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Take-home experiment

This interesting activity examines the effect of weight upon terminal velocity. Gather together some nested coffee filters. Leaving them in their original shape, measure the time it takes for one, two, three, four, and five nested filters to fall to the floor from the same height (roughly 2 m). (Note that, due to the way the filters are nested, drag is constant and only mass varies.) They obtain terminal velocity quite quickly, so find this velocity as a function of mass. Plot the terminal velocity v size 12{v} {} versus mass. Also plot v 2 size 12{v rSup { size 8{2} } } {} versus mass. Which of these relationships is more linear? What can you conclude from these graphs?

A terminal velocity

Find the terminal velocity of an 85-kg skydiver falling in a spread-eagle position.


At terminal velocity, F net = 0 size 12{F rSub { size 8{"net"} } =0} {} . Thus the drag force on the skydiver must equal the force of gravity (the person’s weight). Using the equation of drag force, we find mg = 1 2 ρCAv 2 size 12{ ital "mg"=0 "." 5ρ ital "CAv" rSup { size 8{2} } } {} .

Thus the terminal velocity v t size 12{v rSub { size 8{t} } } {} can be written as

v t = 2 mg ρCA . size 12{v= sqrt { { {2 ital "mg"} over {ρ ital "CA"} } } } {}


All quantities are known except the person’s projected area. This is an adult (82 kg) falling spread eagle. We can estimate the frontal area as

A = ( 2 m ) ( 0 . 35 m ) = 0 . 70 m 2 . size 12{2`m times `0 "." "35"`m=0 "." "70"`m rSup { size 8{2} } } {}

Using our equation for v t size 12{v rSub { size 8{t} } } {} , we find that

v t = 2 ( 85 kg ) ( 9.80 m/s 2 ) ( 1.21 kg/m 3 ) ( 1.0 ) ( 0.70 m 2 ) = 44 m/s.


This result is consistent with the value for v t size 12{v rSub { size 8{t} } } {} mentioned earlier. The 75-kg skydiver going feet first had a v = 98 m / s size 12{v="94"`m/s} {} . He weighed less but had a smaller frontal area and so a smaller drag due to the air.

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The size of the object that is falling through air presents another interesting application of air drag. If you fall from a 5-m high branch of a tree, you will likely get hurt—possibly fracturing a bone. However, a small squirrel does this all the time, without getting hurt. You don’t reach a terminal velocity in such a short distance, but the squirrel does.

The following interesting quote on animal size and terminal velocity is from a 1928 essay by a British biologist, J.B.S. Haldane, titled “On Being the Right Size.”

To the mouse and any smaller animal, [gravity] presents practically no dangers. You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, and a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object. Divide an animal’s length, breadth, and height each by ten; its weight is reduced to a thousandth, but its surface only to a hundredth. So the resistance to falling in the case of the small animal is relatively ten times greater than the driving force.

The above quadratic dependence of air drag upon velocity does not hold if the object is very small, is going very slow, or is in a denser medium than air. Then we find that the drag force is proportional just to the velocity. This relationship is given by Stokes’ law    , which states that

F s = 6 πrηv , size 12{F rSub { size 8{s} } =6πrηv} {}

where r is the radius of the object, η is the viscosity of the fluid, and v is the object’s velocity.

Questions & Answers

what is physics
faith Reply
what are the basic of physics
tree physical properties of heat
Bello Reply
tree is a type of organism that grows very tall and have a wood trunk and branches with leaves... how is that related to heat? what did you smoke man?
what are the uses of dimensional analysis
Racheal Reply
Dimensional Analysis. The study of relationships between physical quantities with the help of their dimensions and units of measurements is called dimensional analysis. We use dimensional analysis in order to convert a unit from one form to another.
meaning of OE and making of the subscript nc
ferunmi Reply
can I ask a question
kinetic functional force
Moyagabo Reply
what is a principal wave?
Haider Reply
A wave the movement of particles on rest position transferring energy from one place to another
not wave. i need to know principal wave or waves.
principle wave is a superposition of wave when two or more waves meet at a point , whose amplitude is the algebraic sum of the amplitude of the waves
kindly define principal wave not principle wave (principle of super position) if u can understand my question
what is a model?
Ella Reply
why are electros emitted only when the frequency of the incident radiation is greater than a certain value
b/c u have to know that for emission of electron need specific amount of energy which are gain by electron for emission . if incident rays have that amount of energy electron can be emitted, otherwise no way.
search photoelectric effect on Google
what is ohm's law
Pamilerin Reply
states that electric current in a given metallic conductor is directly proportional to the potential difference applied between its end, provided that the temperature of the conductor and other physical factors such as length and cross-sectional area remains constant. mathematically V=IR
A body travelling at a velocity of 30ms^-1 in a straight line is brought to rest by application of brakes. if it covers a distance of 100m during this period, find the retardation.
Pamilerin Reply
just use v^2-u^2=2as
how often does electrolyte emits?
just use +€^3.7°√π%-4¢•∆¥%
v^2-u^2=2as v=0,u=30,s=100 -30^2=2a*100 -900=200a a=-900/200 a=-4.5m/s^2
what is distribution of trade
Grace Reply
what's acceleration
Joshua Reply
The change in position of an object with respect to time
Acceleration is velocity all over time
It's not It's the change of velocity relative to time
Velocity is the change of position relative to time
acceleration it is the rate of change in velocity with time
acceleration is change in velocity per rate of time
what is ohm's law
Ohm's law is related to resistance by which volatge is the multiplication of current and resistance ( U=RI)
acceleration is the rate of change. of displacement with time.
the rate of change of velocity is called acceleration
how i don understand
Willam Reply
how do I access the Multiple Choice Questions? the button never works and the essay one doesn't either
Savannah Reply
How do you determine the magnitude of force
Peace Reply
mass × acceleration OR Work done ÷ distance
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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