Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

A figure skater pulls her arms in

A figure skater pulls in her arms so that she can execute a spin more rapidly.

When a figure skater is twirling, there is very little friction between her and the ice, so she is essentially a closed system, and her angular momentum is conserved. If she pulls her arms in, she is decreasing r for all the atoms in her arms. It would violate conservation of angular momentum if she then continued rotating at the same speed, i.e., taking the same amount of time for each revolution, her arms' contributions to her angular momentum would have decreased, and no other part of her would have increased its angular momentum. This is impossible because it would violate conservation of angular momentum. If her total angular momentum is to remain constant, the decrease in r for her arms must be compensated for by an overall increase in her rate of rotation. That is, by pulling her arms in, she substantially reduces the time for each rotation.

Last Update: 2009-06-21