I have written about completing the acceleration practical without light gates before but I thought I’d share a slight variation on the original method that I have found to work well with my teaching groups. Links to some digital resources (spreadsheet, powerpoint and worksheet) will be included.
The method does not require light gates or a data logger. In fact, the only measuring instruments needed are a metre rule and a stop clock. The other items are standard laboratory equipment (dynamic trolley, bench pulley, string. 4 x 10 g masses on a hanger, 4 x 100 g masses on a hanger, and wooden runway). If your class can access IT then a rather clever spreadsheet is included, but this is not essential.
We use small 10 g masses to accelerate the trolley so the time it takes to travel a certain distance (between 0.50 to 0.90 m) can be timed manually with a stop clock (typical time for the 10 g mass is between 3 and 5 seconds).
This works well as a class practical, especially if you follow Adam Boxer’s excellent ‘Slow Practical’ method.
The Powerpoint that I use to run this practical can be downloaded here.
Set up a friction-compensated slope
The F in Newton’s Second Law stands for the resultant force (or total force) so ideally we should eliminate any frictional force tending to slow down the trolley. This can be done by tilting the runway slightly as shown.
Using one or two 100 g slotted masses propped under one end of the runway provides enough of a slope so that the trolley continues moving at a steady speed when given a short, gentle push. Use trial and error to find the precise angle of the slope needed.
Students should mark START and STOP lines on the runway and measure the distance s between them and record it on the worksheet (or in the spreadsheet).
Make sure the weight stack does not hit the ground before the trolley crosses the stop line, otherwise the results will be unreliable as the trolley will not be accelerating over the full distance.
Use a system of constant mass
Increase the mass of the trolley, but keep F fixed
Calculate the acceleration
The force of the weight stack on the trolley can be calculated using W=mg where m is the mass in kilograms and g is the gravitational field strength of 9.81 N/kg, although the approximation 10 g = 0.10 N can be useful if students are performing the calculations and plotting the graph manually.
Students can use the formula a = 2s/t2 to calculate the acceleration manually. Note that the units of this expression are m/s2 as we would expect for a valid equation for acceleration.
A derivation of this expression suitable for GCSE students is outlined on Slide 5 of the Powerpoint.
If students have access to tablets or computers, they can use this spreadsheet to automatically calculate the results and plot the graph. Students can print the graph if they click on the relevant tab. (The line of best fit is not included as all students generally benefit from practicing this skill!)
Evaluate the results
Students can evaluate the results using Slide 7 of the Powerpoint.
Note that in the graph shown, although there is a convincing straight line of best fit, there is also a noticeable systematic error: the acceleration is slightly too small for the indicated force. This would suggest that the runway was not tilted steeply enough to eliminate all frictional forces.
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