Graphing Accelerating Objects: Physics Lab

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  • 0:03 What is Acceleration?
  • 0:51 Lab Materials and Steps
  • 2:06 Data Analysis
  • 4:00 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.

After completing this lab, you will be able to explain what acceleration is and collect data to determine the acceleration of an object using graphical methods. A short quiz will follow.

Accelerating Objects

Accelerating objects are objects that are speeding up or slowing down, or in other words, an acceleration is a change in the velocity of an object over time. As a number, acceleration tells you how many meters per second the velocity of an object changes by each second and is, therefore, measured in meters per second per second.

Falling objects accelerate. If you let go of a ball in mid-air, it doesn't just float in place, so that must be true. Its velocity is certainly changing. In fact, all objects accelerate at a particular rate on the surface of the Earth: -9.8 m/s/s. This is true no matter how light or heavy an object is. But today, we're going to use an experiment and graph plotting to try to prove that the acceleration due to gravity really is -9.8.

Physics Lab Steps

For this physics lab, you will need:

  • A ball of some kind (marble, baseball, tennis ball)
  • A stopwatch with a lap feature
  • A tape-measure or ruler
  • Duct tape
  • A wall or background you can stick duct tape to

Step 1:
Stick four pieces of duct tape to the background/wall at equal distances from each other, with the last piece at that same distance from the ground.

Step 2:
Measure the distance between each piece and note it down.

Step 3:
Take one of the balls, and drop it from the top piece while starting the stopwatch at the same time.

Step 4:
Press the lap button as the ball reaches each of the markers, stopping it finally when it hits the floor. Note these numbers down in a data table, like this one:

Example data table
example data table

Step 5:
Repeat the experiment at least ten times - pressing the stopwatch at the right time is difficult, so we need a lot of trials.

Step 6:
Average your trials by adding them up and dividing by the number of trials (in this case ten).

Now it's time to pause the video and get started. Good luck!

Data Analysis

Now that you've collected your data, we need to analyze it. The first step is to calculate the velocity in each region between the pieces of duct tape. Since you know the distances between each piece, you can use the equation speed equals distance divided by time to calculate the average speeds in each part. To figure out the time to put into the equation, you'll have to do some subtraction. For example, you could subtract the time at which the ball reached the third piece of duct tape from the time at which it reached the fourth piece to figure out how long it took to travel between the two.

Once you have a velocity for each section of the journey, plot these on a velocity-time graph. The axis should look something like this:

Velocity-time graph
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