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Inertial frames of Reference

To distinguish between inertial and non-inertial frames of reference.
Background Information
An inertial frame of reference is a non-accelerated environment, where only steady motion
or no motion is allowed. Motion cannot be detected. In an inertial frame of reference, the
laws of motion are always valid.
For example, the interior of a plane flying smoothly at a steady speed is an inertial frame of
reference. If a ball is dropped, it falls vertically under gravity and no other force. Without
observing out the window, it is not possible to tell whether the plane is in flight or stationary
on the ground.
A non-inertial frame of reference experiences acceleration, so motion is detectable. For a
non-inertial frame of reference, the laws of motion do not hold true. Objects can appear to
change velocity without a true net external force. This is due to fictitious forces or pseudo-
For example, in a car turning a corner, a passenger experiences the sensation of being
thrown outwards by a fictitious centrifugal force


Mass Bob
Pendulum made of mass bob and string taped to the roof of the car will swing when the car
accelerates or decelerates allowing the observer to identify the car as an inertial or non-
inertial frame of reference.
Step 1 | The string was attached to the mass bob.

Step 2 | The string and mass bob (pendulum) was attached to the interior roof of the car
using tape.

Step 3 | The car driver drove safely around a variety of roads

Step 4 | An observer remained seated next to the pendulum and observed the movement
of the pendulum when the car accelerated in any way.
Risk Assessment

Risk Method of Neutralisation

Responsible and licensed driver was chosen
to avoid any destruction of property and
Risky Driving
eliminate risks to students
health and others.
Mass was attached in the back of the car,
onto the roof, with a short string length, to
Swinging Mass avoid excessive swinging and eliminate the
possibility of the mass bob hitting any


Type of Frame of Reference (Qualitative) Motion of Pendulum (Qualitative)

Inertial Frame of Reference Pendulum did not move (significantly)
Pendulum moved in the direction opposed
Non-Inertial Frame of Reference to the direction of the acceleration of the
frame of reference.
Due to the effects of Newtons First Law (Inertia), which states that an object in motion will
stay in motion unless acted upon by an external force, the mass bob (relative to the frame of
reference) experienced a force in the direction opposite to the direction of acceleration of
the inertial frame.
The string tension kept the mass bob from continuing to accelerate. This allowed students to
effectively discern the effect of the movement of the frame of reference on the bob.
The principle of relativity, stating that there is no way to distinguish the velocity of an inertial
frame of reference, is upheld, as the dependant variable was consistent when the car was

Experiment valid as the motion of the car was kept constant when not accelerating and
accelerating to identify the non-inertial frame of reference. The independent carriable was
correctly carried put to observe the motion of the pendulum (moving/not moving and In
which direction.) The mass of the pendulum, length of the string and wind resistance was
kept controlled throughout the experimental procedure.

The equipment used such as the car, mass bob and string were accurate enough for the
qualitative observational data collected. Accuracy couldve been improved by using more
sophisticated technology (e.g. accelerometer, data logger). The experiment was repeated by
fellow students, and the data collectively compared showed consistent results.

Random accelerations due to the bumpiness of the road produced slightly invalid results,
however this effect was not significant as the results were rough and qualitative. Validity
could have been improved by collecting quantitative data (acceleration in ms-2) and by using
a smoother moving frame of reference. Validity of the experiment could also have been
hindered as the acceleration produced by a humans force again the gas pedal in a acar may
have varied during the experiment as a human reflex error may have accounted for this issue.
Improvements to this experiments may have been by attaching a string to a spring balance
and a pulley, with 100g mass. The apparatus can be taken as an inertial frame of reference
when kept stationary (where the point on spring balance is registered at 100g. However
when the rope is pulled quickly, the spring balance would show a reading much higher than
100g. This is because force equals mass multiplied by acceleration. It would be exerting more
extra force on the weigh to cause it to accelerate upwards.
We successful distinguished between inertial and non-inertial frames of reference. Data
collected from this experiment was valid and accurate enough to distinguish between an
inertial and non-inertial frame of reference.