Damped mechanical oscillator: Experiment and detailed energy analysis

Corridoni, Tommaso and D'Anna, Michele and Fuchs, Hans (2014) Damped mechanical oscillator: Experiment and detailed energy analysis. The Physic teacher, 52. pp. 88-93. ISSN 0031-921X

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The damped oscillator is discussed in every high school textbook or introductory physics course, and a large number of papers are devoted to it in physics didactics journals. Papers typically focus on kinematic and dynamic aspects1-5 and less often on energy. Among the latter, some are devoted to the peculiar decreasing behavior of energy characterized by ripples,6,7 that can be easily demonstrated by using a dynamic modeling approach.8 In this note we consider an oscillator consisting of a cart running on a horizontal track, two springs, and a damping device created with magnets and a metal plate attached to the cart (Fig. 1). Using sensors and data acquisition software,9 we measure kinematic quantities and three forces: those of the springs on the cart and, separately, the force between magnets and the plate. A detailed analysis of the energy exchanges between the cart and the interacting parts is obtained. In particular, we show that only the energy exchanges with the magnets are affected by dissipative processes while over a suitable time interval the net energy exchanged between cart and springs equals zero.

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