Force vs. Time & Force vs. Distance Graphs

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  • 0:00 Using Graphs to Solve Problems
  • 1:09 Force vs. Time Graphs
  • 1:45 Distance vs. Time Graphs
  • 2:15 Graphs for Simple…
  • 3:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

In this lesson, you'll find out how to determine impulse from a force-time graph and speed from a distance-time graph. You'll also learn how to describe the general shape of these graphs for simple harmonic motion.

Using Graphs to Solve Problems

Some people love numbers, but numbers aren't always the best way to get a good picture of a situation. In math, graphs are especially useful because they can turn numbers into pictures. But, did you know that graphs can also be used to figure out important numbers?

For example, you can use a graph to calculate the slope, as well as the area under the graph. When you calculate the slope, it's like taking the value on the y-axis and dividing it by the value on the x-axis. And, when you calculate the area, it's like taking the value on the y-axis and multiplying it by the value on the x-axis.

For instance, if you know that voltage equals current multiplied by resistance, and you have a graph of current against resistance, you can find the area under the graph, which will tell you the voltage. And if you know that resistance equals voltage divided by current, you can use a graph that shows voltage on the y-axis and current on the x-axis, and the slope will give you the resistance. You can use this approach for any equation and graph, such as force-time and distance-time graphs.

Force vs. Time Graphs

A force vs. time graph is a graph that shows force on the y-axis and time on the x-axis. For example, you might plot the force applied to a shopping cart over time as it's pushed across the supermarket. With a force-time graph, the slope isn't important; however, area is important. The area under a force-time graph is force multiplied by time, which is a quantity called impulse. Impulse is equal to the change in momentum of an object. So you can figure out how much the momentum changes by finding the area under a force-time graph.

Distance vs. Time Graphs

A distance versus time graph is a graph that shows distance on the y-axis and time on the x-axis. This type of a graph would allow you to measure how far that same shopping cart moves around the supermarket as it is being pushed. In this case, the slope, rather than the area, is what's important. The slope of a distance versus time graph tells you the speed, or how fast the shopping cart is moving. If the graph is curved and the slope is changing, that means the speed of the cart must also have changed.

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