Stability & Center of Gravity

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  • 0:01 Stability
  • 0:55 Center of Gravity
  • 2:40 States of Stability
  • 3:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Damien Howard

Damien has a master's degree in physics and has taught physics lab to college students.

Discover what stability means and why center of gravity is so important to understanding it. Then learn about the different states of stability and how to tell the difference between them.

Stability

We've all had the experience of eating a meal when either you or someone else accidentally knocks over their cup. Now stop and think: What did that cup look like? You're more likely to be thinking about something like a tall dinner glass than a squat coffee mug. Tall glasses are a lot more likely to tip over than short ones. This has to do with stability, which is the ability of an object to maintain its balance after being disturbed. In other words, how well it resists tipping over.

When we want to see how stable an object is, we look at that object's center of gravity. The position of the center of gravity can tell us whether or not an object will remain standing upright or tip over. Once we see how the object will react when tilted, we can then classify its current state of stability. It will be in either a stable, unstable or neutral equilibrium.

Center of Gravity

The stability of an object is extremely dependent upon its center of gravity. The center of gravity of an object is the point at which we can consider the weight of an object to be concentrated. This is the center point from which the weight is evenly dispersed on all sides. We can use the center of gravity to determine exactly when an object will reach its tipping point and fall over.

To do this, you draw a line straight down from the center of gravity. Tilt the object while keeping the line pointed vertically down from the center of gravity at all times. The line will help you see the moment the center of gravity passes past the base of an object. This is the point at which the object has reached its tipping point and will fall over.

With our dinner glass and coffee mug, the taller dinner glass has a higher center of gravity than the shorter coffee mug. As long as their bases are about the same size, the taller cup's center of gravity will pass its base when tilting before the shorter cup. So you have to tilt the short cup more than the tall one to get it to tip over. This is why it's easier to accidentally knock over a tall dinner glass than a squat coffee mug.

What if you wanted to have a tall cup that didn't tip over so easily? There's actually two ways to improve the stability of a cup without changing its height. The first involves actually changing the position of the cup's center of gravity. If we can move the center of gravity closer to the base of the cup, it will be harder to tip over. We can bring the center of gravity down by simply adding more weight to the bottom of the cup. The second thing we can do is increase the width of the base. A wider base will allow the center of gravity to travel further when tilting before it reaches its tipping point.

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