b), which is positive for r > b.
h
O
C
B
b
r u
Solution, contd:
The angle BC makes from the horizontal is also u.
The length of h is BC sin u + (r+b) cos u = ru sin u + (r+b) cos u.
This lets us write the potential energy of the system as
Remember that the equilibrium position will be a location
where the slope of U is zero (dU/du = 0), and it will be stable if
the curvature is upward (d
2
U/du
2
> 0).
u
] sin cos ) [( u u u r b r mg mgh U + + = =
0 ] sin cos [
] cos sin sin ) ( [
= =
+ + + =
u u u
u u u u
u
b r mg
r r b r mg
d
dU
] sin cos ) [( ] cos sin cos [
2
2
u u u u u u u
u
r b r mg b r r mg
d
U d
= =
Cube must be smaller
than cylinder
September 29, 2009
Another ExampleAtwood Machine
where AT
1
is the change in kinetic energy after the displacement, AU
1
is the
change in potential energy due to the displacement, and W
1
ten
is the work done
during the displacement against the tension force F
T
.
The tension force is exactly the same on the two masses, so the work done by
tension is equal and opposite, i.e.
The Atwood Machine provides another example of a system
with several moving parts that can be cast into a one
dimensional framework.
Here the pulley is massless (not essential to the problem)
and the cable connecting the two masses cannot stretch.
The position of the whole system can be determined by the
position x of the mass below the center of the pulley.
Consider the energies of the two masses after a
displacement:
ten
2 2 2
ten
1 1 1
and W U T W U T = A + A = A + A
m
2
m
1
x
m
1
g
m
2
g
F
T
F
T
.
ten
2
ten
1
W W =
September 29, 2009
Another ExampleAtwood Machine
The constraint forces are crucially important for determining how the system
moves, but they do no work on the system, so when using energy to solve
problems we can simply ignore the constraint forces.
For each particle o, with potential energy U
o
, the total energy
is constant.
Adding the two energies, then, the work done by tension
drops out and the total change in energy is zero:
In other words, the total mechanical energy
is conserved.
It happens that many systems that contain several particles
that are constrained in some way (by strings, struts, or a
track) can be treated in this way.
. 0 ) (
2 2 1 1
= + + + A U T U T
m
2
m
1
x
m
1
g
m
2
g
F
T
F
T
=
+ =
N
U T E
1
) (
o
o o
2 2 1 1
U T U T E + + + =
September 29, 2009
Problem 4.36
Statement of the problem, part (a):
A metal ball (mass m) with a hole through it is threaded on a frictionless vertical
rod. A massless string (length l) attached to the ball runs over a massless,
frictionless pulley and supports a block of mass M, as show in the figure. The
postions of the two masses can be specified by the one angle u. (a) Write down
the potential energy U(u). (The PE is given easily in terms of the heights shown as
h and H. Eliminate these two variables in favor of u and the constants b and l.
Assume that the pulley and ball have negligible size.)
Solution to part (a):
The PE is just We need to write h
and H in terms of l, b, and u, but clearly h = (l H) cos u,
while b = (l H) sin u. Thus,
Plugging into the expression for U, we have
We are free to drop the uninteresting constant Mgl,
which amounts to choosing a different zero for U(u), so
. MgH mgh U =
m
M
H
h
b
u
l H
). sin / ( and , tan / u u b l H b h = =
. sin / tan / ) ( Mgl Mgb mgb U + = u u u
). cos (
sin
) ( u
u
u m M
gb
U =
September 29, 2009
Problem 4.36
Statement of the problem, part (b):
(b) By differentiating U(u) find whether the system has an equilibrium position, and
for what values of m and M equilibrium can occur. Discuss the stability of any
equilibrium positions.
Solution to part (b):
Taking the derivative and setting it to zero, we have
Multiplying through by sin
2
u (note u cannot be zero), and
dividing by gb, we have
So equilibria occur at
which can only happen when m < M. In that case, there is an equilibrium at
Normally, to see if this is a stable equilibrium, take the second derivative,
evaluation at u = u
o
, and check if it is positive (stable) or negative (unstable). In
this case, that leads to a very nasty expression. Instead, imagine pulling the mass
m downward (u < u
o
), letting go, and asking what direction the net force acts. It is
clearly upward, tending to restore the equilibrium. Likewise, moving the mass
upward leads to a net force downward. Hence the equilibrium is stable.
m
M
H
h
b
u
l H
0 ) cos (
sin
cos
) sin (
sin
) cos (
sin
cos
2
2
= + =
+ =
mgb M m
gb
m
gb
m M
gb
d
dU
u
u
u
u
u
u
u
u
u
. 0 cos = u M m
, cos
M
m
= u
M
m
arccos
o
= u
September 29, 2009
4.8 Central Forces
We can treat central force problems (such as gravitation and electric force
problems) using some of the simplicity provided by onedimensional problems,
because the symmetry of the problems mean that the dependence of the
motion can be cast into one involving only the radial component.
Any central force can be written generally as
where f(r) gives the magnitude of the force as a function of position r.
Examples are the Coulomb force and the gravitational force
These forces have two properties not necessarily shared by all central forces:
1) they are conservative, and 2) they are spherically symmetric (or
rotationally invariant). That is, the magnitude of the force does not depend
on the direction of r, but depends only on the magnitude of r, i.e.
What is remarkable is that, for central forces, these two conditions always go
together. That is,
. ) ( , ) (
2 2
r r F r r F
r
GMm
r
kQq
= =
r r r F ) ( ) ( f =
). ( ) ( r f f = r
invariant ly rotational ve conservati
September 29, 2009
One way to prove the foregoing statement ,
we can use spherical polar coordinates. This gives us a good opportunity to
introduce them, which we do now.
We already introduced polar coordinates and noted how the r and  unit
vectors work. We also extended that to a z component in cylindrical
coordinates. In spherical polar coordinates, in contrast, we introduce another
angular variable u, called the polar angle (or zenith angle when talking about
sky coordinates from some local position on the Earth). The relationships are
noted in the figure below.
By inspection of this figure, you should be able to see
that
Note that the unit vectors all point in the directions
of increase in the vectors. The direction of the unit
vector is obvious. The and unit vectors are tangent
to the lines of latitude and longitude through the point.
r
x
y
z
r
u

Spherical Polar Coordinates
invariant ly rotational ve conservati
u  u  u cos , sin sin , cos sin r z r y r x = = =
r
r sin u
r sin u cos 
r sin u sin 
r cosu
September 29, 2009
Gradient in Spherical Polar Coordinates
We would like to express the gradient of a function f in spherical polar
coordinates, but before we do, we note that the dot product in these
coordinates behaves just as you would expect. If
Then the dot product is
Recall that the gradient of a function f in cartesian
coordinates was
Recall also that the change in f due to a small displacement dr is
All we need to do, then, is express the displacement in spherical polar
coordinates.
( )
( ) .
, ,
,
, ,
r b
r a
 u  u
 u  u
b b b b b b
a a a a a a
r r
r r
+ + = =
+ + = =
.
  u u
b a b a b a
r r
+ + = b a
.
z
f
y
f
x
f
f
c
c
+
c
c
+
c
c
= V z y x
. r d f df V =
r d
r r sin
 u u d r rd dr d + + =
r
x
y
z
r
u

note, not just du note, not just rd
Circumference 2tr
Circumference 2tr sin u
Circumference 0
dV=dr rdu r sin u d
= r
2
dr sin u du d
September 29, 2009
Gradient in Spherical Polar Coordinates
We can rewrite completely generally as
but df is also
Equating these, term by term, we must have
Writing this more compactly, we have
You can see that this is somewhat more complicated than in cartesian
coordinates. Likewise the other operators of vector calculus are also more
complicated, like the divergence and curl. The expressions for these are shown
on the inside back cover of the text.
r d f df V =
.
sin
1
 u u c
c
+
c
c
+
c
c
= V
f
r
f
r r
f
f r
( ) ( ) ( ) , sin  u u
 u
d r f d r f dr f df
r
V + V + V =
. 

u
u
d
f
d
f
dr
r
f
df
c
c
+
c
c
+
c
c
=
( ) ( ) ( ) .
sin
1
,
1
,
 u u
 u
c
c
= V
c
c
= V
c
c
= V
f
r
f
f
r
f
r
f
f
r
September 29, 2009
Conservative and Spherically
Symmetric Central Forces
Now we are ready to show that central forces that are conservative are also
spherically symmetric, and those that are spherically symmetric are also
conservative.
Lets first assume that the force F(r) is conservative and prove that means it
must be spherically symmetric. Because it is conservative, we can express it as
the gradient of a scalar potential energy.
Because the force is central, only its radial component can be nonzero, so the
last two terms must be zero, i.e. That means the potential
energy is spherically symmetric, hence the force is too:
We will show the converse in a moment. The point, though, is that problems
involving central forces that are spherically symmetric are nearly as simple as
onedimensional problems, as we will see in Chapter 8.
.
sin
1
) (
 u u c
c
c
c
c
c
= V =
U
r
U
r r
U
U r r F
. 0 / / = c c = c c  u U U
. ) (
r
U
c
c
= r r F
September 29, 2009
Problem 4.43
Statement of the Problem:
In Section 4.8 I claimed that a force F(r) that is central and spherically symmetric is
automatically conservative. Here are two ways to prove it: (a) Since F(r) is central
and spherically symmetric, it must have the form
Using cartesian coordinates, show that this implies that
Solution to part (a):
The first thing we need to do is express in terms of x,y,z coordinates. To do this,
recall that
Thus, Taking the curl, we have
To deal with a term like , we use the chain rule and
write
. ) ( ) ( r r F r f =
. 0 = V F
r
.
) , , (
z y x
r
r
r
z
r
y
r
x
r
z y x
r
+ + = = =
). )( ( ) (
) (
) ( z y x z y x r F z y x r g z y x
r
r f
+ + = + + =
z y x
z y x
F
) ( ) (
) ( ) (
) ( ) (
) ( ) ( ) (


.

\

c
c
c
c
+

.

\

c
c
c
c
+


.

\

c
c
c
c
=
c
c
c
c
c
c
= V
y
r g
x
x
r g
y
x
r g
z
z
r g
x
z
r g
y
y
r g
z
z r g y r g x r g
z y x
y
r g
c
c ) (
,
) ( ) (
y
r
r
r g
y
r g
c
c
c
c
=
c
c
.
2 2 2
z y x r + + =
September 29, 2009
Problem 4.43contd
Solution to part (a), contd:
You can easily show that the partial derivative and likewise for the other
partial derivatives of r. Thus, the first term is
Obviously, the same will be true for the other components, so indeed,
We saw last time that this is enough to ensure that the work done by F is path
independent, hence, the force is conservative, which is what we needed to show.
Statement of the problem, part (b):
Even quicker, using the expression given inside the back cover for in
spherical polar coordinates, show that
Solution to part (b):
Because the force is central, it has only a radial component f
r
, hence the expression
. 0 = V F
( ) 0
) ( ) (
) ( ) (
=

.

\

c
c
c
c
=


.

\

c
c
c
c
= V x x F
r
r g
r
z
y
r
r g
r
y
z
z
r g
y
y
r g
z
x
,
r
y
y
r
=
c
c
F V
. 0 = V F
( ) ( )
( ) 0
1
sin
1
1
1
sin
1
sin
sin
1
=
c
c
c
c
=


.

\

c
c
c
c
+


.

\

c
c
c
c
+


.

\

c
c
c
c
= V
r r r
r
f
r
f
r
f f r
r r
rf
r r
f
r
f f
r
  u 
 u 
u
u u
u
 u 
r F
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