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15.3: Oscillations about an Equilibrium Position

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Oscillations about an Equilibrium Position

15.3: Oscillations about an Equilibrium Position

Stability is an important concept in oscillation. If an equilibrium point is stable, a slight disturbance of an object that is initially at the stable equilibrium point will cause the object to oscillate around that point. For an unstable equilibrium point, if the object is disturbed slightly, it will not return to the equilibrium point. There are three conditions for equilibrium points—stable, unstable, and half-stable. A half-stable equilibrium point is also unstable, but is named so because the force on only one side points toward the equilibrium point.

A practical application of the concept of a stable equilibrium point is the force between two neutral atoms in a molecule. If two molecules are in close proximity, separated by a small atomic diameter, they experience an attractive force. However, if the molecules move close enough that their electron shells overlap, the force between the molecules becomes repulsive. The attractive force between the two atoms may cause the atoms to form a molecule. Nonetheless, the force between the two molecules is not a linear force and cannot be modeled simply as two masses separated by a spring, but the atoms of the molecule can oscillate around an equilibrium point when displaced a little from the equilibrium position. The atoms oscillate due to the attractive force and the repulsive force that exists between the two atoms.

This text is adapted from Openstax, University Physics Volume 1, Section 15.2: Energy in Simple Harmonic Motion.


Oscillations Equilibrium Position Stability Stable Equilibrium Unstable Equilibrium Half-stable Equilibrium Force Atoms Molecule Attractive Force Repulsive Force Displacement Oscillate

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