Speed, Deiplacement and Velocity - The Physics Teacher

By Wanda Reed,2014-03-29 01:59
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    Chapter 6: Speed, Displacement and Velocity

    Please remember to photocopy 4 pages onto one sheet by going A3?A4 and using back to back on the photocopier

    Questions to make you think

    1. Imagine you are travelling in a car. You have a glass bottle in your hand. In which direction should you throw it to

    minimise the danger of its breaking on hitting the ground?

    2. Two friends are playing with a ball on board a ship moving at a steady speed. One is standing nearer the front and

    the other nearer the back. Which one of them finds it easier to throw the ball to the other? (Ignore wave and wind



    Student Notes

    The second is the unit of time.

    The metre is the unit of distance.

Speed is the rate of change of distance with respect to time. ?!~??;;?-1The unit of speed is the metre per second (m s or m/s) ???;?,? ~:???= ?!(?

Instantaneous Speed

    It is important that you understand the difference between average speed and instantaneous speed. When your speedometer indicates that you are doing 120 kph, it’s telling you that your instantaneous speed is 120 kph, not (obviously) your average speed for the journey.

    But to calculate instantaneous speed, you just take your average speed over a very short time. We come across this concept again in the next chapter.

    Displacement is distance in a given direction

    This can be a little tricky to grasp; it’s like saying that displacement is the straight-line distance between the two points.

    If you travel half-way around a circular race-track of radius 100 m, your distance travelled will be half the

    circumference of the circle (2πr/2) which is this case would be 100π m (or 314 m), but your displacement would be

    the straight line distance, in this case the diameter of the circle; 200 m.

    Velocity is the rate of change of displacement with respect to time -1The unit of velocity is the metre per second (ms, or m/s). ?!~:,?;?(?;? ??,,;!??= ?!(?

So in the example above if you travel through one full circuit (finishing back where you started) in 10 seconds, your -1distance travelled will be 628 m, your displacement will be zero, your average speed will be 628/10 = 62.8 m s, but

    your average velocity will be zero (because the displacement is zero).


    Yes this does seem bizarre, but that’s how we roll here in the world of Physics, and it turns out that many of the Physics equations which we use in the next chapter refer to displacement, not distance (although if the distance travelled is in a straight line anyway, then distance travelled will be equivalent to displacement).

    DistanceTime Graphs (for an object travelling at constant velocity)

    If you plot a graph of Distance (on the y-axis) against Time (on the x-axis), the slope of the graph will be the speed of the object.

     y;y21slope = x;x21

    Mandatory Experiment

    Measuring Velocity using a Ticker Tape-Timer


    Leaving Cert Physics Syllabus: Velocity

    Content Depth of Treatment Activities STS

    Linear Motion Units of length and time

    Definitions of units not required

     Displacement and velocity Measurement of velocity Sports, e.g. athletics

    Definitions and units using any suitable


    Use of distance-time graph



APPARATUS: Ticker timer and tape, low-voltage a.c. power supply, trolley, runway.



    1. Set up the apparatus as in the diagram.

    2. Connect the ticker timer to a low-voltage power supply.

    3. Give the trolley a small push to start it moving.

    4. Adjust the angle of inclination of the runway until the trolley moves with constant velocity, i.e. the spots on the

    tape are all equidistant.

    5. The ticker timer makes 50 spots per second. Therefore the time interval between two adjacent spots is 0.02 s.

    6. Measure the length s of ten adjacent spaces.

    7. The time t is 10 × 0.02 = 0.2 s.

    8. As the trolley was travelling at constant velocity we can say that velocity = distant/time 9. Repeat using pushes of varying strengths.

    10. Tabulate results as shown.

     -1) s (m) t (s) v (m sRESULTS


    The dots were evenly spaced throughout, illustrating that the velocity remained constant.


    1. Dust the runway to reduce friction.

    2. Raise the trolley to offset friction such that the trolley moves at constant velocity. 3. Ignore the initial five or six dots on the tape as this shows the initial acceleration due to the push.


    1. For ten spaces we need eleven dots. What would be the effect (if any) of using five spaces instead of ten?

    2. What would be the effect of using twenty spaces?

    3. What would be the effect of giving the trolley a high initial velocity?


    1. Ensure that the voltage rating of the timer is not exceeded.

    2. Ignore the initial five or six dots on the tape as this shows the initial acceleration due to the push. 3. If the paper is turned the wrong way around it will be hard to spot any pattern.

Exam Question [2003]

    A cyclist travels from A to B along the arc of a circle of radius 25 m as shown. (i) Calculate the distance travelled by the cyclist.

    (ii) Calculate the displacement undergone by the cyclist.


    (i) The displacement is equivalent to one quarter of the circumference of a circle = 2πr/4 = 25π/2

    = 12.5π = 39.3 m. 2 22(ii) Using Pythagoras: x= 25 + 25 x = 35.3 m. Direction is NW


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