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Aaron Simons

18.3 Natural Frequency

Title: Natural Frequency

Research question: What kinds of systems oscillate?
Motion results when we disturb a system in equilibrium, and sometimes the result
is harmonic motion. For example, consider a cart balanced on top of a hill. If you push
the cart even a little, it quickly rolls downhill and does not return. This is motion, but not
harmonic motion. A cart in a valley is a good example of a system that does show
harmonic motion. If you move the cart partly up the hill and release it, harmonic motion
results as the cart rolls back and forth in the bottom of the valley.

Systems with a restoring force oscillate.
Springs and Swings kit
Small stand
Mass hanger
Beam breaker
Extension springs (blue tab and white tab springs)
Other materials:



Building an oscillator
1. Set up a spring system that oscillates up and down. Use the extension
spring that has the blue tab. See Figure 1
2. Pull the mass hanger down a very small amount and gently let go to create
smooth oscillations.
3. Draw a sketch of your system and identify what makes the restoring force,
and also where the mass is located that provides inertia. See Figure 2
The natural frequency
1. Place 10 washers on the mass hanger, and place the Photogate on the small
stand as shown in Figure 1.
2. Plug the Photogate into the A input on the DataCollector. Select timer
mode, then the period (p) function. For slow oscillators like the
spring/mass system, rather than measure frequency, it is more accurate to

Aaron Simons


18.3 Natural Frequency

measure period and then calculate the natural frequency. Recall that the
period is the time is takes the oscillator to complete one cycle.
3. Gently pull down on the spring (blue tab) to begin a controlled, smooth
oscillation. The period in seconds will vary at the last three decimal
places. Practice measuring the period several times, and choose a period
with two significant digits. Avoid creating any swinging motion with the
oscillator. Practice until you can get smooth up and down oscillations with
very little movement in any other direction.
4. Calculate the natural frequency by dividing 1 by the period. See Figure 3
Changing the natural frequency See Figure 4
1. Describe and test a way to increase the natural frequency of your
oscillator. Increasing the natural frequency makes the oscillator go faster.
2. Describe and test a way to decrease the natural frequency of your
oscillator. Decreasing the natural frequency makes the oscillator go
3. Create a data table to summarize your results.
i. When the weight is increased, the frequency and the period should
4. Write a brief paragraph to explain why the changes you made to the
oscillating system affected the natural frequency. Refer to evidence from
your data table to support your explanation.

My data shows that any system with a restoring force such as a spring is an oscillator.
My hypothesis was correct. Systems with restoring forces oscillate.
Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 4

Figure 3
3.723008191 Hz