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Nadia Foderaro – Kevin Quinn, Hani Shakrah

Mrs. Hornibrook

AP Physics 1 Period 8

2 November 2017

Can a Modified Atwood Machine Prove Newton’s Second Law?

Introduction:

With any object, motion changes when a system is modified. In this lab, we analyzed said

motion with the forces that affect it in a system called a “Modified Atwood Machine”. The

concepts were, first, to observe the acceleration of the object while altering its weight and,

second, to observe the acceleration while altering the weight of the mass hanging from the other

side of the system.

The “object” in the “Newton's Second Law and the Modified Atwood Machine” lab was

a cart with a photogate picket fence. The .5239-kilogram cart was attached though the modified

Atwood machine to a hanging mass on a hook. The cart was pulled by the hanging mass on the

low-friction track through a photogate, which would measure the acceleration of the cart for that

trial. In fact, we ran a variety of trials, altering the mass of the hanging weight as well as the

mass of the cart in order to test the acceleration in a vast number of situations. To start, we drew

free body diagrams for the cart and the hanger to visualize the forces acting upon the two parts of

the system:

Figure 1: Figure 2:
Though, with Newton’s Second Law, it did not take long to predict that the more mass put on the

cart, the lower the acceleration. Parallelly, the most weight added to the hanging mass, the higher

the acceleration would be. The second law states that the acceleration of an object is dependent

upon two variables - the net force acting upon the object and the mass of the object. Another

common way to express this notion is:

Equation 1: ΣF=ma

Since acceleration is expressed by “a”, mass is expressed by “m”, and ΣF is the sum of the forces

acting on the object, solving for acceleration with a large mass would create a smaller value.

Theoretically, we can use this equation to create force summations to predict the acceleration of

the cart where Fn is normal force, Fg is gravitational force, Ft is tension force, m1 is the cart’s

mass, and m2 is the hanging weight’s mass.

Vertical force summation on the cart:


∑𝐹𝑦 = 𝑚1 𝑎
𝐹𝑁 − 𝐹𝑔 = 0
𝐹𝑁 = 𝑚1 𝑔
Horizontal force summation on the cart:
∑𝐹𝑥 = 𝑚1 𝑎
𝐹𝑇 = 𝑚1 𝑎
Vertical force summation on the hanging weight:
∑𝐹𝑦 = 𝑚2 𝑎
𝐹𝑔 − 𝐹𝑇 = 𝑚2 𝑎
𝑚2 𝑔 − 𝐹𝑇 = 𝑚2 𝑎
Substitute the horizontal tension force of the cart into the vertical tension force of the hanging
weight:
𝑚1 𝑎 = 𝑚2 𝑔 − 𝑚2 𝑎
𝑚1 𝑎 + 𝑚2 𝑎 = 𝑚2 𝑔
So, we were able to solve for theoretical acceleration using:
𝑚2 𝑔
Equation 2: 𝑎=𝑚
1 +𝑚2

Our theoretical acceleration values were presented as follows:

Table 1:

Hanging Mass (kg) (+the mass of the hanger Theoretical Acceleration (m/s/s)
itself)
.100 1.57
.150 2.18
.200 2.71
.250 3.17
.350 3.92

Table 2:
Cart Mass (kg) (+the mass of the cart itself) Theoretical Acceleration (m/s/s)
.5739 0.785
.6239 0.727
.6739 0.677
.7239 0.633
.8239 0.561

With all of this, we hypothesized that as we increased the hanging mass, the acceleration of the

cart would increase. As we increased the mass on the cart, the acceleration would decrease.

Methods:

To start the performance of the lab, we gathered the materials and set up the system. In

total, we used LoggerPro, the LabQuest 2, a low friction track, a low friction cart, string, a

frictionless pulley, weights, a weight hanger, a small picket fence, and a photogate. The first step

to completing the assembly was setting up the LoggerPro software on our laptops and connecting

to the LabQuest 2. Next, we created a “Modified Atwood Machine” by setting a frictionless

pulley atop a frictionless track with a hanging weight suspending from the side of the lab desk. It
was also necessary to attach a photogate to this set up in order to measure the acceleration of the

cart. Consequently, we placed a small picket fence to the frictionless cart that would read the

acceleration using the sensors in the photogate. The photogate was attached to the LabQuest,

which was connected to LoggerPro on the laptop. All of this can be visualized in Figure 1:

Picket fence

To design the trials of the lab, it was significant to increase the variability of each trial,

while still performing with repetition. We decided to split the lab into to “blocks”: varying the

hanging mass and varying the cart mass. We designed 5 variations of hanging mass without

altering the mass of the cart and performed 3 trials of each: .50 kg, .100 kg, .150 kg, .200 kg, and

.300 kg, where the mass of the hanger was .50 kg. For the second block, we designed 5

variations of cart mass without altering the mass of the hanger and performed 2 trials of each: .50

kg, .100 kg, .150 kg, .200 kg, and .300 kg, where the mass of the cart with the added picket fence

was .5239 kg. For each trial, we ran the LoggerPro software and analyzed its velocity vs. time

graph using the calculations from the photogate. Here, we could find acceleration by using the

statistics tool to find the slope of the graph. Last, we averaged the 3 trials for each of the 5
variations of hanging masses and averaged the 2 trials for each of the 5 variations of cart masses

to calculate average acceleration.

Results:

As shown in the following tables, as mass was added to the hanger, the acceleration

increased. In the other design, as mass was added to the cart, the acceleration decreased.

Table 3:

Added .05 kg to hanging mass (.05 kg)


Trial Acceleration (m/s/s)
1 1.474
2 1.479
3 1.265

Table 4:

Added .10 kg to hanging mass (.05 kg)


Trial Acceleration (m/s/s)
1 2.003
2 2.106
3 2.127

Table 5:

Added .15 kg to hanging mass (.05 kg)


Trial Acceleration (m/s/s)
1 2.721
2 2.693
3 2.711

Table 6:

Added .20 kg to hanging mass (.05 kg)


Trial Acceleration (m/s/s)
1 2.889
2 2.851
3 2.890

Table 7:

Added .30 kg too hanging mass (.05 kg)


Trial Acceleration (m/s/s)
1 4.397
2 4.072
3 4.282

Table 8:

Average Accelerations for Hanging Mass Variations


Hanging Mass (kg) Average Acceleration (m/s/s)
0.10 1.406
0.15 2.079
0.20 2.708
0.25 2.877
0.35 4.250

Table 9:

Added .05 kg to cart (.5239 kg)


Trial Acceleration (m/s/s)
1 0.741
2 0.740

Table 10:

Added .10 kg to cart (.5239 kg)


Trial Acceleration (m/s/s)
1 0.640
2 0.637

Table 11:

Added .15 kg to cart (.5239 kg)


Trial Acceleration (m/s/s)
1 0.582
2 0.592

Table 12:

Added .20 kg to cart (.5239 kg)


Trial Acceleration (m/s/s)
1 0.512
2 0.587

Table 13:

Added .30 kg to cart (.5239 kg)


Trial Acceleration (m/s/s)
1 0.470
2 0.446

Table 14:

Average Accelerations for Cart Mass Variations


Cart mass (kg) Average Acceleration (m/s/s)
0.5739 0.741
0.6239 0.639
0.6739 0.587
0.7239 0.550
0.8239 0.458

Graph 1:

Hanging Weight vs. Acceleration


4.5
4 y = 1.112x + 0.3776
R² = 0.9813
3.5
Acceleration (m/s/s)

3
2.5
2
1.5
1
0.5
0
0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5 4
Hanging Weight (N)
Graph 2:

Mass of System vs. Acceleration


0.8
0.7
Acceleration (m/s/s)

0.6
0.5
0.4
0.3
0.2
0.1
0
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9
Mass of System (kg)

Graph 3:

(Mass of System)^-1 vs. Acceleration


0.8
y = 0.5112x - 0.1645
0.7 R² = 0.9876
Acceleration (m/s/s)

0.6
0.5
0.4
0.3
0.2
0.1
0
0 0.5 1 1.5 2
(Mass of System)^-1 (kg)
Tables 3-7 display the increase in acceleration for increased mass on the hanger by .05,

.10, .150, .20, and .30 respectively. Table 8 acts as a collection of the previous 5 tables, for it

compares their averages with the corresponding hanging mass. Graph 1 visualizes all of this

using the hanging weight, or the hanging mass multiplied by the acceleration of gravity at 9.8

m/s^2. The graph plots linearly with an equation of y = 1.112x + 0.3776 and an R squared value

of 0.9813.

Tables 9-13 display the increase in acceleration for increased mass on the cart by .05, .10,

.150, .20, and .30 respectively. In the same way, table 14 collects the averages of these 5 tables

with the corresponding cart mass. Visually, graph 2 lays out the relationship portrayed in table

14, the mass of the cart, or the mass of the system, and its acceleration. Differently, graph 2 does

not plot linearly, but instead plots reciprocally. Consequently, graph 3 was created to linearize

the relationship in graph 2 by taking the inverse of the y variable. Its equation is y = 0.5112x -

0.1645 with an R squared value of 0.9876.

Discussion:

After analyzing the results of the lab, we were able to prove our hypothesis to be true. As

mass was added the hanging mass, the acceleration of the cart increased. Yet, as mass was added

to the cart without adding any extra mass to the hanging mass, the acceleration decreased. First,

the average accelerations in table 8 show a steady increase when hanging mass is steadily

increased. For example, a mass increase of 0.05 kg between the first variation, 0.10 kg, and the

second variation, 0.15 kg, results in a difference of 2.079-1.406 which equals 0.673. A mass

increase of 0.10 kg between the fourth variation, 0.25 kg, and the fifth variation, 0.35 kg, creates

a difference of 1.373. This value can be divided in half to account for the 0.05 kg increase in he

first and second variations to receive 0.686. These two differences are not only extremely close,
but they assist in proving the linear relationship between the increase in hanging mass and the

increase in acceleration of the cart. Another way to find this relationship is through graph 1. The

positive slope indicates a positive linear, or direct, relationship already. With every 1 kg increase

in hanging mass, the predicted acceleration would increase by 0.8824 m/s/s. Since its R squared

value is 0.9813, 98.13% of the variation in acceleration can be accounted for by the linear fit of

acceleration on hanging weight.

A decrease in acceleration resulting from added mass on the cart was also proven through

the results of this lab, arriving from some different sources. First, we can look at table 13 and

recognize the fact that the accelerations decrease when the mass of the cart steadily increases.

Though, the acceleration does not steadily decrease as before. If more points were collected, we

would be able to see a reciprocal formation in graph 2, or an inverse. Even so, graph 3 is

presented to show a linear relationship of this data so it can be analyzed side by side with

hanging mass vs. acceleration. Taking the inverse of the mass of the system created a slope of

0.5112, meaning that with every 1 kg increase in cart mass, the predicted acceleration would

decrease by 0.5112 The R squared value explains that 98.76% of the variation in acceleration can

be accounted for by the linear fit of acceleration on mass of the system.

All of our results can easily be compared to the theoretical values of our accelerations to

prove, yet again, that our hypothesis was supported. Explain previously, we arrived at equation
𝑚2 𝑔
2, 𝑎 = 𝑚 , to calculate the values for the theoretical acceleration. Calculating the theoretical
1 +𝑚2

acceleration for the variations in hanging mass would the hanging weight divided by the mass of

the cart plus the hanging mass. Following this calculation, a simple way to check results would

be to calculate percent error by using theoretical acceleration minus actual acceleration, divided

by theoretical acceleration, and then multiplied by 100. All of this is calculated as follows:
Mass added to hanging mass
Actual Acceleration (Average Theoretical acceleration Percent error
of each trial) (m/s/s) (m/s/s) (rounded)
1.41 1.57 10.23%
2.08 2.18 4.65%
2.71 2.71 0.09%
2.88 3.17 9.03%
4.25 3.92 8.28%

The same procedure can be used to calculate the actual and theoretical accelerations of the mass

added to the cart as well as the percent error:

Mass added to cart


Actual Acceleration (Average Theoretical acceleration Percent error
of each trial) (m/s/s) (m/s/s) (rounded)
0.739 0.785 5.86%
0.639 0.727 12.10%
0.587 0.677 5.61%
0.550 0.633 13.11%
0.458 0.561 18.36%

A notable factor to recognize was that the percent error for mass added to the cart was generally

much larger than that of the mass added to the hanging mass. By comparing with other lab

groups, ranges for percent error in the classroom went from 31.43%-0.96%. With any percent

error comes sources of uncertainty. First, the track and the cart had minimal friction, but it was

still present as a frictional force, noticeable or not. After first performing the lab, the string was

riding along the side of the lab desk, creating friction along the tension force. Even though we

fixed this issue and collected other results, it could have been an issue for other lab groups along

the way. Last, maxing out on the amount of trials performed would have created a more accurate

measure of acceleration to ensure better averages.


Conclusion:

Newtons Second Law states that the acceleration of an object produced by a net force is

directly proportional to the magnitude of that net force, in the same direction as that net force,

and inversely proportional to the mass of the object. We proved this law to be true in using the

“Modified Atwood System” to measure acceleration. Using this system taught us that
𝑚2 𝑔
acceleration can be derived by using force summations and finalizing to the equation 𝑎 = 𝑚 .
1 +𝑚2

Observing the acceleration of the object while altering its weight and observing the acceleration

while altering the weight of the mass hanging from the other side of the system shows us that 2

independent variables can be used to analyze the same dependent variable. Not only did this lab

put our physics knowledge of free body diagrams into effect, but it also proved that the math we

learn in class can easily be transferred to the outside world to calculate real-life scenarios.

References:

“Newton's Second Law and the Modified Atwood Machine” Lab Manual

North Carolina State University. “Lab Diagram.” Lab 3 - Newton's Second Law, ,

www.webassign.net/labsgraceperiod/ncsulcpmech2/lab_3/manual.html.