Complicated collisions: the ballistic pendulum

In real life, collisions are often messy affairs which require a mixture of techniques to understand. As an example, consider the ballistic pendulum.

You can break the action into two pieces. Please write an equation for each piece:

  1. A ball of mass m moving at speed v1 slams into an arm of mass M. Use conservation of momentum in this completely inelastic collision to write an equation relating v1 to the velocity of the arm-plus-ball v2.
  2. An arm with an initial speed swings up until it halts at an angle theta. Use conservation of energy to figure out the relationship between the speed of the arm-plus-ball v2, the angle theta, and the height h by which the center of mass of arm-plus-ball rises.

Your first job today is to figure out the speed v1 with which the ball is fired from the catapult, by measuring the angle theta (and some other quantities).

  1. You should end up with one table showing all your measurements, and the uncertainty associated with each measurement.
  2. Which measurement has the largest percentage uncertainty? If you want to improve this experiment, you should concentrate on doing this part of it more precisely.

Now, show step-by-step how to use your measurements to compute the value of v1, the velocity of the ball when it leaves the muzzle of the gun.

  1. What is this velocity for the medium-range setting?

Compute the uncertainty in v1, using the rules for propagating uncertainties.

  1. What is the uncertainty in the velocity for the medium-range setting?

As you try to convert the uncertainties in the values you measured in class into an uncertainty in the initial speed v1 of the ball, you may find it useful to peruse

Your second job is to calculate the spring constant k of the spring in the gun. Let's use an energy-based measurement:

  1. Use your measurements of the initial speed of the ball to compute the kinetic energy of the ball. Assume that this kinetic energy (KE) is exactly the same as the spring potential energy (SPE) stored in the compressed spring.
  2. Measure the distance by which the spring is compressed for the medium-range setting. Include an uncertainty with the distance.
  3. Compute the spring constant using data from the medium-range setting
  4. Compute an uncertainty in the spring constant for the medium-range setting