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University Physics Volume 1

Conceptual Questions

University Physics Volume 1Conceptual Questions

Conceptual Questions

6.1 Solving Problems with Newton’s Laws


To simulate the apparent weightlessness of space orbit, astronauts are trained in the hold of a cargo aircraft that is accelerating downward at g. Why do they appear to be weightless, as measured by standing on a bathroom scale, in this accelerated frame of reference? Is there any difference between their apparent weightlessness in orbit and in the aircraft?

6.2 Friction


The glue on a piece of tape can exert forces. Can these forces be a type of simple friction? Explain, considering especially that tape can stick to vertical walls and even to ceilings.


When you learn to drive, you discover that you need to let up slightly on the brake pedal as you come to a stop or the car will stop with a jerk. Explain this in terms of the relationship between static and kinetic friction.


When you push a piece of chalk across a chalkboard, it sometimes screeches because it rapidly alternates between slipping and sticking to the board. Describe this process in more detail, in particular, explaining how it is related to the fact that kinetic friction is less than static friction. (The same slip-grab process occurs when tires screech on pavement.)


A physics major is cooking breakfast when she notices that the frictional force between her steel spatula and Teflon frying pan is only 0.200 N. Knowing the coefficient of kinetic friction between the two materials, she quickly calculates the normal force. What is it?

6.3 Centripetal Force


If you wish to reduce the stress (which is related to centripetal force) on high-speed tires, would you use large- or small-diameter tires? Explain.


Define centripetal force. Can any type of force (for example, tension, gravitational force, friction, and so on) be a centripetal force? Can any combination of forces be a centripetal force?


If centripetal force is directed toward the center, why do you feel that you are ‘thrown’ away from the center as a car goes around a curve? Explain.


Race car drivers routinely cut corners, as shown below (Path 2). Explain how this allows the curve to be taken at the greatest speed.

Two paths are shown inside a race track through a ninety degree curve. Two cars, a red and a blue one,  and their paths of travel are shown. The blue car is making a tight turn on path one, which is the inside path along the track. The red car is shown overtaking the first car, while taking a wider turn and crossing in front of the blue car into the inside path and then back out of it.

Many amusement parks have rides that make vertical loops like the one shown below. For safety, the cars are attached to the rails in such a way that they cannot fall off. If the car goes over the top at just the right speed, gravity alone will supply the centripetal force. What other force acts and what is its direction if:

(a) The car goes over the top at faster than this speed?

(b) The car goes over the top at slower than this speed?

A photo of a roller coaster with a vertical loop. The loop has a tighter curvature at the top than at the bottom, making an inverted teardrop shape.

What causes water to be removed from clothes in a spin-dryer?


As a skater forms a circle, what force is responsible for making his turn? Use a free-body diagram in your answer.


Suppose a child is riding on a merry-go-round at a distance about halfway between its center and edge. She has a lunch box resting on wax paper, so that there is very little friction between it and the merry-go-round. (a) Which path shown below, as viewed from the ground, will the lunch box take when she lets go? (b) The lunch box leaves a trail in the dust on the merry-go-round. What is the shape of the dust trail? Explain your answers.

An illustration of the circular base of a merry-go-round with a single horse and child on it. The angular velocity, omega, is clockwise, shown here with an arrow. A point P is shown near the horse, on a circle concentric with the merry-go-round. Three arrows are shown coming out of point P, depicting the three possible path of the lunch box. Path A curves into the circle, to the right from the perspective of the box. Path B is straight, tangent to the circle. Path C curves to the left from the perspective of the box, out of the circle.

Do you feel yourself thrown to either side when you negotiate a curve that is ideally banked for your car’s speed? What is the direction of the force exerted on you by the car seat?


Suppose a mass is moving in a circular path on a frictionless table as shown below. In Earth’s frame of reference, there is no centrifugal force pulling the mass away from the center of rotation, yet there is a force stretching the string attaching the mass to the nail. Using concepts related to centripetal force and Newton’s third law, explain what force stretches the string, identifying its physical origin.

An illustration of a mass moving in a circular path on a table. The mass is attached to a string that is pinned at the center of the circle to the table at the other end.

When a toilet is flushed or a sink is drained, the water (and other material) begins to rotate about the drain on the way down. Assuming no initial rotation and a flow initially directly straight toward the drain, explain what causes the rotation and which direction it has in the Northern Hemisphere. (Note that this is a small effect and in most toilets the rotation is caused by directional water jets.) Would the direction of rotation reverse if water were forced up the drain?


A car rounds a curve and encounters a patch of ice with a very low coefficient of kinetic fiction. The car slides off the road. Describe the path of the car as it leaves the road.


In one amusement park ride, riders enter a large vertical barrel and stand against the wall on its horizontal floor. The barrel is spun up and the floor drops away. Riders feel as if they are pinned to the wall by a force something like the gravitational force. This is an inertial force sensed and used by the riders to explain events in the rotating frame of reference of the barrel. Explain in an inertial frame of reference (Earth is nearly one) what pins the riders to the wall, and identify all forces acting on them.


Two friends are having a conversation. Anna says a satellite in orbit is in free fall because the satellite keeps falling toward Earth. Tom says a satellite in orbit is not in free fall because the acceleration due to gravity is not 9.80m/s29.80m/s2. Who do you agree with and why?


A nonrotating frame of reference placed at the center of the Sun is very nearly an inertial one. Why is it not exactly an inertial frame?

6.4 Drag Force and Terminal Speed


Athletes such as swimmers and bicyclists wear body suits in competition. Formulate a list of pros and cons of such suits.


Two expressions were used for the drag force experienced by a moving object in a liquid. One depended upon the speed, while the other was proportional to the square of the speed. In which types of motion would each of these expressions be more applicable than the other one?


As cars travel, oil and gasoline leaks onto the road surface. If a light rain falls, what does this do to the control of the car? Does a heavy rain make any difference?


Why can a squirrel jump from a tree branch to the ground and run away undamaged, while a human could break a bone in such a fall?

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