Mechanical resonance: 300 years from discovery to the full understanding of its importance

Jörn Bleck-Neuhaus
Starting from the observation that the simplest form of forced mechanical oscillation serves as a standard model for analyzing a broad variety of resonance processes in many fields of physics and engineering, the remarkably slow development leading to this insight is reviewed. Forced oscillations and mechanical resonance were already described by Galileo early in the 17th century, even though he misunderstood them. The phenomenon was then completely ignored by Newton but was partly rediscovered in the 18th century, as a purely mathematical surprise, by Euler. Not earlier than in the 19th century did Thomas Young give the first correct description. Until then, forced oscillations were not investigated for the purpose of understanding the motion of a pendulum, or of a mass on a spring, or the acoustic resonance, but in the context of the ocean tides. Thus, in the field of pure mechanics the results by Young had no echo at all. On the other hand, in the 19th century mechanical resonance disasters were observed ever more frequently, e.g. with suspension bridges and steam engines, but were not recognized as such. The equations governing forced mechanical oscillations were then rediscovered in other fields like acoustics and electrodynamics and were later found to play an important role also in quantum mechanics. Only then, in the early 20th century, the importance of the one-dimensional mechanical resonance as a fundamental model process was recognized in various fields, at last in engineering mechanics. There may be various reasons for the enormous time span between the introduction of this simple mechanical phenomenon into science and its due scientific appreciation. One of them can be traced back to the frequently made neglect of friction in the governing equation.

Kepler’s Laws without Calculus

W. G. Unruh
Newton in the Principia used the inverse squared force law (and Galileo’s idea of compound motion) to derive Kepler’s laws. As usual for him, the proof is a purely geometric proof, using no calculus. Maxwell [2] gave a very different proof. In the 1960’s, Feynman[3] gave a geometric proof very similar to Maxwell’s. Finally, Vogt[4] in the American Journal of Physics also carried out a derivation which started out with the energy conservation equation and the angular momentum conservation to again present a geometric proof. In all of these cases, the derivation that the orbit actually is an ellipse was somewhat torturous, difficult to follow, and non obvious. In the following, following initially the Maxwell-Feynman’s approach, the derivation that the orbit is an ellipse is simplified about as much as possible.


Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of friction

Sketches from two different pages in Leonardo’s notebooks: (a, b) from Codex Atlanticus, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan (CA folio 532r c. 1506-8), and (c) from Codex Arundel, British Library, London (Arundel folio 41r c. 1500-05)

Sketches from two different pages in Leonardo’s notebooks: (a, b) from Codex
Atlanticus, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan (CA folio 532r c. 1506-8), and (c) from Codex Arundel, British Library, London (Arundel folio 41r c. 1500-05)

Ian M. Hutchings
Based on a detailed study of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, this review examines the development of his understanding of the laws of friction and their application. His work on friction originated in studies of the rotational resistance of axles and the mechanics of screw threads.
He pursued the topic for more than 20 years, incorporating his empirical knowledge of friction into models for several mechanical systems. Diagrams which have been assumed to represent his experimental apparatus are misleading, but his work was undoubtedly based on experimental measurements and probably largely involved lubricated contacts.
Although his work had no influence on the development of the subject over the succeeding centuries, Leonardo da Vinci holds a unique position as a pioneer in tribology.

Read also: Study reveals Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘irrelevant’ scribbles mark the spot where he first recorded the laws of friction

“Walking” along a free rotating bicycle wheel (Round and round)

Marta mouse
Julio Guemez, Manuel Fiolhais
We describe the kinematics, dynamics and also some energetic issues related to the Marta mouse motion when she walks on top of a horizontal bicycle wheel, which is free to rotate like a merry-to-go round, as presented recently by Paul Hewitt in the Figuring Physics section of this magazine….

Plane Pendulum and Beyond by Phase Space Geometry

Bradley Klee
By careful analysis, the small angle approximation leads to a wildly inaccurate prediction for the period of a simple plane pendulum. We make a perturbation ansatz for the phase space trajectory of a one-dimensional, anharmonic oscillator and apply conservation of energy to set undetermined functions. Iteration of the algorithm yields, to arbitrary precision, a solution to the equations of motion and the period of oscillation. Comparison with Jacobian elliptic functions leads to multidimensional applications such as the construction of approximate Seiffert spirals. Throughout we develop a quantum/classical analogy for the purpose of comparing time-independent perturbation theories.