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In the last lesson, we spent a lot of time on this strange concept called work. Work happens when something moves a distance against a force. Swell...who cares?! Well, believe it or not, this is truly one of the most useful concepts in physics. I’m willing to bet you spend a lot of your time moving things a distance against a force. Do you ever climb stairs, walk, ride a bicycle, or lift a fork to your mouth to eat? Of course you do. Each one of those things requires you to move something a distance against a force. You’re using energy and you’re doing work. Work is not that hard...it’s force that can be difficult. Imagine getting up a ten step flight of stairs without a set of stairs. Your legs don’t have the strength/force for you to jump up, you’d have to climb up or find a ladder or a rope. The stairs allow you to, slowly but surely, lift yourself from the bottom to the top. Now imagine you are riding your bike and a friend of yours is running beside you. Who’s got the tougher job? Your friend right? You could go for many miles on your bike but your friend will tire out after only a few miles. The bike is easier (requires less force) to do as much work as the runner has to do. Now here’s an important point, you and your friend do about the same amount of work. You also do the same amount of work when you go up the stairs verses climbing up the rope. The work is the same, but the force needed to make it happen is much different. Don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense now. As we move forward, it will become clearer.

Simple Machines

This “making the force less” thing is where simple machines come in. Way back when, folks needed to move stuff. Long before there were cranes and bulldozers. They needed to move heavy stuff, rocks, boulders, logs, boats etc. These clever folks discovered machines. A machine, in science language, is any device that transmits or modifies energy. In other words, energy is put in to the machine and comes out of the machine but along the way the energy does work, changes direction, changes form or all of the above. We’re going to focus on the fact that machines can allow you to use less force to do work. Most folks say that there are six simple machines. These are the inclined plane, the wheel and axle, the lever, the pulley, the wedge, and the screw. Every machine with moving parts, from a tape player to a car, from a computer to a freight train is made up of simple machines. We are going to spend time with two of the simple machines. By learning how they work you will get a nice picture of all the simple machines and what they do. In this lesson, we will be spending some quality time with levers and in the next lesson we will spend time with pulleys.

The Power of Simple Machines

Archimedes (286 to 212 B.C.) said “Give me a place to stand and I can move the Earth.” As you can see, Archimedes was quite fond of simple machines. In fact, he was a master of all the simple machines. He did not invent them but he did put them to some amazing uses. For example, a story goes that the Greek King Hiero had a problem. He had had a boat made that was so large no number of men could get it into the water. What good is a boat that is stuck on land? The king told Archimedes his problem and Archimedes said “Pfffft, I can launch that boat with one hand!” Sure enough after several days, Archimedes created a system of levers and pulleys that allowed him to move the boat by himself...with one hand. According to one version of the story, the king did not believe that Archimedes was doing it on his own and that there must be some trick. Archimedes said, “Okay, you do it.” The king hesitantly gave it a try and sure enough, in front of a huge crowd, the king moved the ship. At that point, the king shouted out, “From this day forth, Archimedes is to be believed in everything that he may say”. Archimedes was an unbelievable scientist and mathematician. There are many terrific stories surrounding his life and discoveries. I would highly recommend taking the time to look into him a bit further.

The Lever

So what is this lever thing anyway? Well, at it’s most basic level, it’s a stick and a rock...pretty simple machine huh? The lever is made up of two parts, the lever (the stick part) and the fulcrum (the rock part). Believe it or not, using this very simple machine you can lift hundreds of pounds with your bare hands and very little effort. Let’s try it.

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Experiment 1

Lifting Weights

 

You need:

A nice strong piece of wood. 3 to 8 feet long would be great if you have it.

A brick , a thick book or a smaller piece of wood (for the fulcrum)

Books, gallons of water or anything heavy that’s not fragile

Be careful with this. Don’t use something that’s so heavy someone will get hurt. Also, be sure not to use something so heavy that you break the wooden lever. Last but not least, be sure to keep your head and face away from the lever. I’ve seen folks push down on the lever and then let go. The lever comes up fast and can pop you pretty hard.

1. Put your fulcrum on the ground.

2. Put your lever on the fulcrum. Try to get your fulcrum close to the middle of the lever.

3. Put some weight on one end of the lever.

4. Now push down on the other side of the lever. Try to remember how hard (how much force) you needed to use to lift the heavy object.

5. Move the fulcrum under the lever so that it is closer to the heavy object.

6. Push down on the other side of the lever again. Can you tell the difference in the amount of force?

7. Move the fulcrum closer still to the heavy object. Feel a difference now?

8. Feel free to experiment with this. Move the fulcrum farther away and closer to the object. What conclusions can you draw?

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What you may have found, was that the closer the fulcrum is to the heavy object, the less force you needed to push with to get the object to move. Later we will look at this in greater detail, but first let me tell you about the three different types of levers.

Parts of the Lever

Levers, being simple machines, have only three simple parts. The load, the effort, and the fulcrum. Let’s start with the load. The load is basically what it is you’re trying to lift. The books in the last experiment where the load. Now for the effort. That’s you. In the last experiment, you were putting the force on the lever to lift the load. You were the effort. The effort is any kind of force used to lift the load. Last for the fulcrum. It is the pivot that the lever turns on. The fulcrum, as we’ll play with a bit more later, is the key to the effectiveness of the lever.

 

The Types of Levers

There are three types of levers. Their names are first-class, second-class and third-class. I love it when it’s that simple. Kind of like Dr. Suess’s Thing One and Thing Two. The only difference between the three different levers is where the effort, load and fulcrum are.

First-Class Leveritem7

A first-class lever is a lever in which the fulcrum is located in between the effort and the load. This is the lever that you think of whenever you think of levers. The lever you made in Experiment 1 is a first-class lever. Examples of first-class levers are the see-saw, a hammer (when it’s used to pull nails), scissors (take a look, it’s really a double lever!), and pliers (same as the scissors, a double lever).

Second-Class Lever

item8The second-class lever is a little strange. In a second-class lever, the load is between the fulcrum and the effort. A good example of this, is a wheel-barrow. The wheel is the fulcrum, the load sits in the wheel-barrow bucket and the effort is you. Some more examples would be a door (the hinge is the fulcrum), a stapler, and a nut-cracker.

Third-Class Lever

This fellow is the oddest of all. The third-class lever has the effort between the load and the fulcrum. Imagine Experiment 1 but this time the fulcrum is at one end of the board, the books are on the other item9end and you’re in the middle. Kind of a strange way to lift books huh? A few examples of this are tweezers, fishing rods (your elbow or wrist is the fulcrum), your jaw (the teeth crush the load which would be your hamburger), and your arm (the muscle connects between your elbow (fulcrum) and your load( the rest of your arm or whatever you’re lifting)). Your skeletal and muscular system are, in fact, a series of levers!

Check out the movie about the three types of levers here.

Let’s play with the different types of levers. You’ve already done the first-class lever in Experiment 1 so we’ll do the second and third-class levers here.

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Experiment 2

Second-class Lever

 

You need

A nice strong piece of wood. 3 to 8 feet long would be great if you have it.

A brick, a thick book or a smaller piece of wood (for the fulcrum)

Books, gallons of water or anything heavy that’s not fragile

Again, be careful with this. Don’t use something that’s so heavy someone will get hurt. Also, be sure not to use something so heavy that you break the wooden lever. Last but not least, be sure to keep your head and face away from the lever. I’ve seen folks push down on the lever and then let go. The lever comes up fast and can pop you pretty hard.

1. Put your fulcrum, the book or the brick, whatever you’re using on a nice flat spot.

2. Put the end of your lever on the fulcrum.

3. Put the books or gallon jugs or whatever you’re using for a load, in the middle of the lever.

4. Now, put yourself (the effort) on the opposite end of the lever from the fulcrum.

5. Lift

6. Experiment with the load. Move it towards the fulcrum and lift. Then move it toward the effort and lift. Where is it harder(takes more force) to lift the load, near the fulcrum or far? Where does the load lift the greatest distance, near the fulcrum or far?

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Experiment 3

Third-class Lever

 

You need

A nice strong piece of wood. 3 to 8 feet long would be great if you have it.

A brick , a thick book or a smaller piece of wood (for the fulcrum)

Books, gallons of water or anything heavy that’s not fragile

Again, be careful with this. Don’t use something that’s so heavy someone will get hurt. Also, be sure not to use something so heavy that you break the wooden lever. Last but not least, be sure to keep your head and face away from the lever. I’ve seen folks push down on the lever and then let go. The lever comes up fast and can pop you pretty hard.

1. Put your fulcrum on the ground in a nice flat place.

2. Put your lever on the fulcrum so that the fulcrum is at the very end of the lever.

3. Put your load on the lever at the end farthest from the fulcrum.

4. Now, put yourself (the effort) in the middle of the lever.

5. Lift. You may need someone to hold down the lever on the fulcrum

6. Experiment with the effort (you). Move towards the fulcrum and lift the load Then move toward the load and lift. Where is it harder(takes more force) to lift the load, near the fulcrum or far? Where does the load lift the greatest distance, near the fulcrum or far?

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We’ve had a lot of fun levering this and levering that but now we have to get to the point of all this simple machine stuff. Work equals force times distance, right? Well, what have you been doing all this time with these levers? You’ve been moving something (the load) a distance against a force (gravity). You’ve been doing work. You’ve been exerting energy. See how it all ties in nicely? In experiment 1,2 and 3, I wanted you to notice how much force you exerted and how much the load moved. You may have noticed that when the force was small (it was very easy to lift) the load moved a very small distance. On the other hand, when the force was large (hard to lift), the load moved a greater distance. Let me point your attention to one more thing and then we’ll play with this. When the force used to lift the load was small, you moved the lever a large distance. When the force used to lift the load was great you moved the lever a small distance. Remember, work=force x distance. There is work done on both sides of the lever. The effort (you in this case) pushes the lever a distance against a force...work is done. The load also moves a distance against a force so there too...work is done. Now, here’s the key to this that I hope you can see in the next experiment. Work in is equal to work out. The work you do on one side of the lever (work in), is equal to the work that happens to the load (work out). Let’s do a quick bit of math for an example. Phillip wants to move a 10 kg (22 lb.)box. He uses a lever and notices that when he lifts the box .1meter (4 inches) item10he has to push the lever down 1 meter with a force of 1 kg. Now let’s do some math. (Officially we should convert kilograms (a unit of mass) to Newtons (a unit of force) so that we can work in Joules which is a unit of work. However, we’ll do it this way so you can see the relationship more easily.)

Phillip’s work (the work in) = 1 kg x 1 m = 1

Work on the bowling ball (the work out) = 10 kg x .1 m = 1

Work in equals work out! Later in this energy unit, you’ll learn about energy efficiency. At that point, you’ll see that you never get all the energy you want from the energy you put in. Some is lost to sound and some to heat. A lever is incredibly efficient but you may still see, in your measurements, that the energy in is greater than the energy you get out. Speaking of your measurements...let’s make some.

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Experiment 4

The See-Saw

 

You need:

A wooden ruler or a paint stick for the lever

Many pennies, quarters, or washers (many little somethings of the same mass)

A spool, eraser, pencil (anything that can be your fulcrum)

A ruler (to be your um....ruler)

Paper cups

Optional: A scale that can measure small amounts of mass (a kitchen scale is good)

1. Tape one paper cup to each end of lever. (This allows for an easy way to hold the pennies on the lever.)

2. Set your fulcrum on the table and put your lever (ruler or paint stick) on top of it. Try to get the ruler to balance on the fulcrum.

3. Put five pennies on one side of your lever.

4. Now, put pennies, one at a time on the other side of your lever, this is your effort. Keep adding pennies until you get your lever to come close to balancing. Try to keep your fulcrum in the same place on your lever. You may even want to tape it there.

5. Count the pennies on the effort side and count the pennies on the load side. If you have a scale, you can weigh them as well. With the fulcrum in the middle you should see that the pennies/mass on both sides of the lever are close to equal.

6. This part’s a little tricky. Measure how high the lever was moved. On the load side, measure how far the lever moved up and on the effort side measure how far the lever moved down. Be sure to do the measuring at the very ends of the lever.

7. Write your results in the table on the next page.

8. Remove the pennies and do it all over again, this time move the fulcrum one inch (two centimeters) closer to the load side.

9. Continue moving the fulcrum closer to the load until it gets too tough to do. You’ll probably be able to get it an inch or two (two to four centimeters) from the load.

10. If you didn’t use a scale feel free to stop here. Don’t worry about the “work in” and “work out” parts of the table. Take a look at your table and check out your results. Can you draw any conclusions about the distance the load moved, the distance the effort moved, and the amount of force required to move it?

11. If you used a scale to get the masses you can find out how much work you did. Remember that work=force x distance. The table will tell you how to find work for the effort side (work in) and for the load side (work out). You can multiply what you have or if you’d like to convert to Joules, which is a unit of work, feel free to convert your distance measurements to meters and your mass measurements to Newtons. Then you can multiply meters times Newtons and get Joules which is a unit of work.

1 inch = .025 meters

1 cm = .01 meter

1 ounce =0.278 Newtons

1 gram = 0.0098 Newtons

 

 

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By taking a look at your data and by all the other work we did this lesson, you can see the beautiful switcheroo of simple machines. Simple machines sacrifice distance for force. With the lever, the farther you had to push the lever, the less force had to be used to move the load. The work done by the effort is the same as the work done on the load. By doing a little force/distance switcheroo, moving the load requires much less force to do the work. In other words, it’s much easier. Anything that makes work easier gets a thumbs up by me! Hooray for simple machines!

In A Nutshell

- Most folks say there are six simple machines. They are the inclined plane, the wheel and axle, the lever, the pulley, the wedge, and the screw.

- All machines with moving parts are made up of simple machines.

- A machine is any device that transmits or modifies energy.

- Simple machines are often used to reduce the amount of force it takes to move something.

- Work in equals work out. Although as you’ll see later, work out is always less due some work being lost to heat and sound.

- Simple machines usually sacrifice distance for force. The amount the effort moves is much more then the amount the load moves. However, the force the effort needs to push with to move the load is much less.

- Levers have three different parts. The lever, the load and the effort.

- There are three different kinds of levers.

- A first-class lever is a lever in which the fulcrum is located in between the effort and the load.

- In a second-class lever, the load is between the fulcrum and the effort.

- The third-class lever has the effort between the load and the fulcrum.

Did You Get It

1. Can you name the six simple machines?

2. It’s easier to move things using a lever but what has to happen to lessen the force needed to move the load?

3. Describe a first-class lever. Can you give an example?

4. Describe a second-class lever. Can you give an example?

5. Describe a third-class lever. Can you give an example?

 

Answers

 

1. The six machines are the inclined plane, the wheel and axle, the lever, the pulley, the wedge, and the screw.

2. The distance that the effort moves is much greater than the distance the load moves.

3. A first-class lever is a lever in which the fulcrum is located in between the effort and the load. Some examples are see-saw, a hammer (when it’s used to pull nails), scissors, and pliers.

4. In a second-class lever, the load is between the fulcrum and the effort. Some examples are a wheel-barrow, a door, a stapler, and a nut-cracker.

5. The third-class lever has the effort between the load and the fulcrum. A few examples of this are tweezers, fishing rods, your jaw, and your arm

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