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HL Physics 1

Unit 2

Motion

This Unit is all about describing the result of motion. In particular, we want to answer a

couple of very specific questions:

What is Motion? & How far did it move?

What is Motion? --- In the most basic sense, motion is the process of changing where you

are. To move you have to get to another place. To be in motion you must be

changing your location. However, the result of motion doesnt have to be a change in

position. You can run around a whole bunch, changing you location but end up back

where you started. During the running around, motion is occurring. But, in the end the

result is no net change in where you are.

Note: In physics we use the word net to indicate the result of a process you

can think of it as a kind of total result of everything that happened.

How far did it move? --- We immediately have a dilemma. Thinking about the problem

where we were running all over the place (definitely moving) but ended up back where

we started, do we mean How far did we go? (How many steps did we actually travel?)

OR How far from our starting point did we end up?

It turns out that sometimes its useful to ask How many steps did we travel? and

sometimes its useful to ask How far from the starting point?

So, we must define two different quantities that answer the question How Far?

Distance traveled will be the quantity used to describe how many steps did we take

on the path to reach our ending point. Note that how many steps could equally well be

how many meters. If we take a different path, we will probably travel a different

distance. Distance depends on the path we take to get from one place to another.

Displacement will be the quantity used to describe how far from the starting point did

we end up. In fact, displacement will be the shortest possible way to get from a starting

point to an ending point. In math you learned that the shortest path between two points

is a straight line. So, displacement is the length of the straight-line path from the starting

point to the ending point. No matter how many paths we can take from one place to

another, if we always start at one place and end at the same place each time, the

displacement will be the same. Displacement does not depend on the path taken.

Path A

Path C

treasure

N

W

E

S

start

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Path B

three paths are shown to

reach the treasure. All three

paths have the same

displacement (represented

by Path C the shortest

path to the treasure). They

represent three different

distances (B is the longest

and C is the shortest).

HL Physics 1

Study Guide

Unit 2

There is something else going on here --- distance seems to just be how far did we go?

That is an easy question to answer. It only requires one number --- for example: 23

meters. Displacement, on the other hand, requires that I reach a specific place. This

means that not only do I have to say what the shortest path length is, but I also have to

say which direction to walk in. If I want to reach the treasure I must end up at the X on

the diagram. Suppose Path C has a length of 10 meters. If I just say that the

displacement has to be 10 meters, does that guarantee that I end up at the X? It doesnt.

In fact, just saying that the displacement is 10 meters could get me to a lot of different

places. If I said 10 meters towards the NorthEast, that would point me to the X on the

diagram.

So, it appears there are two different kinds of quantities: ones that are just a number (like

distance) and ones that require both a number and a direction (like displacement).

Vectors are those quantities that have both a number (called size or magnitude) and a

direction. Displacement is a vector quantity. When describing linear motion (motion

on a straight line) it will be convenient to specify direction as positive or negative instead

of using North/South or East/West. We will call motion away from the starting point

(origin) positive motion and motion towards the starting point will be negative

motion. Because vectors require a direction, we will use arrows to draw vector

quantities.

Recall from unit 1 that when we add vectors we must pay attention to their direction. This

is done by drawing a diagram connecting the vectors that we wish to add in a tip-to-tail

arrangement. To find the resultant vector, draw a vector from the starting point (the tail

of the first vector) to the ending point (the tip of the last vector). Find the length of this

new vector using the diagram. It might require adding magnitudes (if the vectors are all

in the same direction), subtracting magnitudes (if the vectors are in opposite directions)

or using the Pythagorean theorem (if the vectors are perpendicular).

Scalars are those quantities that require only a number. Distance is a scalar quantity.

Positive Motion!

Positive Motion?

whole process of trying to describe

motion. If you and I stand far apart and

throw a ball back and forth between us,

you will say motion away from you is

positive and motion towards you is the

negative. However, from my point of view

motion away from you (your positive

direction) is motion towards me (my

It turns out that we are both right! All descriptions of motion depend on some point of

view. You and I will only agree on our description of the motion if we agree to use the

same point of view to describe it. In physics we call the point of view used to describe

motion the frame of reference. The most common frame of reference used to describe

every day motion is the surface of the earth (and the normal compass directions with

North & East being positive and South & West being negative). To summarize what we

have just said, all descriptions of motion are relative to a frame of reference.

Different points of view will cause different descriptions of motion.

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HL Physics 1

Unit 2

Now that we have a good handle on how to describe the result of motion (to answer the

question: How Far?) we need to look a little more closely at how the motion happened. To

do this we ask the question: How Fast?

Because we have two ways of describing how far something went, we will have two ways

of describing how fast it moved to get there. Both of these quantities can be described as

the rate at which something happens. We usually associate the word rate with

describing how something changes over time and that is what is meant here. So, when

we say How Fast? do we mean how fast are we covering distance OR do we mean how

fast are we being displaced? Actually, we could mean both.

Speed describes how fast we are covering distance and is related to the path we are

traveling. The more technical definition would be that speed is the rate at which distance

traveled is changing OR speed is how distance traveled changes over time.

Velocity describes how fast we are being displaced. Since displacement does not

depend on the path being traveled, neither does velocity. Velocity tells me how fast I am

making progress towards my destination. A more technical definition would be that

velocity is the rate at which displacement is changing OR velocity is how displacement

changes over time. Because displacement is a vector quantity and refers to a specific

direction, velocity is also a vector quantity.

START

END

The definitions of speed and velocity suggest how we can go about calculating them.

Because we are talking about how things change, we will want to know the distance or

displacement at two different times in order to find the speed or velocity. Then,

change in distance

Speed = change in time

change in displacement

change in time

and

Velocity =

Clearly, we need a better way to write this. Because distance and displacement are both

used to represent how far they have the same symbol, x. We can distinguish between

distance and displacement by adding something to show that displacement has direction

--- well draw an arrow over the x to indicate displacement. So,

distance = s

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and

displacement =

Study Guide

HL Physics 1

Unit 2

Similarly, since speed and velocity both answer the question how fast they will have

the same symbol, v. To distinguish between speed and velocity, we will use the arrow to

show that velocity has direction. So,

speed = v

and

velocity =

Finally, we need a shorthand way to show change in. We will use the greek letter

(delta) to stand for change in. Putting it all together, we can define how to calculate

speed and velocity:

(speed) v =

s

t

and

(velocity)

v =

s

t

We need to make one more distinction. Because these two quantities that we have

defined have to occur over an interval, we call them average speed and average

velocity. The term average means that we need to know two distances or two

displacements to calculate the quantity. It might also be nice to know the speed or

velocity at one instant in time. We call this instantaneous speed or instantaneous

velocity. We will develop more equations that will allow us to calculate the

instantaneous speed or velocity as we go along. For now, a practical definition will be as

follows:

To find instantaneous speed or velocity you must use the smallest time

interval that you can measure.

Motion Graphs

We can represent any motion by drawing one or more graphs that show how different

descriptive quantities depend on time. The most useful graphs to make are position vs.

time, velocity vs. time and acceleration vs. time. Right now, we can only work with two of

these --- position vs. time and velocity vs. time.

A typical position vs. time graph might look like the following graph.

160

position (m)

120

80

40

0

10

20

30

time (sec)

and the

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40

50

traveled or the displacement for any interval

of time. For example, between 0 and 10

seconds we moved from position 0 m to

80 m away. This means that the distance

traveled is 80 m for the interval. The

displacement is + 80 m (with the + sign

telling us the direction of motion is away from

the origin). Once we know distance and

displacement, we can calculate average

speed or average velocity. In the same 0 to 10

second interval,

x 80m

8

the average speed is v = t 10 s

m/s

Study Guide

HL Physics 1

v

direction of motion).

x +80 m

=

t

10 s

Unit 2

Another example: We can find the average speed and velocity for the time interval

from 0 to 25 seconds. Looking at the graph, we can calculate that the distance traveled

during the interval is 140 m (80 from 0 to 10 seconds + 0 m from 10 to 20 seconds + 60

m from 20 to 25 seconds). The displacement for the interval 0 to 25 seconds would be +

20 m (started at 0 m and ended up at 20 m). We can now find the average speed and

velocity:

x 140m

5.6

25s

Average v = t

m/sand

average

x +20 m

=

t

25 s

=+

0.8 m/s

Looking at our first example, we find something very interesting. In that example, no

turns were made (the motion is only in

160

the positive direction) and we can

relate the velocity during that interval

to something you learned in Algebra.

position (m)

120

80

Rise = 100 m

40

0

10

20

30

Run = 30 sec

40

50

time (sec)

displacement for an interval we

are calculating the rise in the

graph during that interval. Similarly,

when we calculate the change in

time we are calculating the run of

the graph during that interval. Our

definition of velocity is to divide

displacement by change in time. That

means velocity = rise in graph / run

of graph = slope of graph.

For the interval from 25 to 55 seconds, we can find the velocity = rise / run = +100 m /

30 sec = + 3.33 m/s. Armed with this new information we can update our definition of

instantaneous velocity or speed.

Instantaneous velocity is defined as the slope of the position-time graph at a

single instant in time.

Notice that instantaneous velocity does not have to be the same as average velocity. For

example, we already calculated the average velocity for the interval from 0 to 25

seconds to be + 0.8 m/s (2nd example). However, the instantaneous velocity at 7 seconds

is the slope of the graph at 7 seconds which we know to be + 8 m/s from the 1 st example!

So, if I find the slope of the position-time graph at every point on the graph, I can make a

velocity-time graph. The slope of the first section (from 0 to 10 seconds) is + 8 m/s, the

slope of the second section (10 to 20 seconds) is 0 m/s, the slope of the third section (20

to 25 seconds) is 12 m/s, and the slope for the last section (25 to 55 seconds) is + 3.33

m/s. Now I can make the velocity-time graph.

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HL Physics 1

the position-time graph shown above. This

is because we used one to make the other

one. The next question to ask is Can I

make the position-time graph if I start with

the velocity-time graph?

12

Velocity (m/s)

6

0

-6

-12

Unit 2

10

20

30

40

50

we cant find out from this graph is the

starting position. If we know the starting

position, then we can completely re-create

the first graph. Here is how it works.

time (sec)

Well start by looking only at the interval from 0 to 10 seconds. The question we need to

ask is how far did it go during that time? Looking at our definition of velocity:

v =

x

t

, we can re-arrange things slightly to find that: v t= x . On the graph this quantity is

the area of the shaded rectangle! The base of the rectangle = t. The height of the

rectangle = v.

When we multiply v times t we are really multiplying base times height, which is area. If

we know the starting point and we know how much displacement changed, we can find

the ending point.

So,

To find the displacement from a velocity-time graph, find the area between

the velocity line on the graph and the time axis for the interval you are

looking at.

Now that weve got the basics for describing the way things are moving, the next

interesting thing to look at is how motion changes. In terms of the actual motion itself,

the question becomes At what rate are we speeding up or slowing down?

The quantity that we use to answer the question is acceleration. To be specific,

Acceleration is the rate at which velocity is changing or it is how velocity changes over

time.

We need to be very careful about the way we use words. Every year it seems that

students have a great deal of difficulty separating the concepts of velocity and

acceleration. They describe very different things.

An object can have a very large velocity and no acceleration --- no acceleration simply

means the velocity is constant. On the other hand, an object can have a very small

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Study Guide

HL Physics 1

Unit 2

velocity and a very large acceleration --- this would mean that the object is increasing or

decreasing its speed very quickly.

Because velocity is a vector quantity and refers to a specific direction, acceleration is

also a vector quantity. This brings up an interesting problem that we will explore in more

detail in an upcoming unit --- we can think of velocity as a speed and a direction. This

means that to change the velocity we can change the speed (go faster or

slower), we can change the direction of motion (turn) or we can do both. So, it

seems that it is possible to accelerate (change velocity) without speeding up or slowing

down! All we would need to do is change the direction of motion (turn).

glides down the hill are shown

every 0.25 seconds. As Malcolm

glides down the hill his speed is

increasing. We know this because

the spacing between the images

increases during each interval of

time.

The definition of acceleration suggests how we can go about calculating it. Because we

are talking about how things change, we will want to know the velocity at two different

times in order to find the acceleration. Then,

change in velocity

acceleration = change in time

Clearly, we need a better way to write this. We will use the symbol

vector acceleration.

to represent the

Using the same notation we have developed before, we can define how to calculate

acceleration:

(acceleration)

a =

v

t

Acceleration is measured in units of m/s2. Time appears twice (squared) because of the

definition of acceleration. We could write the units as (m/s) / s. One unit of time comes

from changing velocity and the other comes from the fact that acceleration is a rate.

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Unit 2

We need to make one more distinction. Because acceleration occurs over an interval, we

call it average acceleration. The term average means that we need to know two

velocities to calculate the quantity. It might also be nice to know the acceleration at one

instant in time. We call this instantaneous acceleration. For now, a practical definition

will be as follows:

To find instantaneous acceleration you must use the smallest time interval

that you can measure or read it off of an acceleration vs time graph.

Motion Graphs

We can now add the acceleration vs time graph to our other two (position-time and

velocity-time) to get a full description of motion.

A typical velocity vs. time graph might look like the following graph.

40

velocity (m/s)

30

20

10

0

10

20

30

40

50

time (sec)

displacement for any interval of time by

finding the area under the velocity line. For

example, between 0 and 5 seconds we

would find the area of the solid triangle =

(5sec)(10 m/s) = 25 m. The displacement is

+ 25 m (with the + sign telling us the

direction of motion is away from the origin).

We can keep calculating the area to create a

position (displacement) vs time graph. From

5 to 10 seconds, we added a rectangle and

another triangle to the area we already

know. The striped rectangle has area = (5

sec)(10 m/s) = 50 m and the striped

rectangle has area = (5 sec)(10 m/s) = 25

m. So the total displacement from 0 to 10

seconds would be 25 m (solid triangle) + 50

m (striped rectangle) + 25 m (striped

triangle) = 100 m.

Using this information we can create a position vs time graph that looks like the following

graph.

Notice that when the velocity changes, the

position-time graph has a curved shape to

it. This is a sure sign that acceleration is

occurring.

8000

Position (m)

600

400

200

0

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10

20

30

time (sec)

40

50

picture. We also need to look at

acceleration. So, we go back to our

velocity-time graph one more time. We

defined acceleration as how velocity

changes over time. Looking at the interval

from 25 to 55 seconds, we see that the

velocity change on the graph is + 25 m/s

Study Guide

HL Physics 1

Unit 2

passed was 30 seconds (25 to 55).

a =

v + 25 m/ s

=

=+0.83 m/s 2 .

t

30 s

The thing to recognize here is that the quantity we just calculated is nothing more than

the slope of the velocity-time graph.

acceleration (m/s2 )

graph.

4

2

0

-2

-4

10

20

30

40

50

time (sec)

This is the acceleration vs time graph for the same motion described in the previous

two graphs.

velocity(m/s)

vf

Another example: It would be nice if we could find an easier way to calculate the

displacement from the velocity-time graph. So, lets look at a simpler problem where

there is constant acceleration.

vo

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t

time (sec)

HL Physics 1

Study Guide

Unit 2

after the motion begins, we need to find the

area under the graph. This area is made up

of a rectangle and a triangle, like before.

The area of the rectangle is found to be v ot.

The area of the triangle is found to be (v f

vo)t.

From our definition of acceleration we know

that

a = (vf vo) / t

We would like to be able to write our

displacement in terms of things that dont

change. Since vf depends on how long we

have been

moving, it would be nice if we could eliminate v f from the problem. We can. Using our

definition of acceleration (and re-arranging a bit) we know that (v f vo) = at. So we can

substitute into our area result to find the total area = v ot + (at)t. This means

We can also use the definition of acceleration to write an equation that tells us the

instantaneous velocity at any time during the trip.

Instantaneous velocity = vf = vo + at

We have everything that we need to describe motion. The task now is to get more

comfortable looking at motion graphs and predicting what type of motion is occurring. It

would also be extremely useful to be able to take a description of motion and create the

motion graphs. We will limit ourselves to the case where there can only be constant

acceleration.

The way we create motion graphs has been discussed in the previous units. It really all

starts with a description of the velocity of the moving object. Is it moving in the positive

or negative direction? Is it steady motion? Is it speeding up or slowing down? All of these

questions can be answered with the velocity-time graph. OR, if we know the answers to

these questions we can create a velocity-time graph. Once the shape of the velocity-time

graph is known, we can create the acceleration-time graph by looking at slope and we

can create the position-time graph by looking at area.

So, here we go:

Case #1: Constant, positive motion

We can create the velocity-time graph as follows:

Positive motion means that the velocity has a positive value

Constant motion means that the value of the velocity doesnt change

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Unit 2

So, we need to draw a velocity-time graph that shows a constant and positive value for

velocity.

pos

vel

time

acc

time

time

The slope of the velocity-time graph tells us that there is no acceleration. So, the

acceleration-time graph is a horizontal line, at the value of 0.

The position of the object is increasing at a constant rate (this is what constant velocity

means), so we need a position-time graph that increases in a positive way at a steady

rate. Positive motion means that this graph is going up (away from position = 0).

Case #2: Constant, negative motion

In this case, the velocity-time graph goes as follows:

Negative motion means that the velocity has a negative value

Constant motion means that the value of the velocity doesnt change.

So, we need to draw a velocity-time graph that shows a constant and negative value for

velocity.

vel

acc

pos

0

0

time

0

time

time

The slope of the velocity-time graph tells us that there is no acceleration. So, the

acceleration-time graph is a horizontal line, at the value of 0.

The position of the object is decreasing (negative motion means coming back towards

the origin) at a constant rate (because the velocity is constant). So, we need a positiontime graph that comes down at a constant rate.

Case #3: Speeding up with positive motion

In this case the velocity-time graph goes as follows:

Positive motion means that the value of the velocity is positive.

Speeding up means that the value of velocity is getting larger (the number).

We said that we will limit ourselves to constant acceleration, so we know we need a

straight line that is positive and going up.

pos

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vel

time

acc

time

time

Study Guide

HL Physics 1

Unit 2

The slope of the velocity-time graph is constant and positive, so we know that we need

constant, positive acceleration. This is the horizontal line shown.

The speed is increasing. This means that the object will travel farther during each second

that it is moving. So, the position-time graph will curve. Because displacement is getting

bigger during each second and it is positive motion, it curves upward as shown.

Increasing speed means that the slope of the position-time graph is increasing!

Case #4: Slowing down with positive motion

In this case the velocity-time graph goes as follows:

Positive motion means that the value of the velocity is positive.

Slowing down means that the value of the velocity is getting smaller (the number).

We said that we will limit ourselves to constant acceleration, so we know that we need a

straight line that is positive and coming down (coming down because the numbers are

getting smaller but positive because it is above the v = 0 line).

pos

vel

time

acc

time

time

The slope of the velocity-time graph is constant and negative, so we know that we have

constant, negative acceleration. This is the horizontal line shown.

The speed is decreasing. This means that the object will travel less during each second

that it is moving. So, the position-time graph will curve. Because the motion is positive,

the graph goes up. Because it is slowing down, the graph flattens out as it goes. The

curve is the one shown.

Case #5: Slowing down with negative motion

In this case the velocity-time graph goes as follows:

Negative motion means that the value of the velocity is negative (below the v = 0

line).

Slowing down means that the value of the velocity (the number) is getting smaller

(closer to 0).

We still have constant acceleration, so we need a straight line on the velocity-time graph

that is below the v = 0 line and gets closer to v = 0 as we go along. It looks like the one

shown.

pos

vel

time

acc

time

time

The acceleration is the slope of the velocity-time graph so it is constant and positive. This

is probably not what you expected! It looks like the graph shown.

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Unit 2

The object is slowing down. This means it travels less during each second, so we get a

curve. The curve needs to flatten out (less slope = less speed) because it is slowing

down. The motion is negative, so the position graph needs to come back towards the

origin. Put it all together and you get the curve shown!

Case #6: Speeding up with negative motion

In this case the velocity-time graph goes as follows:

Negative motion means that the value of the velocity is negative (below the v = 0

line).

Speeding up means that the value of the velocity (the number) is getting bigger

(going away from 0).

We still have constant acceleration, so we need a straight line on the velocity-time graph

that is below the v = 0 line and moves away from v = 0 as we go along. It looks like the

one shown.

pos

vel

time

acc

time

time

The acceleration is the slope of the velocity-time graph so it is constant and negative. It

looks like the graph shown.

The object is speeding up, so it goes farther during each second and we get a curve on

the position-time graph. The curve needs to get steeper (more speed = steeper slope)

because it is speeding up The motion is negative so the position graph needs to come

back towards the origin. Put it all together and you get the curve shown.

Now we need to look at some trends in these graphs that will help us

recognize/remember what each one is showing.

Lets start with the four position-time graphs that show acceleration.

pos

pos

time 0

Positive

acceleration

pos

pos

time 0

time

Negative

acceleration

Positive

acceleration

time

Negative

acceleration

Notice that for both of the graphs that show positive acceleration, the curve of the graph

faces upwards and for negative acceleration the curve faces downwards. The way the

curve faces can tell us what kind of acceleration we have up = positive and

down = negative!

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HL Physics 1

down

SpeedingUnit

up Slowing

2

vel

vel

vel

vel

Speeding up

Slowing down

0

time

time

time

time

about these graphs is that positive acceleration doesnt always mean speed up and

negative acceleration doesnt always mean to slow down. The way to tell what the object

is doing is to look at the speed (which way the numbers are going as time increases). The

first graph and the last graph both show an object whose speed (the numbers only) is

getting bigger. The middle two graphs both show objects whose speed (the numbers

only) are getting smaller (closer to zero). So, to summarize, if the line goes away from

the v = 0 line, then the object is speeding up (1 st and last graphs). If the line

goes towards the v = 0 line, then the object is slowing down (middle two

graphs).

The last trend also comes from the velocity-time graphs. Looking at the two graphs

where the object is speeding up (the first and last graphs) we can see that the velocity

and acceleration (slope) both have the same direction. In the first graph we have positive

velocity (above v = 0) and positive slope. In the last graph we have negative velocity

(below v = 0) and negative slope. In the two middle graphs, where the object is slowing

down, the velocity and acceleration (slope) are in opposite directions. So to summarize,

if the velocity and acceleration are in the same direction then the object will

speed up. If the velocity and acceleration are in opposite directions, then the

object will slow down.

Now that we know what constant accelerated motion looks like, we will start to delve

more deeply into some specific applications of this kind of motion. We live in a world of

constant acceleration. Objects moving near the surface of the earth can be said to

experience the constant acceleration of gravity. More about this will follow soon.

First, we need to look at a little chemistry. In the time of Aristotle it was believed that all

elements were made of four basic elements: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. The behavior

of an object (for example the way it traveled through the air) depended on the proportion

of the four elements that it contained.

Here is how it might be explained by Aristotle. We can observe quite easily that if a leaf

and an acorn were to simultaneously fall from a tree the acorn will land first every time.

This is because it contains more of the element earth than the leaf does. Since earth

tends to accumulate on the ground, the acorn has a greater desire to return to the

ground than the leaf does and so it lands first. This is based on the idea that each of the

elements has a natural place where it exists and motion is nothing more than trying to

find that natural state. He would say that the leaf contains more air and hence stays in

the realm of air (which is not on the ground!). As a final example, Aristotle would

describe the motion involved in burning a stick as releasing the element of fire from the

stick. The flames that we observe are the fire escaping and going to its natural place (the

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HL Physics 1

Study Guide

Unit 2

Sun). What remains after the fire has left (the ashes) is the earth portion of the stick. It

sounds pretty weird to us, but it is a logical system for describing how objects move.

For thousands of years, folks were content with this explanation (more likely they didnt

really care). Eventually, another great thinker got interested in motion and re-examined

the problem of falling bodies. Galileo worked out the equations of motion that we are

familiar with by looking at objects rolling down an inclined board. He used his pulse to

time the objects as they rolled between marks he had made on the board. By doing this

he discovered that the distance for accelerated motion is related to the square of the

elapsed time. Galileo also tackled the problem of a falling object. He tried to apply

Aristotles rules to the following problem and arrived at a paradox.

Consider the motion of a falling anvil and a feather.

The anvil will clearly fall faster than the feather. This is

because the anvil contains more earth than the

feather does. The feather obviously contains more air

than the anvil and hence falls more slowly. But, what

happens if you connect the feather to the anvil. This

new object will contain more earth than the anvil by itself (since it has the added bit of

earth from the feather) so it should fall faster than the anvil by itself. On the other hand,

the new object will contain more air (because of the air contained in the feather) than the

anvil by itself and should fall more slowly than the anvil alone. Which is correct?

Galileo imagined how effective each object is at pushing its way through the air and

realized that Aristotle was answering the wrong problem. It is not only the nature of the

object that plays the greatest role in its falling motion, but it is the nature of what it is

falling through as well. If one could remove the air, Galileo stated that both

objects would fall at the same rate. He is said to have backed up this claim by

climbing to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and dropping various objects. This is

most likely not true. However, we have done this experiment and verified Galileos ideas.

This idealized falling motion through nothing is called Freefall. In this course, unless

you are told otherwise, you may assume that objects are moving without the effects of

air resistance.

In Freefall objects fall only under the influence of the earths gravity. In this

case, all objects fall at the same rate, independent of their mass.

NOTE: We have already seen that if we insist that mechanical energy is conserved (i.e. no

work is done by friction or air resistance) then we find that the speed of a falling object

does not depend on its mass. Galileos reasoning brings us to the same result, but from a

different perspective!

We can measure the rate at which objects gain or lose speed as they fall. This

acceleration, since it is caused by the earths gravitational force, is called the

acceleration of gravity, g.

Edison Physics

Study Guide

HL Physics 1

Unit 2

2

Because this acceleration vector is always directed towards the ground, and we usually

take up to be the positive direction, the vector acceleration is written as a = - g = 9.8 m/s2.

Case #1: Falling

In the case of an object falling freely from rest, we know that it will gain

speed as it falls. In this case it will have a negative acceleration (towards the

ground) and a negative velocity (also towards the ground). The motion

graphs would look like:

pos

vel

time

acc

time

t = 0, v = 0

t = 1, v = - 9.8

t = 2, v = - 19.6

time

-g

t = 3, v = - 29.4

The equation of the position graph would be y = - gt2 (I am using the variable y to

represent vertical motion). The displacement is negative because the ball is moving

downwards!

In this case, the object initially has a large speed, v o and is moving upwards.

Gravity will slow it down as it continues to rise. This is positive motion with

negative acceleration. The motion graphs would look like:

vel

pos

t = 2, v = vo 19.6

acc

vo

time

t = 3, v = vo 29.4

t = 1, v = vo 9.8

time

time

-g

The equation of the position graph would be y = vot gt2.

t = 0, v = vo

In general, for vertical freefall motion, we can use the same equations of motion that we

have been using. We will substitute y for vertical displacement and we will substitute a

= -g.

So,

Edison Physics

x = vot + at2

becomes

y = vot gt2

HL Physics 1

v = vo + at

Edison Physics

Study Guide

becomes

v = vo - gt

Unit 2

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