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Friction

Definition and peculiarities of friction

Definition of friction
Friction is a physical characteristic that exists between two distinct bodies in contact with each other that would resist a
force with potential to produce movement of the bodies relative to the other.

m = mass [kg] Weight of the body

FN = normal force [N] Represents the force by which the weight of the body acts upon the supporting surface due to
gravity

FA = tractive force [N] Force to move the body against the supporting surface (active force)

FF = frictional force [N] Force with the potential to resist the movement of the body against the supporting surface (reactive
force)
g = 9.81 m/s2 (acceleration due to gravity; used for converting a mass in kilogram to a force in Newton)

Causes of friction
Friction is mainly caused by the surface roughness of the objects in contact to each other. In general applies: The
rougher the surface, the higher the friction. However, if both surfaces become ultra-smooth, friction from molecular
attractioncomes into play, often becoming greater than the mechanical friction. This is especially the case with soft
materials, like rubber and other soft synthetics. Soft materials will deform when under pressure, material deformation is
also increasing the friction.

Coefficient of friction µ
The coefficient of friction (µ ) is the ratio of the frictional force (FF) divided by the normal force (FN):

This above ratio is called Coulomb's law of friction (Coulomb was a French physicist, 1726-1806). The coefficient of
friction has no units of measure (force divided by force).
The friction law can easily be verified. Pull an object (e.g. a book) by a spring scale over a clean surface and read off the
tractive force (FA). Repeat the determination with the doubled mass (e.g. two books) and the tractive force will double.
How to detect the coefficient of friction µ
With the aid of a spring scale (see above) the approximative coefficient of friction between a belt and a specific surface
can easy be detected. There is a physically correct way (example a) and a physically not quite correct, but in the praxis
applicable way (example b).
a) Example of the physically correct way
Weight of the object m = 1 kg (unit of a mass is kg)
Tractive force measured FA = 4.9 N (unit of a force is Newton)

a) Example of the physically not quite correct, but in practice applicable way
Weight of the object m = 1 kg (unit of a mass is kg)
Tractive "force" measured FA = 0.5 kg (unit of a force is actually Newton)

General rules
Rule 1:

► The coefficient of friction always depends on both friction partners (material composition, surface roughness)

Experiment: Rub various items with identical pressure, e.g. an eraser, a cigarette packet, a coin, belt sample on different
surfaces, e.g. on a table, a glass pane, on coarse fabric - the resistance will feel quite different!
Rule 2:

► The coefficient of friction strongly depends on the surface conditions (cleanliness, humidity)

Experiment: Rub two items with identical pressure, first with dry surfaces, afterwards with some drops of water between
the contact surfaces - the resistance will feel different!
Rule 3:

► The coefficient of friction has no relationship to the size of the contact area between the two bodies

Experiment: Pull items of the same weight but different base area with a spring scale over an identic surface - the tractive
force will be the same!
The friction between two partners involved is not exactly the same when at rest as in movement. The force required to
start a body sliding is somewhat greater than the force required to keep it sliding. Consequently, we differentiate
betweenstatic and kinetic friction.