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LPC Physics Conservation of Momentum II

Conservation of Momentum II

Purpose:
To verify the principles of Conservation of Momentum and Conservation of Energy in
Elastic and Inelastic Collisions, and to explore Collisions in the Center of Mass frame.

Equipment:
 Curved Track
 Metal Ball
 Glass Ball with Tape
 Plumb Bob
 Table Clamp
 Carbon Paper
 Scratch Paper
 ProScout USB 200g Balance
 Meter Stick
 Tape

Theory:
Experiments involving the collision of objects have played a major role in the
development of modern physics. The key to the analysis of collision experiments lies in
the conservation of momentum an energy in situations in which external forces are
negligible. Even if the interaction between colliding bodies is not understood or
extremely complicated, accounting for the energy and momentum of the incoming and
outgoing particles allows the experimenter to obtain a great deal of information about the
bodies. By such means was the atomic nucleus discovered, when alpha particles fired
toward an atom bounced back toward the source, indicating a very massive central region
in the atom – the nucleus. More recent discoveries, such as that of the top quark, have
used analysis of collisions in very similar ways.
Momentum is conserved in collisions in which external forces are negligible. In
this experiment, gravity is present, but because it acts in the vertical direction only, the
momentum in the horizontal direction will be conserved.
A collision is said to be elastic when the total kinetic energy of the system is
conserved, when none of it is converted into other forms; otherwise the collision is
termed inelastic. In today’s lab we study both elastic and inelastic collisions between
steel and glass balls.
In our trials a projectile will strike a stationary target. Our notation will be: m1
and u1 for the mass and velocity of the projectile before the collision, v1 for its velocity
after the collision, and m2 and v2 for the velocity of the target after the collision. With
these conventions, momentum conservation may be expressed as follows:

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LPC Physics Conservation of Momentum II

r r
pinitial = p final
or Eq. 1
r r r
m1 u1 = m1v1 + m2 v2

Note that since momentum is a vector, the individual momenta must be added as vectors;
also, there is only one momentum o the left (“initial”) side of the equation, because the
target is stationary (u2 is zero).
In elastic collisions we have an additional relationship between the quantities,
expressing the fact that the kinetic energy is conserved:
KEinitial = KE final
or Eq. 2
1
2 m u = 12 m v + 12 m v
2
1 1
2
1 1
2
2 2 [ elastic only]

Note here that there are no arrows over u1, v1, and v2. Kinetic energy, in common with all
forms of energy, is not a vector, but a scalar, without direction – it depends on the square
of an object’s speed.
In today’s lab, the projectile rolls down a ramp, knocks a stationary target ball off
a support, then both balls fall to the floor ad land on carbon paper, leaving marks on
scratch paper below. Each ball is in the air the same amount of time, so the faster a ball
goes out horizontally, the farther away will be its mark on the paper. Thus, the distances
from the mark below the collision point are proportional to the balls’ horizontal speeds.
Logically, the directions of these vectors are the directions of the velocities. Thus, as
shown in Figure 1, we
obtain a picture in landing
which arrows drawn point
from the collision r
point to the points landing v2
point
r
where the balls land v1
are proportional to the
horizontal velocities
collision point
after the collision.
Top View

Figure 1

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LPC Physics Conservation of Momentum II

Experiment:

Part A: Hard Surfaces Collide

1. We are going to start this lab with some predictions. When the metal projectile
collides with the glass target, hitting the glass and not the taped side, do you expect
the system’s total horizontal momentum to be conserved? The total vertical
momentum? The total kinetic energy? Write down your predictions, and explain
each.

2. Using a large table clamp, attach the curved track to the edge of a lab table or
countertop. You may need two clamps to keep the track level. Make sure that no
parts of the clamps interfere with the rolling of the ball.

3. We will use a metal ball as the projectile, and a glass ball as the target. There is a
small square of tape on the glass ball, which will be used for the inelastic collision.
Using the electronic balance, find the mass of both balls.

4. To make our calculations easier, we are going to re-define the units of mass. We will
define the projectile as having a mass of “1”. You must calculate the mass of the
glass ball in terms of our “false units”. If you can’t figure out how to do this, your lab

5. Place the glass target ball on its support, and the metal projectile ball on the end of the
ramp. Check to see that the centers of both balls are at the same height. If they are

6. Tape together 9-12 pieces of scratch paper, enough to cover the entire area contained
by the trajectories of the balls, including the collision point directly below the pivot of
the support arm. Tape the paper in place on the floor.

7. Using a plumb bob, mark the point directly below the pivot of the support arm, and
label it “collision point.”

8. Before placing the carbon paper, make sure that everything is working correctly. Set
the target support arm at roughly a 45o angle with the ramp. Set the target ball on the
support. Hold the projectile against the screw-stop at the top of the ramp. When you
release the projectile, you want to make sure of the following things:
• Both balls land on the paper
• The collision is “clean”, i.e. no secondary collisions, each ball’s trajectory
is smooth
• The balls hit the floor at the same time. You’ll need to listen for this one.
Try launching the balls a couple of times. If they don’t land in the same area each
time, try making the angle of the support arm a little larger or smaller, until the data is
consistent.

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LPC Physics Conservation of Momentum II

9. Lay down two pieces of carbon paper, one that will record the landing of the
projectile, a second to record the landing of the target. Repeat ten runs to get an idea
of the experimental uncertainty. Draw an ellipse containing
most of the projectile landing points, then draw an arrow r r
v1 , m1v1
representing v1 from the collision point to the average projectile
landing point. Do the same for the target, v2. Because, and only
because, we have defined the mass of the projectile as 1, its
momentum m1v1 is represented by the same vector as its
velocity, v1. Accordingly, label this vector v1, m1v1. For
Figure 2
now, label the target velocity simply as v2.
10. Discuss with your lab partners how the target velocity vector v2
will relate to the momentum vector of the target. Include the results of this
discussion, and any calculations in your lab report. Label the representation of the
target momentum m2v2.

11. Discuss with your lab partners what method would allow you to measure the
projectile’s initial velocity, u1. Once you have decided on a method and checked it
with your lab instructor, carry out the procedure ten times, obtaining an uncertainty
ellipse and drawing the vector labeled u1, m1u1.

12. Here is the test: is momentum conserved, or not? Add the vectors m1v1 and m2v2
graphically, labeling the resultant vector m1v1 + m2v2.

13. Based on your graphical results, does momentum conservation as expressed in Eq. 1
hold within the experiment’s uncertainties? Was your prediction borne out? If not,
discuss the discrepancies.

14. Now for something weird: in addition to our convenient choice of mass units, we will
define our time units so that the time to fall from the collision height, which is the
same for both balls, is 1, and for our distance unit we choose a centimeter. Therefore,
a velocity vector 5 cm long means a speed of 5. Record the speeds u1, v1 and v2 in
your lab report. This may seem odd and confusing, but things like this are done
often in science, and you will see that these choices make our calculations a lot
easier!

15. Calculate, in our false units, the kinetic energy of the projectile before the collision.
Also calculate the kinetic energies of the projectile and target after the collision.

16. Does kinetic energy conservation, as expressed in Eq. 2 hold within the experiment’s
uncertainties? A rough idea of the uncertainty in the speeds is a “radius” of a
representative uncertainty ellipse. How does this value, as a percent of the speed,
compare with the percent change in kinetic energy? Was your earlier prediction
borne out? If not, discuss the discrepancy. Include calculations of the
experimental uncertainty in your lab report.

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LPC Physics Conservation of Momentum II

Part B: A Cushioned Collision

1. In this part of the experiment, we turn the glass ball so that the piece of tape is facing
the oncoming projectile. In this case, do you expect the system’s total (horizontal)

2. Carry out an experimental practice run to find where the target and projectile land. If
possible, use the same paper as before, perhaps using a different color of pencil to
distinguish between the two different collisions. Lay down the two pieces of carbon
paper, and carry out ten data runs, drawing in the uncertainty ellipses and velocity
vectors. Label the projectile vector v1, m1v1, and the target vectors v2 and m2v2.

3. Discuss with your lab partners how u1, the initial momentum, and the total
momentum in this part compare to those values in the hard-surfaces collision. Carry
out whatever procedures you deem necessary to find the initial velocity u1 and the
initial momentum.

4. Add m1v1 and m2v2 graphically, labeling the resultant m1v1 + m2v2.

5. Does momentum conservation hold within the experiment’s uncertainties? Was your
earlier prediction borne out? If not, discuss the discrepancy.

6. Calculate the speeds u1, v1, and v2. Include the calculations and values in your lab
reports.

7. Calculate the kinetic energies before and after the collision. Include your
calculations and results in your lab report.

8. Does kinetic energy conservation, expressed in Eq. 2, hold within the experiment’s
uncertainties? Was your earlier prediction borne out? If not, discuss the discrepancy.

Part C: Collisions in the CM Frame

Being able to visualize how things would look from an alternative frame of reference is
something quite useful and illuminating in many different physical situations. Perhaps
the most important alternative reference frame is the center-of-mass, or CM, frame. This
is a frame that moves along with the center of mass of the system. By definition, the
position of the center of mass – the average position of the mass – of a system of N
particles is given by:
1 N 1 N r 1 N r
xCM = ∑
M total i =1
m x
i i and y CM = ∑
M total i =1
m y
i i or rCM = ∑
M total i =1
mi ri

For just two particles, this becomes:

r r
r m1 r1 + m2 r2
rCM = Eq. 3
m1 + m2

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LPC Physics Conservation of Momentum II

A question central to understanding things in the CM frame is: What is the

velocity of the center of mass, with respect to the lab room? Taking a time derivative of
both sides of Eq. 3 we have:
r r r r
r m1v1 + m2 v 2 m1v1 + m2 v 2
vCM = = Eq. 4
m1 + m2 M total
r r
where v1 and v 2 may represent the projectile and target after the collision. But what of
the velocity of the center of mass before the collision? We can use the same general
form:
r m u + m2 0 m1u1
vCM = 1 1 = Eq. 5
M total M total

And now we see on one of the reasons why the center-of-mass frame is so special:
if momentum is conserved, as expressed in Eq. 1, the numerators of Eqs. 4 and 5 are
equal; so the velocity of the center of mass is the same after the collision as before, and
thus can have nothing to do with the actual details of the collision!
Finally, the general method for relating velocities in two different frames of
r
reference, A and B, is as follows. If viB is the velocity of object i relative to frame B and
r
v AB the velocity of frame B relative to frame A, then the velocity of object i relative to
frame A is given by:
r r r
viA = viB + v AB [ Frame A and Frame B ]

r r
In today’s lab, frame A is the lab room, so the viA are the velocities vi as you have already
drawn them (the A is understood), and frame B is the center-of-mass frame, so that
r r
v BA is vCM , and we have:

r r r
vi = viCM + vCM [ Lab room frame and CM frame] Eq. 6

r
In other words, the velocities viCM of the balls relative to the CM frame are vectors that
r r
go from the tip of the vCM vector to the tip of the vi vectors.

r
1. Guided by Eq. 5, draw in and label as vCM the velocity of the center of mass. Include
any calculations in your lab report.
r
2. Without actually drawing it, how would a vector representing vCM but guided by Eq. 4
appear on your paper? Would it bear out the claim that the velocity of the center of
mass has nothing to do with the details of the collision, and why?

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LPC Physics Conservation of Momentum II

r
3. Now, in the appropriate colors, draw in and label as viCM the velocities of the balls
after the collision relative to the CM frame. There will be four such velocities, two
r r
for each collision. (Remember: The velocities viCM go from the tip of the vCM vector
r
to the tip of the vi vectors.)

r
4. Draw, in the appropriate colors, any new vectors necessary to represent m1v1CM and
r
m2 v 2CM and add these labels at the appropriate places for each collision.

5. The center-of-mass frame is special! According to your diagrams, what does the total
momentum in the CM frame appear to be after the collisions? Answer for each of the
collisions.

6. What should be the total momentum in the CM frame before the collisions?
r r
7. Add, in the appropriate colors, a u1CM and a u 2CM to each collision. Just as for the
r
after-collision velocities, these go from the tip of the vCM vector to the tip of the
r r r
u1 and u 2 vectors (and u 2 is zero). Then add and label the before-collision
r r
momentum vectors m1u1CM and m2 u 2CM . Is your claim of Step 6 borne out?

8. Just by looking at the velocity vectors in the CM frame before and after the collisions
– i.e., without calculations – can you reinforce qualitatively your earlier findings
about kinetic energy conservation in the two collisions?

9. Using Eq. 6 applied to each of the two masses, then inserting into Eq. 4, prove your
claim in Step 5.

Results:
Write at least one paragraph describing the following:
• what you expected to learn about the lab (i.e. what was the reason for conducting
the experiment?)
• your results, and what you learned from them
• Think of at least one other experiment might you perform to verify these results
• Think of at least one new question or problem that could be answered with the
physics you have learned in this laboratory, or be extrapolated from the ideas in
this laboratory.

This lab was adapted from Physics 9A Lab Manual, The Staff of the Physics Department, University of
California at Davis, 2000.

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LPC Physics Conservation of Momentum II

Clean-Up:
Before you can leave the classroom, you must clean up your equipment, and have your
instructor sign below. How you divide clean-up duties between lab members is up to you.

Clean-up involves:
• Completely dismantling the experimental setup
• Removing tape from anything you put tape on
• Drying-off any wet equipment
• Putting away equipment in proper boxes (if applicable)
• Returning equipment to proper cabinets, or to the cart at the front of the room
• Throwing away pieces of string, paper, and other detritus (i.e. your water bottles)
• Shutting down the computer
• Anything else that needs to be done to return the room to its pristine, pre lab form.

I certify that the equipment used by ________________________ has been cleaned up.
(student’s name)

______________________________ , _______________.
(instructor’s name) (date)

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