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Overview of Experiments with Friction

by Ron Kurtus (revised 16 November 2012)

Friction is a force that resists motion. It is usually caused when two materials rub against each other. Besides the types of material, there are a number of other factors that affect the friction. Friction experiments usually concern measuring these factors, determining the relationship between factors, and optimizing the values to either increase or decrease friction. Sometimes unique or new methods can be invented.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.



Friction factors

There are three major types of friction: static, kinetic (sliding), and rolling.

Possible factors involved in friction experiments are:

These factors are also called parameters or variables.

Measurements

Experiments require measurements or data-taking. Not only do you need to measure the characteristics of the parameters or factors you are varying, but you also need to measure the applied force on an object and the resistive force of friction.

Coming up with clever ways to measure things is one of the greatest challenges in performing experiments.

Forces

Forces involved in friction are the force moving the objects, the force pushing object surfaces together—which is often the force of gravity—and the resistive force of friction.

Often a scale, such as a spring scale, is used to measure those forces.

Other factors

Other parameters such as surface hardness, elasticity, speed and temperature must be measured, if they are part of the experiment. Some parameters are difficult to measure, and you may need to depend on charts and measurements done by others.

Keeping things constant

Even if you can't get exact measurements for a parameter, you want to make sure you keep things constant, so that you can effectively compare your results.

Experiments

The purpose or objective of your experiment may be to find a relationship between factors or to optimize one or more factors to find the best value.

Relationship

You may want to determine the relationship between the force of friction and one or more factors or parameters through your experiment.

For example, suppose the purpose of your experiment is to find the relationship between kinetic friction (Fr) and the force pushing two objects together (N). By keeping everything else constant and just varying Fr and N, your experiments should show that the relationship is:

Fr = μN

where:

You could also see what the relationship is between the surface area of two objects and the force of friction, keeping everything else constant.

Optimizing

Typically, you can pick one factor and vary it, while keeping all other factors constant. In this way, you can determine an optimal value.

For example, you could examine the relationship of surface roughness of one material to the kinetic friction. In this way, you might select an optimal surface roughness to use for either more or less friction.

Summary

Friction experiments concern determining the important factors involved in causing friction, measuring these factors, and determining the relationship between factors or optimizing the values to either increase or decrease friction. Sometimes unique or new methods can be invented.


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