How to calculate distance & acceleration

Updated June 01, 2017

Calculating distance is measuring the length covered by a moving object without considering the direction in which the object travelled. To calculate acceleration, you must know both the velocity and the distance. Velocity is the distance an object has travelled per unit time. Acceleration can be described as the rate at which an object changes the velocity. Therefore, to calculate acceleration, the distance must be measured as well as the velocity.

Measure the distance the object has travelled using either a tape measure, ruler or meter stick, depending on the length. Record the distance in either millimetres, centimetres, inches or meters.

Record the velocity while measuring distance by timing the distance with a stop watch. Record your results and calculate velocity. The velocity formula is the distance travelled divided by the time (distance/time). Time should be recorded as seconds, minutes or hours; therefore, the velocity calculation should have a measured unit such as centimetres over a time unit such as seconds (cm/sec).

Calculate the acceleration by measuring the change in velocity over time. The formula for acceleration is the initial velocity (Vi) subtracted by the final velocity (Vf) over time: Acceleration = Vf-Vi/time.

Solve this problem to help you understand this calculation. A runner sprints 20 meters in 60 seconds. Write down the equation needed for solving for the acceleration. A= vf-vi/t

Calculate the initial velocity as "0 meters/sec". The runner was in a standstill position initially; therefore, the initial velocity is 0 meters/sec. The final velocity should be calculated as 20 meters divided by 60 seconds (20m/60 sec). Final velocity = 0.333m/sec.

Insert the known measurements into the acceleration equation. a = vf - vi / t or

a = 0.333m/sec-0m/sec / 60 sec.

Put all measurements into your calculator correctly. Don't forget that the unit for acceleration is m/sec 2. The final answer should be: The runner had an acceleration of 0.0056m/sec 2.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure, ruler or meter stick
  • Stop watch
  • Calculator
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About the Author

Based in Huntington Beach, Calif., Dana Schafer has been writing environmental articles and grant proposals since 2006. Schafer has written for Grace Unlimited Corporation and Youth Have Vision. Schafer is in the process of receiving a Master of Science in biology from California State University, Long Beach.