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Modeling the Motion of a Spring

Consider a weight attached to a spring

that is suspended from a horizontal bar
as illustrated in the figure. When the
object comes to rest we say. it is at
"equilibrium" which is labeled 0 on the
vertical number line. If you give the
weight a push, either up or down, it will
start to move and the motion can be
modeled by sine and cosine functions.
The "stiffness" of the spring and the
mass of the object affect how far the
object moves from the equilibrium
position. The initial velocity and initial
position also affect the motion of the
spring. (We don't always start at the
equilibrium position.)
If we neglect any damping forces (air
resistance etc.) then the motion of the
spring can be modeled by
x(t) = Vo sin(mt) + x0 cos(mt)

where x(t) is the position of the object along the number line at timet. The other
quantities are constants: m is a constant that depends on the stiffness of the spring and
the mass of the weight, v0 is the initial velocity, and x0 is the initial positio~ ofthe object.

Model the motion of a weight on a spring:

Suppose a weight is set in motion from a position 3 centimeters below the equilibrium
position and with a downward velocity of 4 centimeters per seconq. (Please note that the
vertical number line used for position is "upside down". This is a convention from
physics and it means that positions below equilibrium actually correspond to a positive
value.) Assume that the spring stiffness and mass of the weight mean that m = 2 for this
Part I
1) Write the function x(t) that gives the position of the weight as a function of time tin
seconds. (Your function should consist of a sine term and a cosine term.)


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2) Graph the separate sine and cosine components of your function from (1) on the same
set of axes. That is graph x1 = vo sin~mt) and ,x2 = x 0 cos(mt) on the set of axes below.
(Sketch these graphs by hand

a~d show two full cycles.)

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3) Use a graphing calculator (or online graphing utility) to graph the entire function from
part (1). Use the window settings indicated below. Sketch what you see on your
calculator display.
xmin = 0
xmax = 2rc
xscl = f
ymin = -5
ymax = 5
yscl = 1


4) Write an equation for your calculator graph in the form x(t) = Acos[B(t-C)]. (Use
the trace or maximum feature of your graphing utility to help you find values for A, B,
and C. I expect to see decimal approximations for these values.)

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5) How are the graphs from part 2) related to the graph in part 3)? Are the values for
period and amplitude the same or different? Why do you think we see these results?
Please write out your explanation using complete sentences.
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Part II:
6) Prove that the following is an identity (A is a positive constant) by filling in the blanks
A sin sin( mt) + A cos cos( mt) = A cos( mt - )

= A( S\V\ (J s~" ((vr) t Co0 ~ [o~lwt ~ Factor out A

Commutative Property of
=A[eo~ ep ~wL ~ s~" ~ <;'{\f\~~ Addition

A sin sin( mt) + A cos cos( mt)


Commutative Property of
Difference identity for

==A [cos( mt) cos+ sin( mt) sin]

=A cos(mt- )

Part III:
Rewrite an expression: of the form


[5] sin(aJt) + ~cos(aJt) = IA jfi I sin(aJt) + IA cos I cos(aJt) in terms of a cosine function:

Acos(mt-). Use the following definitions and your result from part II:


c1 =Asin:::::>sin=5_)

c2 =A cos:::::> cos= cA2

IA=~c?+ci I












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A, is the amplitude of the cosine function and ,"phi", is called the phase angle and is

measured in radians.


Example: Write 4 sin 3t + 2 cos 3t in terms of a cosine function.


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cos 3 t

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7) Rewrite your function from part 1) in terms of a cosine function: A cos( mt- ) . Show
your work.

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8) Compare your function from part 4) and part 7). What do you observe? Write a one or
two sentence explanation.


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ePortfolio Posting:
All Math 1060 students must post a copy of the mass-spring project in their General
Education eportfolio. The completed project should be scanned to a pdf file and posted in
that form. The eportfolio must be linked to MyPage. Students mu~t
also include some reflective writing about the project in the ePortfolio. The reflective
writing should include a response to the following :

Give some examples ofmass-spring systems important in everyday life.

Describe why it would be impotiant to understand the atnplitude, period and
frequency of these systems. Did this project change the way you think about
how trigonometry can be applied to the real world? State what ideas
changed and why. If this project did not change the way you think, write
how this project gave further evidenceto support your existing opinion
about applying trigonometry. Be specific.


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