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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Calculate the average acceleration between two points in time.
  • Calculate the instantaneous acceleration given the functional form of velocity.
  • Explain the vector nature of instantaneous acceleration and velocity.
  • Explain the difference between average acceleration and instantaneous acceleration.
  • Find instantaneous acceleration at a specified time on a graph of velocity versus time.

The importance of understanding acceleration spans our day-to-day experience, as well as the vast reaches of outer space and the tiny world of subatomic physics. In everyday conversation, to accelerate means to speed up; applying the brake pedal causes a vehicle to slow down. We are familiar with the acceleration of our car, for example. The greater the acceleration, the greater the change in velocity over a given time. Acceleration is widely seen in experimental physics. In linear particle accelerator experiments, for example, subatomic particles are accelerated to very high velocities in collision experiments, which tell us information about the structure of the subatomic world as well as the origin of the universe. In space, cosmic rays are subatomic particles that have been accelerated to very high energies in supernovas (exploding massive stars) and active galactic nuclei. It is important to understand the processes that accelerate cosmic rays because these rays contain highly penetrating radiation that can damage electronics flown on spacecraft, for example.

Average acceleration

The formal definition of acceleration is consistent with these notions just described, but is more inclusive.

Average acceleration

Average acceleration is the rate at which velocity changes:

a = Δ v Δ t = v f v 0 t f t 0 ,

where a is average acceleration    , v is velocity, and t is time. (The bar over the a means average acceleration.)

Because acceleration is velocity in meters divided by time in seconds, the SI units for acceleration are often abbreviated m/s 2 —that is, meters per second squared or meters per second per second. This literally means by how many meters per second the velocity changes every second. Recall that velocity is a vector—it has both magnitude and direction—which means that a change in velocity can be a change in magnitude (or speed), but it can also be a change in direction. For example, if a runner traveling at 10 km/h due east slows to a stop, reverses direction, continues her run at 10 km/h due west, her velocity has changed as a result of the change in direction, although the magnitude of the velocity is the same in both directions. Thus, acceleration occurs when velocity changes in magnitude (an increase or decrease in speed) or in direction, or both.

Acceleration as a vector

Acceleration is a vector in the same direction as the change in velocity, Δ v . Since velocity is a vector, it can change in magnitude or in direction, or both. Acceleration is, therefore, a change in speed or direction, or both.

Keep in mind that although acceleration is in the direction of the change in velocity, it is not always in the direction of motion. When an object slows down, its acceleration is opposite to the direction of its motion. Although this is commonly referred to as deceleration [link] , we say the train is accelerating in a direction opposite to its direction of motion.

Questions & Answers

how can I become confident in physics
arshdeep Reply
practice more and more question ,,,,if u get trouble in any one question infact do that again and again.
jyotirmayee
is theory important or numericals
arshdeep
both ,,,,because without understanding theory ,,,,u can't able to solve problemsss or numericals
jyotirmayee
which books I can follow for IIT jee prep for mcq and which for mcq
arshdeep
what can make me good in physics
lovet
how can I solve qsns in physics cuz I understand most of the theories but facing problem during solving the qsns.
Rohan
Can someone please tell what really happened to planet Pluto
Ejiba Reply
what are the first 20 elements in periodic table.
Ejiba Reply
H,O...
Arzoodan
what happened to the rest now, or have you forgotten?
Ejiba
who discover periodic table?
lovet Reply
it wasn't discovered , it was made.and the person who made it was dmitri mendeleev. dobreinier and newland gave their laws before dmitri related periodic table but wasn't successful in their work
Ritik
Nope, numerous number of scientist had actually contributed in the making of periodic table. Dmitri Mendeleev succeeded making all the elements into the right order in accordance to their atomic number.
Dame
what is the Greek name for calcium
Oniyide Reply
Greek word for calcium is asvestio while Latin name is calf meaning lime or limestone
Ejiba
different types of wave
Yog Reply
longitudinal and transverse waves
Ravindra
a gun is kept in the state that it cannot move anywhere and the bullet is fired. Then what is the effect on the velocity of bullet and KE of gun ?
Gobinda Reply
want is meant by the term solar system
jafar Reply
it refers to the sun and all heavenly bodies revolving around it.
Danie
excatly...for sure
Arzoodan
in addition to Danie's, a solar system is a collection of planets and their moons, asteroids, and other objects bound together by the Star's gravitational force directly or indirectly.
Galiwango
what is meant by total internal reflection
Akshay Reply
what iw meant by total internal reflection
Akshay
Lorentz force?
jyotirmayee
study fibre optics. .you will get total internal reflection
Siddhansh
wha
jyotirmayee
what is Lorentz force?
jyotirmayee
a ray of light traveling at an angle of incidence greater than critical angle from denser to rarer medium is totally reflected back into the denser medium is called total internal reflaction
Manoj
motion in strat line where is this chapter
Vijaybhai Reply
motion in straight line is kinematic's part
Ritik
yea
Manoj
this defination isn't correct
Arzoodan
motion in one dimension
Anil
what is Lorentz force?
jyotirmayee Reply
what is maxwell electromagnetic law?
jyotirmayee
at what angle should the two forces 2p and root 2p acts so that the resultant force is p root 10
Akshay Reply
what answer fir this
Akshay
what's the working difference between a dynamo and a pump?
Piyali Reply
a dynamo is basically a dc generator while pump is usually equipped with a motor
vedanth
a dynamo converts mechanical energy to electrical while a pump is opposite to that
vedanth
nice
Piyali
okay
Friday
why sea water looks bluish?
Piyali Reply
cuz the sky is blue...
Mehdi
you see the reflexion of the "blue" sky in the water
Mehdi
somewhere sea water turns green why?
Piyali
never seen bro... are u sure ?
Mehdi
ur answer was correct but due to the presence of phytoplankton color can be changed near the shore
Piyali
waaaww... you re awesome
Mehdi
because of the reflection of the sky
Friday
rays coming from the sun consist of all 7 colours ie.VIBGYOR. when the ray strikes surface of water,all colors gets absorbed by it except blue which gets reflected by it.so we find the sea water appearing bluish
Ritik
how can someone identify sea water from rain water
Oniyide
i think it's not possible as because rainwater consists of water from all kind of water bodies ie.lakes,seas etc but u can predict if u have a sea nearby ur home or city
Ritik
i need solutions of unuversity pbysucs volume 1
Vimla Reply
me too
Nirupam
Help us if anyone knows
Nirupam
bring questions
john
actually if u wanted whole book solution then u should buy the solution book
jyotirmayee
from where
Nirupam
where do u live ,,,,,if u live in Delhi then at bellsarayeiii or from stationary store ,,,,chatarpurrr ,,,,,there is a popular books store,,,,,u have to buy from there
jyotirmayee
Kota Rajasthan
Nirupam
so strange,,,,,r u preparing for pmt,,,?
jyotirmayee
for IIT
Nirupam
then concern near book store
jyotirmayee
in Rajasthan
jyotirmayee
or ask questions here
jyotirmayee
thanks for your help
Nirupam
its fine,,most welcome
jyotirmayee
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 1. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12031/1.5
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