Center of Mass Experiment
This physics experiment consists of two activities on the center of mass — an essential concept for understanding stability, with applications to aircraft, cars, buildings, sports, and more. After completing the activities, write and submit your Module 3 Experiment Report.
Please read this brief introduction before beginning the first activity.
An object’s center of mass is its balance point. The center of mass of several objects is the location where the system of objects would balance.
The Center of mass depends on two physical properties: (i) the mass of each object, and (ii) the distance of each object from a reference point (which can be labeled as zero distance, often called the origin).
It may be surprising to find that the center of mass of two objects is solved the same way the pencil problem was solved in elementary school. For example, if Tom bought two pencils at 2 cents each and Sally bought four pencils at 8 cents each, what was the average cost of all the pencils? The answer can’t be 5 cents since more pencils were bought at a higher price (8 cents). Instead, the solution requires a weighted average as follows:
Since more pencils were bought at 8 cents than at 2 cents, it makes sense (and cents!) that the average cost per pencil (6 cents) is closer to 8 cents than to 2 cents.
We can either view that the number of pencils bought was weighted by their cost or alternatively, that the cost of each pencil was weighted by the number of pencils bought at that price. The total number of pencils is in the denominator.
To connect the Tom and Sally pencil problem with this physics simulation of the center of mass, replace the number of pencils with the mass of each ball and replace the cost of the pencils with the location of each ball. Therefore, Ball 1 is at position = 2 m with mass = 2 kg, and Ball 2 is at position = 8 m with mass = 4 kg. If the center of mass is solved like the pencil problem, then the center of mass of this system should be at 6 m. Let’s test this hypothesis (i.e., this prediction) using the physics simulation.
In this physics simulation, three balls are at fixed positions but their masses can be varied and the center of mass of the system is displayed.
Simulation ball color legend:
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