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Brown University PHYS 0050/0070

Physics Department Motion in One Dimension - Free Fall

Motion in One Dimension - Free Fall


Abstract:
This experiment studies the velocity of a freely falling body. Two ways of obtaining
information on the velocity are available in the laboratory; the student will use either one
method (tape timer) or the other (photocell). By analyzing the data from either source a
graph is prepared which gives the instantaneous velocities at particular instants during the
fall.

This velocity--time graph is a straight-line plot that should yield an experimental value of
the gravitational constant g (accepted value 9.81 m / sec 2 ). Your measured value will
probably differ from this for completely valid reasons. Understanding the sources of such
differences quantitatively and calculating their effects is one of the objectives of this
experiment: a form of error analysis.

Method:
1) The lab instructor will briefly demonstrate how the raw data is obtained from each
kind of free fall experimental apparatus. Tape timer recordings (TTR) should be
discussed first, because it furnishes a direct visual record of the successive positions of a
falling body. The photocell timing technique (PTT) requires that the drop be repeated
several times with identical initial conditions, varying the point along the drop path at
which the time is measured.

2) Either according to the instructors directions or your own option, you will take data
on a falling body using either TTR or PTT apparatus. Details of handling the devices and
deducing instantaneous velocities in a fall have been placed in Appendices A and B. The
result of this phase is a table of five to eight velocities corresponding to different times
relative to an arbitrary time in the fall that is defined as t=0. Be sure at this stage to record
all associated parameters, such as the tape timer recording frequency in TTR and the
constant distance from the releasepoint to the first photocell in PTT.

3) The appendices describe how the measured value of g is derived from the slope of the
velocitytime plot. Choosing how to draw the best straight line, and how to estimate
the error associated with your measurement will be discussed in the laboratory.

Appendix A Free Fall by Tape Timing


In this experiment we study quantitatively the motion of a body that is accelerated as it
falls toward earth. Tape marks, generated at constant known time intervals, t, and mark
on vertical tape successive positions of the body as it passes nearby. From these data the
motion can be analyzed.

We expect, of course, that the bodys acceleration, a, will, turn out to be the constant g,
the acceleration due to gravity. When the acceleration is constant, the analysis of the tape

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Brown University PHYS 0050/0070
Physics Department Motion in One Dimension - Free Fall
marks that we describe locates the points at which the instantaneous velocity is known
exactly. It also provides a useful approximation when the acceleration varies slowly
during the fall (a result of air resistance on a light body).

Interpretation of the Timer Tape

It is hard to ensure that the first mark coincides accurately with release of the body.
Therefore, the instant t = 0 is chosen as that of the first clearly distinct tape timer mark.
Distances y are measured on the tape from this point, i.e., y = y0 = 0 when t = t0 = 0, but
the body already has an unknown velocity v0.
Fig.1 shows schematically a few tape timer points indiating successive position of the
body. In order to process these data it is helpful to introduce the concept of average
velocity. Over the time interval, this is by difinition

v12 ( y 2 y1 ) /(t 2 t1 ) Eq. (1A)

If the tape timer intervals are small enough, this average velocity will equal the
instantaneous velocity at a point that the body reaches in half the time that it takes to go
from y1 to y 2 . The statement is exact for constant acceleration as we prove below.
Therefore, by using alternate tape timer marks, the velocity at the mark point between
them can be calculated. Since the velocity increases, point y 2 though separated in

t t0 y y0
t t1 y y1

t t2 y y2

t t3 y y3

Fig 1

In time from y1 and y 3 by the fixed tape time interval1 t, is not equal in distance from
those two points. The point is closer to y1 than it is to y 3 .

For a uniformly accelerated motion, where v = at, let us prove that

v2 v13 Eq. (1A)


We know that

1
Note the Pasco tape timer operates with a period of 1/40 - th of a second.

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Brown University PHYS 0050/0070
Physics Department Motion in One Dimension - Free Fall

v1 v0 at1

v 2 v0 at1 t

v3 v0 a t1 2 t

The distance traveled is given in general by y = v0t + at2/2, so that


y3 y1 2v0 t a t1 2 t t12 / 2
2

2v 0 t a t 4t1 4 t / 2

From this it follows that

v13 y3 y1 / 2 t v0 a(t1 t )

This is exactly equal to v2.

The calculation of the instantaneous velocities can thus be done by repeated use of
equation. We find the average velocity for two points separated by a third point, and
assign it as the instantaneous velocity at the in between point.
While one could apply the technique to all the points that are obtained from the timer
tape, we would recommend that you not do so. A better procedure is to use the first three
points to calculate the instantaneous velocity at point 2, the next three points to calculate
the velocity at point 5, and so on. The reason for this is that there always exists the
possibility of a misfiring of the apparatus, or an error in identifying a point marked by the
tape timer. By working in groups of three different marks at a time, the damage that such
errors would cause is confined to one velocity point, instead of giving distorted results to
the three velocity points it would otherwise affect. Since we can expect about two-dozen
tape timer points down the length of the tape, the recommended procedure will yield
about eight velocity points. These are more than ample to define a best straight line.

Once we have a set of instantaneous velocities, we can plot v-t. A constant acceleration
will result in a straight line v v 0 at and the slope of the line gives us the acceleration.
Procedure

The instructor will show you how to fasten the vertical tape to the apparatus, and how to
operate the tape timer and the electromagnet that releases the falling body. The apparatus
will have been vertically aligned previously. If difficulty is encountered, do NOT attempt
to realign it yourself; call the instructor.
After the tape has been marked by the tape timer, tear it off and select a suitable mark
point for t = 0. Measureestimating to tenths of millimetersthe successive distances
y1 , y 2 etc., all of which start at the point for t = 0 and y = 0. This is most conveniently
done by fixing the tape to a meter stick, with the y = 0 point at zero. Then, the points can
be read off directly and rapidly.

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Brown University PHYS 0050/0070
Physics Department Motion in One Dimension - Free Fall
Before going on, make an informal graph of y vs. t. By this we mean a graph in which the
raw data is plotted with as little conversion as possible (for example, plot the time axis in
terms of the tape mark number, rather than converting to time in seconds). The object is
to check the data before you get involved in extensive calculations with it. This step is an
important one in any experiment. We expect a reasonably smooth graph, whatever the
details of behavior, and this first trial will reveal any gross error of measurement, any
omission of a tape timer point because the apparatus failed temporarily, etc. If you do
detect a Jump in the curve, first recheck your plot, often the trouble lies there. Next,
check your measurements of y; if a discrepancy still remains, consult the instructor.

Once the direct data appear satisfactory, compute the instantaneous velocities as
described above and carefully graph velocity against time, a straight line should result; v0
is the intercept at t = 0 and a is the slope. It should, of course, be the local acceleration of
gravity2.

Appendix B Free Fall by Photocell Timing


The time to fall from rest through distances of a meter or less is only a few tenths of a
second. To measure such short times accurately, we use an electronic timer that is
triggered when the body falls through light beams. The setup is sketched in Fig. 1B. As
the body passes through the top beam, it starts the counter.

FIG. 1B Photogate Timing setup

It operates at 1000 counts per second, and continues to count until the body interrupts the
lower beam, stopping the counter. The number of counts shown is therefore the time, in
milliseconds, that it takes the body to fall through the distance that separates the two
photocells. By setting this distance to four or five values, we can obtain a graph of
velocity versus time - a straight line since the acceleration is constant.

2
The accepted value for g is 9.807 m/s^2.

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Brown University PHYS 0050/0070
Physics Department Motion in One Dimension - Free Fall
Notice that the body already has an initial velocity as it passes the top photocell. As we
will show, we do not need to know this initial velocity, providing only that we keep it
constant throughout the experiment. We do this by keeping the position from which the
body is dropped, and the position of the top cell, constant. Only the bottom cell is moved
up and down to vary the distance over which times are measured.

Notice that the body already has an initial velocity as it passes the top photocell. As we
will show, we do not need to know this initial velocity, providing only that we keep it
constant throughout the experiment. We do this by keeping the position from which the
body is dropped, and the position of the top cell, constant. Only the bottom cell is moved.
Notice that the body already has an initial velocity as it passes the top photocell. As we
will show, we do not need to know this initial velocity, providing only that we keep it
constant throughout the experiment. We do this by keeping the position from which the
body is dropped, and the position of the top cell, constant. Only the bottom cell is moved
up and down to vary the distance over which times are measured.

Consider one such trial. The way the apparatus is set up, it is natural to set up a
coordinate system in which y = 0 is the position of the top photocell, and y increases
downward. Let the photocell separation be h, so the lower beam is at y yh . If we define t
= 0 to he the moment when the body starts the counter, than t h will be the time it passes
point h, and the counter reading will be th in milliseconds.

The body has an initial velocity, a constant we will call v (0), and so the equation for its
instantaneous velocity in our system is

v(t ) v(0) gt (1B)


At any time t. In particular, it passes the bottom cell with a velocity
v(t h ) v(0) gt h (2B)
From the information we have, we can obtain the average velocity of the body in its fall
from y = 0 to y = h, which we will call v h .
This is simply the distance divided by the time
vh h / t h (3B)
Now we show that this average velocity can be related to the instantaneous velocity at
one particular instant in the fall. Using: the definition of average velocity as half the sum
of the initial and final velocity:

vh v(0) v(0) gt h / 2 v(0) gt h / 2 (4B)

Comparing Eq. (1B) and (4B), we see that the average velocity is exactly equal to the
instantaneous velocity the body has at the instant t t h / 2 .

By making observations several photocell separations (always leaving the top photocell
in a fixed position, we can prepare a graph of instantaneous velocity versus time of fall. It
will resemble that shown in Fig 2B.

Notice how (without doing a more elaborate analysis) we draw a line that best represents
all the points, even if it may not pass through any of them. The slope of this line is your
best estimate of g. (The line will not pass through zero, and in fact the point where it
strikes the v axis gives the instantaneous velocity at the upper photocell.)

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Brown University PHYS 0050/0070
Physics Department Motion in One Dimension - Free Fall

Velocity
B
16 Linear Fit of Data1_B

14

12

10

0 2 4 6 8 10
Tim e

Fig. 2B graph of instantaneous velocity versus time of fall

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