We discuss problems, which highlight certain aspects of the study leading to working with pulleys. The questions are categorized in terms of the characterizing features of the subject matter :

- Block and pulley system
- Incline and pulley system

Inside Collection (Course): Physics for K-12

Summary: Solving problems is an essential part of the understanding process.

Questions and their answers are presented here in the module text format as if it were an extension of the treatment of the topic. The idea is to provide a verbose explanation, detailing the application of theory. Solution presented is, therefore, treated as the part of the understanding process – not merely a Q/A session. The emphasis is to enforce ideas and concepts, which can not be completely absorbed unless they are put to real time situation.

We discuss problems, which highlight certain aspects of the study leading to working with pulleys. The questions are categorized in terms of the characterizing features of the subject matter :

- Block and pulley system
- Incline and pulley system

Problem 1 : In the arrangement, find the mass “M” such that block of mass 1 kg moves with uniform velocity. Neglect mass of the pulleys and the string. Also neglect friction between the surfaces.

Block and pulley system |
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Solution : The block of mass 1 kg moves with constant velocity with respect to ground. It means that there is no net external force on the block. Let us denote block of mass 1 kg and 2 kg by the subscripts “1” and “2” respectively.

Now, forces on the block of mass 1 kg, are (i) its weight, “

Free body diagrams |
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From the force analysis of the moving mass-less pulley, "A",

Combining two equations,

Tension is the only force on the block, which is placed on the horizontal surface of the table. From the force analysis of the block on the horizontal surface (see FBD of block in the figure below), we have :

This is also the acceleration of moving pulley as it is connected to the block on the table with a string. If we consider upward direction as positive, then acceleration of the moving pulley is :

Free body diagram |
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From the expression of acceleration of moving pulley, it is clear that we should get an equation involving acceleration of moving pulley in order to ultimately determine the value of "M" as required. According to question, the block of mass “1 kg” travels with zero acceleration (constant velocity) with reference to ground. The force analysis of this mass, therefore, does not involve acceleration of the moving pulley. Thus, we shall strive to find the acceleration of block of "2 kg" with respect to ground as its expression will involve acceleration of the moving pulley. Since block of mass “1 kg” travels with zero acceleration (constant velocity) with reference to ground, its acceleration with respect to moving pulley is :

We shall, however, take advantage of the fact that acceleration of block of 1 kg has zero acceleration with respect to ground reference. Its acceleration with respect to moving pulley is :

This result is physically verifiable. Since pulley has downward acceleration, the block should have upward acceleration of the same magnitude such that block acceleration with respect to ground is zero. The blocks are connected by the same string that goes over the pulley. It means that relative accelerations of the blocks are equal but opposite in direction (see Working with moving pulleys ).

The acceleration of mass “

From force analysis of block of mass 2 kg, we have :

Problem 2 : For the arrangement as shown in the figure, find the acceleration of block on the horizontal floor. Consider all surfaces “friction-less” and strings and pulleys as “mass-less” for the force analysis.

Block and pulley system |
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Solution : If we look at the motions of blocks from the reference of moving pulley, then the situation is that of motion of two blocks and a static pulley. Since the blocks are connected by the same string, the accelerations of the blocks with respect to pulley are equal in magnitude but opposite in direction.

Block and pulley system |
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Let the acceleration of the block of mass, “

In order to carry out force analysis of the different elements of the system, we are required to express accelerations with respect to ground. This is an important point. Note that Newton's laws of motion is applicable to inertial frame of reference - not to an accelerated frame of reference like that of moving pulley. We can convert “accelerations with respect to accelerating pulley” to “accelerations with respect to ground” by using the concept of relative acceleration. Let block of mass “

But magnitudes of relative accelerations with respect to moving pulley are equal.

Then, considering downward direction as positive,

Thus, we see that two accelerations are now expressed in terms of one relative acceleration, “

Free body diagrams |
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(i) The block of mass, “

(ii) For pulley :

Combining two equations,

(iii) For block of mass, “

(iv) For block of mass, “

We need to eliminate “

Adding, we have :

Substituting for “

Problem 3 : Two blocks of mass “m” and “nm” are part of the arrangement involving pulley and incline as shown in the figure. If friction is negligible everywhere and mass of the pulleys and the strings are also negligible, then find the acceleration of the mass “nm”.

Incline and pulley system |
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Solution : Here, we see that block of mass “m” is connected to the moving pulley by a single string. Hence, their accelerations are equal in magnitude. Let the acceleration of the block of mass “m” be “

Incline and pulley system |
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The free body diagrams of block on the incline, moving pulley and hanging block are shown here :

Free body diagrams |
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Now, we need to establish the relation between accelerations of pulley and block of mass “nm” by applying constraint analysis. For this we consider a horizontal reference passing through the fixed end of the string. Using length of string as constraint, we have :

Incline and pulley system |
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Differentiating w.r.t time twice, we have :

Comparing magnitude only,

We see that if one end of the string is fixed, then the acceleration of the other end of the string passing over a movable “mass-less” pulley is two times the acceleration of the movable pulley. Let,

Substituting for tension and acceleration in the equations of the blocks as derived earlier, we have

Multiplying second equation with 2 and adding to eliminate "

The acceleration of the block of mass “nm” is :

Problem 4 : In the arrangement shown, the masses are

Incline and pulley system |
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Solution : Considering free body diagram of the moving pulley, we see that tension in the
string attached to mass “

Incline and pulley system |
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From, the constrain relation as derived in prevous example, we know that the acceleration of the block of mass “

The free body diagram of two blocks are shown here. The force analysis of the block of mass “

Free body diagrams |
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Similarly, force analysis of the block of mass “

Adding two equations, we have :

Thus, accelerations of block are :

Author wishes to thank John Trautwein for making suggestions to improve this module.

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