Main IOP website

Episode 304: Simple pendulum

This episode reinforces many of the fundamental ideas about SHM.

Note a complication: a simple pendulum shows SHM only for small amplitude oscillations.


  • Student experiment: Measuring the restoring force. (20 minutes)
  • Student experiment: Testing the relationship T = 2p √ (l/g). (30 minutes)
  • Student activity: Using an applet of a pendulum. (30 minutes)
  • Discussion: Gravitational and inertial mass. (10 minutes)
  • Student questions: Calculations involving pendulums. (30 minutes)


Student experiment: Measuring the restoring force
Measure the restoring force for a simple pendulum.

TAP 304-1: The simple pendulum

Student experiment: Testing the relationship T = 2p √ (l/g)
Test the relationship T = 2p √ (l/g) for a simple pendulum. Students could decide for themselves which measurements to make, which quantities to vary, and how to process and interpret the results. Encourage them to look for deviations from linear behaviour, arising from large-amplitude oscillations.

Simple pendulum

Student activity: Using an applet of a pendulum
Investigate a virtual pendulum; this allows you to vary g. You can also force the pendulum, which is useful later when studying resonance.

NB the analysis of the data uses log-log plots, so this may not be suitable for all students.

TAP 304-2: Virtual pendulum

Discussion: Gravitational and inertial mass
The fact that the period of a simple pendulum is independent of the mass of the bob is an example of the Principle of Equivalence – something still not understood today and being tested by very sophisticated experiments involving astronomical measurements on the one hand and how single atoms fall due to gravity on the other.

The basic puzzle is why the m in F = ma (where m is the inertial mass which determines how an object responds to any unbalanced force) has exactly the same magnitude as the m in mg (where the m is the gravitational mass, the source of the gravitational force).

In deriving the equation for the period of a simple pendulum, we have used both, and used the fact that numerically they cancel out.

Student questions: Calculations involving pendulums
These questions reinforce basic ideas about SHM.

TAP 304-3: Pendulum

Download Word version of Episode 304 (100 KB)

^ To the top ^