Now it's your turn! Playing with Friction
Imagine your world without any friction. You sit on a chair and you slide right off. You try to stand up and your feet cannot grip the floor to push yourself up. Or, you pedal your bike and the wheels spin wildly, but the bike goes nowhere because the tires will not grip the ground to pull you forward.
Friction is the force that resists motion – it slows down or altogether stops motion. Friction is caused when two objects rub against each other.
What happens when you rub your hands together? Notice the heat it produces? That’s caused by friction!
WHAT DO YOU NEED?
- A ramp - you can make your own from different objects in your home, such as a piece of wood, cardboard, a cookie sheet, a piece of plastic eavestrough or other flat object.
- Objects with different textures and surfaces - such as sandpaper, aluminum foil, carpet, paper, artificial turf or grass, soil, linoleum, corduroy, flannel
- A toy - such as a toy car, train or truck or a plastic domino that can fit on the ramp
- Writing materials - Piece of paper and pencil
WHAT DO YOU DO?
You will be putting the materials on the ramp and observe your toy going down the ramp. But first, you need to prepare a sheet of paper for your observations!
- Take a sheet of paper and draw three columns. At the top of each column write “Object”, “What I think will happen,” and “What I saw.”
- On your sheet, draw a line across the page.
- In the first column, write down the object you are using.
- In the second column, write down what you think is going to happen. This is called your prediction.
- Now test this by placing the object on the ramp and your toy (domino) at the top of the ramp. Let go of the toy to see what happens. DO NOT push the toy!
- Record your observations on your chart. How do your observations compare to your predictions?
- When you’ve done all your tests, compare your observations of different materials. What can you conclude about the properties of materials?
- Set up a test using ramps of different lengths and the same type of surface to see how the length of the ramp affects the movement of the object.
- Set up a test using the same ramp raised to different heights and the same type of surface to see how the height of the ramp affects the movement of the object.
- Try testing toys of different weights on the ramp. How does the weight of an object affect its motion?
WHAT’S THE POINT?
Friction is an important factor to consider when designing any tool or machinery that has mobile parts. Too much friction can prevent a machine from working properly. Also, the heat produced by friction (remember when you rubbed your hands) can cause some parts to break down faster. Engineers have devised many ways to face these problems, very often by using a liquid lubricant such as oil, or even water to make sure parts slide without too much resistance.
On the other side, not enough friction can also be a problem, which is the case for winter tires on a car: the tires must be engineered to offer enough friction for the car to stay on the road in all sorts of very slippery weather conditions!
Check out these careers that involve friction:
- Brigitte Potvin is a Research Manager & Engineer that once worked to create protheses. Considering friction when creating products that replace human limbs is very important!
- Brad Simon is an Engineering Technologist that works with robots every day. Robots have many moving parts, so understanding friction is very important.
Read how friction applies in real-life:
- How Can I Go Faster on My Bike? You don’t have to pedal harder to go faster. You just have to understand a little bit about gravity, drag and friction!
- How do an Airplane's Tires Help It Land Safely? Manufacturing and engineering airplane tires is important work! Learn how airplane tires keep the aircraft safe during takeoff and landing.
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