First Law of Motion

First Law of Motion


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.1(a)]. When 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. 1(b). Fig. 1(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.


Fig.1 :(a) the downward motion; (b) the upward motion of a marble on an inclined plane; and (c) on a double inclined plane.

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.

     Why the first law of motion is also called as law of inertia?

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 driver 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 thus cause injury to us by 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 0f 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.


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, 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.


What you have learnt :

  1. First law of motion: An object continues to be in a state of rest or of uniform motion along a straight line unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

  2. The natural tendency of objects to resist a change in their state of rest or of uniform motion is called inertia.

  3. The mass of an object is a measure of its inertia. Its SI unit is kilogram (kg).

  4. Force of friction always opposes motion of objects.


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