# 3.8 Newton’s third law of motion: symmetry in forces  (Page 2/5)

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Other examples of Newton’s third law are easy to find. As a professor paces in front of a whiteboard, she exerts a force backward on the floor. The floor exerts a reaction force forward on the professor that causes her to accelerate forward. Similarly, a car accelerates because the ground pushes forward on the drive wheels in reaction to the drive wheels pushing backward on the ground. You can see evidence of the wheels pushing backward when tires spin on a gravel road and throw rocks backward. In another example, rockets move forward by expelling gas backward at high velocity. This means the rocket exerts a large backward force on the gas in the rocket combustion chamber, and the gas therefore exerts a large reaction force forward on the rocket. This reaction force is called thrust    . It is a common misconception that rockets propel themselves by pushing on the ground or on the air behind them. They actually work better in a vacuum, where they can more readily expel the exhaust gases. Helicopters similarly create lift by pushing air down, thereby experiencing an upward reaction force. Birds and airplanes also fly by exerting force on air in a direction opposite to that of whatever force they need. For example, the wings of a bird force air downward and backward in order to get lift and move forward. An octopus propels itself in the water by ejecting water through a funnel from its body, similar to a jet ski. In a situation similar to Sancho’s, professional cage fighters experience reaction forces when they punch, sometimes breaking their hand by hitting an opponent’s body.

## Getting up to speed: choosing the correct system

A physics professor pushes a cart of demonstration equipment to a lecture hall, as seen in [link] . Her mass is 65.0 kg, the cart’s is 12.0 kg, and the equipment’s is 7.0 kg. Calculate the acceleration produced when the professor exerts a backward force of 150 N on the floor. All forces opposing the motion, such as friction on the cart’s wheels and air resistance, total 24.0 N.

Strategy

Since they accelerate as a unit, we define the system to be the professor, cart, and equipment. This is System 1 in [link] . The professor pushes backward with a force ${\mathbf{\text{F}}}_{\text{foot}}$ of 150 N. According to Newton’s third law, the floor exerts a forward reaction force ${\mathbf{\text{F}}}_{\text{floor}}$ of 150 N on System 1. Because all motion is horizontal, we can assume there is no net force in the vertical direction. The problem is therefore one-dimensional along the horizontal direction. As noted, $\mathbf{\text{f}}$ opposes the motion and is thus in the opposite direction of ${\mathbf{\text{F}}}_{\text{floor}}$ . Note that we do not include the forces ${\mathbf{\text{F}}}_{\text{prof}}$ or ${\mathbf{\text{F}}}_{\text{cart}}$ because these are internal forces, and we do not include ${\mathbf{\text{F}}}_{\text{foot}}$ because it acts on the floor, not on the system. There are no other significant forces acting on System 1. If the net external force can be found from all this information, we can use Newton’s second law to find the acceleration as requested. See the free-body diagram in the figure.

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