Linear Speed (OCR A Level Physics)

Revision Note

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Katie M


Katie M



Constant Speed in a Circle

  • An object moving in a straight line at constant speed has an acceleration of zero
    • When that object has a net force applied at right angles to its constant linear speed then it begins to move in a uniform circular motion
  •  Whilst the linear speed remains constant the direction of motion is constantly changing
    • So, there is acceleration towards the centre of the circle and the direction of the net force 

Angular speed diagram, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

When an object is in uniform circular motion, velocity constantly changes direction, but the speed stays the same

  • Linear velocity is defined as: 

The velocity of an object rotating in uniform circular motion, with respect to a linear displacement, as opposed to angular displacement

  • The linear speed, v, is related to the angular speed, ⍵, by the equation:

v = rω

  • Where:
    • v = linear speed (m s–1)
    • r = radius of circle (m)
    • ⍵ = angular speed (rad s–1)
  • The equation for linear speed can be derived from the definitions for angular displacement and angular velocity
  • Linear velocity can be described using the equation:

fraction numerator distance space travelled over denominator time space taken end fraction

  • If the distance travelled in a time, t, is equal to the length of an arc of a circle, :

v fraction numerator r theta over denominator t end fraction

  • Where:
    • θ = angular displacement (°)
  • Since angular velocity is given by:

omega equals theta over t

  • The equation for linear speed of an object in circular motion can be written as

v equals r open parentheses theta over t close parentheses equals r omega

v = rω


  • This equation shows:
    • As the radius, r, of the path increases so does the linear velocity, v


  • Therefore, it can be seen: 
    • The angular speed and velocity do not depend on the radius of the circle
    • The linear speed, however, does depend on the radius of the circle

Worked example

A bird flies in a horizontal circle with an angular speed of 5.25 rad s−1 of radius 650 m.


a) The linear speed of the bird

b) The frequency of the bird flying in a complete circle

WE - Angular speed answer image, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

Exam Tip

Try not to be confused by similar sounding terms like "angular velocity" and "angular speed". Just like in regular linear motion, you have linear velocity and linear speed: one is a scalar (speed) and the other is a vector (velocity).

Finally, you may sometimes come across ω being labelled as 'angular frequency', because of its relationship to linear frequency f as given by the alternative equation ω = 2πf. Remember, the units of ω are rad s–1, whereas the units of f are Hz.

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Katie M

Author: Katie M

Katie has always been passionate about the sciences, and completed a degree in Astrophysics at Sheffield University. She decided that she wanted to inspire other young people, so moved to Bristol to complete a PGCE in Secondary Science. She particularly loves creating fun and absorbing materials to help students achieve their exam potential.

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