Vernier Software and Technology
Vernier Software & Technology

Up And Down: Damped Harmonic Motion

Figure from experiment 24 from Real-World Math with Vernier


An object hanging from a spring can bounce up and down in a simple way. The vertical position of the object can be described mathematically in terms of a simple sinusoidal equation. In the real world, however, resistive forces such as friction are always present and cause the object to slow down. This effect is called damping.

Most oscillating objects experience damping and move in a modified periodic manner so that the amplitude gets smaller and smaller with each cycle. Common examples of damped oscillators include an empty rocking chair as it comes to rest after being pushed and a vibrating diving board after a swimmer leaves it. At first, the problem of modeling this type of motion with a mathematical equation may seem extraordinarily complex. Surprisingly, it can be analyzed rather thoroughly using basic math concepts with which you are already familiar.

In this activity, you will collect motion data as a paper plate attached to a light spring oscillates up and down above a Motion Detector. Then, you will find an appropriate mathematical model for the resulting data set.


  • Record the motion data for a plate bouncing at the end of a light spring.
  • Analyze the motion data to determine frequency, period and amplitude information.
  • Model the oscillatory part of the data using trigonometric functions.
  • Model the damping using an exponential function.
  • Create a composite model of damping and oscillation.
  • Compare the composite model to experimental data.

Sensors and Equipment

This activity features the following Vernier sensors and equipment.

Option 1

Option 2

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 Real-World Math with Vernier »

Real-World Math with Vernier

See other experiments from the lab book.

1Walk the Line - Straight Line Distance Graphs
2Making Cents of Math: Linear Relationship between Weight and Quantity
3Pool Plunge - Linear Relationship between Water Depth and Pressure
4Funnel Volumes - Volume and Weight
5Keep It Bottled Up - Rates of Pressure Increase
6Mix It Up - Mixing Liquids of Different Temperatures
7Spring Thing - Newton's Second Law
8Stretch It to the Limit - The Linear Force Relation for a Rubber Band
9What Goes Up - Position and Time for a Cart on a Ramp
10That's the Way the Ball Bounces - Height and Time for a Bouncing Ball
11Walk This Way - Definition of Rate
12Velocity Test - Interpreting Graphs
13From Here to There - Applications of the Distance Formula
14Under Pressure - The Inverse Relationship between Pressure and Volume
15Light at A Distance - Distance and Intensity
16Chill Out: How Hot Objects Cool
17Charging Up, Charging Down - Charging a Capacitor
18Bounce Back - The Pattern of Rebound Heights
19Sour Chemistry - The Exponential pH Change
20Swinging Ellipses - Plotting an Ellipse
21Lights Out! - Periodic Phenomena
22Tic, Toc: Pendulum Motion
23Stay Tuned: Sound Waveform Models
24Up And Down: Damped Harmonic Motion
25How Tall? Describing Data with Statistical Plots
26And Now, the Weather - Describing Data with Statistics
27Meet You at the Intersection: Solving a System of Linear Equations
28Titration Curves: An Application of the Logistic Function
29Clock Design: Period and Length of a Simple Pendulum
30Graph It in Pieces: Piecewise Defined Functions
31Stepping to the Greatest Integer: The Greatest Integer Function
32Crawling Around: Parametric Plots

Activity 24 from Real-World Math with Vernier Lab Book

<i>Real-World Math with Vernier</i> book cover

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