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Angular Acceleration

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Angular Acceleration

Picture this - you're lucky enough to have seats right in front of the finish line at an F1 race! As the cars race down the straight towards you, you keep them in the centre of your vision. While they are far away down the straight, you only have to turn your head slowly to keep the cars central. However as the cars get closer, you have to turn faster and faster to keep your eyes on them! You've just had to accelerate the rotation of your head, and this can be described as angular acceleration. This article defines angular acceleration, its formula and its units, and it introduces some example calculations and relates angular and linear acceleration in more detail.

Angular acceleration definition

We use linear acceleration to describe a change in linear velocity, but how do we describe a change in the rate of rotation of a spinning object? As the rate of rotation is the angular velocity, it may not surprise you that angular accelerationis the rotational equivalent of linear acceleration. While linear acceleration describes the rate of change of linear velocity, angular acceleration is the rate of change of angular velocity.

Angular Acceleration Circular Motion Angular Acceleration StudySmarter

Diagram showing how the key quantities in circular motion vary as an object rotates with an angular acceleration of 0.6 rad/s for 1 second, StudySmarter Originals.

Similarly to angular velocity, convention states that angular acceleration which results in an increase in the rate of counter-clockwise rotation is positive, while an increase in the rate of clockwise rotation is caused by negative angular acceleration.

Angular acceleration is a pseudoscalar unit. This means that it behaves like a scalar unit as it only requires a magnitude to be fully defined, but it changes sign depending on the direction from which you are looking: a ceiling fan might go anticlockwise from below, but if you look at it from above it would go clockwise! Depending on the frame of reference, positive angular acceleration can always increase the rate of rotation in either direction. To define which direction acceleration is acting in, we choose a frame of reference, and then convention states that a positive sign indicates angular acceleration acting to increase the rate of clockwise rotation and a negative sign indicates an increase in the counter-clockwise rate of rotation.

Angular acceleration units

The SI unit for angular velocity is radians-per-second, defining the angle an object rotates through every second. Angular acceleration defines the amount that the angular velocity changes each second, so its units are the unit for angular velocity per second: (radians-per-second)-per second. Radians-per-second-per-second is equivalent to radians-per-second-squared, as shown below:

.

When studying circular motion, the standard unit for dealing with angles is the radian. A full 360° rotation contains 2π radians, meaning:

.

To convert an angleinto radians, this can be found as.

Similarly, to convert from radians to degrees, we can use .

Angular acceleration formula

To find the angular acceleration of an object, we need to know its angular velocity at two points in time. We can then calculate the amount that the angular velocity changed each second, assuming a constant rate of angular acceleration between the two points. This gives us the angular acceleration:

,

where the subscript 'f' means 'final' and 'i' means 'initial'.

Example angular acceleration calculation

The diagram below shows a flywheel which is initially stationary, is accelerated for 5 seconds and then left to spin freely for 10 seconds, undergoing some friction. The angular velocity is measured at each of these points and indicated in the diagram.

Angular Acceleration Flywheel Example StudySmarter

Example - A flywheel is accelerated for 5 seconds until it has an angular rotation of 10 rad/s. It then spins for 10 seconds, after which its angular velocity has decreased to 9 rad/s, StudySmarter Originals.
  1. Determine the angular acceleration while the flywheel is accelerated and while it spins freely.
  2. Plot the angular velocity and acceleration against time.

To find the angular acceleration in each period, we can use the formula for angular acceleration as we know the initial and final angular velocities. We call the angular acceleration undergone in the first 5 secondsand that in the next 10 secondsand calculate:

,

.

To plot the velocity and acceleration against time, we plot the values at each of our known time points (0 s, 5 s and 15 s) and connect them with straight lines because the angular accelerations are constant in each period.

Angular Acceleration Flywheel Example Plot StudySmarterA plot of the angular velocity (yellow) and the angular acceleration (blue) of the flywheel from 0 to 15 seconds, StudySmarter Originals.

Relating angular acceleration to linear acceleration

In circular motion, the angular displacementis the equivalent of the displacementin the study of linear motion. The kinematic equations for velocity, acceleration and displacement have angular equivalents as well.

Quantity
Linear equation
Angular equation
Velocity
Acceleration
Displacement

A fan is stationary at an angular displacement of 90 degrees (). When the fan is switched on at , it begins to rotate with an angular acceleration of. Find the angular velocity and angular displacement of the fan at.

To find the angular velocity of the fan, we can rearrange the angular kinematic equation for acceleration:

.

Therefore, the angular velocityof the fan after accelerating is

.

To find the angular displacement of the fan after accelerating for 3 seconds, we can use the equation for displacement:

This gives us the amount of displacement that occurred over the time period, so to find the current displacement we need to add the initial angular displacement of. Therefore, the angular displacement of the fan at 3 seconds is. However, as there are onlyin a full rotation, this displacement can be simplified to, equivalent to an angle of.

Angular Acceleration - Key takeaways

  • Angular acceleration α is the rotational equivalent of linear acceleration. While linear acceleration describes the rate of change of linear velocity, angular acceleration is the rate of change of angular velocity ω.
  • Angular acceleration is defined in SI units of radians-per-second squared .
  • To find an object's angular acceleration, we divide the change in angular velocity by the change in time. This gives an average change in angular velocity per second, which is the angular acceleration.
  • Convention states that a positive angular acceleration increases the counter-clockwise rate of rotation, while negative angular acceleration acts to increase clockwise rotation.
  • When studying circular motion, the standard unit for dealing with angles is the radian. A full 360° rotation contains 2π radians, meaning one radian equals 57.3 degrees.

Frequently Asked Questions about Angular Acceleration

The angular acceleration is the rate of change of angular velocity. To find the average angular acceleration between two points in time (t1 & t2), we need to know the angular velocity at those two points (ω1 & ω2). We can then use the equation below to find the average angular acceleration:


angular acceleration α = (ω- ω1) / (t- t1

As angular acceleration defines the rate that the angular velocity is increasing or decreasing at, we need to know the angular velocity (ω1 & ω2) at two points in time (t1 & t2) . The average angular acceleration between these times can then be found using the below equation:


angular acceleration α = (ω- ω1) / (t- t1

Angular acceleration α is the rotational equivalent of linear acceleration. While linear acceleration describes the rate of change of linear velocity, angular acceleration is the rate of change of angular velocity ω. It is defined in SI units of radians-per-second squared.

An object’s moment of inertia I defines how resistant it is to angular acceleration around a specific axis. To accelerate an object's rotation, it's necessary to apply an external torque τ (a twisting force). The relationship between an object’s moment of inertia, the applied torque and resulting angular acceleration α is given by the equation below:


α =τ /I 

The angular acceleration defines the rate of change of angular velocity, meaning it is the time derivative of an object’s angular velocity. The equation to find angular acceleration between two points is shown below:


Angular acceleration α = (ω- ω1) / (t- t1


This can also be written in derivative form as:


angular acceleration α=dω/dt

Final Angular Acceleration Quiz

Question

Linear acceleration represents the rate of change of linear velocity. What does angular acceleration represent?

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Answer

The rate of change of velocity of a body moving along a circular path.

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Question

What is the SI unit for angular acceleration?

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Answer

Degrees-per-second.

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Question

True or false - Angular acceleration is a measurement of how many degrees an object rotates each second. 

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Answer

True.

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Question

True or false - a positive angular acceleration means an increasing rate of clockwise rotation.

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Answer

False - counter-clockwise angular rotation is positive, so a positive angular acceleration decreases the rate of clockwise rotation.

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