Collisions and the Conservation of Momentum
01-03-2014 / By:
Usually when a student encounters the conservation of momentum in a physics course the masses of both objects are given, along with the initial velocities before the collision. A typical homework or quiz question would be to determine the final velocities of the two objects after the collision. When one is searching for two unknown quantities one must have two equations. So, we need more than just the conservation of momentum. For our student in a physics course this second equation is usually the conservation of energy. The conservation of energy relates the change in kinetic energy (associated with motion), the change in potential energy (associated with springs and position), and any work done by nonconservative forces (like friction) which act on the system. The change in kinetic energy includes information about the velocities of the ball and bat before and after the collision. During the collision the ball undergoes a significant amount of compression, and damping forces convert much of the ball's initial kinetic energy into heat. The change in potential energy and work done by friction describe how much of the initial energy is lost during compression of the bat and ball. The manner in which these energies are related during the bat-ball collision is rather complicated. However, the effective relationship between the elastic properties of the ball and the relative velocities of bat and ball may be summarized in terms of the coefficient of restitution, (e)
The coefficient of restitution of a baseball or softball decreases with increasing incoming ball speed (v1b). Modern baseballs are manufactured to have a coefficient of restitution of 0.55 for a 90mph pitch speed, while softballs are manufactured to have e=0.44 for pitch speeds of 60 mph. Assuming a constant pitch speed, we can combine two equations above and do a little algebra to solve for the velocity of the baseball after the collision:
This equation tells us how the batted ball velocity (v1a)depends on the mass of the ball (m1) and bat (m2), the elasticity of the ball (e), the pitched ball speed (v1b) and the bat swing speed (v2b). The properties of the ball may be treated as constants since they don't change during a turn at bat. The hitter has no control over the pitched ball speed, and while it may vary considerably from pitch to pitch we'll assume that it is a constant. The only two remaining variables which determine the final velocity of the ball are the mass of the bat, m2 and the initial speed of the bat, v2b. If we know these two parameters, we can predict the batted ball speed. As we will see, however, the problem is complicated somewhat by the fact that the speed with which a player can swing a bat depends on the weight of the bat.