Introduction to Moments and Centers of Mass

What you’ll learn to do: Determine the center of mass in various dimensions

In this section, we consider centers of mass (also called centroids, under certain conditions) and moments. The basic idea of the center of mass is the notion of a balancing point. Many of us have seen performers who spin plates on the ends of sticks. The performers try to keep several of them spinning without allowing any of them to drop. If we look at a single plate (without spinning it), there is a sweet spot on the plate where it balances perfectly on the stick. If we put the stick anywhere other than that sweet spot, the plate does not balance and it falls to the ground. (That is why performers spin the plates; the spin helps keep the plates from falling even if the stick is not exactly in the right place.) Mathematically, that sweet spot is called the center of mass of the plate.

In this section, we first examine these concepts in a one-dimensional context, then expand our development to consider centers of mass of two-dimensional regions and symmetry. Last, we use centroids to find the volume of certain solids by applying the theorem of Pappus.