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Interpreting Effective Potential Plots

Keywords: Classical Mechanics, Orbits, Central Forces, Effective Potential, Kinesthetic


Highlights of the activity

  1. This kinesthetic activity is designed to help students interpret graphs of effective potential versus radial distance.
  2. A student volunteer moves in an orbit described in a plot of effective potential vs. distance.
  3. The whole class wrap-up discussion focuses on what information is and is not included on the canonical plot of effective potential versus radial distance typically constructed by professional physicists.

Reasons to spend class time on the activity

Students often have difficulty with interpreting graphs. Graphs of effective potential vs. radial distance are particularly tricky because they only contain information about the radial motion (angular motion can be determined from conservation of angular momentum or Kepler's Laws). This activity helps students practice interpreting such graphs and translating the information into the shape of the orbit.

This activity works particularly well when sequenced with other activities.


Instructor's Guide

Classroom Video


Authors: Corinne Manogue
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