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Mechanics 1: Notes

By Keniel Yao

Velocity and Acceleration

-know the terms ‘displacement’, ‘velocity’, ‘acceleration’ and ‘deceleration’ for motion in a straight line

Displacement is measured in s units and is the shortest distance between two points. The difference between this and distance travelled is this: if an car travels east for 90km then displacement and distance travelled would both be 90km. However, if the car returns back to its starting point, distance travelled would be 180km but displacement would be 0km as it has essentially not moved from its starting point.

Initial velocity is measured in units of u, and final velocity with v. Velocity is speed in a particular direction and is calculated by the change in displacement over time. Generally the connection between velocity, displacement and time is s=ut, or any other rearrangement of this formula.

A car at rest cannot suddenly start to move with constant velocity, there has to be a period when the

velocity increases. The rate at which velocity increases is acceleration. This is represented by symbol

a, and is measured by change in velocity over time, or (v-u)/t with base units ms -2 . This is not only

change in speed, but as velocity is a vector, it is also change in direction. Deacceleration is the rate at

which an object slows down, and is also represented by a, and calculated by (v-u)/t. When representing deacceleration, e.g. a rate of 5ms -2 you could either say the acceleration is -5ms -2 or the deacceleration is 5ms -2 .

-be familiar with displacement-time and velocity time graphs

Displacement-time graphs have the displacement on the y-axis and time on the x-axis. The distance

is the point at the time needed, while the velocity is the gradient at the specific point in time. A

straight diagonal line represents constant velocity either +/-, while a curve represents inconstant velocity either -/+. When the gradient is negative, the object is moving backwards, while a positive gradient shows a forward motion. When the gradient is 0 (so horizontal), the object has stopped.

Velocity-time graphs have the velocity on the y-axis and time on the x-axis. The distance travelled is the area between the line and the x axis. If there are portions of the graph where the line goes negative, to calculate distance travelled, you subtract the negative areas of the graph from the positive areas. Velocity is the point of the y axis at that point in time, while acceleration/deacceleration is the gradient of the graph at that point in time. A positive straight line represents a constant acceleration, while a negative straight line represents constant deacceleration. A horizontal line represents constant speed. A curved line shows acceleration or de- acceleration is ununiformed.

-be able to express speeds in different systems of units

The best way to show this is by using examples. All of these involve some rearrangement of the equation s=ut:

Example 1.1.1

An airlines flies from Cairo to Harare, a displacement of 5340km south at a speed of 800k.p.h. How long does the flight last?

As s=ut, to get the subject to be t, rearrange to get s/u=t. S=5340 and u=800 so 5340/800=6.675. The units is hours as km/kmh -1 =h -1 so 6.675 hours or 6 hours and 40.5 minutes.

Example 1.1.2

Express a speed of 144 k.p.h in ms 1

If you travel 144km per hour, then you travel 144000m per hour. As there are 3600 seconds per hour, 144000/3600=40m/s.

If you want a general rule, you can use the same rules to get 1000/3600 or 5/18.

-know formulae for constant velocity and constant acceleration

These are the five equations connecting the 5 different units of: constant acceleration (a), initial velocity (u), final velocity (v), displacement (s), time (t)


This equation is derived from a velocity-time graph, where as a=ms -2 and t=s units, then at=ms -1 . Thus, initial velocity plus addition of constant acceleration by time=final velocity.

S=ut+0.5at 2

This equation is also derived from a velocity-time graph. S= the area between the x-axis and the line, so ut=the initial block which does not change. As a triangle’s area formula =0.5bh, the formula for the triangle above the block should equate to 0.5(v-u)t. As (v-u)=additional speed=acceleration*time, then v-u=at so 0.5(at)t=0.5at 2 .


This uses the logic that for an object moving with constant acceleration over a period of time, these three quantities are equal: the average velocity, the mean of the initial and final velocities, and the velocity when half the time has passed. As the area between the line and the x axis =distance travelled, then the average velocity multiplied by time=the area=displacement.

V 2 =u 2 +2as

These 5 equations are designed to leave be able to involve 4 of the five quantities and omit one. In order to be able to omit t, you need to rearrange some of the previous formulae:


Substitute into s=0.5(u+v)t to get: s=0.5(u+v)(v-u)/a which equates to 2as=(u+v)(v-u). Expand to make (v+u)(v-u)=(v 2 -u 2 )=2as

3. (v 2 -u 2 )=2as may be rearranges to v 2 =u 2 +2as.

S=vt-0.5at 2

As you may have deduced from the previous equation, the way to create an equation which emits a quantity, (in this case u) is to rearrange, substitute and simplify.

1. Rearrange v=u+at to get u=v-at

2. Substitute into s=ut+0.5at 2 to get s=(v-at)t+0.5at 2

3. That simplifies to s=vt-at 2 +0.5at 2 =vt-0.5at 2

-be able to solve problems on motion with constant velocity and constant acceleration including problems involving several such stages

Example 1.4.1

A racing car enters the final straight travelling at 35m/s and covers the 600m to the finishing line in 12 seconds. Assuming constant acceleration, find its speed as it crosses the line.

You need to find v, given u=35, s=600 and t=12. The quantity missing is a, so we can use s=0.5(v+u)t which omits a. Substituting we get, 600=0.5(v+35)12, which rearranging we get, (600*2)/12-35=v. Thus v=65m/s.

Example 1.4.2

A cyclist reaches the top of a slope with a speed of 1.5m/s, and accelerates at 2m/s 2 . The slope is 22m long. How long does she take to reach the bottom of the slope, and how fast is she moving then?

Again, you’re given u=1.5m/s, a=2m/s 2 , s=22. It asks you to first find t, and then v. The equation which omits v is s=ut+0.5at 2 . Substituting, you get 22=1.5t+t 2 . Solving using quadratic formula, t=(- 1.5±√(1.5 2 -4*1*(-22)))/2, giving t=-5.5 or 4. The slope must be positive so it takes 4 seconds for it to reach the bottom.

Now you need to find v. Almost all the formulae include v and you have all 4 other quantities so it’s pretty much a random choice of equation to substitute. However it’s easier using v=u+at as there’s no exponents so v=1.5+2*4=9.5. So the speed is 9.5m/s.

Example 1.5.2

The driver of a car travelling at 96 k.p.h in mist suddenly sees a stationary bus 100 metres ahead. With the brakes full on, the car can decelerate at 4m/s 2 in the prevailing road conditions. Can the driver stop in time?

First we must convert k.p.h to m/s. This is seen in Example 1.1.2 where you need to multiply 96 by 5/18, getting 96*5/18=26. This gives you u, s=100m, a=-4m/s 2 as it is decelerating. Your aim is to see what final velocity the car is in when after a displacement of 100m or less. Thus, needing quantities u, s, a, and v, you can use the formula: v 2 =u 2 +2as.

Substitute to get v 2 =(26) 2 +2*(-4)*100=(6400/9)-800=-(800/9). As you cannot square root a negative, it means that the equation can no longer hold because if the velocity is negative, the car will go backward which is illogical. Essentially the equation doesn’t hold after for values under v=0. Thus, you can assume that the car would’ve already stopped before 100m, meaning that yes, the driver can stop in time.

In order to avoid the annoyance of having to deal with negative square roots which may feel dodgy or inaccurate you can use another method, with the same equation: v 2 =u 2 +2as. This time, instead of finding out the final velocity when s=100, we find out how much displacement occurs by the time v=0. Thus substituting values in 0 2 =(26) 2 +2*(-4)*s=(6400/9)-8s. Rearranging this equation we get, 800/9=s. As 800/9˂100, the car manages to stop before he crashes.

Here we should start going into some more complicated problems where a journey may involve more than just one period of acceleration, instead being split into stages where there is constant velocity, or constant acceleration or deceleration. The key to this is to analyse each stage individually and apply formulae, or use a velocity-time graph.

Example 1.6.1

A sprinter in a 100m race pushes off the starting block with a speed of 6m/s and accelerates at a constant rate. He attains his maximum speed of 10m/s after 40 m and then continues at that speed for the rest of the race. What is his time for the whole race?

We first need to find out how long it takes for the sprinter to accelerate to his top speed of 10m/s. The area under the graph in this section would be 40, meaning s=40, u=6, v=10. Using s=0.5(u+v)t, we can substitute to get 40=0.5(6+10)t, giving 80/16=t=5.

After accelerating to his top speed, he needs to travel 100-40=60 more metres till the race ends at 10m/s. Using s=ut, we get 60=10t, meaning t=6. 6+5=11 so it takes the sprinter 11 seconds to finish


Example 1.6.2

Two stops on a tramline are 960 metres apart. A tram starts from one stop, accelerates at a constant rate to its maximum speed of 15m/s, maintains this speed for some time and then decelerates at a constant rate to come to rest at the other stop. The total time between the stops is 84 seconds.


For how many seconds does the tram travel at its maximum speed?


If the tram accelerates at 0.5m/s 2 at what rate does it decelerate?

Drawing the graph of this, one would get a trapezium with height 15, and bases 84 and x units long, and an area of 960. Substituting into the formula for the area of a trapezium area=0.5(1 st base+2 nd base)*height gives you 960=0.5(x+84)*15. Rearranging gives you (960*2)/15-84=x=44. Thus the tram travels at its top speed of 15m/s for 44 seconds.

Part b requires you to find the rate of deceleration given the acceleration was 0.5m/s 2 . Working out how long it takes for it to initially accelerate from 0m/s to 15m/s using v=u+at, where u=0, v=15, a=0.5 gives you 15/0.5=t=30 seconds. 30 plus 44 from the previous part a gives you 74 seconds

meaning you have 10 seconds to decelerate from 15m/s to 0. 15/10=1.5 meaning deceleration=1.5m/s 2 .

Example 1.6.3

A truck is travelling at a constant speed of 96 k.p.h. The driver of a car, also going at 96 k.p.h decides to overtake it. The car accelerates up to 120 kph, then immediately starts to decelerate until its speed has again dropped to 96kph. The whole manoeuvre takes 30 seconds. If the gap between the car and the truck was originally 35m, the truck is 10m long and the car is 4m long, what will be the gap between the truck and the car afterwards?

As so many units are in kph, it may be better to convert everything else into that, meaning it takes 1/120 hours for the whole process to finish. The front of the car is originally 35+10=45 metres behind the front of the truck. As both vehicles originally travel at 96kph, the truck is relatively not moving and we can visualise the car accelerating constantly till it reaches 24kph and covers 0.045 kilometres. As this acceleration is a triangle we can use the ½(b*h)=area for here, meaning 0.090=24*b, which means the time taken to accelerate=0.090/24=0.00375 hours. (1/120)-0.00375= 0.00458333333 hours for the car to decelerate. We can now calculate the total extra distance travelled by the car since decelerating, which is 0.00458333333*24/2=0.055km or 55m. As the car is 4 metres long, this means the car is over 55-4=51 metres ahead.