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Now let’s talk about the other ever present force on this Earth, and that’s friction. Friction is the force between one object rubbing against another object. Friction is what makes things slow down. Without friction things would just keep moving unless they hit something else. Without friction, you would not be able to walk. Your feet would have nothing to push against and they would just slide backward all the time like you’re doing the moon walk. Friction is a very complicated interaction between pressure and the type of materials that are touching one another. Let’s do a couple of experiments to get the hang of what friction is.



Experiment 1item4

A Soleful Experiment

You Need:


About 5 different shoes (they do not need to be stinky)

A board, or a tray, or a large book at least 15 inches long and no more then 2 feet long.

A ruler



A partner


1. Put the board (or whatever you’re using) on the table.

2. Put the shoe on the board with the back of the shoe touching the back of the board.

3. Have a partner hold the ruler upright (so that the12 inches end is up and the 1 inch end is on the table) at the back of the board.

4. Slowly lift the back of the board leaving the front of the board on the table. (You’re making a ramp with the board). Eventually the shoe will begin to slide.

5. Stop moving the board when the shoe slides and measure the height that the back of the board was lifted to.

6. Look at the 5 shoes you chose and test them. Before you do, make a hypothesis for which shoe will have the most friction. Make a hypothesis. On a scale from 1 to 5 (or however many shoes you’re using) rate the shoes you picked. 1 is low friction and 5 would be high friction. Write the hypothesis next to a description of the shoes on a piece of paper. The greater the friction the higher the ramp has to be lifted. Test all of the shoes.

7. Analyze the shoes. Do the shoes with the most friction show any similarities? Are the bottoms made out of the same type of material? What about the shoes with very little friction?


Any surprises with which shoe had the most or least friction? Compare the shoe with the most friction and the shoe with the least friction. Do you notice anything? Usually, the shoe that has the most friction has more shoe surface touching the board then most of the other shoes. Also, often the shoe with the least friction, has the least amount of shoe touching the board. Since friction is all about two things rubbing together, the more surface that’s rubbing, the more friction you get. A tire on you car should have treads but a race car tire will be absolutely flat with no treads at all. Why? The race car doesn’t have to worry about rain or wetness so it wants every single bit of the tire to be touching the surface of the track. That way, there is as much friction as possible between the tire and the track. The tire on your car has treads to cut through mud and water to get to the nice firm road underneath. The treads actually give you less friction on a flat dry road! Some of you might have used a skateboard shoe for your experiment. Notice, that the skateboard shoe has quite a flat bottom compared to most other shoes. This is because a skateboarder wants as much of his or her shoe to touch the board at all times.


Experiment 2item5

What a Drag


You need:

A 6 inch long piece of 2 x 4 wood, or a heavy book

A string

A spring scale or a rubber band and a ruler.



5 or so different surfaces, table tops, carpet, chairs, etc.


1. Write the different surfaces that you chose on a piece of paper.

2. Make a hypothesis. On a scale from 1 to 5 (or however many surfaces you chose) rate the surfaces you picked. 1 is low friction and 5 would be high friction. Write your ranking next to the surfaces on the paper.

3. Take your block or your book and attach a string to it.

4. Place your block on the surface to be tested.

5. If you have a spring scale, attach it to the string and carefully pull on your block until it just moves. What you will probably see, is that you will keep pulling and pulling until suddenly your block moves. Try to record the number that the scale said just before the block moved. It takes a little bit of practice to read that number so keep trying.

6. If you don’t have a spring scale, tie a rubber band to the string. Now put a ruler with the first inch at the end of the rubber band farthest from the block. Now pull on the rubber band holding it next to the ruler. When the block moves, record the number on the ruler where the end of the rubber band was. In other words, you are measuring how far the rubber band stretches before the board moves.

7. Remember, with the scale or the rubber band, this takes some getting used to so try not to get frustrated.

8. Write down your results next to your hypothesis.

9. The higher the number, the more friction there is between your board and the surface the board is on. In other words, the harder you had to pull to get the board moving, the more friction there is between the board and the surface.

10. Now analyze your data and see how the data matches your hypothesis. Which surface really had the most friction and which had the least. Write numbers 1 to 5 (or however many surfaces you chose) next to the results.

11. How did the data correlate with your hypothesis? Any surprises?


You’ve probably noticed with this experiment and the last one that the kind of surfaces rubbing together make a huge difference. Flat, hard, smooth surfaces will have much less friction than a rubber, soft, or rough surface.   Muddy, wet or icy surfaces will often have even less friction.  So, if you remember what we talked about with shoes and tires, the job of the tread on a shoe and a tire is to cut through the lower friction water or mud and get down to the higher friction road or dry ground.

Something else I’d like you to notice is that friction acts differently depending on what something is doing.  If you have ever had to push something heavy like a refrigerator you may have noticed that it was harder to get it to move than it was to keep it moving.  This is because there are two types of friction; static friction and kinetic friction.  Static friction happens when something is resting on something else and not moving.  Kinetic friction is when one thing is moving on something else.  Static friction is usually greater than kinetic friction.  This means that it is harder to get your fridge moving than to keep it moving.  You may have noticed this during “What a Drag” (if not, go ahead and play with it some more).  When you first got the board to move, your scale had measurements much higher than when it was actually moving. It was harder to get it moving than to keep it moving.  

There’s a couple of misconceptions that I’d like to make sure get cleared up here a bit. I don’t want to go into too much detail but I want to make sure to mention these as they may be important as you go deeper into your physics education. First, friction is not a fundamental force. Friction is actually caused by the elemental force of electro-magnetism between two objects. Secondly, friction isn’t “caused” by the roughness or smoothness of an object. Friction is caused by two objects, believe it or not, chemically bonding to one another. Scientists call it “stick and slip”.  Think about it this way.  When you pulled the wood in "What A Drag" you noticed that the force needed to get the board moving was more then the orce was to keep it moving. The surface you were pulling the board on never got any rougher or smoother, it stayed pretty much the same.  So why was it harder to get the board moving?  When the board is just sitting there, the chemical bonds between the board and the surface can be quite strong.  When the board is moving however, the bonds are much weaker. The next experiment might make this clearer.


Experiment 3 Magnetfriction

Stick and Slip

You need:

2 Business card like magnets (those thin flat magnets that are the size of business cards)


1.  Take two business card magnets and stick them together black side to black side.  They should be together so that the pictures (or whatever's on the magnets) are on the outside like two pieces of bread on a sandwich.  

2.  Now grab the sides of the magnets and drag one to the right and the other to the left so that they still are magnetically stuck together as they slide over one another.


Did you notice what happened as they slid across one another?  They stuck and slipped didn't they?  This is a bit like friction.  As two surfaces slide across one another, they chemically bond and then break apart.  Bond and break, bond and break as they slide.  The magnets magnetically "bonded" together and then broke apart as you slide them across on another.  (The chemical bonds don't work quite like the magnetic "bonds" but it gives a decent model of what's happening.)

Friction is everywhere!  Imagine what the world would be like without friction!  Everything you do, from catching baseballs to eating hamburgers,   to putting on shoes, friction is a part of it. If you take a quick look at friction, it is quite a simple concept of two things rubbing together.  However, when you take a closer look at it, it's really quite complex. What kind of surfaces are rubbing together?  How much of the surfaces are touching?  And what's the deal with this stick and slip thing anyway?  Friction is a concept that's many scientists are spending a lot of time on.  Understanding friction is very important in making engines and machines run more efficiently and safely.  There are many mysteries and discoveries to be uncovered with this concept.  Go out and make some!


In A Nutshell

Friction is the force between two objects in contact with one another.

Friction is dependent on the materials that are in contact with one another. How much pressure is put on the materials. Whether the materials are wet or dry. Whether they are hot or cold...in other words, it’s quite complicated!

Static friction is the friction between two objects that are not moving.

Kinetic friction is the friction between two objects where at least one of them is moving.

Friction happens due to the electro-magnetic forces between two objects.

Friction is not necessarily due to the roughness of the objects but rather to chemical bonds "sticking and slipping" over one another.



Did You Get It?

1. What is friction?

2. Walking would be easier without friction....True or False.

3. Why does a feather fall slower then a brick?

4. Put a coin on a piece of paper. Then quickly pull the paper out from under the coin. What does static friction and kinetic friction have to do with this?

5. What was the experiment with the magnets showing?







Answers for Did You Get It:

1. Friction is the force between one object rubbing against another object. Air resistance, by the way, is the friction of one object rubbing against millions and billions of air molecules.

2. FALSE!!! Walking would be impossible without friction. Your feet couldn’t push back against the floor to move you forward.

3. Air friction slows the feather down. The feather rubs against many, many, many air molecules as it falls through the air. The feather is light and large enough that the air molecules actually slow it down.

4. If you pull the paper slowly, the static friction between the penny and the paper isn't broken. So the penny rides along with the paper. If you pull it quickly, you can overcome that static friction and the paper will slide along under the penny without moving it. As long as the paper is moving fast enough the kinetic friction between the paper and the penny isn't enough to move the penny.

5. That objects "stick and slip" as they rub against one another. (Don't forget, that the magnet thing is a good model but it doen't work quite like that in the real world.)

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