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Homework Help: Small oscillations

  1. Oct 26, 2005 #1
    For small oscillations, the oscillation behaves like a spring, because the potential energy function can be approximated by a parabola at the equilibrium point. Now, the effective spring constant in these situations is equal to the second derivative of the potential energy function, and so the frequency w = sqrt(k/m), where k is the second derivative of the potential energy function.

    I'm confused by this. In particular, I don't understand when this actually works. For example, for a pendulum, the potential energy function is U(t) = mgL(1-cos(t)), where t is theta. In this case the effective spring constant is mgL, so w = sqrt(gL). Obviously this doesn't agree with the accepted formula (which is also for small angles only). So what's going on here?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 26, 2005 #2
    Hmm, it occurs to me now that if insead of m, i use the moment of inertia I = ml^2, i get the right formula. Is this a coincidence???
  4. Oct 26, 2005 #3
    Yes, if you write it as a function of x, horizontal displacement, rather than theta, it comes out all right.
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