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Section 11.

8: Motion in Space: Velocity and Acceleration

In this section, we apply the concepts of tangent and normal vectors to study the motion
of an object along a curve in space.

~
Definition: Suppose a particle moves through space so that its position at time t is R(t).
Then the velocity vector of the particle is

V~ (t) = R
~ 0 (t),

and the speed of the particle at time t is ||V~ (t)||. Similarly, the acceleration of the particle
is given by
~ = V~ 0 (t) = R
A(t) ~ 00 (t).

~
Example: The position vector of an object is given by R(t) = ht3 , t2 + 1, t3 1i, t 0. Find
its velocity, acceleration, and speed at time t = 1.

The velocity and acceleration at time t are

V~ (t) = h3t2 , 2t, 3t2 i


~
A(t) = h6t, 2, 6ti.

The speed at time t is



||V~ (t)|| = 6t4 + 4t2 + 6t4 = 12t4 + 4t2 .

At time t = 1, V~ (1) = h3, 2, 3i, A(1)
~ = h6, 2, 6i, and ||V~ (1)|| = 16 = 4.

Example: A moving particle starts at initial position R(0) ~ = h0, 1, 0i with initial velocity
~ ~ 2
V (0) = h1, 0, 1i. Its acceleration is A(t) = ht, t , cos 2ti. Find its velocity and position at
time t.

~ = V~ 0 (t),
Since A(t)
Z
V~ (t) = ~
A(t)dt
Z
= ht, t2 , cos 2tidt
 
1 2 1 3 1 ~
= t , t , sin 2t + C.
2 3 2
Using the initial velocity, V~ (0) = C ~ = h1, 0, 1i. Then
 
1 1 1
V~ (t) = 2 3
t + 1, t , sin(2t) + 1 .
2 3 2

Since V~ (t) = R
~ 0 (t),
Z
~
R(t) = V~ (t)dt
Z  
1 2 1 3 1
= t + 1, t , sin(2t) + 1 dt
2 3 2
 
1 3 1 4 1 ~
= t + t, t , cos(2t) + t + C.
6 12 4
Using the initial position,
 
~ 1 ~ = h0, 1, 0i.
R(0) = 0, 0, +C
4
~ = h0, 1, 1/4i and
Thus, C
 
~ 1 3 1 1 1
R(t) = t + t, t4 + 1 cos(2t) + t + .
6 12 4 4

Example: A force of 20 N acts directly upward from the xy-plane on an object with mass 4
kg. The object starts at the origin with initial velocity V~ (0) = h1, 1, 0i. Find its position
function and its speed at time t.

By Newtons Second Law of Motion,

F~ (t) = mA(t)
~
~
h0, 0, 20i = 4A(t)
~
A(t) = h0, 0, 5i.
~ = V~ 0 (t),
Since A(t)
Z Z
V~ (t) = ~
A(t)dt = ~
h0, 0, 5idt = h0, 0, 5ti + C.

Using the initial velocity, V~ (0) = C


~ = h1, 1, 0i. Thus,

V~ (t) = h1, 1, 5ti.

Therefore, the speed of the object is



||V~ (t)|| = 2 + 25t2 .
Since V~ (t) = R
~ 0 (t),
Z Z  
~ 5
R(t) = V~ (t)dt = h1, 1, 5tidt = t, t, t2 ~
+ C.
2

~
Using the initial position, R(0) ~ = ~0. Thus,
=C
 
~ 5 2
R(t) = t, t, t .
2

Note: When studying the motion of a particle in space, it is often useful to break the
acceleration down into two components: one in the direction of the unit tangent and one
in the direction of the unit normal. These are known as the tangential and normal
components of acceleration.

Figure 1: Illustration of the tangential and normal components of acceleration.

Theorem: (Tangential and Normal Components of Acceleration)


~
Suppose that the position of a particle at time t is given by R(t). Then the tangential and
normal components of the particles acceleration are
~ 0 (t) R
R ~ 00 (t) ~ 0 (t) R
||R ~ 00 (t)||
AT = and AN = .
||R~ 0 (t)|| ~ 0 (t)||
||R
~
Example: A particle moves with position function R(t) = ht3 , t2 , ti. Find the tangential and
normal components of acceleration at a general position and at the origin.

First,
~ 0 (t) = h3t2 , 2t, 1i
R
~ 00 (t) = h6t, 2, 0i
R

~ 0 (t)|| = 9t4 + 4t2 + 1
||R
~ 0 (t) R
R ~ 00 (t) = 18t3 + 4t
~i ~j ~k

~ 0 (t) R ~ 00 (t) = 3t2 2t 1 = h2, 6t, 6t2 i

R
6t 2 0

~ 0 (t) R
||R ~ 00 (t)|| = 4 + 36t2 + 36t4 = 2 1 + 9t2 + 9t4 .

Then
18t3 + 4t 2 1 + 9t2 + 9t4
AT = and AN = .
9t4 + 4t2 + 1 9t4 + 4t2 + 1
At the origin (t = 0), AT = 0 and AN = 2.