Structural devices
Structural devices

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Structural devices

6.4 Driven oscillations and resonance

Finally I need to consider the situation where the oscillator is driven, as in the case of the AFM cantilever. The driving force will depend on the application, but for my mass on a spring it might be a small motor driving what was the fixed end of the spring up and down. The simplest expression for an oscillating driving force FD will be something like:

where ω is the (angular) driving frequency. Including this as an extra term in my force Equation (5.9) and solving for x gives a steady-state solution of the form:

I say ‘a steady-state solution’ because when I switch on the driving force the initial response, often referred to as the transient, can be very complicated. After a time, however, the system will settle into a steady state. My solution has two terms which are of interest: the amplitude, A0, and the phase, φ0

Box 9 Phase

In the driven case, I have to consider the amplitude of the driving force and the relationship between the driving frequency and the motion of the mass. You can think of the phase as the time difference between the maximum amplitude of the driving force and the maximum displacement of the mass. Imagine that I am holding the spring suspending a large mass. If I move the end of the spring up and down very slowly, then it won't stretch and the motion of the mass will be in exact phase with (and have the same amplitude as) my hand movement. As I begin to move my hand more quickly the motion of the mass begins to lag behind my hand motion; now there is a phase difference between my hand motion (the driving force) and the displacement of the mass.

Figure 27 shows the two plots in a single time axis, one for the driving force and the other for the motion of the mass. You can see that the maximum amplitude of the driving force occurs well before the maximum displacement of the mass. Here we would say that the phase of the driven mass lags behind that of the driving force. We could equally well say that the phase of the driving force leads that of the driven mass.

Figure 27
Figure 27 Plot (a) the driving force and plot (b) the motion of the mass. The motion of the mass lags behind that of the driving force

SAQ 13

What would be the effect on the phase of using a smaller mass on the end of the spring?


The mass would tend to follow my hand movement more readily and so would tend to lag less.

Following the same procedure as for the simple and damped cases and using quite a lot of algebra, I find that the amplitude, A0, is given by:

and the phase, φ0, by:

Figure 28
Figure 28 Amplitude A0 vs driving frequency ω for a damped driven harmonic oscillator

Remember that ω0 is the natural angular frequency of the oscillator – the frequency at which it will vibrate if it is simply displaced and then released. Looking at Equation (5.17) you can see that as the driving frequency, ω, gets close to the natural angular frequency, ω0, the difference term will tend to zero. In this case, if the damping coefficient b is also zero then A0 will tend to infinity.

SAQ 14

Using Equation (5.17), set the frequency to the natural angular frequency (ω = ω0) and derive an expression for A0.


This is what happens if an undamped harmonic oscillator is driven at its natural frequency. The amplitude of oscillation will grow out of control; something will break, or the geometry of the system will change, so that the assumptions we made in deriving this solution will no longer be valid. Even if there is some damping present, you can see from Equation (5.17) that the amplitude will peak when ω = ω0. How sharply it peaks, and what the maximum value of the displacement is, depends on how much damping is applied.

Figure 29
Figure 29 Amplitude A0 vs driving frequency ω for a damped driven harmonic oscillator: (a) for large and small values of m; (b) for large and small values of b; and (c) for large and small of values of ω0

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has over 40 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus