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Friction

Abstract

Friction

Students learn the principles of friction by demonstrating the effect weight, angle and gravity on the speed of movement of objects.

of

Equipment

1. Friction Boards

2. Weights

3. Velcro Ball Game

4. Drill

5. ¾” Dowels

6. Rope

7. 3 x 8’ Flat Board

8. Styrofoam Boards

9. Bucket

10. Beer Glass

11. Decorations for Tortoise

12. Hairspray

14. Velcro

15. Hand Held Lenses

16. Drill Board

This activity is suitable for Middle and High School Students.

State Standards Met

Standard 1 – Analysis, Inquiry, and Design Standard 4 – Physical Setting and Living Environment Standard 7 – Interdisciplinary Problem Solving

Introduction

Friction is a part of our everyday life. Nearly every movement we make involves friction, and we have instinctively learned to take advantage of friction, or the lack of friction, since our childhood.

Simple devices that rely on friction are everywhere around us. This workshop will help you see and appreciate the role of friction. As we study friction, lets also think about the differences between what scientists do and what engineers do.

Scientists and engineers have been studying friction and its effects for a very long time. Engineers in particular have a real "love-hate" relationship with friction. For many jobs, an engineer must fight against friction and its effects through careful, clever design. In this workshop, we'll talk about the wedge and the wheel -- the ancient engineers' tremendously successful approach to friction. Roughly speaking, the scientist's role is to understand friction, what causes it and how those causes can be controlled. The engineer's role is to anticipate friction's part in the task at hand, and to use friction to the best advantage in the design of materials, machines, and experiments.

In this workshop, you will be a scientist, doing experiments to learn about friction and thinking about how it works; and then you will be an engineer when you design your own car to win a "slow" race down a ramp. You'll learn that there is no practical way to eliminate friction. Like the tortoise in the famous story, friction always "wins," eating away at energy you put into motion, slow and steady. Sooner or later, friction will cause the motion to stop. Ultimately, friction wins!

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What is friction?

Friction is the force that opposes sliding motion. It is the resistance to the movement of one body in relation to another body with which it is in contact. For example, if we try to slide a wooden block across a table, then friction acts in the direction opposite to the movement of the block.

Identifying the forces involved in friction

Let's talk about forces. Forces are pushes or pulls. Understanding forces is very important to many physicists and engineers. Researchers have spent a great deal of time defining a "language" of forces. We'll define some of the language of forces in this program.

Forces act in a certain direction. Think about gravity. What direction does

gravity always act in?

it are balanced: not only the amount of force, but also the direction. Did you say that gravity acts down? Good. Now, if there is a book on a table, and gravity is pulling down on the book, what sort of force is the table exerting on it?

If something is not moving, all the forces on

Gravity
Table

The table pushes up with exactly the same force that gravity pushes down. That force is equal to the weight of the book.

Now, suppose that the table is at an angle, like an engineer's drawing board. Gravity still pushes down, but the table is not pushing straight up. It is pushing at an angle perpendicular to the table surface. Another force is needed to keep the book from sliding down the table: that's friction!

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Gravity
Friction
Table

What direction does friction push in, and how strong is the force of friction? These are not easy questions! Let's think about some differences between friction and gravity on earth:

Gravity always pushes (or pulls) down. Friction always pushes (or pulls) in the direction opposite to the direction that the object is sliding, or would slide if there were no friction. Friction always acts parallel to the surfaces in contact, because that is where sliding happens.

Gravity always has a force equal to the weight of the object that it is acting on, and the object's weight is directly related to its mass. Friction on a static object (no sliding) has a force exactly large enough to resist sliding, up to a certain maximum -- if the force trying to slide is larger than this maximum, then the object slides. We'll do some experiments later to see what this maximum force depends on. Friction on a sliding object depends on the same things that determine the maximum for static friction, and is always a little bit less than that maximum.

Does this seem complicated? Don't worry. We'll do some experiments to understand friction. After all, we use it every day and hardly even think about it!

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What determines the amount of friction between two surfaces?

I. Forces Try pushing a block around on a table. What direction do you have to push in to make it move?

If you also push down on the block, does it become harder or easier to push it around?

Hold a block against the wall. How hard do you have to push to make it stay up? What sort of force is holding it up? (remember: What direction does gravity act in? What direction does friction act in? What direction do your hand and the wall push in? Where are the sliding surfaces in this case?)

Can you summarize what you have learned here about friction?

Even though friction acts parallel to sliding surfaces, the maximum amount of friction force depends partly on the perpendicular force holding them together.

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II. Surfaces Let’s use an analogy to help us understand friction. We’ll use Velcro to show how surfaces “stick” together. Did you ever look at Velcro up close, or think about how it works? One side contains many small loops, and the other side contains many small hooks. The hook side not only connects to the loop side, but will also attach itself to some other fabrics. It connects more strongly to some fabrics than others.

What happens with friction is like this, but at the level of atoms, much, much smaller than you can see. There are no hooks and loops like in Velcro, but there are peaks and valleys (irregularities) that get caught on each other and prevent movement. Different surfaces have different types of peaks and valleys, so, just like different fabrics attaching to Velcro with different strengths, different surfaces have different frictional resistances to sliding.

Here is another way to see this: Make fists and put your knuckles together, then try to slide your hands across each other. Is it difficult? This is what happens on the atomic scale when surfaces are pressed together. Although each bump (or knuckle) is too small to see, there are many thousands of them working together to produce friction. This simple experiment can show us three essential facts about friction:

You can see how irregularities prevent motion.

You can see that the harder you press your hands together, the harder it is to slide them. Higher perpendicular forces create more friction.

If you bring your fists together while they are moving sideways, it will be easier to keep them sliding. The friction between static surfaces is greater than the friction between moving surfaces. More about this below…

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III. Static and kinetic friction Now let’s try to understand one more important fact about friction. There is a difference between friction to start sliding and friction during sliding. Engineers call this static and kinetic friction. Static means not moving. Kinetic means moving. What this means, is that it is easier to keep something sliding than to start it from a dead stop, and it is harder than you might think to stop something once it has started sliding. Can you think of example of this from your own life?

Is friction the hero or the villain?

Now that you know a little about what friction is, let’s think about whether friction is “good” or “bad.” You may be aware that scientists and engineers have tried for many years to produce machines without friction. You may even have seen ads for automotive additives that claim to eliminate friction. If you could do this, it would mean that you could start something moving and never have to push it again. Just like pushing someone on a swing: if you stop pushing, and they don’t pump, the swing will eventually stop. Of course perpetual motion has never been achieved, although a good many failed designs can be found. Scientists have only been able to eliminate friction in some extremely unusual, extremely cold situations. There is no practical way to do it.

But do you want to completely eliminate friction? Friction is essential to activities like walking, eating, washing, and braking. It is also necessary for many of the tools we use, like nails and screws, hair clips, doorstops, and knots. We require friction to control how we move about. Do you remember how difficult it is to walk on very icy sidewalks? A layer of ice and water reduces the normal level of friction we experience when we walk on a relatively rough surface. The same happens to cars: countless accidents happen in icy weather when control on slipper roads becomes difficult. Friction can be a very useful thing.

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Ways to reduce friction

Friction can be helpful in some situations, and a problem in others. When it is a problem, like when we want to improve the efficiency of a machine, here are some ways to reduce friction:

Polish the surfaces to make them smoother.

Reduce the perpendicular forces pushing the surfaces together.

Add a lubricant like oil between the two surfaces.

Replace sliding with rolling. Rolling has a friction-like resistance to motion that is much smaller than sliding friction.

Use air cushions (like hovercrafts) and streamlined shapes (to reduce drag, or friction with the air).

Can you think of examples from your life of each of these ways of reducing friction?

Some Experiments with friction

Use a friction board to see how well your block slides on different surfaces. You can try to measure the difference in a couple of ways:

1. Attach weights to the block and let the weights hang over the side of the table. What is the minimum weight required to pull the block?

Note: th is arrangement will pull your block in the right direction to slide.

This arrangement will not work so well.

Why? That's another
"direction of forces"

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2. Put the block on the board and tilt it to find the minimum angle that will let the block slide down the board. (It may be easier to measure how high the high end of the board is when the block slides. If you also measure the length of the board, you can calculate the angles later.)

Write down your observations and compare with other scientists.

 Surface Weight method Angle method Cardboard Rubber Sandpaper Cork

3. Now, let’s put this information together with what you just learned about how perpendicular forces affect friction. Using the “weight method,” repeat the experiment you just did with different weights on top of the block to change the gravitational force pulling the block down on the table.

Your experiment should look like this:

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 Cardboard Rubber Sandpaper Cork Weight Weight Weight Weight Weight Weight Weight Weight on top to pull on top to pull on top to pull on top to pull

Later, you may want to make a graph showing how the weight on top (perpendicular force) is related to the weight to pull (friction force). What do you think such a graph would look like?

4. Finally, use the blocks to look at the difference between static and kinetic friction. You should be able to find a combination of weights, or an angle, that will slide the block only after you have given it a small initial tap. This tap adds enough force to overcome static friction, and after the block has started moving, it keeps sliding because it needs a smaller force, equal to the kinetic friction, to keep going.

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Other types of friction

I. Friction between a solid surface and a liquid or gas We have mostly been discussing two solid surfaces and the friction between them. Remember that friction increases as we press the two surfaces together. Now what about a solid object being pushed through air or water? This type of friction has a special name: drag. It is pretty complicated, and scientists have studied it for many years. Drag depends on the shape of the moving solid and its speed. Here’s an experiment to look at drag:

Take two balloons an inflate one. Hold them out. Which way is gravity acting on the balloons? If you drop them, which way will drag be acting? Drop them. Which one lands first? Why?

You can try a similar experiment dropping clay in water, timing the drops.

If you do this experiment, you might wonder if gravity is acting differently on the different objects you drop. Galileo, a famous Italian scientist, did an experiment that proved that, if you only consider gravity, all things on earth fall at the same speed. So, the only thing that can change how fast your objects are falling is friction. If you don’t believe this, repeat Galileo’s experiment:

you will need to drop two objects that have the same friction, but different weights. If your friction comes from drag, then that means that they should be the same size and shape. Can you think of a way to do this?

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II. Granular materials Little particles of material also interact with each other and have friction. This called internal friction. What would happen if you poured a cup of water on the table? Do you think that water molecules slide over each other easily? What if you poured sand on the table? It piles up, and the pile is held together by internal friction, so you can say that sand has a high internal friction.

Next time you help your father or mother cook, pay attention to the internal friction of the ingredients you use: flour, sugar, rice, salt, parmesan cheese, and so on. Which powders have low internal friction? Which ones have high internal friction? Are there any with so much friction that they keep the shape of the measuring cup after you dump them? Have you ever started to pour salt into a measuring spoon and then not been able to stop in time? Static and kinetic friction can also be found when we are talking about internal friction!

Internal friction is important for construction engineers. They test concrete by measuring internal friction: it’s called slump, then. Have you looked at any of the local gorges this spring? You can probably see spots where the winter weather has washed away the soil, and spots where dirt and small rocks still cover the steep slopes. What does this have to do with friction? If you were a construction engineer, would you care about the internal friction of the soil where you were building a house?

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Here’s something else to think about, when you work as a construction engineer this summer. When we build a sandcastle, we use damp sand to do it, because if we used dry sand, the internal friction would be too low and the sandcastle would crumble. But we just learned that adding a fluid is a way to reduce friction! What is going on here?

1. Water is a poor lubricant. Its molecules tend to “stick” to surfaces like sand. This is one reason why people often use oils and greases, even though water is so abundant. (Another reason is that water would rust metal machine parts.)

2. Friction and drag often behave differently when in very small spaces, like the distance between two grains of sand, than in large spaces like sliding blocks or a boat sliding in water. In small spaces, the chemical “stickiness” of the molecules becomes much more important and can actually increase friction.

As you can see, friction is very basic but also a very exciting topic that scientists are always learning new things about!

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Where does all that energy go?

What happens to all that force that we keep applying to overcome friction? Where does the energy go? Here are some by-products of friction:

I. Heat Rub your hands together briskly. What happens? Do they feel warm? Have you ever heard of someone starting a fire by rubbing sticks together? Some of the energy that goes into overcoming friction comes out as heat.

II. Sound Can you fill in the blank in this proverb?

The squeaky wheel gets the

Did you say “grease”? Friction is what makes a squeaky wheel squeak. Grease, we have already learned, is a way to reduce friction. When friction produces sound energy, it can be very annoying! Think about squeaky wheels, creaky doors, or fingernails on a blackboard. On the other hand, if friction never made a sound, we would not have wonderful sounds like violin music or the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. Also, squeaks and creaks are often signs that friction is getting rid of energy in another way ---

III. Wear and tear Some of the energy of friction goes into the destruction and wearing down of the surfaces that are sliding against each other. This could reduce the life of a machine, because too much friction will wear it out faster. That is why it is important for engineers and mechanics to reduce friction by making sure that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

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A geometry problem: How does friction balance the force of gravity?

Look at the force arrows (vectors) in this picture. Remember, a downward force must be balanced by an equal upward force, and a push to one side must be balanced by an equal push to the other side (What famous scientific law tells us this?)

Gravity ( 1kg)
Friction
Table
30º

Here, we want to figure out the size of the table force and the size of the friction force. Gravity is pulling straight down on the book, and the table is pushing up and to the left. Friction is pushing to the right, so this should balance the leftward push of the table. But friction is also pushing up, so friction and the table share the job of fighting gravity! How can we figure the forces out?

Here is a list of what we need to know for sure:

the weight of the book (1 kg)

the angle of the table with the floor (30º)

the direction of all the forces:

gravity acts straight down

friction acts up at 30º to the floor

the table pushes at 90º to friction (because the table pushes perpendicular to its surface, and friction pushes parallel to it).

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Here's how we can use geometry to solve our problem:

1. Choose a scale for drawing our forces. Let's let 5 cm = 1 kg.

2. According to this scale, draw an arrow 5 cm long, straight down, to represent the weight of the book and the force of gravity.

3. Using a protractor, draw a line at 30º to the "ground" (or 60º to the gravity arrow).

4. Line up one side of a square corner, like the edge of a piece of paper, with the 30º line. Slide it along the line until you find a right triangle with the gravity arrow as the hypoteneuse (long side). Trace out this triangle.

5. One friction of this triangle is the friction force, and one side is the table force. Look at the original figure to remember which is which, and which way they point. The forces in this diagram "add up" geometrically because you can follow all of the arrows around the triangle, back to the starting point.

Friction
30º
Table

right triangle

5 cm = 1 kg

Not to scale

6. Now, measure the lines for the friction force and the table force, and use our scale of 5 cm = 1 kg to convert that into the magnitude of the forces. You should have something like this:

 Friction = 2.5 cm = 0.50 kg Table = 4.3 cm = 0.87 kg

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Workbook Credits
Emily Hackett
Dr. Helene Schember
Nev Singhota