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Determination of the Coefficients of Friction

Friction is a contact force. It exists because at an atomic and molecular level, nothing is really flat.
The atoms and molecules exposed on the surface of one object interact with the exposed atoms and molecules
on the other object. The interaction between the two surfaces is impossibly complex and we deal with the
interaction at a level far removed from considering what happens to each individual atom or molecule.

When you push on a heavy box to move it across a smooth floor, you first have to break the grip the
floor has on the box and vice versa. We do this by pushing extra hard to get the box moving. The maximum
force just before it slides is known as the static friction force. Once the box is moving, it is easier to keep
moving as it now has some momentum to assist the surface atoms and molecules sliding across each other.
It still must be pushed, of course, and the force necessary to keep the box moving at constant velocity is
known as the kinetic friction. We know that a rough surface exhibits more friction than a smooth surface
and we can quantify how different surfaces interact by assigning a coefficient of friction unique to the two
surfaces involved.

Newtons second law says that when something is not accelerating, the sum of all the forces is zero.
So if we a pulling a block and it is not moving, then the force we are pulling with must be balanced by the
frictional force. Equally well, if we are pulling on something and it is moving with constant velocity, the
sum of the forces must again be zero and the force we are pulling with must be balanced by the frictional
force. The magnitude of the friction force depends on how heavy the object is, or more precisely, the normal
force,, provided by whatever the object is resting on and the coefficient of friction. As there are both static
and kinetic friction, there are two coefficients. fs = sN , fk = kN.

This activity measures the peak static friction between wooden and rubber surfaces as a function of the normal
force on the block. This is done in order to determine the coefficient of static friction.

What you need:

Windows PC, LabQuest, Vernier Force Sensor, Triple Beam Balance, Logger Pro program, Mass set, wooden
plane, Block of wood with one rubber surface and attached string
Mass Force Sensor

Fig.1. Experimental Set- up.

What to do:
1. Weigh each of the blocks with the triple beam balance and record the values. Dont forget to
convert the mass values to Newtons.
Material Weight (N)
Wooden block
Wooden block with rubber surface

2. Connect the Force Sensor to the DIN input of the LabQuest.

3. Open a Force Sensor experiment from the Physics with Computers experiment files of Logger
Pro. One graph will appear on the screen. The vertical axis will have force scaled from 0 to
20 Newtons. The horizontal has time scaled from 0 to 5 seconds.
4. Tie one end of a string to the hook on the Force Sensor and the other end to the hook on the
wooden block. Practice pulling the block and masses with the force Sensor using this straight-
line motion: Slowly and gently pull horizontally with a small force. Very gradually, increase
the force until the block starts to slide, then keep the block moving at a constant speed.

5. Hold the Force Sensor in position, ready to pull the block, but with no tension in the string.
Click on ZERO at the top of the graph to set the Force Sensor to zero.

6. Click COLLECT to begin collecting Force vs. time data. Pull the block as before, taking care
to increase the force gradually. Repeat the process as needed until you have a graph that
reflects the desired motion, including pulling the block at constant speed once it begins moving.
You should get a graph like the one above. Sketch your graph on you lab report.

7. Examine the data by clicking the examine button, . The maximum value of the force
occurs when the block started to slide. Read this X=0 value of the maximum force of
static friction from the floating box and record the number in your data table.

8. Select the region of the graph corresponding to the block moving at constant velocity. Click on
the Statistics 1 button and read the average force during the time interval.
This force is the 2 magnitude of the kinetic frictional force.
9. Remember to always return the block on the same spot when you repeat. Record the
values in the data table. You need not sketch the graph again. One sketch is enough.

10. Add a 100-g mass to the block. Repeat steps 5 8, recording values in the data table.
11. Repeat for additional masses of 200 and 300g. Record values in your data table.
12. Repeat all steps for the block with rubber surface.

Ordinary Wooden Block

Total Mass (kg) Normal Force peak static Kinetic
(N) friction(N) friction(N)

Wooden Block with Rubber Surface

Total Mass (kg) Normal Force peak static Kinetic
(N) friction(N) friction(N)
Q1: The coefficient of friction is a constant that relates the normal force between two objects (blocks and
table) and the force of friction. Based on your sketched graph, would you expect the coefficient of static
friction to be greater than, less than, or the same as the coefficient of kinetic friction? Why?

Q2: Why should the string be parallel to the horizontal wooden plane? Draw a free body diagram of the
setup and use it to explain your answer.

Q3: Plot a graph of the maximum static friction force (y axis) vs. the normal force (x axis) using Excel. Do
this for both the ordinary wooden block and the block with the rubber surface. Since F static = sN, the slope
of this graph is the coefficient of static friction s. Find the numeric value of the slope. Should a line fitted
to these data pass through the origin?

Q4: In a similar graphical manner, find the coefficient of kinetic friction k. Use a plot of the average kinetic
friction forces vs. the normal force. Recall that F kinetic = kN. Should a line fitted to these data pass through
the origin?

Q5: From your computations, which one had a greater coefficient of static and kinetic friction the ordinary
block or the block with the rubber surface? Did you expect this result? Why?

Appel, K, et. al., "Static and Kinetic Friction", Physics with Computers Using Logger Pro,
Vernier Software, Portland, Oregon, pp. 12 - 2 to 12 - 4, 1998.