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Drag Coefficient of a Sphere


David M. Smiadak

School of Engineering Grand Valley State University

EGR 365 Fluid Mechanics

Instructor: Dr. M. Szen

July 8, 2008



The purpose of this laboratory experiment was to measure the drag coefficient of a sphere as a function of Reynolds number. 2.0 Background/Theory

When an object falls in a viscous fluid it experiences a gravity force, Fw, a buoyant force, Fb, and a viscous force, Fv. The gravity force is constant and acts in the downward direction, the buoyant force is also constant and acts in the upward direction, the viscous force, however acts against the direction of motion and is an increasing function of the speed of the object. The drag force is primarily form drag and can be expressed as, (1) Where is the density of the fluid, CD is the drag coefficient, A is the frontal area, and V is the speed. For this experiment a sphere is considered which sinks in a viscous fluid, such that . If it is released from rest it will accelerate until the viscous plus buoyant force balance the gravity force. At this point a force balance yields, (2) where Vt is the terminal velocity. If the weight of the sphere in the fluid is known, if the density of the fluid and the dimensions of the sphere are known, and if the terminal velocity is measured, then the drag coefficient, CD, can be determined from the force balance. Starting with a force balance on the sphere it is possible to show that the velocity as a function of time with the initial condition being a rest condition is,


This deviation assumes that the drag coefficient is constant, which it is not. From equation (3), the time needed to reach 0.99Vt is, (4) and the path length to 0.99Vt is: (5) Substituting for terminal velocity, the path length to 0.99Vt is, (6) 3.0 Results and Discussion

The mass and diameter of each weighted ping-pong ball were recorded along with the duration of time it took the ping-pong ball to drop a defined distance (Table 3.1). Table 3.1: Trial 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Mass (kg) 0.013 0.028 0.028 0.036 0.038 0.042 0.043 0.047 0.060 Experimental data Time (sec) 16.630 15.770 3.080 2.070 2.040 1.970 1.890 1.000 Distance (m) 0.953 0.953 0.953 0.965 0.965 0.965 0.965 0.953

Diameter (m) 0.037 0.038 0.038 0.039 0.037 0.040 0.037 0.040 0.038

Trial 1 did not produce further data because the ping-pong ball floated on the surface of the water. From the experimental data collected, the coefficients of drag were determined for each weighted ping-pong ball (Table 3.2).

Table 3.2: Trial 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Coefficients of Drag Coefficient of Drag 150.42 134.79 6.04 3.17 3.00 3.20 2.81 1.18

A sample calculation for the coefficient of drag is shown, using equation (2),

Solving for CD yields,

For trial 2,

The Reynolds number for each weighted ping-pong ball is shown in Table 3.3.

Table 3.3: Mass (kg) 0.013 0.028 0.028 0.036 0.038 0.042 0.043 0.047 0.060

Reynolds numbers by mass Vt (m/s) 0.057 0.060 0.309 0.466 0.473 0.490 0.511 0.953 ReD 1920.506 2036.186 10859.933 15529.071 16722.181 16317.349 18165.039 31873.273

Diameter (m) 0.037 0.038 0.038 0.039 0.037 0.040 0.037 0.040 0.038

A sample calculation for the Reynolds number is shown,

For trial 2, mass 0.028 kg,

The drag coefficient is plot against the Reynolds number for each trial (Figure 3.1).

Figure 3.1:

Drag coefficient against Reynolds number

Trials 4 thru 9 are plot against the theoretical drag coefficients in Figure 3.2.

Figure 3.2:

Drag coefficient against Reynolds number, theoretical and experimental comparison


Design Question 1

Begin with a force balance on a sphere falling in a viscous fluid and develop equations 3, 4, 5, 6, however, develop them for reaching 90% of the terminal speed. Assume the drag coefficient can be treated as a constant. The force balance on the sphere is shown as Figure 3.3.

Figure 3.3: From the force balance shown,

Force balance on a sphere

From equation (1),

This expression can be simplified by creating new variables of integration such that,



. Performing the integration then yields,

For inverse hyperbolic functions,

This expression for the inverse tangent is then used yielding,

Evaluating at the upper and lower bounds yields,

Simplifying the expression,

Knowing that


the expression can be shown as,

Both sides of the expression are then multiplied by negative one,

Knowing that

The inverse natural log of both sides is then taken,

Rearranging terms yields,

Knowing that


This expression is identical to equation (3). The time needed to attain 0.99Vt can be expressed as, from equation (3),


Knowing that

, Vt is substituted into the expression yielding equation (4),

The length of 99% of the terminal velocity path can be expressed as equation (5),

Simplifying this equation yields equation (6),


Design Question 2

Is your estimate of path length conservative or do you expect that you might have underestimated the path length? The coefficient of drag for a smooth sphere over the Reynolds range used in this experiment is approximately 0.45, with this value and equation (6), the path length for the heaviest ping-pong ball used can be determined,

From this number we are able to determine that sufficient distance was given for the ping-pong to reach terminal velocity before measurements of distance over time were recorded. 3.3 Design Question 3

How would you approach including the Re dependence of CD.


The Reynolds number dependence of the coefficient of drag was addressed in Figure 3.1. 3.4 Design Question 4

How could you find the path to 90% of the terminal velocity experimentally? In order to experimentally determine the path to 90% of the terminal velocity an accurate motion capture of the ping-pong ball acceleration would be needed. The terminal velocity could also be estimated by timing a distance traveled that was sufficiently far away from the surface of the water. This would give an assumed terminal velocity that could be used to determine percentages of terminal velocity. 3.5 Error Propagation

The uncertainty for the coefficient of drag can be expressed as,

where m is the mass of the ping-pong ball, r is the radius of the ping-pong ball, D is the distance traveled by the ping-pong ball and t is time. A sample calculation for the uncertainty of drag coefficient is shown for trial 2,

The uncertainty for each trial is shown in Table 3.4.


Table 3.4:

Uncertainty in coefficient of drag measure CD 150.422 134.788 6.037 3.174 3.001 3.200 2.813 1.177 Uncertainty, CD 39.892 35.746 1.601 0.842 0.796 0.849 0.746 0.312

Mass (kg) 0.013 0.028 0.028 0.036 0.038 0.042 0.043 0.047 0.060

The uncertainty for each mass is shown below in Figure 3.4.

Figure 3.4: 4.0

Uncertainty for each experimental trial

Conclusions and Recommendations

In conclusion, the experimentally determined drag coefficients for the spheres measured were not within the range of expected drag coefficients for spheres. The theoretically determined drag coefficient for a sphere over the Reynolds range determined for this experiment was 0.45 and all of the trials conducted exceeded this coefficient even with the uncertainty of each trial in


consideration. A likely source of error was that each weighted ping-pong ball drifted as it fell; increasing the time, it took the ball to fall the recorded distance. 5.0 References 1. Fleischmann, Shirley. Fluid Mechanics EGR 365 Designed-Based Fluids Lab. Grand Rapids: Grand Valley State University, 2005. 2. Munson, Young, and Okiishi. Fundamentals of Fluid Mechanics, Fifth Edition. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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