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# Velocity

Have you ever gone bowling? Statistics say you probably have, as more than 67 million people bowl each year here in America. If you are one of the 67 million, you have demonstrated as well as observed the concept of velocity. The action of throwing a bowling ball down a lane until it strikes the pins is a prime example of velocity because the ball is displaced, by the length of the lane, over a specific amount of time. This allows for the velocity of the ball to be determined and this value is often displayed on the screen along with your score. Therefore, let this article introduce the concept of velocity through definitions and examples and demonstrate how velocity and speed are the same, yet different.

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Figure 1; Bowling demonstrates the concept of velocity.

## Definition of Velocity

Velocity is a vector quantity used to describe an object's direction of motion and speed. It is often characterized by two types, average velocity, and instantaneous velocity. Average velocity is a vector quantity that relies on the final and initial position of an object.

Average velocity is an object's change in position with respect to time.

Instantaneous velocity is the velocity of an object at a specific moment in time.

Instantaneous velocity is the derivative of an object's change in position with respect to time.

## Formula for Velocity

The mathematical formula corresponding to the definition of average velocity is

$$v_{avg} = \frac{ \Delta x }{ \Delta t},$$

where $$\Delta x$$ is the displacement measured in meters $$( \mathrm{m} )$$ and $$\Delta t$$ is time measured in seconds $$( \mathrm{s} )$$. Note that if we take the derivative of this, the equation becomes $$v = \frac{ \mathrm{d}x }{ \mathrm{d}t }$$, where $$dx$$ is are infinitely small change in displacement and $$dt$$ is are infinitely small change in time. If we let time go to zero, this equation now gives us the mathematical formula corresponding to the definition of instantaneous velocity.

One can also calculate the average velocity over time using the initial and final values of velocity.

$$v_{\text{avg}}=\frac{v_o + v}{2}$$

where $$v_o$$ is initial velocity and $$v$$ is final velocity.

This equation is derivable from the kinematic equation for average distance as follows:

\begin{aligned}\Delta{x}=& \frac{v_o+v}{2}(t) \\ \frac{\Delta{x}}{t}= & \frac{v_o+v}{2} \\ v_{\text{avg}}= & \frac{v_o+v}{2}. \\ \end{aligned}

Note from the above that $$\frac{\Delta{x}}{t}$$ is the definition of average velocity.

## SI Unit of Velocity

Using the formula for velocity, its SI unit is calculated as follows:

$$v_{\text{avg}}= \frac{ \Delta x }{ \Delta t } = \frac{ \mathrm{m} }{ \mathrm{s} }$$

Therefore, the SI unit for velocity is $$\frac{ \mathrm{m} } { \mathrm{s} }$$.

## Calculating Average Velocity from an Acceleration-Time Graph

Another way to calculate average velocity over time is by means of an acceleration-time graph. When looking at an acceleration-time graph, you can determine the velocity of the object as the area under the acceleration curve is the change in velocity.

$$\text{Area}=\Delta{v}.$$

For example, the acceleration-time graph below represents the function, $$a(t)=0.5t+5$$ between $$0\,\mathrm{s}$$ to $$5\,\mathrm{s}$$. Using this, we can show that the change in velocity corresponds to the area under the curve.

The function indicates that as time increases by one second, the acceleration increases by $$0.5\,\mathrm{\frac{m}{s^2}}$$.

Figure 2: Determining average velocity from an acceleration-time graph.

Using this graph, we can find what the velocity will be after a specific amount of time by understanding that the change in velocity is the integral of acceleration

$$\Delta v=\int_{t_1}^{t_2}a(t)$$

where the integral of acceleration is the area under the curve and represents the change in velocity. Therefore,

\begin{aligned}\Delta v&=\int_{t_1}^{t_2}a(t) \\ \Delta v&=\int_{t_1=0}^{t_2=5}(0.5t +5)dt\\ \Delta v&=\frac{0.5t^2}{2}+5t \\ \Delta v&=\left(\frac{0.5(5)^2}{2}+5(5)\right)-\left(\frac{0.5(0)^2}{2}+5(0)\right)\\ \Delta v&=31.25\,\mathrm{\frac{m}{s}}.\\\end{aligned}

We can double-check this result by calculating the area of two different shapes (a triangle and a rectangle) as the first figure shows.

Start by calculating the area of the blue rectangle:

\begin{aligned}\text{Area}&=(\text{height})(\text{width})=hw \\\text{Area}&=(5)(5)\\ \text{Area}&=25.\\\end{aligned}

Now calculate the area of the green triangle:

\begin{aligned}\text{Area}&=\frac{1}{2}\left(\text{base}\right)\left(\text{height}\right)=\frac{1}{2}bh \\\text{Area}&=\frac{1}{2}\left(5\right)\left(2.5\right)\\ \text{Area}&=6.25.\\\end{aligned}

Now, adding these two together, we retrieve the result for the area under the curve:

\begin{aligned}\text{Area}_{\text{(curve)}}&=\text{Area}_{(\text{rec})}+ \text{Area}_{(\text{tri})} \\{Area}_{(\text{curve})}&= 25 + 6.25\\ \text{Area}_{(\text{curve})}&=31.25.\\\end{aligned}

The values match clearly, showing that in the acceleration-time graph, the area under the curve represents the change in velocity.

## Instantaneous Velocity from a Graph

We can calculate average velocity and instantaneous velocity by means of a position-time graph and a velocity-time graph. Let's familiarize ourselves with this technique, starting with the velocity-time graph below.

Figure 3: A velocity-time graph depicting constant velocity.

From this velocity-time graph, we can see that the velocity is constant with respect to time. Consequently, this tells us that the average velocity and the instantaneous velocity are equal because velocity is constant. However, this is not always the case.

Figure 4: A velocity-time graph depicting a scenario when velocity is not constant with respect to time.

When looking at this velocity-time graph, we can see that the velocity is not constant as it is different at different points. This tells us that average velocity and instantaneous velocity are not equal. However, to better understand instantaneous velocity, let's use the position-time graph below.

Figure 5: A position-time graph depicting instantaneous velocity as slope.

Suppose the blue line on the graph above represents a displacement function. Now using the two points seen on the graph, we could find the average velocity by using the equation, $$v_{avg}=\frac{\Delta{x}}{\Delta{t}}$$ which is simply the slope between those points. However, what will happen if we make one point a fixed point and vary the other, so it gradually approaches the fixed point? In simple terms, what will happen as we make the change in time smaller and smaller? Well, the answer is instantaneous velocity. If we vary one point, we will see that as the time approaches zero, the time interval becomes smaller and smaller. Therefore, the slope between these two points becomes closer and closer to the line tangent at the fixed point. Hence, the line tangent to the point is in fact instantaneous velocity.

## Difference Between Velocity and Speed

In everyday language, people often consider the words velocity and speed as synonyms. However, although both words refer to an object's change in position relative to time, we consider them as two distinctly different terms in physics. To distinguish one from the other, one must understand these 4 key points for each term.

Speed corresponds to how fast an object is moving, accounts for the entire distance an object covers within a given time period, is a scalar quantity, and cannot be zero.

Velocity corresponds to speed with direction, only accounts for an object's starting position and final position within a given time period, is a vector quantity, and can be zero. Their corresponding formulas are as follows:

\begin{aligned} \mathrm{Speed} &= \mathrm{\frac{Total\,Distance}{Time}} \\ \mathrm{Velocity} &= \mathrm{\frac{Displacement}{Time} = \frac{Final\,Position - Starting\,Position}{Time}}.\end{aligned}

Note that the direction of an object's velocity is determined by the object's direction of motion.

A simple way to think about speed and velocity is walking. Let's say you walk to the corner of your street at $$2\,\mathrm{\frac{m}{s}}$$. This only indicates speed because there is no direction. However, if you go north $$2\,\mathrm{\frac{m}{s}}$$ to the corner, then this represents velocity, since it includes direction.

### Instantaneous Velocity and Instantaneous Speed

When defining speed and velocity, it is also important to understand the concepts of instantaneous velocity and instantaneous speed. Instantaneous velocity and instantaneous speed both are defined as the speed of an object at a specific moment in time. However, the definition of instantaneous velocity also includes the object's direction. To better understand this, let us consider an example of a track runner. A track runner running a 1000 m race will have changes in their speed at specific moments in time throughout the entire race. These changes might be most noticeable toward the end of the race, the last 100 m, when runners begin to increase their speed to cross the finish line first. At this particular point, we could calculate the instantaneous speed and instantaneous velocity of the runner and these values would probably be higher than the runner's calculated speed and velocity over the entire 1000m race.

## Velocity Example Problems

When solving velocity problems, one must apply the equation for velocity. Therefore, since we have defined velocity and discussed its relation to speed, let us work through some examples to gain familiarity with using the equations. Note that before solving a problem, we must always remember these simple steps:

1. Read the problem and identify all variables given within the problem.
2. Determine what the problem is asking and what formulas are needed.
3. Apply the necessary formulas and solve the problem.
4. Draw a picture if necessary to help illustrate what is happening and provide a visual aid for yourself.

### Examples

Let's use our newfound knowledge of velocity to complete some examples involving average velocity and instantaneous velocity.

For travel to work, an individual drives $$4200\,\mathrm{m}$$ along a straight road every day. If this trip takes $$720\,\mathrm{s}$$ to complete, what is the average velocity of the car over this journey?

Figure 6: The act of driving can be used to calculate average velocity.

Based on the problem, we are given the following:

• displacement,
• time.

As a result, we can identify and use the equation,

$$v_{\text{avg}}=\frac{\Delta{x}}{\Delta{t}}$$ to solve this problem. Therefore, our calculations are:

\begin{aligned}v_{\text{avg}} &=\frac{\Delta{x}}{\Delta{t}} \\\\ v_{\text{avg}}&=\frac{4200\,\mathrm{m}}{720\,\mathrm{s}} \\\\ v_{\text{avg}}&=5.83\,\mathrm{\frac{m}{s}}. \\\end{aligned}

The average velocity of car is $$5.83\,\mathrm{\frac{m}{s}}.$$

Now, lets complete a slightly more difficult example that will involve some calculus.

An object undergoing linear motion is said to have a displacement function of $$x(t)=at^2 + b,$$ where $$a$$ is given to be $$3\,\mathrm{\frac{m}{s^2}}$$ and b is given to be $$4\,\mathrm{m}.$$ Calculate the magnitude of the instantaneous velocity when $$t= 5\,\mathrm{s}.$$

Based on the problem, we are given the following:

• displacement function,
• values of $$a$$ and $$b.$$

As a result, we can identify and use the equation,$$v=\frac{dx}{dt}$$, to solve this problem. We must take the derivative of the displacement function to find an equation for velocity in terms of time, giving us: \begin{align}v=\frac{dx}{dt}=6t\\\end{align} and now we can insert our value for time to calculate the instantaneous velocity.

\begin{align}v=\frac{dx}{dt}=6t=6(5\,\mathrm{s})=30\,\mathrm{\frac{m}{s}}.\\\end{align}

## Velocity - Key takeaways

• Average velocity is an object's change in position with respect to time.
• The mathematical formula for average velocity is $$v=\frac{\Delta{x}}{\Delta{t}}.$$
• Instantaneous velocity is the derivative of an object's change in position with respect to time.
• The mathematical formula for instantaneous velocity is $$v=\frac{dx}{dt}.$$
• The SI unit for velocity is $$\mathrm{\frac{m}{s}}.$$
• In the acceleration-time graph, the area under the curve represents the change in velocity.
• The line tangent to a point in a position-time graph is the instantaneous velocity at that point.
• Speed indicates how fast an object is moving, while velocity is a speed with direction.
• Instantaneous speed is the speed of an object at a specific moment in time while instantaneous velocity is instantaneous speed with direction.

## References

1. Figure 1 - White Bowling Pins and Red Bowling Ball from (https://www.pexels.com/photo/sport-alley-ball-game-4192/) licensed by (Public Domain)
2. Figure 6 - Cars ahead on road from (https://www.pexels.com/photo/cars-ahead-on-road-593172/) licensed by (Public Domain)

#### Flashcards in Velocity 12

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##### Frequently Asked Questions about Velocity

What is velocity?

Velocity is the change in an object's position over time.

What is an example of velocity?

An example is calculating the average velocity of an object whose displacement is given to be 1000m and the change in time is given to be 100s. Average velocity equals 10 meters per second.

What is the difference between speed and velocity?

Both refer to an object's change in position relative to time, however, speed is a scalar quantity only including magnitude and velocity is a vector quantity, including magnitude and direction.

What is the unit for velocity?

The SI unit for velocity is meters per second, m/s.

What is the formula for calculating velocity?

The formula is velocity equals displacement over time.

## Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Instantaneous velocity and instantaneous speed refer to an object at a specific moment in time.

It is possible to have a constant speed and a non-constant velocity.

It is possible to have a constant velocity but a non-constant speed.

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