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By the end of the section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the general characteristics of friction
  • List the various types of friction
  • Calculate the magnitude of static and kinetic friction, and use these in problems involving Newton’s laws of motion

When a body is in motion, it has resistance because the body interacts with its surroundings. This resistance is a force of friction. Friction opposes relative motion between systems in contact but also allows us to move, a concept that becomes obvious if you try to walk on ice. Friction is a common yet complex force, and its behavior still not completely understood. Still, it is possible to understand the circumstances in which it behaves.

Static and kinetic friction

The basic definition of friction    is relatively simple to state.


Friction is a force that opposes relative motion between systems in contact.

There are several forms of friction. One of the simpler characteristics of sliding friction is that it is parallel to the contact surfaces between systems and is always in a direction that opposes motion or attempted motion of the systems relative to each other. If two systems are in contact and moving relative to one another, then the friction between them is called kinetic friction. For example, friction slows a hockey puck sliding on ice. When objects are stationary, static friction can act between them; the static friction is usually greater than the kinetic friction between two objects.

Static and kinetic friction

If two systems are in contact and stationary relative to one another, then the friction between them is called static friction    . If two systems are in contact and moving relative to one another, then the friction between them is called kinetic friction    .

Imagine, for example, trying to slide a heavy crate across a concrete floor—you might push very hard on the crate and not move it at all. This means that the static friction responds to what you do—it increases to be equal to and in the opposite direction of your push. If you finally push hard enough, the crate seems to slip suddenly and starts to move. Now static friction gives way to kinetic friction. Once in motion, it is easier to keep it in motion than it was to get it started, indicating that the kinetic frictional force is less than the static frictional force. If you add mass to the crate, say by placing a box on top of it, you need to push even harder to get it started and also to keep it moving. Furthermore, if you oiled the concrete you would find it easier to get the crate started and keep it going (as you might expect).

[link] is a crude pictorial representation of how friction occurs at the interface between two objects. Close-up inspection of these surfaces shows them to be rough. Thus, when you push to get an object moving (in this case, a crate), you must raise the object until it can skip along with just the tips of the surface hitting, breaking off the points, or both. A considerable force can be resisted by friction with no apparent motion. The harder the surfaces are pushed together (such as if another box is placed on the crate), the more force is needed to move them. Part of the friction is due to adhesive forces between the surface molecules of the two objects, which explains the dependence of friction on the nature of the substances. For example, rubber-soled shoes slip less than those with leather soles. Adhesion varies with substances in contact and is a complicated aspect of surface physics. Once an object is moving, there are fewer points of contact (fewer molecules adhering), so less force is required to keep the object moving. At small but nonzero speeds, friction is nearly independent of speed.

Questions & Answers

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Practice Key Terms 3

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 1. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12031/1.5
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