18. Collision Theory

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Learning Objectives

  • Be able to identify the system when particles are involved in collisions.
  • Construct momentum diagrams when objects are recoiling from one another.
  • Explain the meaning of the relative velocity of two particles.
  • Be able to use the concept of relative velocities to analyze an elastic collision in one dimension. Explain the meaning of the relative velocity of two particles.
  • Be able to identify the velocity of an object with respect to different inertial reference frames.
  • Be able to apply the conservation of momentum law for 1-dimensional collisions and in component form for 2-dimensional collisions.
  • Explain the difference between inelastic, elastic, and super-elastic collisions between two objects in terms of the relative velocity between the objects.
  • Be able to use the conservation of momentum and conservation of energy laws to solve problems involving two objects.
  • Be able to recognize, describe, and apply physical principles at various stages of a multi-stage problem to determine properties of final states; be able to apply relevant mathematical equations based on the physical principles.


Course Notes

Notes: Collision Theory (PDF - 2.8MB)

Suggested Textbook Reading (Optional)

Buy at Amazon Chapter 8.3-8.4. Young, Hugh D., Roger A. Freedman, and A. Lewis Ford. Sears and Zemansky's University Physics: with Modern Physics. 12th ed. San Francisco, CA: Addison-Wesley, 2007. ISBN: 9780805321876.

Lecture Video

Video Excerpts

Watch the following excerpts from the Physics I lecture videos:

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Download the complete lectures from this course:

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Learning Activities

Guided Activities

Read through the class slides carefully. They explain all of the concepts from the module.

This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.Slides: Collision Theory (PDF - 1.1MB)


Do the Concept Questions first to make sure you understand the main concepts from this module. Then, when you are ready, try the Challenge Problems. If you are struggling with the Challenge Problems, watch the Homework Help Session videos, which will give you tips on how to tackle problems of this type.

Concept Questions

Concept Questions (PDF)

Solutions (PDF)

Challenge Problems

Challenge Problems (PDF)

Solutions (PDF - 1.8MB)

Problem Solving Help

In the following videos Prof. Walter Lewin explains how to approach the Challenge Problems.

Help Session 1

{'English - US': '/courses/physics/8-01sc-physics-i-classical-mechanics-fall-2010/momentum/collision-theory/help-session-1/huGMlwpN8no.srt'}

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Help Session 2

{'English - US': '/courses/physics/8-01sc-physics-i-classical-mechanics-fall-2010/momentum/collision-theory/help-session-2/NiFDKAs6iGA.srt'}

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Related Resources

There are countless resources available online to help you learn physics. Try this:


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