Lesson: Chapter - 10

Angular Momentum

The rotational analogue of linear momentum is angular momentum, L. After torque and equilibrium, angular momentum is the aspect of rotational motion most likely to be tested on Physics. For the test, you will probably have to deal only with the angular momentum of a particle or body moving in a circular trajectory. In such a case, we can define angular momentum in terms of moment of inertia and angular velocity, just as we can define linear momentum in terms of mass and velocity:

L = l?

The angular momentum vector always points in the same direction as the angular velocity vector.

Video Lesson -

Angular Momentum of a Single Particle

Let’s take the example of a tether-ball of mass m swinging about on a rope of length r:

The tether-ball has a moment of inertia of I = mr2 and an angular velocity of ? = v/r. Substituting these values into the formula for linear momentum we get:

This is the value we would expect from the cross product definition we saw earlier of angular momentum. The momentum, p = mv of a particle moving in a circle is always tangent to the circle and perpendicular to the radius. Therefore, when a particle is moving in a circle,

L = pr sin90° = pr = mvr

Newton’s Second Law and Conservation of Angular Momentum

In the previous chapter, we saw that the net force acting on an object is equal to the rate of change of the object’s momentum with time. Similarly, the net torque acting on an object is equal to the rate of change of the object’s angular momentum with time:

If the net torque action on a rigid body is zero, then the angular momentum of the body is constant or conserved. The law of conservation of angular momentum is another one of nature’s beautiful properties, as well as a very useful means of solving problems. It is likely that angular momentum will be tested in a conceptual manner on Physics.


One of Brian Boitano’s crowd-pleasing skating moves involves initiating a spin with his arms extended and then moving his arms closer to his body. As he does so, he spins at a faster and faster rate. Which of the following laws best explains this phenomenon?
(A) Conservation of Mechanical Energy
(B) Conservation of Angular Momentum
(C) Conservation of Linear Momentum
(D) Newton’s First Law
(E) Newton’s Second Law

Given the context, the answer to this question is no secret: it’s B, the conservation of angular momentum. Explaining why is the interesting part.

As Brian spins on the ice, the net torque acting on him is zero, so angular momentum is conserved. That means that I? is a conserved quantity. I is proportional to R2, the distance of the parts of Brian’s body from his axis of rotation. As he draws his arms in toward his body, his mass is more closely concentrated about his axis of rotation, so I decreases. Because I? must remain constant, ? must increase as I decreases. As a result, Brian’s angular velocity increases as he draws his arms in toward his body.

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