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Running Head: Sinusoidal Billiards 1

On the Motion of a Ball in a Sinusoidal Billiards System

Peyton Johnigan
University of the Ozarks

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This paper takes a look at the principles behind a standard, dynamical billiards system, and then
applies those laws to a system with sinusoidal walls. The derivation of laws of reflection will
first be discussed and related to a larger problem involving a system with parallel walls, in which
a ball oscillates back and forth between the two walls to infinitum. Next, this paper will relate the
principles established in the first system, to a new system with walls that model sinusoidal
functions. The attempt here is to find two sinusoidal equations that will allow a ball to travel
back and forth between them in a sinusoidal pattern, maintaining contact with the curves of the
walls throughout. After a generic equation is established that will allow for oscillation of the ball,
a look will be taken at the pattern created by the path of the ball through every kth valley of the
lower sine curve. Finally, a look will be taken at what will happen when the ball in this system
takes on a dimension with radius r, and generic equations will be derived for this situation as
well. Suggestions for further research on this subject will be suggested at the end of the paper.

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On the Motion of a Ball in a Sinusoidal Billiards System
The game of billiards is not only a past-time of many smoke-filled bar dwellers but also
makes use of many mathematical concepts. The laws surrounding the interaction of objects (pool
balls) in a system such as the game of billiards have been discussed for centuries, dating back to
Ptolemy in 150 AD and being further researched and developed by Arab scholar Alhazen
(Alhazens Billiard Problem). This paper will discuss such a system, and look at variables within
the system. First, essential terms and ideas will be presented and defined for later discussion.
Here we introduce some of the main ideas and terms that will be important to the
understanding of the system to be presented. According to, the study of billiards
systems generally consists of studying reflections upon given surfaces in which the angle of
incidence is always equal to the angle of reflection, a point that will be vital to our problem
( The billiard system that will be discussed can be classified as a deterministic
system. According to, deterministic systems are those for which the state of the
system at any point in time can be determined by a predetermined set of rules. In our particular
case, this means that in our billiard system with either flat walls or sinusoidal walls, we will look
for a set of rules or equations, that will determine the desired behavior of our system at any point
in time. This will be done through breaking down our system into its most simple components
and accounting for all possible outcomes from that point.

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Let us look at a system with parallel, straight walls as seen in the diagram below.
Fig. 1:

Note: dashed line represents line normal to the walls of the system at the point of impact.
As can be seen in our first system, we have a ball, released at a constant velocity, bouncing back
and forth between walls to infinitum, with each collision broken down into an angle of incidence
(i) and an angle of reflection (f). Now, to establish an important law already mentioned (the
angle of incidence will always equal the angle of reflection) we will use a method from the
hyperphysics article based upon Fermats Principles. Let us look at the system in more detail as
shown in Fig. 2:
Fig. 2:

Note: bolded line denotes path of ball.

d-x x
i f
i f
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According to Fermats Principle, light follows the path of least time, and because this principle
can be assumed for any object with all other forces negligible, finding the path length L from
point A to B becomes:

In our simple system the speed is constant, so the minimum time path will be equal to the
minimum distance path. To find this we can take the derivative of L with respect to x, and then
set this new equation equal to zero.

Thus we have verified that our angle of incidence will equal our angle of reflection as desired.
This will be a key fact in looking at our first sinusoidal system with ideal conditions.
For our first sinusoidal system, we will establish a few rules to guide our research. We
are looking at a billiards system as shown in Fig. 1, except that in our sinusoidal system, the
parallel flat walls will be replaced by walls that are sinusoidal in nature, as seen below in Fig. 3:

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Fig. 3:

We note that the two walls above represent two sinusoidal functions that may be shifted or
dilated in order to fit our needs. We will be looking to find two functions for which we can
release a ball in the system and have it follow along the walls to infinity (velocity is considered
constant and external forces will be considered negligible) as seen in Fig. 3.
In our pursuit of this goal we will first establish our base function that we will operate
with respect to, and we select sin(x) as this function. Now our next step will be to establish the
point at which the ball will lose contact with the sin(x) function and head on its path towards the
other wall that will be represented by a function to be determined later. Looking for this point it
is logical to conclude that this point will be the point in the function at which the function
changes concavity, or the point of inflection. The point of inflection of the sine function can be
calculated below:

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(where n is any integer greater than or equal to 0).

So plotting our inflection points on the graph below in Fig. 4:
Fig. 4:

Let us say in this case (for the sake of argument) that our ball is inserted into the system at (-,0)
and thus will follow our sin(x) function to the point (0,0) at which it will lose contact with the
wall and head off into space. Our next step then will be to find the path that the ball will follow
once it loses contact with the sin(x) curve (from here denoted curve 1) in order to find the second
function we will be using (from here denoted curve 2).
Since we are considering all outside forces negligible, and because the velocity is held
constant, we can say that it is logical that the path the ball will follow after leaving curve 1 will
be the tangent line of the point at which it loses contact (the inflection point of curve 1). In order
to find the equation of this tangent line we follow the process outlined below.

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Equation of Tangent line at Inflection Point of sin(x):
We first note that we can write the inflection point of sin(x) in general terms as (n,0), then we
take the derivative to find the general equations of the tangents at these points. Thus with:

And evaluating dy/dx at (n,0):

Now using the point slope formula for a line we have:

This is our equation for the tangent line at any point of inflection for sin(x). Now we can choose
a point of inflection on curve 1, find the equation of the tangent line at that point, and then find a
sinusoidal equation to use as curve 2 that will first be impacted at its point of inflection.
Finding Equation of Tangent Line at (0,0) on Curve 1:
Using our general equation for a tangent line at (0,0) we note that the y-intercept will be zero,
and thus we have:

As our equation for the tangent line at (0,0) on curve 1.
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We must now look for an equation for curve 2 that will intersect y=x at its own inflection point
so that the ball will land flush with the surface and not deflect off at an angle. So now we have
the graph:

In order to find the equation of our second curve, the simplest approach seems to be to
find a curve with the same wavelength and period as curve 1, translated an appropriate number
of units so that the tangent lines to the points of inflection of curve 1 line up with the
corresponding points of inflection for curve 2. It is important in this case to note that any vertical
translation of the sine curve will have the same inflection points as curve 1. With this in mind,
we can simply slide curve 1 along one of its points of inflection tangents (for example the
tangent (y=x) at inflection point (0,0)) until we come to the next point of inflection (point (,0)),
and check said point to see if the new curve fits our needs. This is illustrated in the picture
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Note: Points of inflection will occur along highlited lines for every vertical translation of +/-
sin(x). Also, sin(x) has been reflected about the y-axis in this case to fit our needs.
Thus we see that in the diagram above, the first point for us to test is (,), and this point occurs
on the line y=-sinx+ and this test is done below:

We see that this equation fits our needs for equation 2. Continuing this process and looking at the
next inflection point that fits our needs we look at (2,2), which falls on the line y=sin(x)+2:

In general we find that for every odd multiple of as the x-coordinate of our inflection point
((2n-1),y), where the x and y coordinates are the same, we find the equation for curve two that
will work is of the form y=-sinx+(2n-1). Similarly, for every even multiple of as the x-
Movement of curve 1
Inflection point 1: (0,y) Inflection point 2: (,y)
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coordinate of our inflection point (2n,2n), where y=x, we find the equation for curve 2 will be
Looking at the path of the ball as it returns from curve 2 to curve 1, we simply take the equation
for the tangent at any of these points of inflection (which will always be y=-x+n) and test points
So if curve 2 is of the form y=-sin(x)+, the first inflection point on curve 2 will be at x=, the
second at x=2, and the corresponding tangent equation for the second point will be y=-x+3.
This will give us the following equation to see where the tangent line (the balls path back to
curve 1), will impact curve 1.

This is the result we desired, as the corresponding inflection point on curve 1 was 3. So this
process can be repeated for any curve 2 to go with curve 1. Thus we have created a generic
equation of a piecewise nature for our upper curve that is shown below:

And so combining our two piecewise functions we have a function for the path of the ball at any
point in the system:
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Now we will look at a general formula to follow that will allow us to determine which
valleys of curve 1 the ball will roll through. To do this we must first look at a graph of sin(x)
and determine how to label the valleys:

The valley from to 2 shall be labeled valley 1 and each valley after this to positive infinity
shall be labeled valley 2,3,4,.,. The same shall be done on the negative side of 0, starting
with the valley from to 0 being labeled as valley 0 and proceeding to negative infinity
labeling each valley as valley -1,-2,-3,,-. Proceeding with this knowledge we will construct
a table for some selected values to try and establish a general pattern for the oscillation of the
ball on its path between curve 1 and curve 2. Note that the values that fill out the middle of the
table are the valleys that the ball will return to on Curve 1 after the first touch on Curve 2.
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Function for
Curve 2
-sin(x)+ sin(x)+2 -sin(x)+3 sin(x)+4

-2 -1 0 1 2
-1 0 1 2 3
0 1 2 3 4
1 2 3 4 5
2 3 4 5 6
3 4 5 6 7

This is illustrated in the following graph:

Our last variable to consider in our system is a ball of radius r. So far we have been
considering only a point moving through our system but there will need to be a few minor
changes to accommodate for an arbitrary sphere of radius r moving through our system. In
order to solve for d, the distance we need to translate our curve 2 up, we will set up a diagram
as shown below and solve for d:

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After observing that the triangle created in the diagram is a 45,45,90 triangle, we can use
the pythaogrean theorem to solve for d:

Thus we see that for any ball of radius r, we need to translate the equation for curve 2
up r units. We can now re-write our piecewise function including this new stipulation
for a ball:


Suggestions for Further Research:
This paper has addressed a billiards system considering all other forces negligible.
Another situation to be considered would be the introduction of external forces such as gravity,
friction, centripetal forces, and other resultant forces that may affect the path of the ball as it
p.o.i. 1
p.o.i. 2
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continues to infinitum. Another question for further research could include a situation where the
ball in the system does bounce off of the walls at an angle such that the ball continues through
the system to infinity but loses contact with the walls momentarily, in effect bouncing around
inside of the system.

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Desmos Graphing Calculator. (n.d.). Desmos Graphing Calculator. Retrieved March 12, 2014,
Dynamical System. (n.d.). -- from Wolfram MathWorld. Retrieved March 13, 2014, from
Finding Equations of Sinusoidal Functions From Real-World Data. (n.d.). Retrieved
March 13, 2014, from
Law of Reflection. (n.d.). Reflection and Fermat's Principle. Retrieved March 13, 2014, from
Tangent and Normal Lines. (n.d.). Dartmouth Math. Retrieved March 13, 2014, from