Force and Laws of Motion

Category : UPSC

 Force and Laws of Motion


1.           Galileo Galilei



  • Galileo Galilei was born on 15 February, 1564 in Pisa, Italy. Galileo, right from his childhood, had interest in mathematics and natural philosophy.
  • Galileo enrolled himself for a medical degree at the University of Pisa in 1581 which he never completed because of his real interest in mathematics.
  • In 1586, he wrote his first scientific book 'The Little Balance [La Balancitta]', in which he described Archimedes' method of finding the relative densities (or specific gravities) of substances using a balance.
  • In 1589, in his series of essays - De Motu, he presented his theories about falling objects using an inclined plane to slow down the rate of descent.
  • In 1592, he was appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Padua in the Republic of Venice. Here he continued his observations on the theory of motion and through his study of inclined planes and the pendulum.
  • Galileo was also a remarkable craftsman. He developed a series of telescopes whose optical performance was much better than that of other telescopes available during those days. Around 1640, he designed the first pendulum clock.
  • In his book 'Starry Messenger' on his astronomical discoveries, Galileo claimed to have seen mountains on the moon, the Milky Way made up of tiny stars, and four small bodies orbiting Jupiter. In his books 'Discourse on Floating Bodies' and 'Letters on the Sunspots', he disclosed his observations of sunspots.
  • Using his own telescopes and through his observations on Saturn and Venus, Galileo argued that all the planets must orbit the Sun and not the earth, contrary to what was believed at that time.
  • Galileo's discoveries in astronomy were equally revolutionary. In 1609, he designed his own telescope (invented earlier in Holland) and used it to make a number of startling observations: mountains and depressions on the surface of the moon; dark spots on the sun; the moons of Jupiter and the phases of Venus.
  • He concluded that the Milky Way derived its luminosity because of a large number of stars not visible to the naked eye. In his masterpiece of scientific reasoning : Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, Galileo advocated the heliocentric theory of the solar system proposed by Copernicus, which eventually got universal acceptance.


2.           First Law of Motion



  • Newton further studied Galileo's ideas on force and motion and presented three fundamental laws that govern the motion of objects. These three laws are known as Newton's laws of motion.
  • The first law of motion is stated as : An object remains in a state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change that state by an applied force.
  • In other words, all objects resist a change in their state of motion. In a qualitative way, the tendency of undisturbed objects to stay at rest or to keep moving with the same velocity is called inertia. This is why, the first law of motion is also known as the law of inertia.
  • Certain experiences that we come across while travelling in a motorcar can be explained on the basis of the law of inertia. We tend to remain at rest with respect to the seat until the driver applies a braking force to stop the motorcar. With the application of brakes, the car slows down but our body tends to continue in the same state of motion because of its inertia. A sudden application of brakes may thus cause injury to us by impact or collision with the panels in front. Safety belts are worn to prevent such accidents. Safety belts exert a force on our body to make the forward motion slower.
  • An opposite experience is encountered when we are standing in a bus and the bus begins to move suddenly. Now we tend to fall backwards. This is because the sudden start of the bus brings motion to the bus as well as to our feet in contact with the floor of the bus. But the rest of our body opposes this motion because of its inertia.
  • When a motorcar makes a sharp turn at a high speed, we tend to get thrown to one side. This can again be explained on the basis of the law of inertia. We tend to continue in our straight-line motion. When an unbalanced force is applied by the engine to change the direction of motion of the motorcar, we slip to one side of the seat due to the inertia of our body.
  • Heavier or more massive objects offer larger inertia. Quantitatively, the inertia of an object is measured by its mass. We may thus relate inertia and mass as follows: Inertia is the natural tendency of an object to resist a change in its state of motion or of rest. The mass of an object is a measure of its inertia.


3.           Second Law of Motion



  • The first law of motion indicates that when an unbalanced external force acts on an object, its velocity changes, that is, the object gets an acceleration.
  • The impact produced by the objects depends on their mass and velocity. Similarly, if an object is to be accelerated, a greater force is required to give a greater velocity.
  • In other words, there appears to exist some quantity of importance that combines the object's mass and its velocity. One such property called momentum was introduced by Newton. The momentum, p of an object is defined as the product of its mass, m and velocity, v. That is, p = mv
  • Momentum has both direction and magnitude. Its direction is the same as that of velocity, v. The SI unit of momentum is kilogram-metre per second (kg m s-1). Since the application of an unbalanced force brings a change in the velocity of the object, it is therefore clear that a force also produces a change of momentum.
  • Let us consider a situation in which a car with a dead battery is to be pushed along a straight road to give it a speed of 1 m s'1, which is sufficient to start its engine. If one or two persons give a sudden push (unbalanced force) to it, it hardly starts. But a continuous push over some time results in a gradual acceleration of the car to this speed. It means that the change of momentum of the car is not only determined by the magnitude of the force but also by the time during which the force is exerted.
  • It may then also be concluded that the force necessary to change the momentum of an object depends on the time rate at which the momentum is changed.
  • The second law of motion states that the rate of change of momentum of an object is proportional to the applied unbalanced force in the direction of force. .
  • The second law of motion is often seen in action in our everyday life. Have you noticed that while catching a fast moving cricket ball, a fielder in the ground gradually pulls his hands backwards with the moving ball? In doing so, the fielder increases the time during which the high velocity of the moving ball decreases to zero. Thus, the acceleration of the ball is decreased and therefore the impact of catching the fast moving ball is also reduced. If the ball is stopped suddenly then its high velocity decreases to zero in a very short interval of time. Thus, the rate of change of momentum of the ball will be large. Therefore, a large force would have to be applied for holding the catch that may hurt the palm of the fielder.
  • In a high jump athletic event, the athletes are made to fall either on a cushioned bed or on a sand bed. This is to increase the time of the athlete's fall to stop after making the jump. This decreases the rate of change of momentum and hence the force. Try to ponder how a karate player breaks a slab of ice with a single blow.


4.           Third Law of Motion



  • The first two laws of motion tell us how an applied force changes the motion and provide us with a method of determining the force.
  • The third law of motion states that when one object exerts a force on another object, the second object instantaneously exerts a force back on the first. These two forces are always equal in magnitude but opposite in direction. These forces act on different objects and never on the same object.
  • In the game of football sometimes we, while looking at the football and trying to kick it with a greater force, collide with a player of the opposite team. Both feel hurt because each applies a force to the other. In other words, there is a pair of forces and not just one force. The two opposing forces are also known as action and reaction forces.
  • Two spring balances connected together as shown in. The fixed end of balance B is attached with a rigid support, like a wall. When a force is applied through the free end of spring balance A, it is observed that both the spring balances show the same readings on their scales. It means that the force exerted by spring balance A on balance B is equal but opposite in direction to the force exerted by the balance B on balance A. The force which balance A exerts on balance B is called the action and the force of balance B on balance A is called the reaction. This gives us an alternative statement of the third law of motion i.e., to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. However, it must be remembered that the action and reaction always act on two different objects.
  • When a gun is fired, it exerts a forward force on the bullet. The bullet exerts an equal and opposite reaction force on the gun. This results in the recoil of the gun.
  • Since the gun has a much greater mass than the bullet, the acceleration of the gun is much less than the acceleration of the bullet. The third law of motion can also be illustrated when a sailor jumps out of a rowing boat. As the sailor jumps forward, the force on the boat moves it backwards.


5.           Important Facts



  • The sum of momenta of the two objects before collision is equal to the sum of momenta after the collision provided there is no external unbalanced force acting on them. This is known as the law of conservation of momentum. This statement can alternatively be given as the total momentum of the two objects is unchanged or conserved by the collision.
  • Isaac Newton was born in Woolsthorpe, England in 1642, the year Galileo died.
  • In 1684, encouraged by his friend Edmund Halley, Newton embarked on writing what was to be one of the greatest scientific works ever published: The Principia Mathematica.
  • In it, he enunciated the three laws of motion and the universal law of gravitation, which explained all the three Kepler's laws of planetary motion. The book was packed with a host of path-breaking achievements: basic principles of fluid mechanics, mathematics of wave motion, calculation of masses of the earth, the sun and other planets, explanation of the precession of equinoxes, theory of tides, etc. In 1704, Newton brought out another masterpiece Opticks that summarized his work on light and colour.


Other Topics


You need to login to perform this action.
You will be redirected in 3 sec spinner