Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

Summary - Angular Momentum

Angular momentum is a measure of rotational motion which is conserved for a closed system. This book only discusses angular momentum for rotation of material objects in two dimensions. Not all rotation is rigid like that of a wheel or a spinning top. An example of nonrigid rotation is a cyclone, in which the inner parts take less time to complete a revolution than the outer parts. In order to define a measure of rotational motion general enough to include nonrigid rotation, we define the angular momentum of a system by dividing it up into small parts, and adding up all the angular momenta of the small parts, which we think of as tiny particles. We arbitrarily choose some point in space, the axis, and we say that anything that changes its direction relative to that point possesses angular momentum. The angular momentum of a single particle is

L = mvr ,

where v is the component of its velocity perpendicular to the line joining it to the axis, and r is its distance from the axis. Positive and negative signs of angular momentum are used to indicate clockwise and counterclockwise rotation.

The choice of axis theorem states that any axis may be used for defining angular momentum. If a system's angular momentum is constant for one choice of axis, then it is also constant for any other choice of axis.

The spin theorem states that an object's angular momentum with respect to some outside axis A can be found by adding up two parts:

(1) The first part is the object's angular momentum found by using its own center of mass as the axis, i.e., the angular momentum the object has because it is spinning.

(2) The other part equals the angular momentum that the object would have with respect to the axis A if it had all its mass concentrated at and moving with its center of mass.

Torque is the rate of change of angular momentum. The torque a force can produce is a measure of its ability to twist on an object. The relationship between force and torque is

|τ | = r|F| ,

where r is the distance from the axis to the point where the force is applied, and F is the component of the force perpendicular to the line connecting the axis to the point of application. Statics problems can be solved by setting the total force and total torque on an object equal to zero and solving for the unknowns.

Last Update: 2010-11-11