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Newton's Laws

In grade 10 you learned about motion, but did not look at how things start to move. You have also learned about forces. In this section we will look at the effect of forces on objects and how we can make things move.

Newton's First Law

Sir Isaac Newton was a scientist who lived in England (1642-1727) who was interested in the motion of objects under various conditions. He suggested that a stationary object will remain stationary unless a force acts on it and that a moving object will continue moving unless a force slows it down, speeds it up or changes its direction of motion. From this he formulated what is known as Newton's First Law of Motion:

Definition 1: Newton's First Law of Motion

An object will remain in a state of rest or continue traveling at constant velocity, unless acted upon by an unbalanced (net) force.

Let us consider the following situations:

An ice skater pushes herself away from the side of the ice rink and skates across the ice. She will continue to move in a straight line across the ice unless something stops her. Objects are also like that. If we kick a soccer ball across a soccer field, according to Newton's First Law, the soccer ball should keep on moving forever! However, in real life this does not happen. Is Newton's Law wrong? Not really. Newton's First Law applies to situations where there aren't any external forces present. This means that friction is not present. In the case of the ice skater, the friction between the skates and the ice is very little and she will continue moving for quite a distance. In the case of the soccer ball, air resistance (friction between the air and the ball) and friction between the grass and the ball is present and this will slow the ball down.

Figure 1
Figure 1 (PG11C11_014.png)

Figure 2
Figure 2 (PG11C11_015.png)

Figure 3
Khan academy video on newtons laws - 1

Newton's First Law in action

We experience Newton's First Law in every day life. Let us look at the following examples:

Rockets:

A spaceship is launched into space. The force of the exploding gases pushes the rocket through the air into space. Once it is in space, the engines are switched off and it will keep on moving at a constant velocity. If the astronauts want to change the direction of the spaceship they need to fire an engine. This will then apply a force on the rocket and it will change its direction.

Figure 4: Newton's First Law and rockets
Figure 4 (PG11C11_016.png)

Seat belts:

We wear seat belts in cars. This is to protect us when the car is involved in an accident. If a car is traveling at 120 km··hr-1-1, the passengers in the car is also traveling at 120 km··hr-1-1. When the car suddenly stops a force is exerted on the car (making it slow down), but not on the passengers. The passengers will carry on moving forward at 120 km··hr-1-1according to Newton I. If they are wearing seat belts, the seat belts will stop them by exerting a force on them and so prevent them from getting hurt.

Figure 5
Figure 5 (PG11C11_017.png)

Exercise 1: Newton's First Law in action

Why do passengers get thrown to the side when the car they are driving in goes around a corner?

Solution
  1. Step 1. What happens before the car turns :

    Before the car starts turning both the passengers and the car are traveling at the same velocity. (picture A)

  2. Step 2. What happens while the car turns :

    The driver turns the wheels of the car, which then exert a force on the car and the car turns. This force acts on the car but not the passengers, hence (by Newton's First Law) the passengers continue moving with the same original velocity. (picture B)

  3. Step 3. Why passengers get thrown to the side? :

    If the passengers are wearing seat belts they will exert a force on the passengers until the passengers' velocity is the same as that of the car (picture C). Without a seat belt the passenger may hit the side of the car.

    Figure 6
    Figure 6 (PG11C11_018.png)

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