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Vertical Tug-of-War

Exploring Newton’s Laws using an Atwood’s Machine

(Adapted from https://www.education.com/science-fair/article/atwood-machine-vertical-tug-war/)

1. Build a simple Atwood Machine to understand Newton’s Second Law and estimate
the pull of gravity.
2. Experimentally determine the approximate value of the acceleration due to gravity

Ring stand
Pulley (can be found at a hardware store)
Length of string (non-stretchable, preferably nylon string)
Several masses of different weights (two which should be the same) to which the
string can be tied (Or alternately, pieces of metal washers of the same sizes)

Part 1
1. Attach the pulley to the top of the ring stand.
2. Tie two sets of unequal masses (Object 1 is lighter than object
2) to opposite ends of the string and run the string over the top
of the pulley. The string should be long enough so that one mass
can rest on the table/ground with the other dangling near the
top of the stand. (If washers instead of laboratory masses will be
used, put 2 washers for object 1 and 4 washers for object 2)

3. Position the masses at the same heights from ground. Make a

prediction about what will happen once you release the masses. Draw a Free-Body
Diagram for each mass. Release the masses to test your predictions. Do the masses move?
What do you think is going on? Repeat this procedure, this time with the masses at
different heights.

4. Go back to the masses you used in Step 3. Pull the lighter

mass (object 1) down as far as it will go as shown on the figure
on the right. Do not release it yet.
5. Use a ruler to measure the height of object 2 hanging above
the table/ground.
6. Release object 2 and start the stopwatch at the same time.
As soon as you hear the other mass hit the ground, stop the
timer. Do this at least three times, and record your
observations in a table. Repeat this step, this time increasing the mass of object 2. (Put 5
and 6 washers for the succeeding trials)
7. For each drop, calculate the acceleration of the masses using the equation:

where h is the height of the mass before being dropped (in meters), t is the time it took
to fall (in seconds), and a is the acceleration in m/s2. Record this in the table as well.
8. Calculate the acceleration due to gravity with the equation:

𝑚1 + 𝑚2
𝑔 = 𝑎( )
𝑚2 − 𝑚1
where m1 and m2 are the lighter and heavier objects, respectively, and a is the
acceleration from step 7.
9. Calculate the average g from all your trials.

Mass of Object 1: _____________ Initial Mass for Object 2: _____________
Height: ______________

Time (s) Experimental

Masses for Force Acceleration Acceleration
Object 2 / No. Applied Trial 1 Trial 2 Trial Average (m/s2) due to
of Washers (Mass of 3 gravity (g)
used Object 2 x (m/s2)
9.8 m/s2)


1. What happens to the time for object 1 to rise up as the mass (number of washers) in
object 2 is increased?

2. What happens to the acceleration of object 1 as it rises as the mass (number of

washers) in object 2 is increased?

3. What does the mass (number of washers) in object 2 represent?

4. What relationship exists between the forces applied to an object to the

corresponding acceleration of the object?