Tag Archives: momentum

Impulse and Momentum – Physics Example Problem

Desktop Momentum Balls Toy

This model of a common desktop toy shows the forces acting on the raised ball. The principles of impulse and momentum show how the momentum is transferred to each ball and the process repeats.

Impulse and momentum are physical concepts that are easily seen from Newton’s Laws of Motion.

Start with this equation of motion for constant acceleration.

v = v0 + at

v = velocity
v0 = initial velocity
a = acceleration
t = time

If you rearrange the equation, you get

v – v0 = at

Newton’s second law deals with with force.

F = ma

F = force
m = mass
a = acceleration

solve this for a and get

a = F/m

Stick this into the velocity equation and get

v – v0 = (F/m)t

Multiply both sides by m

mv – mv0 = Ft

The left side of the equation deals with momentum (often denoted by a lower-case p) and the right side is impulse (often denoted by an upper-case letter J).

Mass times velocity is known as momentum and force applied over time is called impulse.

Impulse and Momentum Example Problem

Question: A 50 kg mass is sitting on a frictionless surface. An unknown constant force pushes the mass for 2 seconds until the mass reaches a velocity of 3 m/s.

a) What is the initial momentum of the mass?
b) What is the final momentum of the mass?
c) What was the force acting on the mass?
d) What was the impulse acting on the mass?

Impulse and Momentum Example Problem

Part a) What is the initial momentum?

Momentum is mass times velocity. Since the mass is at rest, the initial velocity is 0 m/s.

momentum = m⋅v = (50 kg)⋅(0 m/s) = 0 kg⋅m/s

Part b) What is the final momentum?

After the force is finished acting on the mass, the velocity is 3 m/s.

momentum = m⋅v = (50 kg)⋅(3 m/s) = 150 kg⋅m/s

Part c) What was the force acting on the mass?

mv – mv0 = Ft

From parts a and b, we know mv0 = 0 kg⋅m/s and mv = 150 kg⋅m/s.

150 kg⋅m/s – 0 kg⋅m/s = Ft
150 kg⋅m/s = Ft

Since the force was in effect over 3 seconds, t = 3 s.

150 kg⋅m/s = F ⋅ 3s
F = (150 kg⋅m/s) / 3 s
F = 50 kg⋅m/s2

Unit Fact: kg⋅m/s2 can be denoted by the derived SI unit Newton (symbol N)

F = 50 N

Part d) What was the impulse acting on the mass?

The impulse is the force multiplied by the time passed. It is also equal to the change in momentum over the same time period.

Ft = 50 N ⋅ 3 s
Ft = 150 Ns or 150 kg⋅m/s

The impulse was 150 kg⋅m/s.

These problems are relatively simple as long as you keep your units straight. Impulse and momentum should have the same units: mass⋅velocity or force⋅time. Check your units when you check your answer.

Another possible way to cause errors is to confuse your vector directions. Velocity and Force are both vector quantities. In this example, the mass was pushed in the direction of the final velocity. If another force pushed in the opposite direction to slow down the mass, the force would have a negative value compared to the velocity vector.

If you found this helpful, check out other Physics Example Problems.

Conservation of Momentum Example Problem

Momentum is a measurement of inertia in motion. When a mass has velocity, it has momentum. Momentum is calculated by the equation

momentum = mass x velocity
momentum = mv

This conservation of momentum example problem illustrates the principle of conservation of momentum after a collision between two objects.


Consider a 42,000 kg train car travelling at 10 m/s toward another train car. After the two cars collide, they couple together and move along at 6 m/s. What is the mass of the second train car?

Momentum Example Problem 1


In a closed system, momentum is conserved. This means the total momentum of the system remains unchanged before and after the collision.

Before the collision, the total momentum was the sum of the momentums of both train cars.

The first car’s (blue freight car) momentum is

momentumBlue = mv
momentumBlue = (42,000 kg)(10 m/s)
momentumBlue = 420,000 kg·m/s

The second car’s (tanker car) momentum is

momentumtanker = mv
momentumtanker = m(0 m/s)
momentumtanker = 0 kg·m/s

Add these two together to get the total momentum of the system prior to collision.

Total momentum = momentumBlue + momentumtanker
Total momentum = 420,000 kg·m/s + 0 kg·m/s
Total momentum = 420,000 kg·m/s

After the collision, the two cars couple together into one mass. This new mass is

massBlue + masstanker
40,000 kg + masstanker

The velocity the new pair of cars is travelling is 6 m/s. Because momentum is conserved, we know the total momentum of the cars after the collision is equal to the momentum prior to the collision.

Total Momentum = 420,000 kg·m/s
Total Momentum = mv
Total momentum = (42,000 kg + masstanker)·(6 m/s)

420,000 kg·m/s = (42,000 kg + masstanker)·(6 m/s)

Divide both sides by 6 m/s

70,000 kg = 42,000 kg + masstanker

Subtract 40,000 kg from both sides

70,000 kg – 40,000 kg = masstanker
30,000 kg = masstanker


The mass of the second car is equal to 30,000 kg.

Remember, the momentum of a system is conserved. The momentum of the individual masses may change, but the net momentum of the system does not change.