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# Physics Factsheet

www.curriculumpress.co.uk Number 57

## Applications of Circular Motion

Circular motion requires a resultant force in order to keep an object moving The centripetal acceleration is always at right angles to the velocity -
through a circular path at constant speed. It is accelerated motion as the otherwise the speed would increase. This means that, as the acceleration is
velocity changes even though the speed remains the same; the reasoning for always directed towards the centre of the circle, the velocity is tangential..
this is laid out below:
Velocity is a vector (it has magnitude and direction). v2
The key equation is a = - this means that for a given force, the radius
r
As the object travels around the circle its direction changes. of the circle determines the speed at which circular motion can be performed.
Acceleration is rate of change of velocity.
Therefore an acceleration is present. Exam Hint: The centripetal force is always provided by one or more of
There must be a resultant (unbalanced) force acting to cause the the forces already present - it is not an "extra" force. Look for any forces
acceleration (F = ma) present that have a component along the line joining the moving object
This force acts towards the centre of the motion and is known as the to the centre of the circle.
centripetal force.

There are several types of exam question on this topic; the simplest form
Object in circular motion
will involve a horizontal circle. This involves no resolving and the route to
the answer is normally reasonably obvious if you are familiar with the
v
equations listed earlier. In this case the centripetal force is normally equal
to one of the forces present, rather than a component.

## Example: Horizontal circular motion

v A mass of 8.00 kg is attached to a piece of inelastic string of
length 4.00m, and rests on a smooth horizontal plane. The other
F end of the string is fastened to the plane. The mass is set in
F
motion so that it performs horizontal circles on the plane. The
F maximum tension that the string can provide is 700N.
F
(a) Draw a diagram showing the forces that acts on the mass. (Air
v
resistance is negligible).

## v (b) (i) Which force supplies the centripetal force?

(ii) Why does the weight make no contribution to the centripetal
force?
The time period (T) is the time, in seconds, it takes for the body
to complete one revolution. (c) (i) Calculate the maximum linear speed the mass can move at
without breaking the string.
(ii) What maximum angular velocity does this equate to?
The frequency (f) is the number of revolutions the body will
complete in one second. (d) Why is it important that the plane is smooth?

The resultant force that acts towards the centre of the circle is 4m
(a)
called the centripetal force and the acceleration it causes also acts Tension 8 kg
towards the centre and is called the centripetal acceleration.
weight
There are several equations that maybe required when answering questions (b) (i) the tension; it is the only force that acts in the horizontal plane,
on circular motion; these are listed below: towards the centre of the motion
(ii) it acts at right angles to the centripetal force (vertically) so has no
v2 mv 2 effect on the centripetal force (which is horizontal).
v = r a= = 2r F= = m2r
r r
= = 2f = 2 f=
1
(c) (i) Using the formula F =
mv 2
so v =
Fr
=
700 4
=18.7ms-1
t T T
r m 8
angular velocity (rads-1) angle moved through (rad) (ii) Using v = r: 18.7 = 4
t time taken (s) f frequency (Hz) =18.7/4 = 4.68 rad s-1
v linear speed (ms-1) T time period (s)
r radius (m) a centripetal acceleration (ms-2) (d) Because otherwise friction would also act on the mass
F centripetal force (N) m mass (kg)

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57 Applications of Circular Motion Physics Factsheet

A similar type of question involves the orbits of satellites or planets. More complicated examples of circular motion occur when the centripetal
Here the weight of the object provides the centripetal force and the force is caused by only a component of a force rather than all of it. A
acceleration is equal to the acceleration due to gravity at that point in space typical example in this style is the conical pendulum as shown below.
this is given using Newton's Law of Gravitation
F = gravitational force between objects We resolve the relevant force into two components, one directed towards
Gm1m2
F= G = gravitational constant the centre of the circle and one perpendicular to it. Provided the body is
r2 m1, m2 = masses of objects moving in a circle at constant speed, the only resultant force will be
r = distance between centre of masses of objects towards the centre of the circle.
satellite A conical pendulum
Pivot

string
Tension

Earth horizontal
path of mass

Weight
When the only force on an object is its weight the object is said to be in
freefall. Objects in freefall accelerate at the same rate as the value of g at Remember the centripetal force is the resultant force directed towards the
that point; i.e. a = g. An object in orbit is considered to be in freefall. centre. So in this case we resolve all forces horizontally and vertically. All
GmE m mv 2 of the weight acts vertically so this is simple. The tension however has a
So we have 2
= , where m=mass of satellite, mE = mass of Earth. component both horizontally and vertically.
r r
This simplifies to GmE = v2r Considering forces vertically we know that the weight must be balanced by
the vertical component of tension as the bob does not accelerate vertically
Exam Hint: Remember that "r" is the radius of the orbit - which is the
- it moves in a horizontal circle.
distance of the satellite from the centre of the Earth, not its surface.
mg = T sin
A similar approach applies to planets orbiting the sun; in this case the two
Horizontally the only force that acts is the horizontal component of tension.
masses concerned are those of the planet and the sun.
As this is the only force it is unbalanced and therefore is the resultant or
centripetal force:
Exam Hint: Questions often involve geostationary satellites - these
stay in the same position relative to the earth, and hence have T = 24 mv 2
hours. For a conical pendulum F = = T cos
r
Remember in questions like this to use the correct units - for example,
a period of 24 hours must be converted into seconds.
The most difficult example you are likely to meet is the type of example
where the centripetal force is provided by a combination of more than one
force. These examples normally involve objects travelling in vertical circles
Example: Satellites
e.g. rollercoaster cars, masses on strings or buckets of water.
A geostationary satellite remains above the same point on the
earth as it orbits. It remains a constant distance R from the centre A mass on a string moving in a vertical circle
v
of the earth vertical A
(a) Write down an expression, in terms of R, for the distance it circular path
travels in 24 hours v
(b) Write down, in terms of R, an expression for its speed in ms-1
(c) Find the value of R. T + mg
(G = 6.67 10-11 Nm2Kg-2; mass of earth = 5.98 1024 kg) B D
F=T F=T
mg
(a) It travels through a circle, radius R, so distance is 2R T mg
v
(b) 24 hours = 24 60 60 = 86400 s
2 R C v
So speed = ms-1
86400 The diagram represents a mass on a string moving in a vertical circle. As
GmE v2 it moves in a circular path we know there is a resultant force acting
(c) We have =
R2 R towards the centre of the circle. This force will involve both the weight
So GmE = v2R
2 of the mass and tension in the string as the mass moves around the circle.
2 R mv 2 mv 2
So (6.67 10-11)(5.98 1024) = R Position A: = T + mg T= mg
86400 r r
4 2 R3 Position B & D:
mv 2
=T
3.99 1014 = r
86400 2 mv 2 mv 2
3.99 10 86400 /(4) = R
14 2 2 3 Position C: T mg= T= + mg
r r
1.89 1022 = R3 Remember: The maximum tension occurs at the bottom of the circle
2.66 107 = R as the tension has to overcome the weight of the mass and provide
the centripetal force. This is where the string is most likely to break.

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57 Applications of Circular Motion Physics Factsheet

Exam Workshop A microscopic example of applying the principles of circular motion comes
This is a typical poor students answer to an exam question. The comments when considering charges moving in magnetic fields. When a charge enters
explain what is wrong with the answers and how they can be improved. a region of magnetic field at right angles to the field lines it experiences a
The examiner's mark scheme is given below. force, as given by Flemings Left Hand Rule (FLHR). FLHR tells us the
force acts at right angles to both the velocity and the field lines, a force at
A child ties a 500g mass to a length of string spins it in a horizontal right angles to a velocity causes circular motion.
circle with radius 0.50m. The string makes an angle of 60 to the Exam Hint: FLHR represents direction of current by using the second
horizontal. Calculate: finger. Remember that we say current flows in the same direction as
positive charge, so for negative particles, such as electrons, you point
(a) The tension in the string. [2] your second finger in the opposite sense to their direction of travel.
Tvertical = Tcos60 = mg
mg 500 9.81 The force on a charge moving through a magnetic field is given by the
T = cos = = mg 0/2 equation below:
cos 60o
where: F = the magnitude of force on the charge
The candidate has made two main mistakes, forgetting to convert
F = BQv Q = the charge on the particle
from grams to kilograms and using the wrong component of tension.
v = the speed of the charged particle.
Perhaps the candidate had thought the angle was with the vertical.

(b) The centripetal force acting on the mass. [2] BQv is the only force so it must be supplying the centripetal force, a
The centripetal force will be the component of the tension acting particle of mass m will move in a circle of radius r.
towards the centre of the circle.
! ! ecf BQv = mv
2
mv
F=T = Tcos60 = 9800cos60 = 4900N
horizontal
2/2 r r = BQ

The student uses their wrong answer from the previous section but
Motion of a charged particle moving at rigth angles to a magnetic field
as they have already been penalised and they have used the correct
component this time then they gain error carried forwards marks.
motion of positive particle
(c) The mass on the string is now changed to 0.7kg and the
centripetal force required to keep it travelling at the same F
radius is found to be 4N. Find the angular velocity it must be r
travelling at. [3]
F
Fr 4 0.5
v= = = 1.7ms 1
m 0.7 1/3
B into paper
The student has confused (linear) speed, v, with angular velocity, .
One mark is awarded, as this could be the first step in finding .
This shows that faster, more massive particles will follow paths with greater
The direction the particle curves is determined by the charge on the particle.
mg 0.5 9.8
(a) Tsin = mg, T = = = 5.7 N
sin sin 60 Motion of particles at identical velocities moving through a magnetic
(b) F = Tcos60 = 5.7cos60= 2.85N field
F 4
(c) F = m2r = = = 3.4 rad s 1 B into paper
postive heavy particle,
mr 0.7 0.5 e.g. proton

Practice Questions
1. A 12g stone on a string is whirled in a vertical circle of radius 30cm at
uncharged particle, e.g.
a constant angular speed of 15rads-1.
neutron
(a) Calculate the speed of the stone along its circular path.
(b) Calculate the centripetal force acting on the stone.
(c) Why is the string most likely to break when the stone is nearest the Negative, light, particle,
ground? e.g. electron
2. A proton enters of region of magnetic flux travelling at 6.0 106ms-1. If
the field strength is a constant 0.70T calculate the radius of the path 1. (a) v = r = 15 0.30 = 4.5ms-1
the proton travels thorough and state its direction relative to the field. (b) F = mv2/r = 0.012 4.520.30 = 0.81N
M proton = 1.710-27kg, Qproton = 1.6 10-19C. (c) When the stone is nearest the ground, T = Centripetal Force + W.
This means that the tension in the string must be a maximum in order
3. For an object travelling with circular motion at constant speed, state to provide the centripetal force and oppose the weight.
what direction the centripetal force and velocity act in relative to the 2. r = mv/BQ = ( 1.7 10-27 6.0 106)/(0.70 1.6 10-19)=0.091m
circumference of the circular path. What happens if the speed of the
object increases without a corresponding increase in centripetal force? 3. The velocity is tangential, the force at right angles towards the centre.
The object starts to spiral away from the centre of the motion.

Acknowledgements: This Physics Factsheet was researched and written by Alan Brooks. The Curriculum Press,Bank House, 105 King Street, Wellington, Shropshire, TF1 1NU. Physics Factsheets may be copied free of charge
by teaching staff or students, provided that their school is a registered subscriber. No part of these Factsheets may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any other form or by any other means, without
the prior permission of the publisher.
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