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MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Department of Physics
Physics 8.01
IC_W07D1-2 Table Problem: Loop-the-Loop Solution
An object of mass m is released from rest at a height h above the surface of a table. The
object slides along the inside of the loop-the-loop track consisting of a ramp and a
circular loop of radius R shown in the figure. Assume that the track is frictionless. When
the object is at the top of the track it just loses contact with the track. What height was the
object dropped from?
Solution: We choose polar coordinates with origin at the center of the loop. We choose
the zero point for the potential energy U  0 at the bottom of the loop.
Initial State: We choose for our initial state, the instant the object is released. The initial
kinetic energy K 0  0 . The initial potential energy is non-zero, U 0  mgh . So the initial
mechanical energy is
E0  K 0  U 0  mgh .
Final State: We choose for our final state, the instant the mass is at the top of the loop1
the-loop. The final kinetic energy K f  mv f 2 since the object is in motion. The final
2
potential energy is non-zero, U f  mg2R . So the final mechanical energy is
E f  K f  U f  2mgR 
1
mv f 2 .
2
Non-conservative Work: Since we are assuming the track is frictionless, there is no nonconservative work.
Change in Mechanical Energy: The change in mechanical energy is therefore zero,
0  Wnc  Emechanical  E f  E0 .
Thus mechanical energy is conserved, E f  E0 , or
2mgR 
1
mv f 2  mgh .
2
The free body force diagram on the object is shown in the figure below.
Missing Condition: The normal force of the track on the object is perpendicular to the
direction of the motion of the object so this force does zero work,
r r
N  dr  0 .
Therefore the work-kinetic energy theorem does not account for the action of this force.
When there are forces that do no work in some direction, set up the Second Law in that
direction,
r
r
F  ma  .
Therefore Newton’s Second Law in the radial direction, r̂ , is
mg  N  mv2f / R .
When the object is at the top of the track it just loses contact with the track, therefore the
normal force of the track on the object at that instant is zero, N  0 .
Therefore the Second Law becomes
mg  mv2f / R .
We can rewrite this condition in terms of the kinetic energy as
1
1
mgR  mv 2f
2
2
Summary: Our two equations are therefore
1
mv f 2  mgh
2
1
1
mgR  mv 2f .
2
2
2mgR 
The second equation (from the Newton’s Second Law) can be substituted into the
conservation of mechanical energy equation to yield,
5
mgR  mgh .
2
So the initial height is
h
5
R.
2
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