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Free Harmonic Oscillations

Julia Yang
Joy Lin
DH A331
October 2013

Abstract:
The theoretical prediction of period in free harmonic oscillations was evaluated. This was done by
changing the force constant and mass on the glider and analyzing their effects on the period. For the
setup, a glider mounted on an air track between two fixed springs was read by a laser reader to record
period. It was found that increasing the force constant scaled down the period of oscillation by the square
root of the force constant, while increasing the mass scaled up the period of oscillation by the square root
of the mass. Our results are in good agreement with theoretical predictions derived from Newtons laws
and Hookes Equation for springs; there is a fundamental relationship between period and mass and
period and spring constant.

Introduction:
In this experiment, we aimed to analyze the free harmonic oscillation when spring constant K and total
mass. Based on Hookes Law and Newtons third law, we derived the equation of motion for a free
harmonic oscillating mass. (By free, we mean that the only forces on the glider are the force from the
springs and a fundamental frequency generated by a function generator. There is no damping or frictional
force. This elimination of friction will be explained in the apparatus/procedure section.) In doing this
experiment, we hope to achieve a conclusion that agrees with the equations of motion predicted by
Newton and Hooke. As a start, we began with the assumption that the only force present was the spring
force and found the following relation:

(1)
Then, using the definition of acceleration as the second derivative of the position function and methods in
differential equations, we derived a solution that placed position as a function of time:
(2)
where is the amplitude and
is the fundamental frequency. This function indicates that the motion of
the glider is periodic. We were then curious about how the period, T, would be determined. We know
is the angular frequency determined by the square root of spring constant K over mass. We also knew the
sinusoidal wave pattern is defined by a period of
. Substituting in the value for , we found:

(3)

And so our goal was to observe the period of a free harmonic oscillation by varying the independent
variables (m and K). Our assumptions were that there was no friction and no damping. We will need to
vary the number of masses attached to the glider (this will vary m) and the number of strings as well (this
will vary K).

Apparatus/Procedure:
An air track and standard laser photogate timer were used (see schematic). The air track had a
distance scale so that the central position (taken to be the center of the glider) was noted each time. It is
important to note that the aggregate of springs can be characterized as one spring. At equilibrium, the
force within the coils is the same at every point along the spring. Therefore, it does not matter how the
three springs are situated in the setup (two on the left and one on the right is the same as one on the left
and two on the right).
For the photogate timer, we also performed calibration tests to ensure that the theoretical period
(that is, the period predicted by the function generator) would match up the actual period that the
photogate timer recorded. In other words, we could not assume that the numbers we read off the
photogate timer were accurate; therefore, we had to test the accuracy of this device by entering predetermined period times and reading the numbers that the photogate timer reported. We found a good
agreement with the theoretical (functional generator) value and the experimental (photogate timer) value.
The mass was calculated by weighing each respective component, taking into account their
uncertainties, and summing them together. Only of the mass of the springs was taken into account
because of the system setup in that only that amount of mass would actually impact the oscillations (see
first equation below).
The uncertainties were estimated based on distribution of measurements and by using standard
equations for aggregations of uncertainties. _______
To run the actual experiment, we used the following general setup:
Oscillating glider

Photogate Timer
Air track

Figure 1: Logistical setup of glider on air track with photogate timer.

For our experiment we had two parts: (1) finding the spring constants for different spring setups and (2)
measuring the periods of oscillation varying the spring constants and masses attached to glider.
Part I: Finding spring constants K:
We first found the spring constants for the number of springs (two, three, or four) attached to the glider.
This was done by attaching sets of light weights to the end of one spring and measuring the displacement.
For two springs, we attached certain weights (5 g, 10 g, 15 g, and 20 g) and measured the displacement
from equilibrium. Light weights were chosen so they would not plastically deform, or permanently alter,
the physical properties of the springs. (If too heavy weights are used, the springs would stretch and
become looser, resulting in a lower and inconsistent K constant. Hookes Law does not allow for us to
anticipate these changes, so we must adhere to the conditions set by theory and avoid stretching the
springs.)

For each different weight, we noted the displacement of the equilibrium (Figure 1 and Figure 2) from the
original equilibrium position. For this data set, we are not concerned about the period of oscillation so the
photogate timer is not included.

Glider

Spring

Spring

Meter stick

Hanging Mass

Spring

Glider

Spring

Meter stick
Hanging Mass

Displacement

Figure 3: When a mass is attached, the displacement is noted.

By reading off the displacement from the meter stick, the resolution, or uncertainty, was found.
Part IIa: Varying spring constants and measuring period:
After measuring the displacement for each set of springs, we then attached no mass to the ends (so the
only mass was those of the glider and springs) and measured the period of oscillation for each different
set of springs. We took 5 measurements for each trial (two springs, three springs, and four springs.)
In summary, for this part, we accumulated two data sets a data set for two, three, and four springs that
helped us find the spring constants and another data set with no mass attached to just find the period of
oscillation when the number of springs varied.
Part IIb: Varying mass and measuring period:
For the next part, we kept the number of springs constant (four in total: two on either side of the glider)
and varied the masses that were hung at the ends. In this section, we used heavier masses (0.80 kg, 0.280
kg and 0.680 kg) to hang at the ends and measured the period five times for each case. In summary, for

this part of the experiment, we kept the number of springs the same but varied the masses that were hung
from the ends and recorded down the period for each trial.
Timer
Spring

Glider and mass

Spring

Meter stick

Figure 4: In this experiment, we vary the mass on the glider and note the period of oscillations.
Analysis:
Part I: Spring constants K and their effect on period of oscillation
For the first part, we found the spring constants k by multiplying the light mass by 9.80118 , the
gravitational constant in Pittsburgh. We then used Hookes Law, which states that force and displacement
are directly related by a proportionality factor known as the spring constant:
(4)
We graphed the force against displacement and used the relation that the slope was the spring constant
according to Hookes Law.

The graphs are in agreement with Hookes Law, which state a linear relationship between force and
displacement by a factor of the spring constant. Here, the slope of each graph will tell us the collective
spring constants for 2, 3, and 4 springs.

Figure 6: K constant for 3 springs

Results:
From Part I, we found the following data for the spring constants:
Summary table of Spring Constants
Mass 0.00527 x 10-3 kg Number of Springs
Spring Constant
0.19001
2
25.3642.826174
0.19053
3
16.911333102605669
0.19105
4
10.847 1.0740364
In Part IIa, we found the following data that varying spring constant K on the period:
Effect of spring constant K on period of oscillation
-3
Mass 0.00527 x 10 kg Number of Springs
Period (s) (Ttheo
)
Period (s) (Texp
)
0.19001
2
0.572420.0004475
0.5437360.030396
0.19053
3
0.67840.000175
0.6670.024858
0.19105
4
0.821330.000135
0.8338660.041283

For this next part of varying springs and analyzing the effects on period, we used four springs. Below are
the summary results (averages of all five trials for each different mass that was hung.)
Number of Hanging
Masses

Mass0.00527 x 10-3 kg

0
2
4

0.19105
0.29082
0.39068

0.821330.000135
1.0132 0.000152
0.821330.000447

Period (s) (Ttheo

0.0.82338660.041283
1.028809 0.050934
1.192431 0.059034

We compiled all the results into one summary table for reference:

Number
of
Springs

Number
of
Masses

Mass
(kg)

Spring constant K (N*m)

4
4
4
3
2

0
2
4
0
0

0.19105
0.29082
0.39068
0.19053
0.19001

10.847 1.0740364
10.847 1.0740364
10.847 1.0740364
16.911333102605669
25.3642.826174

(s)
0.821330.000135
1.01350.000152
1.17460.000424
0.667840.000175
0.572420.000447

(s)
0.8338660.041283
1.0288090.050934
1.1924310.059034
0.6670.054858
0.5437360.030396

0.303658479
0.300564099
0.302038488
0.015312183
0.943574775

For the first part, we notice that decreasing the number of springs increases the spring constant K. This is
in accordance to the theoretical relation predicted in (3). An increasing spring constant K also decreases
both experimental and theoretical periods.
For the second part, we note that increasing the number of masses increases both the experimental and
theoretical periods, which means that it takes longer for the glider to complete one harmonic oscillation.
We compared our theoretical and experimental results and found good agreement (See Figure 9):

Conclusions:

In a free harmonic situation with a pre-determined period of oscillation of one second, the parameters of
force constant and mass were changed and their effects on period analyzed.
It was found that increasing the force constant decreased the period of oscillation and increasing the mass
increased the period. This is in good agreement with theoretical predictions, which were derived from
Newtons Laws and Hookes Equation for springs and represents the dynamic relationship between the
period of harmonic oscillation and added mass and spring constants.
These results help us achieve a few results. Besides being able to find good theoretical and experimental
agreement in Hookes Law and Newtons Laws of motion and our observations, we also saw that
decreasing the springs present resulted in a higher spring constant. To displace the same distance, more
force needs to be exerted. As seen in Hookes Law (4), there is a direct relationship between spring
constant and applied force for a constant displacement x. This will be useful in many applications, one of
which is the determination of stored energy in a spring: More energy can be stored in fewer springs, or
springs with higher constant K. This is important in devices that deal with elastic potential energy, such as
sling shots or any kind of mechanical energy storage device.
Increasing the spring constant then, therefore decreases the period of oscillation because there is a higher
greater acceleration (due to a greater force) that increases frequency of oscillation, which decreases the
time it takes for the glider to make one full oscillation.
We also see another result with adding mass: This increases the period, or slows down the oscillation. In
(1), there is a direct relation between mass and period: increasing the mass decreases the acceleration,
which then decreases the frequency and increases the period.
While there could have been a few systematic errors, such as not completely eliminating friction,
stretching out the springs at some point without knowing, and small errors on the photogate timer (even
with calibration) are all very possible. However, because we found good agreement, there is no harm in
concluding that our setup was valid and avoided large systematic errors.