Lesson Element Determining the Terminal Velocity in a Viscous Liquid

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Lesson Element

Determining the Terminal Velocity in a Viscous Liquid


In this experiment, you will measure the terminal velocity of a ball bearing as it falls through a viscous liquid with the possibility of using this value to determine the viscosity as an extension task.

Equipment Provided:

What you have to do

  1. Measure the mass of an empty measuring cylinder. Pour some of the viscous liquid into the measuring cylinder. Record the volume of liquid and the new mass of the measuring cylinder.

Mass of measuring cylinder = kg

Volume of liquid = m3

Mass of measuring cylinder with liquid = kg

  1. Determine the density of the liquid.

  2. Measure and record the mass (m) and diameter (d) of the ball bearings.

  3. Carefully drop a ball bearing into the centre of the liquid and watch it fall as shown in Fig. 1.

  1. Think about where the elastic bands should be placed to identify the distance travelled in equal time periods as the ball falls through the liquid.

  2. As the ball drops, mark the positions of the ball at fixed time intervals using elastic bands. The magnet can be used to take a ball bearing out of the tube to repeat your measurements and refine the position of the bands.

  3. For each time period measure the distance travelled between consecutive elastic bands, record the time period and use this time to calculate the average velocity of the ball.

  4. Plot a graph of velocity v on the y-axis and cumulative time from the release of the ball, t on the x-axis and draw a smooth curve.

  5. Identify the time at which the ball reached its terminal velocity.

  6. Use your graph to determine the best value of terminal velocity.

  7. Identify the range of values for terminal velocity and calculate the maximum percentage variation from your best value.

  8. a) Draw a sequence of diagrams to represent the forces acting on the ball bearing at three different positions showing how they change.

b) Discuss what you would expect to happen with smaller or larger ball bearings, giving scientific explanations to support your reasoning.

Extension to validate predictions:

Repeat the experiment with ball bearings of different sizes.

Extension to reinforce Area under velocity/time graph represents Displacement

Determining the area under the velocity/time graph should give a result equal to the depth of the viscous liquid.

Be very careful to note the units used in measurement and the scales on each axis to make sure that your answer is in the correct units.

Extension to determine the viscosity of the liquid

Determine a value for the viscosity of the liquid using the equation



η  = (mg - r3g)



Evaluating Your Result

  • Comment on the reliability of your value for viscosity by considering your results and possible variations in timings?

  • Estimate the error in timing. Estimate the error in your diameter measurements.

  • Combine the errors of all measurements to estimate the percentage error in viscosity.

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