Friday, 26 January 2007

Fridays Physical Law - Force and Accelleration

As we saw last week a change in motion of an object requires a force to act on the object. Of course with change in motion we mean that an object can speed up or slow down or simply change the direction of motion - all of these acts are covered by the term acceleration.

Technically acceleration is the rate at which the motion changes, or the change in motion divided by the time it takes for the change. So like velocity is how fast you are moving (changing position) acceleration is how fast you are changing your motion (velocity).

So when ever we have a force acting on an object we get an acceleration. Of course multiple forces causing multiple accelerations could also be acting to reinforce or cancel out each other. Two people pushing a car (from the same end) make it twice as easy to get going, whereas if one was pushing forwards and the other pushing equally backwards then these would cancel out.

If we increase the force then we increase the acceleration, but what else effects this relationship? The answer to that is mass, the heavier an object the more force is required to get the same acceleration as a lighter object. This is described in Newton's Second Law F = ma.

A force in the direction of motion increases the speed, and a force counter to the direction of motion will decrease the speed. A force at an angle to the motion will cause a change in direction of motion as well as an increase/decrease in speed.

We also have the interesting case of a force at right angles to the motion, this will not cause any change in speed only in direction. And if this force is always at right angles to the motion then the object will continue at a constant speed the changes in direction will cause it to move in a circle. In this case we call the force a centripetal force, meaning center-seeking, but more about that another time.