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Physics - Vectors and Motion

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9-13-99

Sections 2.8 - 3.4

Graphs

Drawing good pictures can be the secret to solving physics problems. It's amazing how much

information you can get from a diagram. We also usually need equations to find numerical

solutions. Graphs are basically pictures of equations. Learning how to interpret these pictures can

really help you understand physics.

Let's return to our last example, a ball thrown vertically upward with an initial speed of 12 m/s. The

only acceleration we have to worry about is the acceleration due to gravity, 9.8 m/s

2

down. This

acceleration is constant, so it's easy to plot on a graph.

If the time T represents the time when the ball returns to your hand, the area under the curve must

equal -24.0 m/s, because we know the velocity changes from 12.0 m/s to -12.0 m/s. This allows us

to solve for T, using:

T = -24.0 / -9.8 = 2.45 s, agreeing with what we calculated previously.

What about the velocity graph? The equation for velocity is:

v = vo + at

Plugging in the initial velocity and acceleration here gives v = 12.0 -9.8t

The velocity graph can give all sorts of information:

The slope of the velocity graph is the acceleration, while the area under the curve is the

displacement.

For this example of a ball going up and then back down, the graph confirms that the time

taken on the way up equals the time taken on the way down.

Calculating the area under the curve for the ball on the way up (the positive area on the

graph) gives the maximum displacement. The area is just a triangle, with a a base T/2 =

1.2245 s and height of 12 m/s. This gives an area of 0.5(1.2245)(12) = 7.35 m. Again, this

agrees with the maximum height calculated previously.

The positive and negative areas cancel each other out, meaning the net displacement is

zero. This is correct, as the ball returns to its starting point.

The graph of position as a function of time is a plot of the equation:

x = xo + vot + 1/2 at

2

In this case, that's x = 0 + 12t -4.9t

2

The slope of the position graph gives the instantaneous velocity. This is positive but steadily

decreasing on the way up, zero at the very top, and then becomes more and more negative on the

way down.

Vectors and scalars

We'll move on from looking at motion in one dimension to motion in two or three dimensions. It's

critical now to distinguish between two kinds of quantities, scalars and vectors. A scalar is

something that's just a number with a unit, like mass ( 200 g ) or temperature ( -30C). A vector

has both a number and a direction, like velocity. If you came to campus on the T today, at some

point you may have been traveling 20 km/hr east. Velocity is a combination of a scalar (speed, 20

km/hr) and a direction (east).

Examples of scalars : mass, temperature, speed, distance

Examples of vectors : displacement, velocity, acceleration, force

One crucial difference between scalars and vectors involves the use of plus and minus signs. A

scalar with a negative sign means something very different from a scalar with a plus sign; +30C

feels an awful lot different than -30C, for example. With a vector the sign simply tells you the

direction of the vector. If you're traveling with a velocity of 20 km/hr east, it means you're traveling

east, and your speed is 20 km/hr. A velocity of -20 km/hr east also means that you're traveling at a

speed of 20 km/hr, but in the direction opposite to east : 20 km/hr west, in other words. With a

vector, the negative sign can always be incorporated into the direction.

Note that a vector will normally be written in bold, like this : A. A scalar, like the magnitude of the

vector, will not be in bold face (e.g., A).

Components of a vector

A vector pointing in a random direction in the x-y plane has x and y components: it can be split into

two vectors, one entirely in the x-direction (the x-component) and one entirely in the y-direction (the

y-component). Added together, the two components give the original vector.

The easiest way to add or subtract vectors, which is often required in physics, is to add or subtract

components. Splitting a vector into its components involves nothing more complicated than the

trigonometry associated with a right-angled triangle.

Consider the following example. A vector, which we will call A, has a length of 5.00 cm and points

at an angle of 25.0 above the negative x-axis, as shown in the diagram. The x and y components

of A, Ax and Ay are found by drawing right-angled triangles, as shown. Only one right-angled

triangle is actually necessary; the two shown in the diagram are identical.

Knowing the length of A, and the angle of 25.0, Ax and Ay can be found by re-arranging the

expressions for sin and cos.

Note that this analysis, using trigonometry, produces just the magnitudes of the vectors Ax and Ay.

The directions can be found by looking on the diagram. Usually, positive x is to the right of the

origin; Ax points left, so it is negative:

Ax = -4.53 cm in the x-direction (or, 4.53 cm in the negative x-direction)

Positive y is generally up; Ay is directed up, so it is positive:

Ay = 2.11 cm in the y-direction

Adding vectors

It's fairly easy to add vectors that are parallel to each other, or at right angles. In general, however,

the angle between vectors being added (or subtracted) will be something other than 0, 90, or 180.

Consider the following example, where the vector C equals A + B.

A has a length of 5.00 cm and points at an angle of 25.0 above the negative x-axis. B has a

length of 7.00 cm and points at an angle of 40.0 above the positive x-axis. If C = A + B, what is

the magnitude and direction of C? There are basically two ways to answer this. One way is to draw

a vector diagram, moving the tail of B to the head of A, or vice versa. The vector C will then extend

from the origin to wherever the tip of the second vector is.

The second way to find the magnitude and direction of C we'll use a lot in this course, because

we'll often have vector equations of the form C =A + B. The simplest way to solve any vector

equation is to split it up into one-dimensional equations, one equation for each dimension of the

vector. In this case we're working in two dimensions, so the one vector equation can be replaced

by two equations:

In the x-direction : Cx = Ax + Bx

In the y-direction : Cy = Ay + By

In other words, to find the magnitude and direction of C, the vectors A and B are split into

components. The components are:

Ax = -4.532 cm in the x-direction

Ay = 2.113 cm in the y-direction

Bx = 7.00 cos40 = 5.362 cm

By = 7.00 sin40 = 4.500 cm

Bx = 5.362 cm in the x-direction

By = 4.500 cm in the y-direction

The components of C are found by adding the components of A and B:

Cx = Ax + Bx = (-4.532 + 5.362) cm in the x-direction = 0.83 cm in the x-direction

Cy = Ay + By= (2.113 + 4.500) cm in the y-direction = 6.61 cm in the y-direction

The magnitude of C can be found from its components using the Pythagorean theorem:

The direction of C can be found by taking the inverse tangent of Cy/Cx:

inverse tan of 6.613 / 0.830 = 82.8.

Combined, this gives C = 6.66 cm at an angle of 82.8 above the positive x-axis.

Note how the calculations and the diagrams go hand-in-hand. This will often be the case; it is

always a good idea to draw diagrams as you go along.

Note also that we could have used the cosine law to get the length of C, and then applied the sine

law, with a bit of geometry, to get the angle. It's worth trying that for yourself, just to convince

yourself that the numbers come out the same.

Motion in two dimensions

9-15-99

Sections 3.5 - 3.7

Extending things from 1 dimension

In 1 dimension, we wrote down some general equations relating velocity to displacement, and

relating acceleration to the change in velocity. We also wrote down the four equations that apply in

the special case where the acceleration is constant. We're going to do the same thing in 2

dimensions, and the equations will look similar; this shouldn't be surprising because, as we will

see, a two (or three) dimensional problem can always be broken down into two (or three) 1-

dimensional problems.

When we're dealing with more than 1 dimension (and we'll focus on 2D, but we could use these

same equations for 3D), the position is represented by the vector r. The velocity will still be

represented by v and the acceleration by a. In general, the average velocity will be given by:

The instantaneous velocity is given by a similar formula, with the condition that a very small time

interval is used to measure the displacement.

A similar formula gives the average acceleration:

Again, the instantaneous acceleration is found by measuring the change in velocity over a small

time interval.

The constant acceleration equations

When the acceleration is constant, we can write out four equations relating the displacement, initial

velocity, velocity, acceleration, and time for each dimension. Like the 1D equations, these apply

under the following conditions:

1. the acceleration is constant

2. the motion is measured from t = 0

3. the equations are vector equations, but the variables are not normally written in bold

letters. The fact that they are vectors comes in, however, with positive and negative signs.

If we focus on two dimensions, we get four equations for the x direction and four more for the y

direction. The four x equations involve only the x-components, while the four y equations involve

only the y-components.

One thing to notice is that the time, t, is the only thing that doesn't involve an x or a y. This is

because everything else is a vector (or a component of a vector, if you'd rather look at it that way),

but time is a scalar. Time is the one thing that can be used directly in both the x and y equations;

everything else (displacement, velocity, and acceleration) has to be split into components.

This is important!

Something that probably can't be emphasized enough is that even though an object may travel in a

two-dimensional path (often following a parabola, in the standard case of an object moving under

the influence of gravity alone), the motion can always be reduced to two independent one-

dimensional motions. The x motion takes place as if the y motion isn't happening, and the y motion

takes place independent of whatever is happening in the x direction.

One good example of this is the case of two objects (e.g., baseballs) which are released at the

same time. One is dropped so it falls straight down; the other is thrown horizontally. As long as

they start at the same height, both objects will hit the ground at the same time, no matter how fast

the second one is thrown.

What we're ignoring

We will generally neglect the effect of air resistance in most of the problems we do. In some cases

that's just fine. In other cases it's not so fine. A feather and a brick dropped at the same time from

the same height will not reach the ground at the same time, for example. This has nothing to do

with the weight of the feather compared to the brick. It's simply air resistance; if we took away all

the air and dropped the feather and brick, they would hit the ground at exactly the same time.

So, remember that we're often analyzing ideal cases, especially this early in the semester. In

reality, things might be a little different because of factors we're neglecting at the moment.

An example

Probably the simplest way to see how to apply these constant acceleration equations is to work

through a sample problem. Let's say you're on top of a cliff, which drops vertically 150 m to a flat

valley below. You throw a ball off the cliff, launching it at 8.40 m/s at an angle of 20 above the

horizontal.

(a) How long does it take to reach the ground?

(b) How far is it from the base of the cliff to the point of impact?

It's a good idea to be as systematic as possible when it comes to analyzing the situation. Here's an

example of how to organize the information you're given. First, draw a diagram.

Then set up a table to keep track of everything you know. It's important to pick an origin, and to

choose a coordinate system showing positive directions. In this case, the origin was chosen to be

the base of the cliff, with +x being right and +y being up. You don't have to choose the origin or the

positive directions this way. Pick others if you'd like, and stick with them (an origin at the top of the

cliff, and/or positive y-direction down would be two possible changes).

Now that everything's neatly organized, think about what can be used to calculate what. You know

plenty of y-information, so we can use that to find the time it takes to reach the ground. One way to

do this (definitely not the only way) is to do it in two steps, first calculating the final velocity using

the equation:

This gives vy

2

= 2.873

2

+ 2 (-9.8) (-150) = 2948.3 m

2

/ s

2

. Taking the square root gives: vy = +/-

54.30 m/s.

Remember that the square root can be positive or negative. In this case it's negative, because the

y-component of the velocity will be directed down when the ball hits the ground.

Now we can use another equation to solve for time:

So, -54.30 = 2.873 - 9.8 t, which gives t = 5.834 seconds. Rounding off, the ball was in the air for

5.83 s.

We can use this time for part (b), to get the distance traveled in the x-direction during the course of

its flight. The best equation to use is:

So, from the base of the cliff to the point of impact is 46.0 m.

A point about symmetry

At some point in its flight, the ball in the example above returned to the level of the top of the cliff

(you threw it from the top of the cliff, it went up, and on its way down it passed through a point the

same height off the ground as the top of the cliff). What was the ball's velocity when it passed this

height? Its speed will be the same as the initial speed, 8.40 m/s, and its angle will be the same as

the launch angle, only measured below the horizontal.

This is not just true of the initial height. At every height the ball passes through on the way up,

there is a mirror-image point (at the same height, with the same speed, and the same angle, just

down rather than up) on the downward part of the path.

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