What Is Kinematics?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Kinematics is the study of motion and the development of equations to describe the motions of objects, a part of a larger component of physics known as classical mechanics. This science looks specifically at motion, not the causes of movement or the interactions that may occur during movement. The study of causes and interactions is known as dynamics, and involves separate equations. Physics students often start to learn the basics of kinematics and dynamics together, as they are closely related.

Scientist with beakers
Scientist with beakers

In this field, researchers look at the various ways objects move, evaluating traits like acceleration, displacement, and velocity. They also study environments, such as air, water, or vacuum, in which motion can occur. This science can be applied to everything from the study of how horses run to the analysis of the movement of particles in space. Movement can be a complex field of study, and there are a number of real-world as well as theoretical applications for kinematics research.

A subset of this discipline known as reverse kinematics looks at how objects must move in order to reach given targets. There can be several solutions to a problem in this area of physics, and a physicist may look for the most efficient and elegant ones. This research is particularly useful in fields like robotics, where technicians want to know how to solve various movement problems, and robots themselves can be programmed to use kinematics equations to make independent decisions about movement.

In addition to describing the movements of individual objects down to the smallest particles, kinematics also studies systems. Linked systems have very different patterns of movement than individual objects, and can become extremely complex. For example, animals have a series of joints that all impact their movements. In fields like animation, being able to accurately depict motion is critical to create realism and dynamic motion, and kinematic equations underlie computer animation for films, television, and other activities.

Physics texts produce a number of equations that can be applied to various problems, and students also learn these in classroom environments when they reach the classical mechanics phase of their study. Some of these equations are very old, and involve research conducted in very early studies of physics. Researchers in the field of classical mechanics utilize these equations and develop new ones as they learn more about the physics of motion. Their research can be found in physics journals and other publications that report on emerging topics in physics.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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