Damped and driven oscillations

Damped Oscillations


Example:  m = 1, k = 100, b = 1

Friction will damp out the oscillations of a macroscopic system, unless the oscillator is driven.  If the speed of a mass on a spring is low, then the drag force R due to air resistance is approximately proportional to the speed, R = -bv.  The total force on the object then is

F = -kx - bv.

The position then varies as a function of time as

x(t) = Aexp(-bt/2m)cos(ωdampt + φ),
with ωdamp2 = k/m - (b/2m)2,

as long as b2 < 4mk, i.e. as long as the drag force is not too large.  The oscillatory character of the motion is preserved, but the amplitude decreases with time.


The amplitude of a lightly damped oscillator decreases by 5.0% during each cycle.  What percentage of the mechanical energy of the oscillator is lost in each cycle?


If  the drag force is and  b2 ≥ 4mk, then oscillatory character of the motion is n longer preserved, and the motion is critically damped or overdamped.

Embedded Question 1

How would a car bounce after a bump under each of these conditions?
(a) overdamping
(b) underdamping
(c) critical damping

The driven oscillator


Amplitude versus driving frequency

A driving force with the natural resonance frequency of the oscillator can efficiently pump energy into the system. 
Assume a driving force F = F0cosωextt.  The total force on the object then is F = F0cos(ωextt) - kx - bv.  After a steady state has been reached, the position varies as a function of time as

x(t) = Acos(ωt + φ),  with  ω =  ωext.

Here ω = ωext is the angular frequency of the driving force.  The amplitude of the motion is given by

A = (F0/m)/[(ω02 - ω2)2 + (bω/m)2]½,

where ω02 = k/m.  ω0 is the natural frequency of the undamped oscillator.  When the frequency of the driving force is very close to the natural frequency and the drag force is small, then the denominator in the above expression becomes very small, and the amplitude becomes very large.  This dramatic increase in amplitude is called resonance, ω = ω0 is called the resonance frequency.


Calculate the resonance frequency ω0 of
(a)  a 3 kg mass attached to a spring of force constant 240 N/m and
(b)  a simple pendulum 1.5 m in length.


If we push a child on a swing once during each period, and we always push in the same direction, we will increase the amplitude of the swing, until the positive work we do on the swing equals the negative work done on the swing by the frictional forces.
If we drive a harmonic oscillator with a driving force with the natural resonance frequency of the oscillator, then the amplitude can increase enormously, even if the work done during each cycle is very small.  The amplitude of an ideal harmonic oscillator increases forever.  Friction limits the maximum amplitude of a real oscillator.  The amplitude may become large enough for the system to become an anharmonic oscillator.  Then the driving force is no longer in phase with the oscillations, and it sometimes does negative work and reduces the amplitude.  Often, however the amount of energy put into the system is large enough to damage or break the system.

Embedded Question 2

Some engineers use sound to diagnose performance problems with car engines.  Occasionally, a part of the engine is designed that resonates at the frequency of the engine.  The unwanted oscillations can cause noise that irritates the driver or could lead to the part failing prematurely.  In one case, a part was located that had a length L made of a material with a mass M.  What can be done to correct this problem?

Discuss this with your fellow students in the discussion forum!

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