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190 Student Formal Report

All figures must have a caption

which tells the reader what is
shown. The caption of a figure al-
ways appears below the diagram.
Parts of diagrams must be clearly
labelled. All figures must also be re-
ferred to by number in the text and
serve some use in the report. Gener-
ally, realistic three dimensional pic-
tures are to be avoided. Schematic
diagrams that put the emphasis on
function and organization are much
easier to understand. The object is
clarity, not embellishment.

Figure A.1: Diagram of wheel showing variables and


Figure A.2: Modified bicycle wheel with a small mass

attached to two spokes near its rim.
A Measurement of the
Moment of Inertia of a
Bicycle Wheel.

To measure the moment of inertia of a modified bicycle

A bicycle wheel with a moment of inertia, I, is free The theory section gives the the-
to rotate about a horizontal axis on a frictionless ory of the physical phenomenon to
bearing. The wheel is considered to be properly be investigated. Here, the essential
balanced so that it remains at rest in any position. consideration is that the wheel with,
A small mass, m, is attached to a spoke at a the small mass attached to a spoke,
distance, d, from the axis of rotation of the wheel forms a compound or physical pen-
forming a physical pendulum as in Figure A.1. If the dulum and that the angle θ is a pe-
wheel is rotated from its equilibrium position by an riodic function of time with period
angle θ, and released, it begins to oscillate. It can T given by equation (A.3). In most
be shown that if θ is small enough, then sin θ ≈ θ and cases it is not necessary to present a
the wheel undergoes simple harmonic motion described detailed derivation of the equation.
by Nevertheless, it should be discussed
and the meaning of all the variables
θ = θ0 sin(ωt + φ) (A.1) given. Limits of validity of the the-
where θ0 is the amplitude, ω, the frequency of ory should be made explicit. Here,
oscillation, t, the time, and φ, the phase angle. The the limit on θ is acknowledged.
frequency is given by
ω = (A.2)
I + d2 m

192 Student Formal Report

where g = 9.806 m/s2 is the acceleration due to

gravity. Since the period of oscillations of the
wheel is given by T = 2π/ω we have
I + d2 m
T = 2π . (A.3)

The moment of inertia of the wheel will be determined In the method section one describes,
by measuring its period of oscillation as a function in general terms, how the experi-
of the magnitude of a small mass added to its rim. We ment will be done and what prin-
linearize equation (A.3) by squaring and rearranging ciples will be used. The theoretical
to obtain equation is manipulated to bring it
" # into a form which will be used in the
2 4π 2 I 1 4π 2 d analysis of the experimental data.
T = + . (A.4)
dg m g Often, variables in the theoretical
equation are transformed to intro-
From the form of equation (A.4), it is evident that if
duce the quantities which will actu-
T is measured as a function of m, a plot of T 2
ally be observed during the experi-
versus 1/m will be a straight line of slope 4π 2 I/dg.
ment. As an example, in an electri-
Having measured the slope directly from the plot, I
cal experiment, the quantity of in-
can then be evaluated from
terest may be a current, i, while an
4π 2 I equivalent voltage, V , is measured.
SLOPE = In this experiment the measured pa-
rameter ‘SLOPE’ is introduced.
SLOPE × dg Equation (A.5) is the form used to
I = . (A.5) actually calculate I from the mea-
4π 2
• A 50 cm diameter bicycle wheel modified as shown The apparatus section is essentially
in figure A.2. The tire has been replaced by a a list of instruments used with their
lead rim, substantially increasing the wheel’s range and precision. Identifying
moment of inertia. The wheel is mounted on a information such a manufac-
stand with the axle horizontally secured in a turer, model, and any characteristic
metal bracket. features should also be given so that
Moment of Inertia of a Bicycle Wheel 193

• A Carleton University Department of Physics others may repeat the experiment

Electronic Timer model 918 (±0.01 s). and assess systematic errors. This
and the calculation sections are the
• A CENCO triple beam balance with range of 111 g only parts of lab reports which may
and a nominal precision of ±0.005 g. be written in point form.
• Plumber’s solder wire (∼4 mm diameter,
∼ 1.25 g/cm) cut into various lengths to make
small weights.

• Electrician’s side cutters for cutting the solder


• A flat measuring tape (50 m, ±0.5 mm).

• A small plastic ruler (15 cm, ±0.5 mm).

The outer circumference of the wheel was measured The procedure is a detailed account
using a flat measuring tape and the distance from the of how you actually performed the
outer rim to the center of the mass, m, was measured experiment. It is not a list of in-
with a small plastic ruler. Because of the difficulty structions and, specifically, it must
in estimating the center of mass of m an uncertainty not simply reproduce the instruc-
of ±0.5 cm was associated with the last quantity. tions given in the manual. Be care-
These length measurements were made only once. ful to relate and give the reasons for
The wheel, in its bracket, was placed at eye level on any special precautions taken. De-
a lab bench where oscillations could be counted scribe how each type of measure-
easily. It was spun a number of times to ensure that ment was made and then account
the bearing was free. A small imbalance which always for special cases. There is no need
caused the wheel to come to rest in the same position to give a historical account of each
was corrected by fastening a five cent piece to its and every measurement. With a lit-
outer rim with masking tape. tle forethought, it is possible to de-
scribe a complex experiment very
A length of solder wire was trimmed to a mass of 10 g
with the side cutters and weighed three times on the
triple beam balance. This length of solder wire was
then used as a measuring stick for cutting other
masses weighing multiples of 10 g. All combinations
of lengths used were weighed three times on the For this point, the procedure had to
balance except the largest mass. It consisted of two be modified and this fact is related
pieces of solder wire which had to be weighed here.
194 Student Formal Report

separately because of the 111 g upper limit on the

capacity of the balance. These were each weighed
three times. The measured weights are tabulated in
Table A.2.
For each measurement, the solder wires were wrapped The method of attaching the masses
around the same two neighbouring spokes, as close to to the wheel, described here, turned
the rim as possible, and further secured with a short out to be the weak link in the exper-
piece of masking tape. As the mass of this tape was iment. Enough information is given
much less than the measuring error in m, it was to make this clear.
ignored. For the heaviest mass (140 g) some of the
solder wire had to be wrapped around the rim of the
wheel in order to keep the mass within the smallest
possible volume. Toward the end of the experiment, it Remember that you are not describ-
became evident that this method of attaching the ing an ideal experiment, but the one
weights to the spokes made it difficult to keep the you actually performed with all it’s
mass confined to a small volume, always centered on flaws.
the same point. For this reason, the error in d is
rather large.
For each trial the wheel was turned until the small It is necessary to clearly give de-
mass made an angle less than ∼ 15◦ with the vertical, tails of the procedure which indicate
this in order to keep the approximation sin θ ≈ θ valid. whether or not variables remained
The wheel was then released and the time for a number within the range of validity of the
of complete oscillations was measured. Enough theory, and that sources of error
oscillations were counted to produce elapsed times were avoided or minimized. Here,
between 100 and 125 s. In order to achieve best the maximum value of θ is given, as
precision, the clock was started and stopped when the is the reason for using elapsed times
spoke to which the mass, m, was attached, crossed the greater than 100 s. The reference
edge of the vertical axle bracket (i.e., very close to point for measuring periods is also
the equilibrium point.) Eight points, with masses in given, making it clear that timing
a range from 10 to 140 g, were measured. The time errors were kept to a minimum.
measurements were repeated four times at each point
and recorded in Table A.3.
The calculated variables, 1/m and T 2 , were tabulated
in Table A.4 and plotted in Figure C.3.
Moment of Inertia of a Bicycle Wheel 195

The dimensions of the wheel can be found in Table A.1, Tables must also must have cap-
below. tions which explain them. Usually,
in scientific reporting, the caption
Table A.1: Wheel dimensions. is above the table so that it is seen
Wheel Edge of rim first as the page is read downward.
circumference to c.g. of mass m Each column must have a heading
l1 l0 l = l1 − l0 s1 s0 s = s1 − s0 which informs the reader of its con-
cm cm cm cm cm cm tent. Below the heading, the math-
±0.05 ±0.05 ±0.07 ±0.05 ± 0.05 ±0.5 ematical symbol for the variable is
160.00 8.10 151.90 4.30 1.10 3.2 shown with the mathematical ex-
pression from which it is calculated
if there is enough space. The next
Wheel radius: 24.18±0.01 cm line shows the units and below that
Distance from axle to m: d =21.0±0.5 cm appears the reading error. The ta-
bles in this example of a lab report
Table A.2: Mass measurements. The error of the zero follow a standard format and those
measurement has been included in σm̄ . in your reports should imitate them
in detail.
Mass Average Mass Average Reading errors must be recorded
mass mass with every measurement. If the er-
m1 m̄ m1 m̄ ror is constant in a column, then
±0.05 g g ±0.05 g g it should be recorded in the table
10.10 50.10 heading of the appropriate column.
10.00 50.10 When the reading error changes
10.00 10.03±0.07 50.10 50.10±0.07 from measurement to measurement
12.50 69.80 it should be recorded with each
12.50 69.90 measurement.
12.50 12.50±0.07 69.90 69.87±0.07
15.10 50.70
15.00 50.70
15.10 15.07±0.07 50.80 50.73±0.07
20.00 90.10
19.90 90.10
20.00 19.97±0.07 90.10 90.10±0.07
29.50 50.73
29.40 +
29.50 29.47±0.07 90.10 140.83±0.10
Zero reading: m0 =0.00±0.05
196 Student Formal Report

Table A.3: Period measurements.

Mass Number of Elapsed Average Period

Oscillations time time
m N t t̄ T
g s s s
±0.07 ±0.01
10.03 4 104.61
110.42 105.6±1.9 26.4±0.5
12.50 5 117.64
114.60 117.4±1.5 23.5±0.5
15.07 5 109.05
106.04 106.6±1.3 21.3±0.3
19.97 6 111.15
112.83 110.1±1.2 18.35±0.20
29.47 7 106.19
106.40 106.97±0.55 15.28±0.08
50.10 10 114.32
113.90 114.11±0.11 11.411±0.011
69.87 11 110.26
110.28 110.34±0.17 10.030±0.015
140.83±0.10 17 119.39
119.33 119.30±0.04 7.0176±0.0024
Moment of Inertia of a Bicycle Wheel 197

Table A.4: Table of 1/m and T 2 for plotting.

m 1/m T T2
g kg−1 s s2
10.03 ± 0.07 99.7 ± 0.7 26.4 ± 0.5 697 ± 26
12.50 ± 0.07 80.0 ± 0.4 23.5 ± 0.5 552 ± 23
15.07 ± 0.07 66.4 ± 0.3 21.3 ± 0.3 454 ± 13
19.97 ± 0.07 50.08 ± 0.18 18.35 ± 0.20 339 ± 7
29.47 ± 0.07 33.93 ± 0.08 15.28 ± 0.08 233.5± 2.4
50.10 ± 0.07 19.96 ± 0.03 11.411± 0.011 130.2± 0.3
69.87 ± 0.07 14.312±0.014 10.030± 0.015 100.6± 0.3
140.83 ± 0.10 7.101 ±0.004 7.0176±0.0024 49.25±0.03

The nominal precision of the triple beam balance was Enough qualitative observations
not achieved. The suspension seemed a little stiff must be reported to signal sources
and some measurements varied by a significant fraction of error, or to support the validity
of 0.1 g leading us to quote an error of ±0.05 g. of the measurements. Here, the
The wheel bearing seemed very free, allowing it to measured mass varied more than
spin for an extended period after receiving an expected from the nominal pre-
impulse. For all trials, oscillations continued well cision of the balance, leading to
beyond the time required for the measurement. increased error estimates in m. It is
also important that the wheel spins
The elapsed time measurements became more consistent freely. Friction in the wheel bearing
as m increased, achieving a precision of ±0.1 s for would have produced a systematic
the largest mass. The errors in time were estimated error in the period measurements.
on the basis of the standard deviation of the mean of
the four measurements in each sample. See Table A.3.
From previous measurements, by other methods, the
moment of inertia of the wheel is known to be
IW = 0.361 ± 0.006 kg·m2 .

One example of each calculation is given in the An example of each different cal-
following pages. When the calculated quantities are culation must be given. For each
from tables, a reference is made, in the text, to the example, the equation used must
appropriate table. be shown, and number substitutions
198 Student Formal Report

Table A.1

l = l1 − l0 explicitly made. In general, this

l = 160.00 − 8.10 = 151.90 means that the calculation of the
quantities in at least one line of each
σl = σl21 + σl20 table must be shown, plus any spe-
p cial cases which had to be handled
= 0.052 + 0.052 differently. Also, all calculations in

= 0.0025 + 0.0025 the analysis of data such as the de-
σl = 0.07 termination of the slope and its er-
ror must be shown.
l = 151.90 ± 0.07 cm. The mathematical expressions from
which these quantities are calcu-
Wheel radius: r = l/2π lated must all appear in the the-
ory or method sections of the report.
r = 151.90 The propagation of error calcula-
2π tions are based on formulae devel-
= 24.176 cm.
oped in Section 2.3, of the lab man-
error in r: ual, on propagation of error. Many
of these formulae are derived un-
1 der the Help for the Beginner head-
σr = σl
2π ing for the appropriate experiment
1 in the manual. If you must derive
= 0.07
2π a formula, yourself, you must show
σr = 0.01 cm.
the derivation in the calculation sec-
r = 24.18 ± 0.01 tion of your report.

Distance from axle to m: d=r−s

d = 24.18 − 3.20
d = 20.98 cm.

error in d:
σd = σr2 + σs2
= 0.012 + 0.52
σd = 0.5 cm.

d = 21.0 ± 0.5 cm.

Moment of Inertia of a Bicycle Wheel 199

Table A.2

m = m1 − m0 In calculations, always carry more

digits (within reason) than will be
m = 10.10 − 0.00 needed in the final result. Errors
m = 10.10 g. should be quoted to a precision of
about 20%. This means that if the
error in m: leading digit is a 1 or a 2, two dig-
q its are given in the error, otherwise
σm = 2 + σ2
σm only one digit is used. The quan-
1 m0
p tity’s least significant digit should
= 0.052 + 0.052
line up with the least significant
σm = 0.07 g. digit of the error. For example, if
the error has two digits to the right
Average m: of the decimal point, it’s quantity
P3 should also have two.
1 mi Be careful always to use a few extra
m̄ =
3 digits on all intermediate numbers,
10.10 + 10.00 + 10.00
m̄ = right up to the final result for the ex-
3 periment. This is in order not to ac-
m̄ = 10.03 g.
cumulate small computation errors
which can build up as one calcula-
error in m̄:
tion follows another.
As the samples consist of only three measurements and
the range of the measurements is comparable to the
reading error, we use the latter:

σm̄ = 0.07 g.

m̄ = 10.03 ± 0.07 g.

Table A.3

Average t:
t̄ = ti
4 1
104.61 + 104.46 + 102.91 + 110.42
t̄ = 105.60 s.
200 Student Formal Report

error in t̄:
tmax − tmin
σt = √
110.42 − 102.91
= √
σt = 3.75 s.

This is evidently greater than twice the reading error

of the clock (2 × 0.01 = 0.02 s), so the statistical
error in the mean is used:
σt̄ = √t
= √
σt̄ = 1.9 s.
t̄ = 105.6 ± 1.9 s.

Period: T = t̄/N
T =
T = 26.40 s.

error in T :
σT =
σT = 0.48 s.

T = 26.4 ± 0.5 s.

Table A.4

1 1
m 10.03 g
= 99.7 kg−1 .
Moment of Inertia of a Bicycle Wheel 201

error in 1/m:
µ ¶
σ1/m =
= (99.07)
σ1/m = 0.69 kg−1 .

= 99.7 ± 0.7 kg−1 .
T 2:
T 2 = 26.42
= 697.0
T = 697.0 s2 .
error in T 2 :
σT 2 = 2T σT
= 2T σT
= 2 × 26.4 × 0.5
σT 2 = 26 s2 .
T 2 = 697 ± 26 s2 .

Slope calculation and its error

Show the calculation of the coordi-
Average point (X̄, Ȳ ): nates of the average point (X̄, Ȳ ).
Remember that this point is not a
P measured point, and so has no er-
X̄ = ror associated with it. Identify it
99.7 697 n
371.503 clearly on the graph.
80.0 552 =
8 For convenience, the calculation of
66.4 454
X̄ = 46.44 kg−1 . X̄ and Ȳ is set up in tabular form.
50.1 339
P Nevertheless, there is no need to
33.93 234 Y
Ȳ = give complete headings with units,
19.96 130.2 n etc. and a caption. This is because
14.312 100.6 2556.15
= the information in this table is used
7.101 49.25 8
P only locally as part of a calculation,
371.503 2556.15 Ȳ = 319.5 s2 . and is not referred to anywhere else
Av 46.44 319.51
in the text.
202 Student Formal Report

Graphs are labelled as Figures.

They must always have a caption
which tells the reader what is plot-
ted. All points on the graph
must have error bars unless the er-
rors are too small to show at the
scale used. Then, there must be

a note in the caption explaining

why certain points don’t have er-

ror bars. The best line and the two

lines, with maximum and minimum

slopes, used for calculating the error

in the slope of the best line must

also be shown. Finally the trian-

gles defining points used to calcu-

late the three slopes must appear

and be clearly labelled.

When a data plot is used for a

graphical calculations, it should be

as large as possible. As the slope

will be calculated from the coordi-

nates of points read directly from

the plot, it must be possible to read

these coordinates with a finer preci-

sion than the errors on the plotted

quantities. Otherwise the slope de-

termination will artificially increase

the error in the result of the experi-

ment. The scale and intercept of the

axes must be adjusted to give a line

which starts near the lower left cor-

ner and ends near the upper right

corner of the page. Note that the

page size available for the diagram

in this example is reduced because
of the side bar for comments. In a
report, this graph would fill most of
the letter size page except for a 2 cm
margin on all sides, at most.
Moment of Inertia of a Bicycle Wheel 203

From triangles ABC, AH BH C and AL BL C, in Figure A.3, we The considerations about tables
find the following coordinates: used in calculations apply to the co-
ordinates of the points used for the
X Y slope calculations.
A 3.2 25 All that is required of the calcula-
AH 4.6 25 tion section is that all the calcula-
AL 2.0 25 tions be shown in a neat and logical
B 95.0 645 manner. In order to save space, it
BH 95.0 660 would be acceptable to show the cal-
BL 95.0 638 culations in two columns per page,
although a vertical sperule (line)
should then be used to separate the
Best slope: columns.
yB − yA
xB − xA
645 − 25
95.0 − 3.2
SLOPE = 6.754 s2 ·kg.
Maximum slope: Clearly show the calculations of the
yBH − yAH three slopes and that of the error in
SLOPEmax = the slope of the best line.
xBH − xAH
660 − 25
95.0 − 4.6
SLOPEmax = 7.024 s2 ·kg.
Minimum slope:
yBL − yAL
SLOPEmin =
xBL − xAL
638 − 25
95.0 − 2.0
SLOPEmin = 6.591 s2 ·kg.

σSLOPE = √
2 n−2
7.024 − 6.591
= √
2 6
σSLOPE = 0.088 s2 ·kg.
SLOPE = 6.75 ± 0.09 s2 ·kg.
204 Student Formal Report

Moment of inertia, I:

SLOPE × dg
I =
4π 2
6.75 × 0.2098 × 9.806
4π 2
I = 0.3518 kg·m2 .

error in I:
From the formula for products,
µ ¶2 µ ¶ µ ¶ µ ¶
σI σSLOPE 2 σd 2 σg 2
= + +
µ ¶2 µ ¶2 µ ¶
0.09 0.5 0.0005 2
= + +
6.75 21.0 9.806
= (0.013) + (0.024) + (5.0 · 10−5 )2
2 2
µ ¶2
= 7.45 · 10−4
= 0.027
σI = I × 0.027
= 0.3518 × 0.027
σI = 9.49 · 10−3 kg·m2 .

I = 0.352 ± 0.009 kg·m2 .

Comparison of I to known value: Once the result of the experiment

and its error have been calculated,
∆ = I − IW always compare the result to other
= 0.352 − 0.361 measurements of the same quan-
∆ = −0.009 kg·m2 . tity obtained by different methods,
q or to an accepted value from refer-
σ∆ = σI2 + σI2W ence tables. Refer to Section 2.4
= 0.0092 + 0.0062 of this manual to learn how to do
= 0.011 kg·m2 . this. This comparison must always
be discussed in the Discussions &
For consistent results; Conclusions section of the report.

≤ 2
Moment of Inertia of a Bicycle Wheel 205

= 0.82
< 2.

The moment of inertia of the modified bicycle wheel The result is just a direct statement
was found to be: of the findings of the experiment as
they fulfill the purpose stated at the
I = 0.352 ± 0.009 kg·m2 . beginning of the report.

Discussion & Conclusions

The known value of the moment of inertia of the wheel This part of the report is the most
is IW = 0.361 ± 0.006 kg·m2 . Comparison of the mystifying for many students, prob-
discrepancy between the two values to its standard ably because judgments must be
deviation gives |∆|/σ∆ = 0.82 < 2. Thus, the value of made on the value of the experi-
I obtained in this measurement is consistent with the ment. This is where comparisons
previously determined value. are made to numerical results ob-
From the expression for (σI /I)2 it is evident that the tained by others for the same quan-
greatest contributor to the uncertainty is the error tity. Also, sources of error are an-
in the position of m, d. In order to reduce the alyzed to determine which are the
error in I, this measurement must be improved greatest and the smallest. This is
significantly. This would require a better method of important because it shows where
localizing m. The smallest contribution to changes should be made to improve
uncertainty is clearly, g, the acceleration due to precision. Some indication of how
gravity. the experiment could be improved
should also be given. Only infor-
This method allows one to determine the moment of
mation in the previous sections of
inertia of a wheel without making difficult
the report can be used here, noth-
measurements of the angular acceleration due to a
ing new.
known torque. Although time consuming, it requires no
Some comment on the physical sig-
high precision instruments and can be made under most
nificance of the measurement or the
advantages of the method should be
made to conclude the report.