Physics Unveiled: a Real-World Illustration of Newton’s Second Law

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Updated: Nov 17, 2023
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When we delve into the realms of physics, we often encounter the legendary Sir Isaac Newton, a name synonymous with the three foundational laws of motion. Of these, Newton’s Second Law often comes to life in textbook problems involving different forces and masses. However, the real magic unfolds when we step out of the academic bubble and see this law at play in the everyday fabric of our lives.

Newton’s Second Law states that the force acting on an object is equal to the mass of that object multiplied by its acceleration (F = ma).

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It’s a concept that might seem abstract at first glance but trust me, it’s one that you’ve interacted with more than you realize. For instance, imagine you’re at an ice-skating rink. As you push off the side of the rink, your body accelerates across the ice. Here, your muscles are exerting a force, and depending on your mass, you’ll accelerate at a certain rate – this is Newton’s Second Law in action.

Now, let’s take a more common example – driving a car. When you press down on the gas pedal, the car’s engine generates a force, propelling the car forward. If we keep the force constant and load up the trunk with, say, heavy boxes, we add mass to the system. The same force now distributes over more mass, resulting in a slower acceleration. You feel the car straining more to pick up speed. That’s Newton’s law speaking to you through the hum of the engine and the pull of the seatbelt.

But Newton’s Second Law doesn’t just dictate the acceleration – it also defines how objects stop. Imagine you’re trying to catch a baseball. When the ball lands in your glove, your hand exerts a force on it to decelerate it to a stop. A heavier ball or one that’s moving faster (indicating a higher initial momentum) will require a stronger force to stop in the same amount of time. If you catch a baseball versus a cricket ball with the same effort, the cricket ball, typically heavier, will hit your glove with more force. That sting you feel? That’s the law at work.

What about those times when you’re on a swing in the park? As you kick your legs out, shifting your mass, you cause the swing to go higher. When you pull your legs back, the swing comes down. What you’re playing with here is your own mass distribution, altering the swing’s acceleration with respect to gravity, which is, indirectly, a demonstration of Newton’s Second Law.

Let’s not forget the astronaut footage we’ve all seen. In the microgravity of space, astronauts can push off from the space station and float away. In space, where the effects of gravity are negligible, the simplest push or pull can set an object in motion – slowly, perhaps, but unmistakably in accordance with F = ma. The mass of the object or the astronaut remains constant, but even the slightest force will lead to an acceleration.

This law also shows up in areas you wouldn’t expect, like biology. Take our own human body as an example. The heart creates a force to pump blood through the circulatory system. If the arteries are clogged, which effectively increases the ‘mass’ in the system, the heart has to work harder to pump the blood – it has to exert more force to maintain the acceleration of blood flow.

Through these everyday occurrences, Newton’s Second Law becomes more than an equation; it becomes a narrative that we live and observe. It reminds us that physics is not confined to the classroom. It’s not just about calculations on paper; it’s a part of our every movement, our every breath. The world operates in the silent yet profound language of forces and motions, and once we start listening, we find physics narrating the story of everything we do.

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Physics Unveiled: A Real-World Illustration of Newton's Second Law. (2023, Nov 17). Retrieved from