How Much Does a Beam Bulge When it Expands?
Date: 2/24/96 at 17:32:8 From: Scott Firebaugh Subject: Railroad beam problem Dear Dr. Math, Imagine a railroad beam 1/4 mile long fastened at both ends. The beam expands 2" one summer day, causing it to bulge up. How high does it go? If you assume it forms 2 right triangles, it is easy to figure out using the pyth. Hmm. That is 126" high in the middle. But what if it is an arc of a circle? I got 3 variables and 3 equations, but I could not solve it. A friend said it is actually a catenary curve, which is less familiar to me than a circle. Can you solve this? Scott Firebaugh, Kokomo Christian School
Date: 6/26/96 at 9:34:15 From: Doctor Jerry Subject: Re: Railroad beam problem Dear Scott, Please draw a circle with radius a (unknown). Draw a central angle with measure t (in radians); please draw the angle so that its vertex is pointing directly towards the bottom of the page. Draw the horizontal line connecting the ends of the rays forming the sides of the angle. The length of the horizontal line is 1/4 mile. The circle is the railroad track, with 2 inches added. Let b be the length of the line from the center to the horizontal line. We want a-b, which is the height of the circular track above the flat track. Let the arc length cut from the circle by the angle t be s. There is a formula connecting s, a, and t: s = a*t. So, a*t = 1/4+2*(1/12)*(1/5280)=7921/31680. This is one equation in two unknowns. Another equation is sin(t/2) = (1/8)/a. This comes from one of the right triangles. Eliminate a between these two equations, obtaining sin(t/2)=31680*t/(8*7921). This equation can be solved with a good calculator (set in radians). You should find t is approximately 0.0550458. From this you can find that a is approximately 4.54224. Then, b = a*cos(t) = 4.53536. Finally, a-b is 36.3 in feet. You can see that I've assumed you know some trigonometry. If you want an answer using algebra and geometry, please ask. -Doctor Jerry, The Math Forum
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