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Galileo Experiment

Background
This experiment is similar to the one discussed by Galileo in
Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences. You will make
measurements of the motion of an object rolling down an incline.
From these measurements you should be able to decide for
yourself whether Galileo's definition of
acceleration was appropriate or not.
Galileo's definition of uniform acceleration
was 'equal increases in speed in equal times.'
He expressed his belief that the speed of
free-falling objects increases in proportion to the time of fallin other
words, they accelerate uniformly. Since free fall was much too rapid to
measure, he assumed the speed of a ball rolling down an incline
increased in the same way as an object in free fall did, only more slowly.
But even a ball rolling down a low incline still moved too fast to measure
the speed for different parts of the descent accurately. So Galileo worked
on the relationship: = 2 an expression in which speed differences
have been replaced by the total time t, and the total distance d. Both of these quantities can be
easily measured. If an object actually accelerated uniformly, the total distance should be directly
proportional to the square of the total time of the descent. The constant k would evaluate to onehalf the acceleration. Therefore, the equation for acceleration would be: =

2
2

If Galileo's original assumptions were true, this relationship would hold for both freely falling
objects and rolling balls. Since total distance and total time are not difficult to measure,
seventeenth-century scientists now had a hypothesis that they could test by experiment. And so
have you.
17th Century MethodThe Water Clock
The apparatus that you will use is shown in figure 1. It is similar to that described by Galileo in
the Dialogues. You will let the ball roll various distances down a channel and time the motion

with a water clock. You use a water clock to time this experiment, because that was the best
timing device available in Galileo's day. The way your water clock works is very simple. Since
the volume of water is proportional to the time of flow, you can measure time in milliliters of
water. Start and stop the flow with your finger over the upper end of the tube inside the funnel.
Experimental techniques to improve your results
Sanctioned physics method for releasing the ball: It is almost impossible to release the ball with
your finger without giving it a slight push or pull. Therefore, dam the ball up, with a ruler or
pencil, and release the ball by quickly moving this dam away from the ball down the incline.
Marking the end of the run: The end of the run is best marked by the sound of ball hitting a
stopping block.
The angle of the incline: Best results are found for very small angles of inclination (the top of the
channel raised less than 25 cm above the bottom). At greater inclinations, the ball tends to slide
as well as roll.
The Data and Graph
You should measure times of descent for several different distances (at least ten), keeping the
inclination of the track constant and using the same ball. Repeat each descent a few times (at
least three), and average your results.
A good way to test Galileo's hypothesis is to plot a graph to see if the two quantities are
proportional. Therefore, plot a graph of d vs t2 (using ml of water as the unit of time).
Also, Galileo felt that objects of different mass would still have the same acceleration. Test this
hypothesis as well by finding the acceleration of a ball with a different mass. (Warning: If you
used the grooves to keep the ball rolling straight you must test the different mass theory with a
ball that is about the same size as your first ball. We will get to why this is true later. For now,
just trust me.)
Q1. What do you conclude from the graph? Make sure that the equation for the line is clearly
printed on your graph.
Q2. From your graph determine the acceleration in cm/ml2.
Finding the Actual Acceleration
You performed this lab using the time units of Galileo, ml of water. You will now try to determine
the actual acceleration in cm/s2. You will first have to determine how long it takes for 1 ml to flow
from the water clock.
Q3. How many seconds is one ml of time for your water clock?

Q4. Use your value from Q2 and conversion from Q3 to calculate the acceleration in (cm/s2) for
your experiment. The actual value of the acceleration can be found with the following equation
5

(well see where this comes from in rotational motion): = 7 sin , where g = 980 cm/s2.
Q5. Find the value that the acceleration should be and determine the percent difference in your
value.
Lab Write-Up

The lab report must be typed.


Use the following format for this lab.
o Title of the lab
o Purpose: This should be in your words, not mine.
o Procedure: This should be the procedure that you followed. You should include
enough information here so someone with a small amount of physics knowledge
could follow it. (For example, you will need more than just determine how long it
takes for 1 ml to flow from the water clock. Give a method to do this.)
o Data Table: If you had to make any measurements, they should be included in
tabular form. (with uncertainty).
o Calculations and Results: Show the calculations that were made and clearly
mark the results, including the amount of variation. The amount of variation is
critical to your grade.
o Graphs: You may use excel for your graphs, but make sure it does not connect
the dots, you include a best-fit line and you print a large graph.
o Answers to all of the questions: You must include the question in your answer.
For example for Q2, dont write 1.5 seconds. Instead you could write, One ml
of water is the same as 1.5 seconds. Or you could write out the question and
then the answer.
o Source of uncertainty: If the reason you are citing a source of error isnt
obvious give a short explanation (short means a sentence, not a paragraph,
unless you need a paragraph).
o Conclusion: After having completed the lab what can you conclude? Dont just
restate the purpose.