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Study Guide

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

In the diagram to the left,


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).

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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?

There is one further complication to this


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

negative direction). Who is correct?


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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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

Speed along the path

Velocity towards ending point

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 =

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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

We can use this graph to find the distance


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

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v

average velocity will be

direction of motion).

x +80 m
=
t
10 s

Unit 2

= + 8 m/s (remember, the + sign tells us the

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)

When we calculate the


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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This graph describes the same motion as


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

The answer is yes, maybe. The only thing


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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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).

The images of Malcolm as he


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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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)

We can use this graph to find the


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

The position-time graph is only half of the


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

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Unit 2

(from 5 up to 30). Also, the time that


passed was 30 seconds (25 to 55).

So, the average acceleration from 25 to 55 seconds is

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 )

So, an updated definition is that acceleration is the slope of the velocity


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)

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To find the displacement at some time, t,


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

net displacement = x = vot + at2


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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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

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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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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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down
SpeedingUnit
up Slowing
2

The next trend comes from the velocity-time graphs.


vel

vel

vel

vel

Speeding up

Slowing down
0

time

time

time

time

The thing to notice


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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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

It has the value g = 9.8 m/s

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 velocity graph would be v = - 9.8 t or v = -gt


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!

Case #2: Being thrown upward


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 velocity graph would be v = v o 9.8t or v = vo - gt


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

and g = 9.8 m/s2

HL Physics 1
v = vo + at

Edison Physics

Study Guide
becomes

v = vo - gt

Unit 2