# 2.1 Understanding acceleration

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Acceleration exists where net external force exists. The acceleration of an object is determined by the mass of the object and net external force applied. Most important aspect of acceleration is that it is independent of motion i.e. velocity.

The relationship among velocity, acceleration and force is central to the study of mechanics. Text book treatment normally divides the scope of study between kinematics (study of velocity and acceleration) and dynamics (study of acceleration and force). This approach is perfectly fine till we do not encounter some inherent problem as to the understanding of the subject matter.

One important short coming of this approach is that we tend to assume that acceleration depends on the state of motion i.e. velocity. Such inference is not all too uncommon as acceleration is defined in terms of velocities. Now the question is “Does acceleration actually depend on the velocity?”

There are many other such inferences that need to be checked. Following paragraphs investigate these fundamental issues in detail and enrich our understanding of acceleration.

## Velocity, acceleration and force

Acceleration is related to external force. This relationship is given by Newton’s second law of motion. For a constant mass system,

$\begin{array}{l}\mathbf{F}=m\mathbf{a}\end{array}$

In words, Newton’s second law states that acceleration (effect) is the result of the application of net external force (cause). Thus, the relationship between the two quantities is that of cause and effect. Further, force is equal to the product of a scalar quantity, m, and a vector quantity, a , implying that the direction of the acceleration is same as that of the net force. This means that acceleration is though the measurement of the change of velocity, but is strictly determined by the external force and the mass of the body; and expressed in terms of “change of velocity” per unit time.

If we look around ourselves, we find that force modifies the state of motion of the objects. The immediate effect of a net force on a body is that the state of motion of the body changes. In other words, the velocity of the body changes in response to the application of net force. Here, the word “net” is important. The motion of the body responds to the net or resultant force. In this sense, acceleration is mere statement of the effect of the force as measurement of the rate of change of the velocity with time.

Now, there is complete freedom as to the magnitude and direction of force being applied. From our real time experience, we may substantiate this assertion. For example, we can deflect a foot ball, applying force as we wish (in both magnitude and direction). The motion of the ball has no bearing on how we apply force. Simply put : the magnitude and direction of the force (and that of acceleration) is not dependent on the magnitude and direction of the velocity of the body.

In the nutshell, we conclude that force and hence acceleration is independent of the velocity of the body . The magnitude and direction of the acceleration is determined by the magnitude and direction of the force and mass of the body. This is an important clarification.

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