Elevator down

 La gare de Montparnasse train wreck - Paris 1895  The second law, Fnet = ma, represents an invitation to analyze a situation in which forces are acting on some object. By deducing the vector sum of all of these forces, one can determine the the acceleration that an object of a given mass will have. The trick here is to find all of the forces because sometimes they are not quite so obvious. Let's take a few lines to take inventory of the forces we are likely to encounter. Along the way it will be prudent for us to consider which forces act parallel to the motion of the object and which lie in the direction perpendicular to motion; the former case cause the object to move faster or slower, the latter change its direction

a. APPLIED FORCES - these are the pushes and pulls supplied by people, ropes, and other agents. These forces are necessary when change is desired, say when we wish an object to speed up or slow down or change direction. They are not in evidence when an object is moving with uniform speed in a straight line

b. WEIGHT - weight is a manifestation of the gravitational force that the Earth has on an object. Why an object weighs what it does will be considered later when we consider the law of universal gravitation. Most often, the weight of an object is given by the product of the mass of the object times the local acceleration due to gravity. We usually write this as FG = mg or w = mg. The value of g varies ever-so-slightly from site to site on the Earth depending on altitude. Unless otherwise indicated, we will take g to equal 9.80 m/s/s. The force of gravity always points down toward the center of the Earth.

c. NORMAL FORCE - This force is often overlooked by novice physicists. If a block is resting on a table surface, the force due to gravity is acting downward on the object. The table must be supplying an upward force on the block; otherwise, the block would fall to the floor. The normal force is the upward reaction force to the gravitational force that causes the block to press against the table. If the table can muster the reaction force, the block is supported; if not, the block comes crashing down. The normal force always points away from the surface and is always perpendicular to the surface. A very mundane application of normal force that becomes a very dramatic event is a collapsed bridge. The next time you cross a bridge, ask yourself, "is this bridge strong enough to support me and this car". Check out these web sites.

A bathroom scale does not measure the weight of an object. Rather, it measures normal force. Under conditions of use for which it was intended, say a person standing on the scale (no tricks), the downward force of gravity is exactly balanced by the upward normal force from the scale. Hence the reading on the scale tells the normal force and therefore the weight. But what happens if a person stands on the scale and we choose to push down on her shoulders. The downward forces acting on our subject are her weight and the external force we apply. The bathroom scale will supply an equal and opposite upward force on our subject that can be read on the scale. This force is the normal force and is greater than her weight.

D. Inclined Plane

When a block rests on a frictionless plane, say a table, the downward force of gravity is counterbalanced by the upward force (Normal Force) provided by the table. Even with no friction , we do not expect the block to move. If we lift one end of the table, the horizontal plane becomes inclined and we get a situation where the two forces are not colinear anymore. The normal force still points away from the surface and is still perpendicular to it. The force of gravity still points down. We can resolve the force of gravity into two parts--mgsin(theta) and mgcos(theta).
mgsin(theta) is the component of gravity that causes things to slide or roll down hills. When theta is zero, sin theta is zero; nothing moves. When theta us 90o, the sin of 90 is 1 and the force acting on the block is MG, the force of gravity. At some angle in between, sin theta is between zero and one, the force causing the block to slide down the hill is greater than zero but less than MG.
mgcos(theta) is the component of MG that is equal to the normal force. This component becomes important when dealing with friction.
see this useful applet

E. Weightlessness
This type of reasoning leads us to the notion of weightlessness. Given that we defined weight = mg some paragraphs above, w = 0 might imply that m= 0 or that g = 0. An object with no mass is a silly notion (save for neutrinos and the like). And Newton's law of universal gravitation will imply that g is never really equal to zero. Weightlessness occurs in that circumstance when an object is placed on a bathroom scale and the scale reads zero. Most commonly, the object and the scale are in free fall. Gravity is pulling downward, the scale is unable to supply a reaction force and it therefore reads zero.
AT the moment of first consciousness, and every moment thereafter, we are caught in a squeeze play that has gravity pulling down on us and a normal force pushing up. Only for very short periods are we excused from the squeeze: when seated in a chair if one leans on the back legs of the chair and leans too far, the rush one feels is weightlessness. The thrill of skydiving involves risking a sure death for an extended period of weightlessness.
We cannot shield a space from gravity (as we can for electric- and magnetic fields). So how is ir that we can witness test subjects floating in a room in mid-air? The room is actually the cargo area of a C-147 cargo plane that is flown to a high altitude and allowed to free-fall. During this time our test subjects can do everything that skydivers can do; afterall, why should their behavior be any different just because they are enclosed in a large box that is also falling with them. The advantage that our friends have over skydivers is that they can rrelive the experience without the need to deploy a parachute, land and take off again. The weightless scenes in movies such as
Apollo 13 were shot on a set built into such a plane.

F. - FRICTION - Friction is a force that tends to oppose motion and usually arises as a reaction force a la Newton's third law. Frictional forces do not exist on an object unless the object is moving or some force is trying to move it. Friction is an example of anon-conservative force, that is, a force that dissipates energy as it is applied, most often turning that energy into heat. Friction can be beneficial if you are trying to walk across an icy walkway. At the same time friction is no friend if you are trying to drag a heavy crate across the floor.
As it happens, the frictional force an object encounters as it interacts with its surroundings depends on how (or if ) it is moving. First , there is
static friction which occurs when two surfaces are at rest with respect to each other. The amount of friction depends on the smoothness (or lack thereof) of the two surfaces. If the two surfaces are moving with respect to each other, we encounter kinetic friction (a.k.a. sliding) friction. Kinetic friction is somewhat less than static friction which has some bearing on the inadvisability of locking automobile brakes in a panic stop. Then there is fluid friction, wherein the object in question moves through air, water, or some other non-solid. A variation on this theme occurs when a fluid is used as a lubricant because fluid friction can be less than static or kinetic friction. We will deal with air resistance only in qualitative terms in this course because the amount of fluid friction encountered by an object move through air is not constant. Instead, air resistance varies with the square of the speed of the object. A quantitative treatment of this topic will involve calculus. Let it be sufficient to say that an automobile encounters some air resistance at 25 miles/hour, four times that air resistance at 50 miles hour, and nine times that resistance at 75 miles/hour.

\See this applet first before continuing

Try this applet

here is an interesting applet summarizing many aspects of his topic

Related to this applet is Atwood's machine

Let us consider the simple case of a block being dragged across a table top. We find empirically that the ratio of the frictional force to the normal force is constant. That constant is called the coefficient of friction and is given the symbol u. FF / FN = u or more commonly FF = u FN. The coefficient of friction is so-called because it has no units. Typically, the value of u is between zero and one, although it could be larger. Reducing the frictional force between two surfaces is fundamentally a task of reducing the value of u. In those cases seen earlier in the kinematics section, we set u = 0 when we neglected friction. We can also regulate the amount of friction extant between two surfaces by altering the normal force between them. While dragging a block across the table, we encounter more friction if we press down on the block, thereby increasing the upward normal force supplied by the table. We could also increase the normal force by using a C-clamp to fasten the block to the table.
An important consideration in dealing with friction and the equation F
F = u FN is that the equation will tell you how much friction is available rather than how much is actually acting on the object. Consider a block that weighs 10 N resting on a horizontal table. The normal for is 10 N upward. If u = .3, then the frictional force available is 3 N. A force of 2 N is applied to the block causes the frictional force of 2 N to oppose the motion and the block does not move. (If all 3 N of frictional force had been applied, there would have been a net force in the direction of the frictional force. It would thus be possible to use friction to move things in some direction by simply tugging on the object in the opposite direction.)
   Don't let friction rub you the wrong way.



INCLINED PLANES Our common experience tells us that if we place an object at the top of a hill it may slide down if the hill is steep enough or, at least, if we minimize friction. To the question "why does the object move down the hill?" comes the answer "gravity". But it is also our common experience that an object moving down a hill does not experience the same acceleration as an object in free fall. We find that by some analysis of the forces involved that it is not the full amount of gravitational force (FG = mg) that moves the object but instead a component of this force mgsinq , where q is the angle of inclination above the horizontal . Because sin q increases with increasing angle, sin q = 1 when q = 90 degrees. Thus. we see that steepness of the hill does make a difference, even if the mathematics of the situation is a bit more complicated than we might wish to accept.

Sample problem - inclined plane, no friction
Sample problem - inclined plane, with friction

See these inclined plane applets


A hallmark of mechanics is the consideration of word problems. Useful relationships are published here in a page called 
EQUATIONS. The reader should consult this page before attempting the problems assigned.

see also







 Go to problems at U. Oregon
Go to Homework Problems


Supplementary Problems 2

Return to top

Return to Newton's laws

 This page was last reviewed 01/23/09