Lesson
1: Motion Character

Lesson 2: Applications of Circular MotionAthleticsCircular motion is common to almost all sporting events. Whether it be sports car racing or track and field, baseball running or ice skating, the motion of objects in circles is common observation of sports viewers around the world. Like any object moving in a circle, the motion of these objects which we view from the stadium bleachers or watch upon the television monitor are governed by Newton's laws of motion. Their circular motion  however brief or prolonged they may be  is characterized by an inward acceleration and caused by an inward net force. The mathematical analysis of such motions can be conducted in the manner presented earlier in Lesson 2. In this part of Lesson 2 we will investigate a variety of applications of circular motion principles to the world of sports and use Newton's laws to mathematically analyze such motions. The emphasis will not be upon an investigation of the details of every possible sport; but rather upon learning how to apply some general principles so that they can subsequently be applied to every sport. The most common example of the physics of circular motion in sports involves the turn. It could be a halfback in football making a turn around the corner of the line; or it could be a softball player running the bases and making a turn around second base; or it could be a bobsled in the Olympic games making a turn around a corner on the track. Whatever turning motion it happens to be, you can be sure that turning a corner involves circular motion principles. Now for certain not all turns involve a complete circle; nor do all turns have a perfectly circular shape. Some turns are only onequarter of a turn  such as the fullback rounding the corner of the line in football. And some turns are hardly circular whatsoever. Nonetheless, any turn can be approximated as being a part of a larger circle or a part of several circles of varying size. A sharp turn can be considered part of a small circle. A more gradual turn is part of a larger circle. Some turns can begin sharply and gradually change in sharpness; or vice versa. In all cases, the motion around a turn can be approximated as part of a single or of several circles. The diagram below depicts a variety of paths which a turn could make.
Because turning a corner involves the motion of an object which is momentarily moving along the path of a circle, both the concepts and the mathematics of circular motion can be applied to such a motion. Conceptually, such an object is moving with an inward acceleration  the inward direction being towards the center of whatever circle the object is moving along. There would also be a centripetal force requirement for such a motion. That is, there must be some object supplying an inward force or inward component of force. When a person makes a turn on a horizontal surface, the person often "leans into the turn." By leaning, the surface pushes upward at an angle to the vertical. As such, there is both a horizontal and a vertical component resulting from contact with the surface below. This contact force supplies two roles  it balances the downward force of gravity and meets the centripetal force requirement for an object in uniform circular motion. The upward component of the contact force is sufficient to balance the downward force of gravity and the horizontal component of the contact force pushes the person towards the center of the circle. This contact force is depicted in the diagram below for a speed skater making a turn on ice. In the case of the speed skater above, the force resulting from the contact between ice skates and ice has two components to it. The force is a vector combination of a normal force and a friction force. The normal force is the result of the stable surface providing support for any object pushing downward against it. The friction force is the result of the static friction force resulting from the iceskate interaction. As the skater leans into the turn, she pushes outward upon the ice. By Newton's third law of motion, there is a reaction to this force of the ice pushing inward upon the skate. If there were absolutely no friction whatsoever, then the skater could still lean and try to push outward upon the ice; however, the skate would not get a grip upon the ice and would subsequently slide across the ice. As a result, the ice skater's skates would move out from under her, she would fall to the ice, and she would travel in a straightline inertial path. The same principle of lean which allows the speed skater to make the turn around a portion of the circle applies to the wealth of other sporting events where participants lean into the turn in order to momentarily move in a circle. A downhill skier makes her turn by leaning into the snow. The snow pushes back in both an inward and an upward direction  balancing the force of gravity and supplying the centripetal force. A football player makes his turn by leaning into the ground. The ground pushes back in both an inward and upward direction  balancing the force of gravity and supplying both the centripetal force. A bobsled team makes their turn in a similar manner as they rise up onto the inclined section of track. Upon the incline, they naturally lean and the normal force acts at an angle to the vertical; this normal force supplies both the upward force to balance the force of gravity and the centripetal force to allow for the circular motion. (The motion of objects on banked turns  nonhorizontal surfaces  will be discussed later in Lesson 2.)
The same mathematical equations which describe the motion of objects in circles applies to the motion of athletes making turns on the sporting field. The use of these circular motion equations were introduced in the first section of Lesson 1 and then subsequently applied to the analysis of the motion of roller coaster cars. It has been emphasized that any given physical situation can be analyzed in terms of the individual forces which are acting upon an object; these individual forces must add up to the net force. Furthermore, the net force must be equal to the mass times the acceleration. The process of conducting a force analysis of a physical situation was first introduced in Unit 2 of The Physics Classroom. Now we will investigate the use of these fundamental principles in the analysis of situations involving the motion of athletes in circles. We will utilize the basic problemsolving approach which was introduced earlier in Lesson 2. This approach can be summarized as follows.
Combine a force analysis with the above method to solve the following circular motion problem.
Steps 1 and 2 involve the construction of a free body diagram and the identification of known and unknown quantities. This is shown in below.
Step 3 of the suggested method involves resolving any forces which act at angles into horizontal and vertical components. This is shown in the diagram at the right. The contact force can be broken into two components  F_{horiz} and F_{vert}. The vertical component of force would balance the force of gravity; and as such, the vertical component will be equal in magnitude to the force of gravity. The horizontal component of force remains unbalanced. As mentioned in the above discussion, this horizontal component is the net inward force; and as such, F_{horiz} is equal to m*a. Finally, the two components are related to the angle of lean by the tangent function. Simple algebraic manipulation would yield the relationship shown in the graphic at the right. So the angle of lean can be found if the vertical and horizontal component of force are known. Step 4 of the suggested method involves the determination of any known forces. In this case, the force of gravity can be determined from the equation F_{grav} = m * g. An approximate g value of 10 m/s^{2} will be used in this problem in order to simplify some of the math and highlight the concepts. So the force of gravity acting upon Bonnie's 55.0kg body is approximately 550 N. And since this force is balanced by the vertical component of the contact force, the F_{vert} is also 550 N. Step 5 involves determination of Bonnie's acceleration as she makes the turn. This can be accomplished by using the acceleration equation for circular motion. a = (16.0 m/s)^{2}/(20.0 m) = 12.8 m/s^{2} Now that the acceleration has been found, the angle of lean can be determined. As mentioned in the equation above, the angle of lean ("theta") can be determined from knowledge of the horizontal and vertical components of the contact force. The vertical component has already been calculated to be 550 N (equal to F_{grav}). And as previously mentioned, the horizontal component would be equal to F_{net}; this is shown below. F_{horiz }= (55.0 kg)*(12.8 m/s/s) = 704 N Now finally the angle of lean can be determined.
The above problem illustrates the procedure of combining Newton's second law of motion with vector principles and circular motion equations in order to analyze turning motions of athletes. Utilize the same general procedure described above to solve the following practice problem. When finished, depress your mouse on the popup menu to view the answers.
Turning motions are not the only situations in sports in which people or objects move in circles. While turning motions are probably the most common examples of circular motion, they are not the only examples. There are certain track and field events  the hammer throw and the discus  in which athletes gather momentum in an object which is to be subsequently thrown. The prethrow momentum is imparted to the projectile by whirling within a circle. Once momentum has been accumulated, the hammer or discus is launched into the air at an optimum angle in order to maximize the distance it travels. Regardless of the athletic event, the analysis of the circular motion remains the same. Newton's laws describe the forcemassacceleration relationship; vector principles describe the relationship between individual forces and any angular forces; and circular motion equations describe the speedradiusacceleration relationship.

About the Tutorial  Copyright and Usage Policy  About the Author  About Study Works Online  Credits and Thanks  Future Plans  Contact, Questions and Feedback
© Tom Henderson, 19962001