1. Applications of the Indefinite Integral

by M. Bourne

Displacement from Velocity, and Velocity from Acceleration

high speed train
High velocity train [Image source]

A very useful application of calculus is displacement, velocity and acceleration.

Recall (from Derivative as an Instantaneous Rate of Change) that we can find an expression for velocity by differentiating the expression for displacement:


Similarly, we can find the expression for the acceleration by differentiating the expression for velocity, and this is equivalent to finding the second derivative of the displacement:


It follows (since integration is the opposite process to differentiation) that to obtain the displacement, `s` of an object at time `t` (given the expression for velocity, `v`) we would use:

`s=int v\ dt`

Similarly, the velocity of an object at time `t` with acceleration `a`, is given by:

`v=inta\ dt`

Example 1

A car starts from rest at `s=3\ "m"` from the origin and has acceleration at time `t` given by `a=2t-5\ "ms"^-2`. Find the velocity and displacement of the car at `t=4\ "s"`.


We find the velocity using:

`v=int a\ dt`

So in this example we have:

`v=int(2t-5)\ dt`


When `t = 0`, `v = 0`, so `K =0`.

So the expression for velocity as a function of time is:

`v=t^2-5t\ text[m s]^-1`

When `t = 4`, `v = 4^2-5(4)=-4\ text[m s]^-1`

Now to find the displacement.

`s=int v\ dt`


`s=int(t^2-5t)\ dt`

`=t^3/3 - (5t^2)/2 + K`

Now when `t = 0`, `s = 3`, so we substitute to obtain:

`3=0^3/3 - (5(0)t^2)/2 + K`

So `K=3` and therefore the general expression for `s` is:

`s=t^3/3 - (5t^2)/2 + 3`

When `t = 4`, `s = 4^3/3 - (5(4)^2)/2 + 3 = -15.67\ text[m]`

Continues below

Example 2

A proton moves in an electric field such that its acceleration (in cms-2) is

`a = -20(1+2t)^-2`, where `t` is in seconds.

Find the velocity as a function of time if v = 30 cms-1 when t = 0.

Here are the graphs of the acceleration of the proton, and the velocity we found in Example 2.

Example 3

A flare is ejected vertically upwards from the ground at 15 m/s. Find the height of the flare after 2.5 s.

Displacement and Velocity Formulas

Using integration, we can obtain the well-known expressions for displacement and velocity, given a constant acceleration a, initial displacement zero, and an initial velocity `v_0`:

`v=int a\ dt`


Since the velocity at `t=0` is `v_0`, we have `K=v_0`. So:

`v=v_0 + at`

Similarly, taking it another step gives:

`s=int v\ dt=int (v_0 + at)dt`

`s=v_0 t + (at^2)/2+C`

Since the displacement at `t=0` is `s=0`, we have `C=0`. So:


Voltage across a Capacitor

Definition: The current, i (amperes), in an electric circuit equals the time rate of change of the charge q, (in coulombs) that passes a given point in the circuit. We can write this (with t in seconds) as:


By writing i dt = dq and integrating, we have:

`q=inti\ dt`

The voltage, VC (in volts) across a capacitor with capacitance C (in farads) is given by


It follows that

`V_C=1/Cinti\ dt`

You can see some more advanced applications of this at Applications of Ordinary Differential Equations.

Example 4

The electric current (in mA) in a computer circuit as a function of time is `i = 0.3 − 0.2t`. What total charge passes a point in the circuit in `0.050` s?

Example 5

The voltage across an `8.50\ "nF"` capacitor in an FM receiver circuit is initially zero. Find the voltage after `2.00\ μ"s"` if a current `i=0.042t` (in `"mA"`) charges the capacitor.