Friction - Facts from the Encyclopedia - Yahoo! Education
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Columbia University Press
friction
resistance offered to the movement of one body past another body with which it is in contact. In certain situations friction is desired. Without friction the wheels of a locomotive could not "grip" the rails nor could power be transmitted by belts. On the other hand, in the moving parts of machines a minimum of friction is desired; an excess of friction produces heat, which in turn causes expansion, the locking of the moving parts, and a consequent breakdown of the machinery. Lubrication is important in minimizing friction as are also such devices as ball and roller bearings.

Factors Affecting Friction

Friction depends partly on the smoothness of the contacting surfaces, a greater force being needed to move two surfaces past one another if they are rough than if they are smooth. However, friction decreases with smoothness only to a degree; friction actually increases between two extremely smooth surfaces because of increased attractive electrostatic forces between their atoms. Friction does not depend on the amount of surface area in contact between the moving bodies or (within certain limits) on the relative speed of the bodies. It does, however, depend on the magnitude of the forces holding the bodies together. When a body is moving over a horizontal surface, it presses down against the surface with a force equal to its weight, i.e., to the pull of gravity upon it; an increase in the weight of the body causes an increase in the amount of resistance offered to the relative motion of the surfaces in contact.

The Coefficient of Friction

The coefficient of friction is the quotient obtained by dividing the value of the force necessary to move one body over another at a constant speed by the weight of the body. For example, if a force of 20 newtons is needed to move a body weighing 100 newtons over another horizontal body at a constant speed, the coefficient of friction between these two materials is 20/100 or 0.2. Different materials in contact yield different results; e.g., different resistances are felt if one pushes a block of wood over surfaces of wood, steel, and plastic. A different coefficient of friction must be calculated for each different pair of materials.

There is more than one coefficient of friction for a given pair of materials. More force is needed to start a body moving across a surface than is needed to keep it in motion once started. Thus the coefficient of static friction (describing the former case) for a pair of substances is greater than the coefficient of kinetic friction (describing the latter case) for the substances. Similarly, sliding friction is greater than rolling friction. The force of friction between two materials can be calculated by multiplying the coefficient of friction between these materials (determined experimentally and listed in engineering handbooks) by the force holding them together (e.g., the weight of the moving body).

The Nature of Fluid Friction

Fluid friction is observed in the flow of liquids and gases. Its causes are similar to those responsible for friction between solid surfaces, for it also depends on the chemical nature of the fluid and the nature of the surface over which the fluid is flowing. The tendency of the liquid to resist flow, i.e., its degree of viscosity, is another important factor. Fluid friction is affected by increased velocities, and the modern streamline design of airplanes and automobiles is the result of engineers' efforts to minimize fluid friction while retaining speed and protecting structure.