Vernier Software and Technology
Vernier Software & Technology

Air Resistance


When you solve physics problems involving free fall, often you are told to ignore air resistance and to assume the acceleration is constant. In the real world, because of air resistance, objects do not fall indefinitely with constant acceleration. One way to see this is by comparing the fall of a baseball and a sheet of paper when dropped from a meter height. The baseball is still accelerating when it hits the floor. Air has a much greater effect on the motion of the paper than it does on the motion of the baseball. The paper does not accelerate very long before air resistance reduces the acceleration so that it moves at an almost constant velocity. When an object is falling with a constant velocity, we describe it with the term terminal velocity, or vT. The paper reaches terminal velocity very quickly, but on a short drop to the floor, the baseball does not.

Air resistance is sometimes referred to as a drag force. Experiments have been done with a variety of objects falling in air. These sometimes show that the drag force is proportional to the velocity and sometimes that the drag force is proportional to the square of the velocity. In either case, the direction of the drag force is opposite to the direction of motion. Mathematically, the drag force can be described using Fdrag = –bv or Fdrag = –cv2. The constants b and c are called the drag coefficients that depend on the size and shape of the object.

When falling, there are two forces acting on an object: the weight, mg, and air resistance, –bv or –cv2. At terminal velocity, the downward force is equal to the upward force, so mg = –bv or mg = –cv2, depending on whether the drag force follows the first or second relationship. In either case, since g and b or c are constants, the terminal velocity is affected by the mass of the object. Taking out the constants, this yields either

vTm or vT2m

If we plot mass versus vT or vT2, we can determine which relationship is more appropriate.

In this experiment, you will measure terminal velocity as a function of mass for falling coffee filters and use the data to choose between the two models for the drag force. Coffee filters were chosen because they are light enough to reach terminal velocity in a short distance.


  • Observe the effect of air resistance on falling coffee filters.
  • Determine how air resistance and mass affect the terminal velocity of a falling object.
  • Choose between two competing force models for the air resistance on falling coffee filters.

Sensors and Equipment

This experiment features the following Vernier sensors and equipment.

Additional Requirements

You may also need an interface and software for data collection. What do I need for data collection?

Standards Correlations

See all standards correlations for Physics with Vernier »

Physics with Vernier

See other experiments from the lab book.

1Graph Matching
2ABack and Forth Motion
2BBack and Forth Motion
3ACart on a Ramp
3BCart on a Ramp
4ADetermining g on an Incline
4BDetermining g on an Incline
5Picket Fence Free Fall
6Ball Toss
7Bungee Jump Accelerations
8AProjectile Motion (Photogates)
8BProjectile Motion (Projectile Launcher)
9Newton's Second Law
10Atwood's Machine
11Newton's Third Law
12Static and Kinetic Friction
13Air Resistance
14Pendulum Periods
15Simple Harmonic Motion
16Energy of a Tossed Ball
17Energy in Simple Harmonic Motion
18AMomentum, Energy and Collisions
18BMomentum, Energy and Collisions
19AImpulse and Momentum
19BImpulse and Momentum
20Centripetal Accelerations on a Turntable
21Accelerations in the Real World
22Ohm's Law
23Series and Parallel Circuits
25The Magnetic Field in a Coil
26The Magnetic Field in a Slinky
27Electrical Energy
28APolarization of Light
28BPolarization of Light (Rotary Motion Sensor)
29Light, Brightness and Distance
30Newton's Law of Cooling
31The Magnetic Field of a Permanent Magnet
32Sound Waves and Beats
33Speed of Sound
34Tones, Vowels and Telephones
35Mathematics of Music

Experiment 13 from Physics with Vernier Lab Book

<i>Physics with Vernier</i> book cover

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