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Lab: Accelerated Frames of Reference

Objective: To test the validity of the equation: = using a cart and track method.
Background: If a mass is hanging on a string attached to the top of an accelerating object, the
) and the force of gravity
forces that act upon the mass are the tension force from the string (

). However, the mass moves opposite the direction of acceleration, despite the fact there is no
force pushing the mass that direction. Therefore, the law of inertia (Newtons First Law) does
not hold and the movement must be viewed in a non-inertial frame of reference. A non-inertial
frame of reference is the opposite of an inertial frame of reference in where inertia exists. The
equation: = is used in this situation to determine either the angle at which the mass is
moving towards, or the rate of acceleration of an object the mass is on. This equation is derived
by the following situation:
Given that the accelerometer has no acceleration in the y-axis,
must equal zero.
= = 0
Therefore, cos must equal in order to balance the forces in the
cos = =
Once together, the variable must be isolated in Eq (2).

Fig.1 Improvised accelerometer



As for the x-axis, acceleration exists and so sin will be have to be

equal to .
sin =
The is then isolated from the equation and Eq (4) is substituted in
to Eq (5).
= ( )(

= (cos )(



Fig. 2 FBD of accelerometer


= (cos )


Using trigonometry, cos can be simplified to tan , resulting in the

= tan


- 500g mass
- Motion sensor
- Laptop
- 20g mass
- Camera with high-speed shutter

- Clinometer
- Aluminum track
- Low-friction cart
- Metal stand
- String

- Pulley with a clamp

- Tripod
- Protractor

Fig.3 Completed Lab Setup

1. Place the aluminum track on a large surface and use

a clinometer to measure and adjust so that the track is
completely flat.
2. Attach the metal stand to the cart and place the cart
at an end of the track.
3. On the same end, place the motion sensor down
with the sensor end facing down the track.
4. On the other end of the aluminum track, clamp the
pulley on to the track and table tightly.
5. Cut out two pieces of string, on slightly smaller than the length of the track and one roughly
6cm long.
6. Tie the 500g mass to one end of the large string and the cart to the other. Once finished, feed
the string through the pulley to let the mass hang over the edge.
7. Tie two loops on both ends of the short string and attach the 20g mass to one end and the
metal stand to the other end.
8. Place the tripod on the center of the track and attach the camera.
9. Place the cart in frame of the camera and allow the device to focus. Once finished, bring the
cart back on the end of the track.
10. Let the 500g mass apply slight tension to the rope to prevent a sudden acceleration.
11. Ensure that the hanging mass on the cart refrains from moving.
12. Have one person turn on the motion sensor and start to record a graph.
13. Have one person start to take multiple pictures with the camera.
13. Have one person drop the 500g mass through the pulley.
14. Once a picture with the cart centered is taken, print the picture and use a protractor to
determine the angle.