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The Affect of Mass on the Time It Takes an Object To Fall

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Colin Wick                1/12/09

Period 4                IB/AP Physics

The Effect of Mass on the Time It Takes for an Object to Fall

        How does the mass of a paper helicopter affect the time it takes the helicopter to fall to the floor?  We believe that the more massive and in turn the heavier the helicopter, the faster it will fall because the increase of mass increases the downward force of gravity, weight, therefore causing the helicopter to accelerate at a higher rate and in turn fall faster.  The set-up for this experiment will include a paper helicopter dropped from a measured, and constant height.  The helicopter will gain mass through paperclips for each data point, and the time that the helicopter takes to fall the measured distance will be recorded for five separate trials.  This data will then be graphed to discover the effect that mass has on the time it takes an object to fall a measured distance.  The only variable that will be manipulated during the experiment will be the mass of the helicopter, while the rotor size of the helicopter will be unchanged because changing the size of the rotor blades would change the air resistance the helicopter encounters and would therefore change the net force acting on the helicopter.

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Distance: 184cm

Time Uncertainty for Each Trial: ±0.1s

           Time (s)

Total Mass (g)

Uncertainty (±g)

Trial 1

Trial 2

Trial 3

Trail 4

Trial 5


Avg. Uncertainty (±s)















































This graph shows that there is an inverse power relationship between the total mass of an object and the time it takes to hit the ground because the variable x is to a negative power close to –0.5.  Furthermore, the relationship shown on the graph is not a perfect inverse square root relationship because the exponent is not exactly –0.5.

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        There are two important improvements that could be made to this lab that would dramatically increase the accuracy of the results.  The first would get rid of the systematic error encountered.  By simply using a level or a protractor to check the angle of the PVC pipe with the floor and make sure it is ninety degrees, then the height of the PVC pipe would be certain.  The second would be to set up an infrared laser system. We could set up two lasers, one above the other, and measure the distance between the two beams, and then connect a timer to the system that would start when the first beam was broken and then stop when the second beam was broken.  This would not only get rid of the systematic error of not knowing the true height of the drop zone, but it would more importantly eliminate the random error of starting and stopping the timer and even the release of the helicopter.  With the lasers, the start and stop times of the fall would be much closer to exact, and the helicopter could be dropped above the first beam and be allowed to fly through it because the time would not start until the first beam is broken, and there is a measured distance between the two beams.

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