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1
Understanding Frictional Forces
www.curriculum-press.co.ukNumber 123
 F actsheetP hysics
Significance of frictional forces in everyday life
Friction is a phenomenon which gives rise to forces which influencemany activities in everyday life. Indeed, some activities dependon frictional forces, e.g. walking along a pavement, leaning a ladderagainst a wall, nailing two pieces of wood together. However, inother situations frictional forces are a burden to be overcome, e.g.energy loss in car engines.Friction occurs at the interface between two bodies. No matter howsmooth surfaces may appear, they are all “rough “ on themicroscopic scale. Frictional forces act along the plane of theinterface.
body Abody BInterfaceFrictional force arises hereLoad
In the case of a person walking along a pavement, the interface isbetween the soles of the shoe and the pavement. The normal forceis provided by the weight of the pedestrian.
Pavementreactionreactionload due to weight of pedestrian
The frictional force experienced by the shoe acts horizontally in thedirection of walking. The force experienced by the pavement is inthe opposite direction, but of equal magnitude
(Newton’s Third  Law of Motion.
 
 In these situations it is important to distinguish betweenthe force exerted on a body, and that exerted by the body.
 
Direction of walkingfrictionalforceexperiencedby sole of shoePavementfrictionalforceexperiencedby pavement
Walking depends on frictional forces. Indeed walking would beimpossible if friction did not exist - try walking on ice.Notice that in the case of the shoe/pavement interface, frictionalforces exist even when there is
no relative motion
between the twosurfaces.The simple act of leaning a ladder against a wall would be impossiblewithout the existence of friction. An essential horizontal frictionforce acts at the interface between the floor and the bottom of theladder, acting towards the wall. There may also be a friction forcebetween the wall and ladder, but this is not essential.
 Exam Hint:
 Make sure you bring in the key points: there must be two bodies; frictional force acts along the interface; theremay, or may not be, relative motion. Wording in exam questions,“rough” is code for 
include friction
“smooth” is code for 
 omit friction
.
 Example 1: A uniform ladder of mass 15kg rests with its upperend against a smooth vertical wall, and its lower end on a rough horizontal surface. If the magnitude of horizontal reaction at thewall is 60N, and g = 9.81ms
-2
 , then(a) find the magnitude of the frictional force(b) state its direction(c) find the magnitude of the reaction R at the ground.
reaction at wallreaction at floorfrictional forceweight of ladder60NRmass of ladder = 15kg
Answer:
 Draw a free body diagram Horizontal forces: 60 = Vertical forces: R = W = 15g(a) f = 60N (b) towards the wall(c) R = 15g = 147.1N 
60NR15g = W
 
123. Understanding Frictional Forces
Physics Factsheet
2
 Example 2: The top end of a uniform ladder, length 10m and  mass 20kg, rests against a smooth vertical wall at an angle of 30
 o
 to the horizontal as shown. Assume g = 9.81ms
-2
 . Find the clockwise and anticlockwise moments about the bottom of the ladder.
30
0
5m10mladdercentre of mass
Answer
 Draw a free body diagram Moments about A: clockwise: R
1
 
× 
10sin30 = 5R
1
Nm. Moments about A: anticlockwise:
× 
5cos30 = 196.2
× 
4.33 = 850 Nm.(These could be equated to find R
1
 ,which is equal and opposite to the friction at the bottom of the ladder.)
30
0
 R
1
 R
2
A
 f 
 If relative motion does exist 
at the interface between the two bodies,as for example in a car engine, then energy is expended. A force isexerted through a distance. This “friction overcoming” energy istransferred to another form, usually heat, which has to be removedby the cooling system.Three possible requirements for frictional forces have beenidentified:1.Minimise the friction, e.g. sliding friction in piston engines2.Control the friction, e.g situations where it is required that thefriction force remains within certain values, as in a clutch orfriction drives.3.Maximise the friction, e.g. brake pads/disc, tyre/road interface.We cannot eliminate frictional forces entirely. Nonetheless,engineers and designers devote a great deal of effort in
reducing
unwanted energy losses due to friction:(a)Use low friction materials e.g. polymers(b)Insert a rolling element into the interface e.g. ball bearings(c)Use a lubricant between the two bodies e.g. oil.Engineers
maximise
frictional forces by choosing materials withhigh friction e.g. in car brakes and clutches.
Frictional forces are essential for some everydayactivities.
 
 In other activities, friction is a burden to be overcome
In which direction does the friction force act?
If one of the bodies that are in contact has motion relative to theother, then the frictional force always acts in a direction to opposethe motion.
 
motionfrictional forceexperiencedby bodyin motion
However, frictional forces can act when there is no relative motionbetween the two contacting bodies. In such cases it is necessaryto examine each situation in order to decide the direction of thefrictional force. Let us look at the case of a parcel on a slope inclinedat an angle
θ
to the horizontal.
θ
  i n c  l  i n e d  s  u r  f a c e
ParcelMotionWeightReactionat surfaceFrictionalforce
If the angle
θ
is sufficiently large then the parcel will slide down theslope, with the friction force experienced by the parcel acting up theslope, i.e. opposing motion.Suppose an additional force
P
is applied up the slope. If initiallythe force
P
is very small then the parcel will continue sliding (butmore slowly) down the slope.
θ
However force
P
can be increased until it just prevents the parcelfrom moving down and it remains stationary. If now the force
P
isfurther increased, it will reach a value at which the parcel is stillstationary, but on the brink of sliding up the slope.Now look in more detail at these two extreme cases where the parcelis stationary but on the brink of moving. To do so, it is necessary todraw Free Body Diagrams. These show all the external forces actingon a body(a)Force
P
to just prevent the parcel sliding down the slope
θ
RW
P
1
 f 
body stationaryon brink of slidingdown
Parcel is not moving, but on the brink of sliding downForces acting in the plane of the slope are:(i)force
P
1
up the slope(ii)component of weight (W sin
θ)
down the slope(iii)frictional force
 f 
acting up the slopeIn this case the frictional force aids the force
P
in preventing slidingdown. And then the other extreme situation:

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