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Determining the Force of Gravity

Tyler Harvey Partners: Gabriel Moore and Christopher Hoffman

Dr. Clyde Smith, Physics 101 Laboratory 20 October 2010

On my honor, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this report. ___________________________

Introduction

Gravity is the term used to describe a phenomena first observed and theorized Aristotle

and Galileo. Through several experiments including dropping balls off the Tower of Pisa and

later rolling balls down and inclined plane, Galileo theorized that gravity accelerates all objects

at a constant rate, regardless of their mass. The first mathematical explanation of gravity was

given by Sir Issac in The Principia, published in 1687. Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation,

F=Gm1m2r2, tells us that all objects in the universe exert an attractive force on one another. The

magnitude of that force is dependent on the mass of the two objects and the distance between

them. For most every object in the universe, this force is negligible because of the vastness of

space. However, due to the large mass and close proximity of earth, the force of gravity that the

earth exerts on all objects which are on the planet is large enough to be measured or calculated.

The goal of this experiment is to use this fact in order to experimentally determine the

force of gravity that acts on objects of varying mass as they slide down an inclined plane and

calculate the acceleration due to gravity by plotting F g against the masses of the objects.

Methods

The air track apparatus was set up as in Diagram 7.1. The first variable that had to be

determined experimentally was the angle of the incline, θ. This was found by measuring the

height of the block which rested under one of the air track supports and the distance between the

block and the other air track support using a vernier caliper. Knowing these, the angle of the

incline was calculated. The mass of the car was also taken and recorded for later use.

The next variable that needed to be solved for was the final velocity of the car after

travelling 50 cm. Using one photogate placed 50 cm from the starting point and a timer in

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stopwatch mode, the time it took the flag to completely pass through the beam of the gate was

determined.

Using a vernier caliper, the width of the flag was also measured. Knowing the distance

the flag traveled (width of flag) and the time it took, the final velocity was calculated.

With this information, the acceleration of the car was found using two different methods:

one utilizing the change in velocity and the change in time, and the other utilizing the change in

velocity and the change in position. The second was decided to be more accurate and was used to

calculate the Net Force acting on the car and the force of gravity acting on the object. This data

was graphed using Microsoft Office Excel 2010 and the acceleration due to gravity was

determined from the slope of the graph and used to calculate the percent error.

stopwatch mode, the time it took the flag to completely pass through the beam of the

Diagram 7.1 – Diagram of the testing apparatus. D is the distance between the photogates, h is the height of the block, and d is the distance between the block and the air track’s support.

Results

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The angle of the incline, θ, can be determined since the height of the block, h, and the

distance from the block to the support, d, are both known. Since the block forms a 90° angle,

sinθ= hd . h is known to be 66.64 mm and d is known to be 1000 mm, so θ can be calculated to

be 3.935877056°.

Using this incline, the time it took the flag, which rested on top of the car and had a width

of 11.90 mm, to pass through the photogate located 50 cm from the starting point was measured.

 

Table 7.1 – Time for Flag to Pass at 50 cm

 

Trial

Time (s)

1

0.0139

2

0.0138

3

0.0139

Average Time = 0.0139 s

Since vf=distancetime , the final velocity at 50.0 cm was found to be 0.8561151079 m/s.

Additionally, the car was weighed and the mass was determined to be 0.1896 kg. Using the

same incline as before, the time it took the car to travel 50 cm was also measured.

 

Table 7.2 – Time for Car to Travel 50 cm

 

Trial

Time (s)

1

1.0673

2

1.0448

3

1.0464

Average Time = 1.0528 s

Since a= v2-v1t2-t1 when acceleration is constant, the acceleration was calculated to be

0.81313792164 m/s 2 .

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Also acceleration can be calculated another way, since vf2 = v02+2a∆x. Using this

method, the acceleration was determined to be 0.732933078 m/s 2 .

Also acceleration can be calculated another way, since vf2 = v02+2a∆x. Using this method, the acceleration

Diagram 4.2 – Free Body Diagram of the car on the incline.

From Diagram 4.2, it can be determined that Fg= Fnetsinθ. By Newton’s second law, it is

known that the Net Force is expressed by F=ma. By varying the mass of the car and calculating

the force of gravity in each case, a Force vs Mass plot can be constructed. The slope of the line

of best fit of this graph should be equal to the acceleration due to gravity.

Table 7.3 – Mass of Car vs Net Force and Force of Gravity

Mass (g)

F net (N)

F g (N)

189.6

0.1389641116

2.024535425

289.6

0.2122574171

3.092328338

389.6

0.2855507241

4.160121271

Figure 7.1 – Plot of Table 7.3: Force of Gravity vs Mass

Discussion

Acceleration was found two different ways and both values differed by a small, yet

significant amount. When determining the force of gravity, the value of 0.732933078 m/s 2 ,

calculated using the fundamental kinematic equationvf2 = v02+2a∆x, was used because the

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method for calculating it provided less room for human error since only one variable, compared

to two, was found experimentally.

When the force of gravity was graphed vs mass, a perfect linear relationship with an r 2 of

1 was found, which was expected since force is directly proportional to mass and was calculated

in this way. Also, the slope of the line of best fit was found to be 10.678 m/s 2 , which was the

acceleration due to gravity as determined experimentally.

Error Analysis

The accepted acceleration due to gravity is g, or 9.80 m/s 2 . From this experiment, the

acceleration, which is the slope of the graph of F g vs Mass, was determined to be 10.678 m/s 2 .

% Error = |(experimental – accepted)/accepted| * 100 % Error = |(10.678 m/s 2 - 9.80 m/s 2 )/ 9.80 m/s 2 | * 100 % Error = 8.95%

While this is high, it is not unreasonable, since we are measuring the force of gravity

using very small distances and very small values of theta. The small degree of error was most

likely due to an unleveled plane, inaccurate measurements of distance and other human error in

determining the accelerations of the cars. These can be reduced by more accurate measuring

devices and more careful carrying out of the lab.

Conclusion

This experiment was successful in determining the force of gravity to within 9% of the accepted

value.

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