Distance & Displacement
Distance is the length travelled by a moving object and is a scalar quantity. Displacement is change in the position of a moving object, in other words it is the distance moved in a particular direction. It is therefore a vector quantity having both magnitude and direction.
Speed & Velocity
Speed of an object is the distance travelled by an object divided by the time taken to travel. Speed is a scalar quantity having only magnitude. Speed only tells us how fast or slow the object is moving, but not the direction it is travelling in. Velocity on the other hand, can be defined as the rate of change of displacement. You can think of velocity as ‘speed plus direction’. Consider two points say A and B. The time taken by an object to move from point A to point B can be defined as velocity and can be represented as,
v = dx/dt i.e. (small distance covered in a particular direction) / (small change in time)
In the above equation of velocity, as the small time taken approaches zero, we have the ‘instantaneous velocity’ of that object. The average velocity of an object can be defined as the total distance travelled by a body in a given direction divided by the total time taken.
Velocity is a vector quantity, so the velocity of an object can change if either its speed or direction changes. In other words, the velocity of a car travelling at constant speed changes when it makes a right turn. If the body is travelling in the same direction at a constant speed, it is then moving with a uniform velocity.
Acceleration can be defined as the rate of change of velocity. Acceleration determines how much the velocity of a body changes in every subsequent time interval. It is a vector quantity having a magnitude and direction. Any motion in which speed or direction varies is called accelerated motion.
Consider a body is moving with a constant velocity of 5 m/s. The time taken for the same body to move with a velocity of 10 m/s is known as acceleration. It can be represented as,
a = dv/dt i.e. (small change in velocity) / (small change in time)
The unit of acceleration is metres per second squared (m/s2) while velocity is measured in terms of metres per second (m/s).
The above figure shows two cars moving in the same direction.
The blue car has no acceleration and is therefore moving with a uniform velocity of 30 m/s. The second car has the same velocity of 30 m/s at point A, but is moving with a uniform acceleration of 10 m/s2.
The trails left by the blue car are spaced evenly indicating that this car is moving with a uniform velocity. The green car, however is accelerating and therefore the distance between the trails left by this car is keeps increasing as the car moves. The same observations can be made from the velocity plots for both the car. The Acceleration graph denotes zero acceleration for the blue car while the straight horizontal green line indicates an uniform acceleration of 10m/s2 for the green car.
The equation for velocity, v = u + at, is also the equation of a straight line where 'u' is the intial velocity, 'a' is the acceleration and 't' is the time instant. Therefore, in the velocity graph, the blue car traces a horizontal line at 30m/s as its acceleration is zero whereas the velocity of the green car increases linearly plotting a line with acceleration as the slope.
In real life, velocity and acceleration play an important role — for e.g. falling objects, boat in current, airplane in wind, trajectories of projectiles and lot more.
The aim of the ‘Linear Motion’ exploriment is to enable the user to understand how the velocity changes with respect to acceleration and how it affects the time taken for a body to travel certain distance. The user can compare the motion of two cars by setting the initial velocity and acceleration values for each.
The motion of the two cars is plotted in terms of its velocity, acceleration and displacement v/s time. At the beginning the user can start off by keeping a constant acceleration of 0 m/s2 and observing the differences in time by altering the velocity. Gradually the acceleration can be altered and the time taken can be observed. This can also be done vice-versa (by keeping velocity constant and altering acceleration).