## Abstract

We derive a general formula for the inertia tensor of a rigid body consisting of three particles with which students can learn basic properties of the inertia tensor without calculus. The inertia-tensor operator is constructed by employing the Dirac's bra-ket notation to obtain the inertia tensor in an arbitrary frame of reference covariantly. The principal axes and moments of inertia are computed when the axis of rotation passes the center of mass. The formulas are expressed in terms of the relative displacements of particles that are determined by introducing Lagrange's undetermined multipliers. This is a heuristic example analogous to the addition of a gauge-fixing term to the Lagrangian density in gauge field theories.We confirm that the principalmoments satisfy the perpendicularaxis theorem of planar lamina. Two special cases are considered as pedagogical examples. One is a water-molecule-like system in which a particle is placed on the vertical bisector of two identical particles. The other is the case in which the center of mass coincides with the incenter of the triangle whose vertices are placed at the particles. The principal moment of the latter example about the normal axis is remarkably simple and proportional to the product 'abc' of the three relative distances. We expect that this new formula can be used in actual laboratory classes for general physics or undergraduate classical mechanics.

Original language | English |
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Article number | 055016 |

Journal | European Journal of Physics |

Volume | 42 |

Issue number | 5 |

DOIs | |

Publication status | Published - 2021 Sept |

### Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:© 2021 European Physical Society Printed in the UK.

## Keywords

- Gauge fixing
- Inertia tensor
- Lagrange's multiplier
- Principal axes
- Three-body system

## ASJC Scopus subject areas

- General Physics and Astronomy