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Flywheel experiment

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A flywheel is a mechanical device with a significant moment of inertia used as a storage device for rotational energy1. The rotational energy stored enables the flywheel to accelerate at very high velocities, and also to maintain that sort of velocity for a given period of time. The force that enables the flywheel to attain such velocities also produces energy to slow down the flywheel’s motion.


The objectives of the experiment are;

  • To determine the friction torque due to the bearings, Tf  
  • To determine, experimentally, the moment of inertia, I, for the flywheel.
  • To estimate the moment of inertia, using simple equations.
  • To compare the experimental value of I with the estimate and suggest reasons for any discrepancies.


To calculate friction torque, it is assumed that the energy lost due to bearing friction is equal to the potential energy lost by the mass during unwinding and rewinding:

               Mg(H1-H2) = Tf θ                                                                   . . . . . (1)

Where, m        = applied mass (kg)

               H1        = original height of mass above some arbitrary datum (m)

               H2        = final height of mass above the same datum (m)

               Tf            = friction torque (Nm)

...read more.



             C          H1image09.pngimage10.png

String image11.png



A known mass         Bimage03.pngimage04.pngimage02.png


Figure 3.1a


  • The string is wrapped around the flywheel in a clockwise direction, which in turn lifts the known mass that is attached to the bottom of the string to a point close to the flywheel (point A on fig 3.1).
  • The string, with the mass attached to it, is then allowed to wind down the flywheel until the mass reaches its lowest point (point B on fig 3.1), which is timed with a stop watch.
  • The distance between points A and B is measured as H1.
  • After reaching its lowest point, the mass then bounces back and starts to travel in the opposite direction, but then stops at a particular point (point C on fig 3.1).
  • The distance between points B and C is measured as H2.
  • The experiment is then repeated again, so as to improve reliability and accuracy of the supposed result.
...read more.


Furthermore, another error that could have affected the final value was the timing of the stopwatch while measuring H1 and H2. This human error can be significantly reduced via total concentration of everyone involved in the experiment.

Procedural Errors.

The motion of the mass that was attached to the spring could have been affected by factors, such as the air resistance and friction, which would lead to easy energy loss during the experiment. This could have also led to some errors in the final value.                                                                                

This error could have been minimised by doing the experiment in a closed system, which would have not just minimised errors, but also increase the accuracy and reliability of the result.


  1. Lynn White, Jr., “Theophilus Redivivus”, Technology and Culture, Vol. 5, No. 2. (Spring, 1964), Review, pp. 224-233 (233)1
  2. ^Ahmad Y Hassan, Flywheel Effect for a Saqiya.
  3. ^ Lynn White, Jr., “Medieval Engineering and the Sociology of Knowledge”, The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 44, No. 1. (Feb., 1975), pp. 1-21 (6)

...read more.

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