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What is a Force?

Understanding the fundamental concept in physics… in a nutshell

You probably use this word often without knowing what it really means. It is one of the most important concepts that you will encounter in physics as it is found in almost every facet of a physics class. So, whether or not you are in a physics class, knowing what a force is will be good knowledge to just have. You may think of it as “The Force” that’s used in the Star Wars franchise, because it essentially is the same concept.

So what is it?

A formal definition of it is any external influence on an object that causes a change in movement, shape, orientation and even direction. As mentioned earlier, its everywhere in physics. You see forces in everyday actions like when you push a box, when you lift a couch, even when you punch a wall. It can act as a countering agent such as friction, air resistance, or water resistance. There are also forces such as electrical forces, magnetic forces, and fluid forces, tension forces…basically the list is limitless just as long as you can cause a change in an objects motion or shape.

Most famous form of force

You will most likely see forces mostly used in Newtonian mechanics and prevalent in Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, which describes how force directly relates to a body’s motion.

  • First Law- a body at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external force. Also, a body in motion will stay in constant motion unless acted on by an external force.

  • Second Law- relates the acceleration and mass of an object to a force by the equation: F=m x a. This states that if an object has a mass and moves with an acceleration, then a force is created.

  • Third Law- for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. This explains why we don’t just fall through the floors in our home or why you can lean on a wall without going through it. It explains why when you row a boat in one direction, the boat moves oppositely.

This is just one way you may encounter force and probably the most standard form of it. But as mentioned, there are many other forms of force that is just too much to place into one blog post.