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Newton’s Laws of Motion




Classical mechanics is founded on three physical laws known as the Isaac Newton’s laws

of motion. Isaac Newton, a mathematician, and physicist is acknowledged as one of the best and

influential scientists who enabled the scientific revolution. Isaac Newton played a major role in

shaping the new science and physics by creating the theory which acted as the backbone of

physical research for more than two hundred years. To date, Newton’s laws are widely used by

engineers and many scientists. They illustrate the relationship of a given body, forces acting on

it, and the motion of the body in response to those forces. Over nearly three centuries, these laws

have been described in various ways. However, the meaning has not changed.

The Newton’s first law of motion states that: unless an external force is applied to a given

object that is at rest or in a uniform and continuous state of motion, it tends to remain at rest or in

its original motion. This can be summarized as below;

Balanced forces → object at rest (v = 0, a = 0) → stay at rest

Balanced forces →object in motion (v ≠ 0, a = 0) →stay in motion

It is normally considered as the definition of inertia. This implies that acceleration is the main

cause of any change in motion of an object. This law is related to Newton’s second law for

which the total net external force is equal to zero. For instance, an ice skater will continue

skating at a certain speed unless an external force is applied to stop him/her. This means that the

skater is subjected to two different forces (the force of gravity and the force normal force exerted

by the surface) that cancel out to give a net force of zero. Also, blood tends to rush from head to

the feet while one is quickly stopping from a fast descending elevator. These examples

demonstrate the second law of motion. All objects tend to resist any change in their state of

motion unless they are ‘forced’ to by unbalanced forces. The intensity of change in velocity is

described by Newton’s second law of motion.

The Newton’s second law of motion (the law of acceleration) states that: the acceleration

of a given body is directly proportional to the force acting on it. However, the relationship

between the force and acceleration is determined by considering the mass of that body. For

instance, the greater the amount of force applied the greater the body’s acceleration and vice

versa. This can be mathematically described as;

F = ma (where F, m and a are the force, the mass of the body, and the acceleration of the body


Since the force and the acceleration are both vector quantities, the direction taken by the force

vector is identical to that of the acceleration vector. This makes Newton's first law the most

powerful of the three laws since it allows quantitative determination (calculations) of dynamics.

For instance, the changes in velocity as a result of the applied forces can be calculated. However,

this law should not be confused with the dynamics of Aristotle. The difference between the two

is that in the Newton's law, a force only produces a change in velocity but does not maintain it as

Aristotle held. The second law is, however, only applicable when the considered force is the total

external force and do not directly relate when the mass of the body is changing, either by gain or

loss of the material. Also, it does not hold directly on relatively small atoms where the

application of the quantum of mechanics is a must, or when the relativistic effects (the speed of

the object is close to the speed of light, 3*10^8 m/s) must be used. Galileo's law of fall is a good

example of the second law of motion. The distance traversed by the object relates directly to the

square of time.

The Newton’s third law of motion is the simplest laws of the three that was presented in

1686. It states that: action is equal and opposite to the reaction. This implies that the action

produced when a force is exerted on an object by a second object is identical and in opposite

direction to the reaction. This is one of the main and essential universe’s symmetry principles

and can be applied to explain counter-intuitive situations since it is obeyed by nature. For

instance, when a large truck collides with a smaller one, one might think that the smaller truck

experiences more force, which is not correct (action and reaction are equal). Another real-life

example where this law holds is the jet engine. The exhaust gasses that exit through the back of

the engine are produced by the engine, and an equal thrusting force is generated in the counter

direction. Below is a summary of the same;

Engine pushing forward←→flow pushing backwards

The Newton’s law of universal gravitation, when combined with his laws of motion describes the

Kepler's laws of planetary motion.