Ticker Tape Diagrams: Analyzing Motion and Acceleration

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  • 0:05 What is a Ticker Tape Diagram?
  • 0:50 Analyzing Ticker Tape Diagrams
  • 2:19 Example Problems
  • 3:16 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 watching this video, you will be able to explain what a ticker tape diagram is and analyze motion using a ticker tape diagram. A short quiz will follow.

What Is a Ticker Tape Diagram?

There are lots of ways to analyze motion. One such way is to conduct a ticker tape analysis. This is where a long tape is attached to an object that's moving. That tape is threaded through a device that puts a 'tick' or impression on the tape at regular time intervals (for example, every 0.1 or 0.2 seconds). This leaves a line of dots on the tape, recording the object's motion.

The line of dots on the tape is called a ticker tape diagram. You can measure the distances between the dots to see how far the object traveled during each 0.1 or 0.2 seconds. But you can also figure out the type of motion that occurred at a glance, if you know what to look for.

Analyzing Ticker Tape Diagrams

The closer the dots are together on the tape, the slower the object moved. The further apart the dots are on the tape, the faster the object moved. But whatever the spacing may be, if the spacing isn't changing, that tells you that the object moved at a constant speed.

Constant speed
constant speed ticker tape diagram

But what about acceleration? An acceleration is a change in the velocity of an object over a period of time. So what does an acceleration look like on a ticker tape diagram?

Well, if the speed is changing, the spacing of the dots must be changing. For example, you might get a ticker tape diagram that starts off with closely spaced dots but move further apart as you go. This would represent an object that was speeding up because the dots are getting further and further apart.

Speeding up
acceleration ticker tape diagram

It's important to note that this diagram (and all the diagrams discussed here) assume the ticker tape was pulled to the LEFT. If you imagine the ticker tape being pulled to the left, through the ticker device, if it moves faster, the dots would get further apart. Or you might get a ticker tape diagram that starts with dots spaced further apart and gets closer as you go along. This diagram would represent an object that was slowing down because the dots are getting closer and closer together:

Slowing down
slowing down ticker tape diagram

If you want to analyze the motion quantitatively, all you have to do is measure the distance between each dot and plot the dots on a distance-time graph. Then you can complete whatever analysis you like from that point onwards.

Example Problems

Ticker tapes for example
Ticker tape diagrams

Take a look at the four ticker-tape diagrams shown above, where the tape was pulled to the LEFT.

Your job is to match the description to the diagram. One of the diagrams is a constant but relatively slow velocity. One is a constant, fast velocity. One is where an object was speeding up. And one is where an object was slowing down.

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