06 Motion in a Circle

Non-Uniform Vertical Circular Motion

Using a chain of rubber bands, I swung a ball around in a vertical loop. This demonstration shows how the tension in an elastic band changes according to the position of the ball, by referring to the length of the elastic band.

Securing the elastic band to the ball with a shoelace

When the ball of mass $m$ is at the bottom of the loop, the centripetal force is given by the difference between tension $T_{bottom}$ and weight $mg$, where $T_{bottom}$ varies depending on the speed of the ball $v_{bottom}$ and the radius of the curvature $r_{bottom}$.

$T_{bottom} – mg = \dfrac{mv_{bottom}^2}{r_{bottom}}$

When the ball is at the top of the path, it is given by

$T_{top} + mg = \dfrac{mv_{top}^2}{r_{top}}$

As the weight is acting in the same direction to tension when the ball is at the top, a smaller tension is exerted by the elastic band to maintain a centripetal force. Therefore , $T_{bottom} > T_{top}$.

The GeoGebra app below shows a simpler version of a vertical loop – a circular path with a fixed radius $r$. Consider a ball sliding around a smooth circular loop. The normal contact force varies such that

$N_{bottom} = \dfrac{mv_{bottom}^2}{r} + mg$

$N_{top} = \dfrac{mv_{top}^2}{r} – mg$

It can be shown that the minimum height at which the ball must be released in order for it to complete the loop without losing contact with the track is 2.5 times the radius of the frictionless circular track.

If we were to consider the rotational kinetic energy required for the ball to roll, the required initial height will have to be 2.7 times the radius, as shown in the video below:

Many thanks to Dr Darren Tan for his input. Do check out his EJSS simulation of a mass-spring motion in a vertical plane, which comes with many more features such as the ability to vary the initial velocity of the mass, graphs showing the variation of energy and velocity, as well as an option for a mass-string motion as well.

Centripetal force on and off

Here’s a quick video to demonstrate the movement of a ball initially moving in a circle before its centripetal force (contact force by the circular wall) is removed. The ball is observed to move in a tangent to the circle, in accordance with Newton’s 1st Law, since there is no longer a net force acting on it.

Angular velocity

This GeoGebra app shows how angular velocity ω is the rate of change of angular displacement (i.e. $\omega=\dfrac{\theta}{t}$) and is dependent on the speed and radius of the object in circular motion (i.e. $v=r\omega$).

Students can explore the relationships by doing the following:

Keeping r constant and varying ω.

Keeping ω constant and varying r.

Keeping v constant by varying r and ω.

Angular displacement

This GeoGebra app shows the relationship s = .

One activity I get students can do is to look at the value of θ when the arc length s is equal to the radius r. This would give the definition of the radian, which is the angle subtended at the centre of a circle by an arc equal in length to its radius.

Mathematics defines the constant π as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. This can also be shown in the app, although you need to drag the moving point to a point just short of one full revolution.

Uniform vertical circular motion

The following GeoGebra app simulates the force vectors on an object in uniform vertical circular motion.

A real world example of this would be the forces acting on a cabin in a ferris wheel.

<iframe scrolling="no" title="Vertical Uniform Circular Motion " src="https://www.geogebra.org/material/iframe/id/t5jstqsm/width/640/height/480/border/888888/sfsb/true/smb/false/stb/false/stbh/false/ai/false/asb/false/sri/true/rc/false/ld/false/sdz/false/ctl/false" width="640px" height="480px" style="border:0px;"> </iframe>

Vertical Non-Uniform Circular Motion

This is a simulation that shows the vectors of forces acting on an object rolling in a vertical loop, assuming negligible friction.

To complete the loop, the initial velocity must be sufficiently high so that contact between the object and the track is maintained. When the contact force between the object and its looping track no longer exists, the object will drop from the loop.

The following code is for embedding in SLS.

<iframe scrolling="no" title="Vertical non-uniform circular motion" src="https://www.geogebra.org/material/iframe/id/ny3jhhsp/width/640/height/480/border/888888/sfsb/true/smb/false/stb/false/stbh/false/ai/false/asb/false/sri/true/rc/false/ld/false/sdz/false/ctl/false" width="640px" height="480px" style="border:0px;"> </iframe>