Topic covered

`color{red} ♦` INTRODUCTION
`color{red} ♦` FIRST LAW OF MOTION


Previously, we described the motion of an object along a straight line in terms of its position, velocity and acceleration.

We saw that such a motion can be uniform or non-uniform. We have not yet discovered what causes the motion. Why does the speed of an object change with time? Do all motions require a cause?

If so, what is the nature of this cause? In this chapter we shall make an attempt to quench all such curiosities.

For many centuries, the problem of motion and its causes had puzzled scientists and philosophers. A ball on the ground, when given a small hit, does not move forever.

Such observations suggest that rest is the “natural state” of an object. This remained the belief until Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton developed an entirely different approach to understand motion.

In our everyday life we observe that some effort is required to put a stationary object into motion or to stop a moving object.

We ordinarily experience this as a muscular effort and say that we must push or hit or pull on an object to change its state of motion. The concept of force is based on this push, hit or pull.

Let us now ponder about a ‘force’. What is it? In fact, no one has seen, tasted or felt a force. However, we always see or feel the effect of a force.

It can only be explained by describing what happens when a force is applied to an object. Pushing, hitting and pulling of objects are all ways of bringing objects in motion (Fig. 9.1). They move because we make a force act on them.

From your studies in earlier classes, you are also familiar with the fact that a force can be used to change the magnitude of velocity of an object (that is, to make the object move faster or slower) or to change its direction of motion.

We also know that a force can change the shape and size of objects (Fig. 9.2).


Fig. 9.3 shows a wooden block on a horizontal table. Two strings X and Y are tied to the two opposite faces of the block as shown.

If we apply a force by pulling the string X, the block begins to move to the right. Similarly, if we pull the string Y, the block moves to the left. But, if the block is pulled from both the sides with equal forces, the block will not move.

Such forces are called balanced forces and do not change the state of rest or of motion of an object. Now, let us consider a situation in which two opposite forces of different magnitudes pull the block.

In this case, the block would begin to move in the direction of the greater force. Thus, the two forces are not balanced and the unbalanced force acts in the direction the block moves. This suggests that an unbalanced force acting on an object brings it in motion.

What happens when some children try to push a box on a rough floor? If they push the box with a small force, the box does not move because of friction acting in a direction opposite to the push [Fig. 9.4(a)].

This friction force arises between two surfaces in contact; in this case, between the bottom of the box and floor’s rough surface.

It balances the pushing force and therefore the box does not move. In Fig. 9.4(b), the children push the box harder but the box still does not move. This is because the friction force still balances the pushing force.

If the children push the box harder still, the pushing force becomes bigger than the friction force [Fig. 9.4(c)]. There is an unbalanced force. So the box starts moving.

What happens when we ride a bicycle? When we stop pedalling, the bicycle begins to slow down. This is again because of the friction forces acting opposite to the direction of motion.

In order to keep the bicycle moving, we have to start pedalling again. It thus appears that an object maintains its motion under the continuous application of an unbalanced force. However, it is quite incorrect.

An object moves with a uniform velocity when the forces (pushing force and frictional force) acting on the object are balanced and there is no net external force on it.

If an unbalanced force is applied on the object, there will be a change either in its speed or in the direction of its motion. Thus, to accelerate the motion of an object, an unbalanced force is required. And the change in its speed (or in the direction of motion) would continue as long as this unbalanced force is applied.

However, if this force is removed completely, the object would continue to move with the velocity it has acquired till then.


By observing the motion of objects on an inclined plane Galileo deduced that objects move with a constant speed when no force acts on them.

He observed that when a marble rolls down an inclined plane, its velocity increases [Fig. 9.5(a)]. In the next chapter, you will learn that the marble falls under the unbalanced force of gravity as it rolls down and attains a definite velocity by the time it reaches the bottom.

Its velocity decreases when it climbs up as shown in Fig. 9.5(b). Fig. 9.5(c) shows a marble resting on an ideal frictionless plane inclined on both sides. Galileo argued that when the marble is released from left, it would roll down the slope and go up on the opposite side to the same height from which it was released.

If the inclinations of the planes on both sides are equal then the marble will climb the same distance that it covered while rolling down.

If the angle of inclination of the right-side plane were gradually decreased, then the marble would travel further distances till it reaches the original height. If the right-side plane were ultimately made horizontal (that is, the slope is reduced to zero), the marble would continue to travel forever trying to reach the same height that it was released from.

The unbalanced forces on the marble in this case are zero. It thus suggests that an unbalanced (external) force is required to change the motion of the marble but no net force is needed to sustain the uniform motion of the marble.

In practical situations it is difficult to achieve a zero unbalanced force. This is because of the presence of the frictional force acting opposite to the direction of motion.

Thus, in practice the marble stops after travelling some distance. The effect of the frictional force may be minimised by using a smooth marble and a smooth plane and providing a lubricant on top of the planes.

Newton further studied Galileo’s ideas on force and motion and presented three fundamental laws that govern the motion of objects. These three laws are known as Newton’s laws of motion. The first law of motion is stated as:

An object remains in a state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change that state by an applied force.

In other words, all objects resist a change in their state of motion. In a qualitative way, the tendency of undisturbed objects to stay at rest or to keep moving with the same velocity is called inertia. This is why, the first law of motion is also known as the law of inertia.

Certain experiences that we come across while travelling in a motorcar can be explained on the basis of the law of inertia. We tend to remain at rest with respect to the seat until the drives applies a braking force to stop the motorcar.

With the application of brakes, the car slows down but our body tends to continue in the same state of motion because of its inertia. A sudden application of brakes may impact or collision with the panels in front.

Safety belts are worn to prevent such accidents. Safety belts exert a force on our body to make the forward motion slower. An opposite experience is encountered when we are standing in a bus and the bus begins to move suddenly. Now we tend to fall backwards.

This is because the sudden start of the bus brings motion to the bus as well as to our feet in contact with the floor of the bus. But the rest of our body opposes this motion because of its inertia.

When a motorcar makes a sharp turn at a high speed, we tend to get thrown to one side. This can again be explained on the basis of the law of inertia. We tend to continue in our straight-line motion.

When an unbalanced force is applied by the engine to change the direction of motion of the motorcar, we slip to one side of the seat due to the inertia of our body.

The fact that a body will remain at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force can be illustrated through the following activities:

Activity ______________ `9.1`

♦ Make a pile of similar carom coins on a table, as shown in Fig. 9.6.

♦ Attempt a sharp horizontal hit at the bottom of the pile using another carom coin or the striker. If the hit is strong enough, the bottom coin moves out quickly. Once the lowest coin is removed, the inertia of the other coins makes them ‘fall’ vertically on the table.

Activity ______________ `9.2`

♦ Set a five-rupee coin on a stiff playing card covering an empty glass tumbler standing on a table as shown in Fig. 9.7.
♦ Give the card a sharp horizontal flick with a finger. If we do it fast then the card shoots away, allowing the coin to fall vertically into the glass tumbler due to its inertia.
♦ The inertia of the coin tries to maintain its state of rest even when the card flows off.

Activity ______________ `9.3`
♦ Place a water-filled tumbler on a tray.
♦ Hold the tray and turn around as fast as you can.
♦ We observe that the water spills.

Observe that a groove is provided in a saucer for placing the tea cup. It prevents the cup from toppling over in case of sudden jerks.

Inertia and Mass

All the examples and activities given so far illustrate that there is a resistance offered by an object to change its state of motion. If it is at rest it tends to remain at rest; if it is moving it tends to keep moving.

This property of an object is called its inertia. Do all bodies have the same inertia? We know that it is easier to push an empty box than a box full of books. Similarly, if we kick a football it flies away.

But if we kick a stone of the same size with equal force, it hardly moves. We may, in fact, get an injury in our foot while doing so!

Similarly, in activity 9.2, instead of a five-rupees coin if we use a one-rupee coin, we find that a lesser force is required to perform the activity. A force that is just enough to cause a small cart to pick up a large velocity will produce a negligible change in the motion of a train.

This is because, in comparison to the cart the train has a much lesser tendency to change its state of motion. Accordingly, we say that the train has more inertia than the cart.

Clearly, heavier or more massive objects offer larger inertia. Quantitatively, the inertia of an object is measured by its mass.

We may thus relate inertia and mass as follows: Inertia is the natural tendency of an object to resist a change in its state of motion or of rest. The mass of an object is a measure of its inertia.