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RHETT ALLAIN SCIENCE 03.21.

16 8:00 AM

IM SO TOTALLY
OVER NEWTONS
LAWS OF
MOTION

Diagram demonstrating Newton's third law of


motion. UNIVERSAL HISTORY ARCHIVE/GETTY
IMAGES

I SAW IT again. This time it


was an introduction to an
interesting online look at
introductory physics. I was
excitedbut then, I wasnt so
excited. Right there in the first
video they talked about how
they were going to go over
Newtons Three Laws. We can
do better than this. We dont
need to be stuck with the
traditions of the past if we
want students to understand
physics.

What Are Newtons Three


BUSINESS CULTURE
Laws
I'm Soof Motion?
Totally
DESIGN
Over Newton's Laws of Motion
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Just to be clear, let me state


the Three Laws of Motion. You
will find these in just about

SHARE every introductory physics


textbook (but not allthere
NUBE
ADMINISTRADA
SHARE
are some pretty awesome es...
textbooks out there). This is
hosting, nube pblica y nube
essentially the description privada.
TWEET from most books:

Newtons First Law: An


PIN
15
object in motion stays in
motion unless acted on by a
COMMENT
force. An object at rest,
35
stays at rest unless acted on
by a force.
EMAIL

Newtons Second Law: The


magnitude of an objects
acceleration is proportional
to the net force and CHATEA
AHORA
inversely proportional to
the mass of the object.

Newtons Third Law: For


every force there is an equal
and opposite force. (Ive
LATEST NEWS
already complained about
the way most books talk
about this one)
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Yes, some books do it a little Jury Was Denied Key
Evidence
differentbut thats the main
15 HOURS
idea.
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The FBI Now Says It May
Crack That iPhone Without
Newtons First Law Is Apples Help

Really About Aristotle


15 HOURS

Im not sure this is exactly


true, but it seems true enough.
Remember that before Galileo
and Newton, people looked to
Aristotle for ideas about
physics. Yes, its true that
Aristotle wasnt a scientist
since he didnt really do any
experiments. However, that
didnt stop him from become a
huge influence on the way
people think about physics.

You can read Aristotles works


if you like, but let me
summarize some of his ideas
about force. Really, to be fair
we can call this Aristotles
Law of Motion (there is only
one law for him).

Aristotles Law of Motion: The


natural state for an object is to be
at rest. If you dont push on an
object, it will stop moving.

If now look back at Newtons


First Law, you can see that it is
essentially a direct reply to
Aristotle. Aristotle says that
the natural state is at rest,
Newton says that the natural
state of an object is to not
change its motion. Many
introductory physics students
see the problem with
Newtons First Law. Isnt it
just the same thing as
Newtons Second Law? Yes,
but if you think of it in terms
of Aristotle maybe it makes
sense.

What is a Scientific Law?


Its clear that people confuse
scientific law with legal laws. I
dont think it would be crazy
to say that many would say
the process that a bill
becomes a law (in
government) is similar to the
way a theory becomes a law in
science. This is not true, but
thats what they think (and
this is one of the reasons I
suggest that we just stop
using words like law in
science).

Since Newtons ideas are


Laws, does that mean that
they are true? Nothere is no
truth in science, there are just
models. Some models work
better than others, and some
models are wrong but still
useful. Lets write down
Newtons Second Law in its
common form as an equation:

Although this is a very useful


model, it doesnt always work.
If you take a proton moving at
half the speed of light and
push on it with a force, you
cannot use this to find the new
velocity of the protonbut
its still a great model. So,
maybe we shouldnt call it a
Law.

Also, Im not a big fan of


naming scientific principles
after people. It reminds me
too much of the silly gas laws
in chemistry. Open an intro
chemistry book and you will
probably find something like
this:

Arent they really just one


Ideal Gas Law (or I would even
say Ideal Gas Principle).
Maybe Im just bitter that I
dont have a law named after
me.

What Should We Do
Instead of Newtons Laws
of Motion?
Science is all about models. If
there is one thing Ive tried to
be consistent aboutits that
we build models in science.
These models could be
conceptual, physical, or
mathematical. But they are
still models. So, how do we
model the effect forces have
on matter? This can be used in
place of Newtons Laws of
Motionthe Momentum
Principle. It states the
following:

Here, the vector p is the


momentum of an object (mass
multiplied by velocity). In the
case of constant forces, you
can replace the time
derivatives with just the
change in momentum divided
by the change in time. It works
just as well as Newtons
Second Law.

Still, you need to address the


nature of force that says it is
an interaction between two
objects such that one object
pushes with the same
magnitude that the other
object pushes back (this is the
same as Newtons Third Law).

Do I think that we should ban


Newtons Laws? No. There is
still a place to talk about the
historical development of the
interaction between forces
and matter and Newton
played a large role here (but
so did Aristotle and Galileo).
Should there be a chapter
titled Newtons Second
Law? No. I dont think that is
very helpful to students.

Here is the thing that should


be banned (but I still see this)
test questions that say
something like this:

Which of Newtons Laws (First,


Second or Third) says that an
object will move in a straight line
at a constant speed without a net
force?

This is a terrible question for


the following reasons:

Does it really matter which


law is First, Second, and
Third?

Technically, both the First


and Second Law would be
correct answers.

It misses the main point


about forces and motion
and instead gives some type
of recall-based question.

I just think we can do better.


Just because most physics
textbooks (but not all) have
been very explicit about
Newtons Laws of Motion, this
doesnt mean that is the best
way for students to learn.

Rant off.

#DOT PHYSICS #FORCES #MODELS

#MOMENTUM PRINCIPLE #NEWTON

#SCIENCE

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