Mathematics of Circular Motion
There are three mathematical quantities that will be of primary interest to us as we analyze the motion of objects in circles. These three quantities are speed, acceleration and force. The speed of an object moving in a circle is given by the following equation.
The acceleration of an object moving in a circle can be determined by either two of the following equations.
The equation on the right (above) is derived from the equation on the left by the substitution of the expression for speed.
The
net force (
F_{net}) acting upon an object moving in circular motion is directed inwards. While there may by more than one force acting upon the object, the vector sum of all of them should add up to the net force. In general, the inward force is larger than the outward force (if any) such that the outward force cancels and the unbalanced force is in the direction of the center of the circle. The net force is related to the acceleration of the object (as is always the case) and is thus given by the following three equations:
The equations in the middle (above) and on the right (above) are derived from the equation on the left by the substitution of the expressions for acceleration.
This set of circular motion equations can be used in two ways:
These two ways are illustrated below.
Equations as a Guide to Thinking
An equation expresses a mathematical relationship between the quantities present in that equation. For instance, the equation for Newton's second law identifies how acceleration is related to the net force and the mass of an object.
The relationship expressed by the equation is that the acceleration of an object is directly proportional to the net force acting upon it. In other words, the bigger the net force value is, the bigger that the acceleration value will be. As net force increases, the acceleration increases. In fact, if the net force were increased by a factor of 2, the equation would predict that the acceleration would increase by a factor of 2. Similarly, if the net force were decreased by a factor of 2, the equation would predict that the acceleration would decrease by a factor of 2.
Newton's second law equation also reveals the relationship between acceleration and mass. According to the equation, the acceleration of an object is inversely proportional to mass of the object. In other words, the bigger the mass value is, the smaller that the acceleration value will be. As mass increases, the acceleration decreases. In fact, if the mass were increased by a factor of 2, the equation would predict that the acceleration would decrease by a factor of 2. Similarly, if the mass were decreased by a factor of 2, the equation would predict that the acceleration would increase by a factor of 2.
As mentioned previously, equations allow for predictions to be made about the affect of an alteration of one quantity on a second quantity. Since the Newton's second law equation shows three quantities, each raised to the first power, the predictive ability of the equation is rather straightforward. The predictive ability of an equation becomes more complicated when one of the quantities included in the equation is raised to a power. For instance, consider the following equation relating the net force (
F_{net}) to the speed (
v) of an object moving in uniform circular motion.
This equation shows that the net force required for an object to move in a circle is directly proportional to the square of the speed of the object. For a constant mass and radius, the
F_{net} is proportional to the
speed^{2}.
The factor by which the net force is altered is the square of the factor by which the speed is altered. Subsequently, if the speed of the object is doubled, the net force required for that object's circular motion is quadrupled. And if the speed of the object is halved (decreased by a factor of 2), the net force required is decreased by a factor of 4.
Equations as a Recipe for ProblemSolving
The mathematical equations
presented above for the motion of objects in circles can be used to solve circular motion problems in which an unknown quantity must be determined. The process of solving a circular motion problem is much like any other problem in physics class. The process involves a careful reading of the problem, the identification of the known and required information in variable form, the selection of the relevant equation(s), substitution of known values into the equation, and finally algebraic manipulation of the equation to determine the answer. Consider the application of this process to the following two circular motion problems.
Sample Problem #1A 900kg car moving at 10 m/s takes a turn around a circle with a radius of 25.0 m. Determine the acceleration and the net force acting upon the car.

The solution of this problem begins with the identification of the known and requested information.
Known Information:
m = 900 kg v = 10.0 m/s
R = 25.0 m  Requested Information:
a = ???? F_{net} = ???? 
To determine the acceleration of the car, use the equation a = v
^{2 }/ R. The solution is as follows:
a = v^{2} / R a = (10.0 m/s)^{2} / (25.0 m)
a = (100 m^{2}/s^{2}) / (25.0 m)
a = 4 m/s^{2} To determine the net force acting upon the car, use the equation F
_{net} = m•a. The solution is as follows.
F_{net} = m • a F_{net} = (900 kg) • (4 m/s^{2})
F_{net} = 3600 N