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MITx: 8.MReV Mechanics ReView

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Mathematical Form of Newton's 2nd Law


Newton's Second Law is (in Cajori (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florian_Cajori)'s translation):
"The change of motion is proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is
impressed."

The first phrase says the [net] force causes a change in the motion, by which Newton meant in the quantity of motion, which we call
the momentum and represent as mv. The second phrase states that force is a vector quantity. Thus the law can be written:
) vm(d
am =

ten

td

The net force applied on an object causes an acceleration that is inversely proportional to the mass of the object. Larger mass makes

ten

it more difficult to change a body's direction or speed. The net force

is the resulting force obtained by adding all the forces

applied on the object using vector addition. For an object with mass m that has four different forces acting on it,
) vm(d

am =

td

1 =i

ten

Important Notes

When applying Newton's second law in problem solving the most important aspects to remember are:

m / t en F =

vd
td

= a

1. Newton's second law is a LAW OF CHANGE:

[hide]

Our Modeling Approach to Problem Solving emphasizes that all the core physical principles in mechanics contain a LAW OF CHANGE an expression
that describes how interactions change motion. The law of change specifies how some state variable representing motion will be changed by some
function of the force called the AGENT OF CHANGE. Mathematically the form of these laws is that the first time derivative of the motion variable
equals some function of the force (e.g. the external force, the torque) In the case of Newton's Second Law, the object's velocity is changed by the
net force arising from the objects interactions with the rest of the world:

te n

vd

F
=

a =

td

On the left hand side: the derivative means the rate of change of the velocity over time (change in motion)
On the right hand side : the net Force (the cause of the changing motion) is divided by the mass (a property of the object related to its inertia).
NOTICE: This equation says that a vector derivative of the velocity (not the velocity itself) has the same direction as the net force The velocity can
change because either its direction of motion or its speed, or both, change. A special case arises when the force causing the directional change is
perpendicular to the velocity, in which case the speed remains constant and only the direction changes. This gives rise to the special type of
motion called uniform circular motion.

defines force, but

a m

a m

2.

is NOT a force! [hide]

Newton's second law is the operational definition of force: directly proportional to the acceleration and to the mass. This definition enables us to
quantify force, and thereby to study it. Thus we can discover Laws of Force like universal gravity and Hookes law for springs. Knowing the force
from these laws and the objects positions, we can make accurate predictions about the motion of most objects in the universe.

The equation F = ma is an example of the different uses of equalities in physics and mathematics. Mathematics equations are used as identities.
and

am

te n

Newton's Second Law is a relation between two very different physical quantities:

; force and momentum change (mass times

acceleration). It is a Law of Nature, and therefore subject to experimental test to see whether it accurately describes how the world works. It would
be falsified if the same force, when applied to a mass twice as big, did not result in an acceleration exactly one half as large. Its vector nature
would be contradicted if two forces acting on a body simultaneously resulted in an acceleration different from what one would predict from the
vector addition of the accelerations that each force would cause if acting separately. It is accurately checked each time we observe Jupiter pass
behind the moon at the time we calculated in advance, or when we make a midcourse correction of a space probe so that it will enter Mars'
atmosphere at the correct angle to slow down without burning up.
am =

te n

te n

On the left hand side: force

is the resulting force from all interaction(s) with other objects. We call it "net" force to indicate the importance of

adding the vector forces from ALL the interactions. The "net force" is not "one of the forces" acting on the object. Rather, the net force can be
thought of as the single force that could be applied to the object to cause the same consequence as the effect of all the forces actually acting on the
object.
a

On the right hand side : m is the mass (an intrinsic property of the object), and

is the acceleration (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/acceleration) of

the object, describing how the motion is changing. The product of these two physical quantities always has the same (vector) value as the net force
is a force or interaction of any kind with the object. Repeat as often as necessary:

am

force! It should never be put on your free body diagram it is the result of those forces.

am

acting on the object. This does not mean that

is not a

3. Dimensions vs Units for Force. [show]

Help

Final Note: For students who hunt for equations as a problem solving strategy! [show]

Show Discussion

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