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Honors Physics


Lecturer: Russel Wilcox-Cline

Email: rwilcox@capecodacademy.org

Disclaimer: These problems have not been subjected to the usual scrutiny reserved for formal publications.
They may be distributed outside this class only with the permission of the Instructor.



In the previous lecture we discussed kinematics, where we studied the equations of motion in one and two
dimensional space. In those situations the object started to move or was already moving and we had to
predict certain characterstics of that motion (distance travelled, velocity, acceleration) but there was no
discussion why the object was undergoing motion or what causes it. In this lecture we will investigate why
motion occurs and how the concepts of force and motion are related.


Description of Forces

The concept of force is something that we are very familiar with, for example a certain force needs to be
exerted on a box to move it. A force can be physically interpreted as a push or pull on an object. Forces,
like acceleration or velocity, are vector quantities. When you push a box or kick a ball you are physically
interacting with the object causing a force to occur if you didnt interact with it then there would be no
force on the box or ball thus forces require agents or something that causes or exerts the force. There are
a variety of forces, which we will discuss over the course of the year, and they can be either considered a
long range force or a contact force. A contact force is a force caused by two objects physically touching
eachother. Long range forces, such as gravity or the electromagnetic force, do not require physical contact.
These long range interactions are carried out by particles, such as photons (electromagnetic force) or the
theoretical gravitons (gravitational force).
When studying kinematics we used vectors to visualize an objects velocity or acceleration. Force vectors are
how we visualize how forces are exerted on objects. To draw force vectors, first represent the object as a
particle (dot). Place the tail of the force vector on the particle. Draw the force vector as an arrow pointing
in the direction of the force and then, lastly, label the type of force. Forces follow what is called the law of
superposition, meaning that several forces acting on an object can be combined to represent one net force
on the object. The net force is referred to as the resultant force and is given by

F~net =


F~i = F~1 + F~2 + ... + F~N



Below is a list and description of some of the forces that we will be encountering in dynamics problems.
1. Gravity (Caused by the gravitational pull of the planet)
2. Spring (Can either push or pull and object)
3. Tension (Caused when a rope pulls an object)


Lecture 3: Russel Wilcox-Cline

4. Normal Force (Force exerted by a surface against an object that is pressing against the surface. The
normal force is always perpendicular to the surface)


Identifying Forces

In order to solve force problems one must first identify the force or forces involved, this is accomplished by
drawing a force diagram. To draw a force diagram
1. Identify the object of interest
2. Draw a picture of the situation
3. Draw a closed curve around the object
4. Locate every point on the boundary of this curve where other objects touch the object of interest.
These are points where contact forces are exerted on the object
5. Name and label each contact force acting on the object
6. Name and label each long range force acting on the object
We now know what a force is and how to identify them, but what exactly do forces do? Consider an object
that is pulled with a constant force. If we carefully measure how the distance of the object changes over time
we can show that the acceleration is constant with respect to time. Thus an object pulled with constance
force moves with constant acceleration. Because the object moves with constant acceleration we can
say that acceleration is directly proportional to force and we can write
~a = cF~


where c is a constant. We need to define what this constant is, so let us look at properties intrinsic to the
object. We define an objects mass as the amount of matter the object contains. We observe that the more
matter an object contains there is a greater tendency to resist a change in velocity (i.e an acceleration). This
resistance to change in velocity is called intertia. We can now write the mass as




which implies that the mass is the constant c we are looking for. We can say that a force of magntidude |F~ |
causes an object to accelerate, whose acceleration is given by

~a =



rearranging this equation we can define force

F~ = m~a


Lecture 3: Russel Wilcox-Cline



Newtons Laws

The principles that govern dynamics can be broken down into three laws, which were presented by Isaac


Newtons Second Law

An object of mass m that is subject to forces F~1 , F~2 ... will undergo an acceleration ~a given by

~a =




F~net =


F~i = F~1 + F~2 + ... + F~N



It is important to realize that an object will accelerate in the direction of the net force applied
and this direction can be determined by fadding the individual force vectors tip to tail and determining the
resultant vector. An object also has no memory of any previous forces acted on it thus an object only will
react to forces it feels at a given instant. A force is measured in units of Newtons and has dimensions
of kgm
s .


Newtons First Law

Newtons first law states An object that is at rest or an object that is moving will continue to
move in a straight line with constant velocity if and only if the net force acting on the object
is zero. If there are no forces acting on an obect or if there net force is zero then the object is said to be
in mechanical equilibrium. There are two forms of mechanical equilibrium. Static equilibrium occurs
when an object is at rest. Dynamic equilibrium occurs when an object is moving in a straight line with
constant velocity. We can see that there is no cause needed for an object to move and that a force is what
causes an objects velocity to change.
It important to note that Newtons laws are only valid in intertial reference frames, meaning that the
reference frame that the object is being analyzed from must not be accelerating. An example of a non
intertial reference would be observing a runner that is running with constant velocity while the observer is
driving an accelerating car.


Free Body Diagrams

A free body diagram represents an object as a particle (point) and shows all of the forces acting on the
object. In order to draw a free body diagram
1. Identify all forces acting on the object
2. Draw a coordinate system


Lecture 3: Russel Wilcox-Cline

3. Represent the pbject as a dot at the origin of the coordinate axes

4. Draw vectors representing each of the identified forces
5. Draw and label the net force


Dynamics: Linear Motion


F~i = F~1 + F~2 +...+ F~N = ~0) is said to be in equilibrium.
An object on which the net force is zero (F~net =

Recall that force is a vector so we must analyze both the x and y components. This means in order to fully
analyze the system we must solve and analyze equations in both the x and y directions. If an object has
a net force of zero then the net force in the x-direction must be zero and the the net force in
the y-direction must be zero. This object is then said to be in equilibrium

F~netx =


F~ix = F~1x + F~2x + ... + F~N x = ~0


F~iy = F~1y + F~2y + ... + F~N y = ~0



F~nety =



Newtons Second Law

Let us now consider the case where an object is not in equilibrium. If an object is not in equilibrium then
the net force on that obect does not equal zero and the object is undergoing an acceleration.
Instead of having our decomposed vector equations (the equations for the x and y components of the force)
equal to zero this time we will have

F~netx =


F~ix = F~1x + F~2x + ... + F~N x = m~ax


F~iy = F~1y + F~2y + ... + F~N y = m~ay



F~nety =



Mass, Weight, and Gravity

At times the terms mass and weight are used interchangably, however, this two terms have two distinct and
separate meanings. Mass is a scalar quantity that describes an objects intertia and is intrinsic to the object
being considered. We have previously discussed the force due to gravity, which is a long range attractive
force that acts on an objects mass causing a constant acceleration of g = 9.8 m/s on earth. We define weight
as the measurement of the force due to gravity and given by

Lecture 3: Russel Wilcox-Cline


F = mg


where g is the acceleration due to gravity. Note that g is not constant and can change depending on what
planet or celestial body the object being measured is on. Therefore, weight is not an intrinsic property
of an object.



In the course of our study of dynamics we will consider two different types of fractions, static and kinetic.
Let us first consider the case of static friction. We define static friction to be the force acting on an object
that keeps the object from slipping moving. Static friction is represented by f~s . Let us consider the situation
where an individual is pushing a box across a floor that has friction. If an object is in static equilibrium
f~s = F~push


In order to determine the direction of f~s decide which way the object woud move if there was no friction.
The force due to static friction points in the opposite direction, preventing motion. There is a limit on how
large f~s can be, f~s will increase until it reaches a point f~smax . Any force larger than f~smax will subsequently
cause the object to move. We define
f~smax = s~n


where s is a dimensionless quantity called the coefficient of static friction and n is the normal force.
Once the object starts to slide the static friction force is replaced by a kinetic friction force. The kinetic
friction force has nearly constant magnitude and has a magnitude that is less than the maximum static
friction. We define the kinetic friction force as
f~k = k ~n


where k is a dimensionless quantity called the coefficient of kinetic friction. It is important to note that
k < s


Newtons Third Law

Interacting Objects

We have previously discussed the case where we analyzed the forces acting on one object, but how do we
apply this analysis to a system of two or more objects that interact with each other. Let us consider a
hammer and a nail. As the hammer its the nail it exerts a force on the nail but at the same time the nail
exerts a force on the hammer. We can generalize this to any system. Consider two objects A and B. If
object A pushes or pulls on object B then object B must push or pull on object A. We define this mutual
interaction between two objects as an interaction and the two are said to be an action-reaction pair. More


Lecture 3: Russel Wilcox-Cline

specifically if two objects are an action reaction pair then object A exterts a force F~AonB on B and object B
exterts a force F~BonA .
Now let us extend the example of objects A and B interacting with each other. We are interested not only
in describing the forces acting on these objects but also the motion of the objects. To consider the motion of
these objects we must fanalyze the objects interacting but also any forces acting on the objects externally.
We define a system as those objects whose motion we want to analyze and the environment as objects
external to the system. We model this system of interacting objects by creating an interaction diagram. In
an interaction diagram the objects of the system are enclosed in a box and are their interaction is represented
as lines connecting the objects. Any interactions with objects in the environment, called external forces, are
represented by lines connecting the external forces, which are located outside the box, to the objects. We
can then apply Newtons Second Law to each object individually where the net force on object 1 is the sum
of all of the forces acton on object 1, which includes boths forces due to object 2 and external forces. The
same holds true for object 2.


Analyzing Interacting Objects

In order to successfully analyze a system of interacting objects follow the follow key steps, which include
identifying action reaction pairs and then drawing free body diagrams.
1. Represent each object as a circle and place each in the correct position relative to other objects
(a) Give each a name and a label
(b) The surface of the earth (contact forces) and the entire earth (long range forces) should be
considered separate objects. Label the entire earth EE.
(c) Ropes and pulleys often need to be considered objects
2. Identify Interactions. Draw connecting ines between circles to represent interactions.
(a) Draw one line for each interaction and leel it with the type of force.
(b) Every interaction line connects two and only two objects.
(c) There can be at most two interactions at a surface: a force parallel to the surgace and a force
perpendicular to the surface.
(d) The entire earth interacts only by the long range gravitational force.
3. Identify the system. Identify the objects of interest; draw and label a box enclosing them. This
completes the interaction diagram
4. Draw a free-body diagram for each object in the system. Include only the forces acting on each object,
not forces exerted by the object.
(a) Every interaction line crossing the system boundary is one external force acting on the object.
(b) Every interaction line within the system represents an action-reaction pair of forces. There is one
force vector on each of the objects, and these forces always point in opposite directions.
(c) Connect the two action-reaction forces, which must be on different free body diagrams, with a
dashed line.

Lecture 3: Russel Wilcox-Cline



Newtons Third Law

Newtons third law quantitatively describes the interaction between two objects and states every force
occurs as one member of an action-reaction pair of forces. The two members of an action-reaction
pair act on two different objects and the forces of an action-reaction pair are equal in magnitude but opposite
in direction
F~AonB = F~BonA


Newtons third law completes our current understanding of force. We can now recognize that any force is
just the intereaction between two objects. It is important to note that when considering an action-reaction
pair forces are equal but the accelerations are not. The ideal case to study is the interaction between
a ball thrown upward and the earth. Newtons third law says that the forces acting on the two objects are
the same but are in opposite directions, so does how come the ball does not accelerate the earth? Or does it?
Newtons third law equates the sizes of two forces but not the two accelerations (note the ball and the earth
have two very different masses). The acceleration depends on the mass of the object, as stated by Newtons
second law. In an interaction between two objects of different masses, the lighter mass will do
essentially all of the accelerating even though the forces exerted on the two objects are equal.
This is why the earth appears not to accelerate, it does but its acceleration is essential zero, when a ball is
thrown upward.


Acceleration Constraints

If two objects are touching then they must have the same magnitude of acceleration, these two accelerations
are said to be constrained. One must carefully analyze the problem to properly determine the constraint
on accelerations. Below are some steps to help you analyze and solve problems dealing with interacting
1. Draw a pictorial representation
(a) Show important points in the motion with a sketch. YOu may wany to give each object a separate
coordinate system. Define symbols and identify what the problem is trying to find.
(b) Identify acceleration constraints.
(c) Draw a separate free-body diagram for each object.
(d) Connect the force vectors of action-reaction pairs with dashed lines. Use subscript labels to
distinguish forces that act independently on more than on object.
2. Use Newtons second and third laws
(a) Write the equations of Newtons second law for each object, using the force information from the
free body diagrams.
(b) Equate the magnitudes of the action-reaction pairs
(c) Include the constraints, friction, and other quantitative information relevant to the problem.
(d) Solve for the acceleration, then use kinematics to find velocities and positions.