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The Fundamental Interactions

So far in our study of motion, we have learned that
forces occur in interactions and cause accelerations. By
itself, this information is of limited use until we learn
how to identify interactions and predict the important
features of the resulting forces.
All the forces we directly encounter in ordinary life
result from only two kinds of interactions—gravita-
tional and electromagnetic. The other fundamental
interactions are nuclear, which are important only
when the interacting objects are as close together as
inside the nucleus of an atom. These will be discussed
in a later chapter.
As we discuss the electromagnetic interaction, we
will also begin to examine the question of what matter is
made. We will find that all matter, living as well as non-
living, is composed of electrically charged particles.
The electromagnetic interaction between these is respon-
sible for most of the forces we encounter. We begin our
discussion of interactions with a consideration of some
of the manifestations of the gravitational interaction.

Falling Objects

Consider the motion of an object, such as a base- Figure 4.1. Why does a falling ball accelerate?
ball, dropped from a great height. As it falls, its speed
steadily increases. If we were to make careful mea-
surements, we would find that, in the absence of air fric- Somehow the force causing the acceleration, the weight
tion, its speed would increase at a constant rate. After 1 of the anchor, has increased in exactly the same ratio as
sec, its speed would be 35 kilometers/hour; after 2 sec- its mass so that the resulting acceleration, determined
onds, 70 kilometers/hour; and after 3 seconds, 105 kilo- by force divided by mass, does not change (Fig. 4.2).
meters/hour. The speed would increase at 35 kilome- This surprising result is true for all objects near the
ters/hour every second as long as it falls. This rate of surface of the earth. Even light objects such as feathers
acceleration is sometimes designated by the symbol g. and sheets of paper have exactly the same acceleration
The falling ball is clearly accelerating. If its motion when allowed to fall in the absence of air resistance.
is in harmony with the Second Law of Motion, and it is, The free-fall acceleration, g, is the same for all objects.
some downward force must be acting upon it. The force This must mean that weight (the force causing the accel-
that causes this acceleration is called the weight of the eration) and mass are proportional. If the mass of one
ball (Fig. 4.1). object is two times the mass of another, its weight is
The next step is to drop a different object (e.g., a larger in exactly the same ratio. The acceleration (force
large anchor) from the same height. Before actually divided by mass) is then the same for both. These
doing the experiment, we might expect the anchor to results suggest the following conclusion:
drop more rapidly than the baseball, since it obviously
has more weight. But nature does not always behave Every object near the surface of the earth experi-
the way we expect. In this case, the acceleration of the ences a downward force, called its weight, the
anchor is exactly the same as that of the baseball! strength of which is exactly proportional to its mass.

Clear evidence also shows that the moon pulls on
the earth. The most apparent results of this force are the
lunar tides in which the level surfaces of oceans rise and
fall as the moon passes overhead. The earth’s attraction
to the moon also causes the earth to accelerate slightly.
Such accelerations are measured routinely by sophisti-
cated navigational instruments such as those used on
An additional feature of the moon’s acceleration
worth noting is calculated by using a mathematical def-
inition of acceleration and measurements of the moon’s
orbit. The moon’s sideways acceleration is almost
exactly 1/3,600 the acceleration of an object falling near
the earth’s surface, so the earth’s pull on the moon must
be only 1/3,600 as strong as it would be if the moon
were moved to the earth’s surface.

The Law of Universal Gravitation

Isaac Newton was the first to suggest that the

Figure 4.2. Why do a falling anchor and a falling ball attraction of the moon to the earth is due to the same
accelerate at the same rate when air resistance is not kind of interaction that causes free objects near the earth
important? to fall. These are called gravitational interactions.
From these observations alone, we do not really The observations we have described tell us much
know where this force comes from, but apparently about the forces resulting from gravitational interaction.
every object is pulled toward the earth. We might sus- First, the two interacting objects always attract each
pect that some kind of interaction between the object other. Each force is proportional to the mass of the
and the earth is responsible. object on which it acts because g is the same for all
objects. The two forces in each interaction obey the
The Moon’s Orbit Third Law of Motion. (Remember the lunar tides and
the acceleration of the earth due to the moon’s attrac-
The moon circles the earth in an almost perfect cir- tion.) Finally, the force is weaker if the two objects are
cle every 27.3 days. Since it is not moving in a straight farther apart, since the moon’s acceleration is only
line, we know that it is accelerating and that its acceler- 1/3,600 as much as it would be if it were near the earth’s
ation is caused by some force. What can we say about surface. In fact, the strength of the force depends on the
the force? square of the distance between the centers of the inter-
Your understanding of the last chapter lets you acting objects. The moon is 60 times farther from the
know immediately that the moon is experiencing a force center of the earth than is the earth’s surface. Notice
sideways to its direction of motion that causes the con- that 602 is 3600, the observed factor by which the grav-
tinuous change in the direction of its motion. Further, itational force on the moon is diminished.
you know that the force is directed toward the center of With these insights, Newton suggested that every
the circular path. The moon moves as if it, too, is being
pulled toward the earth (Fig. 4.3).

Figure 4.4. Every object is attracted to every other

Figure 4.3. Something must be pulling or pushing the object through gravitational interaction. The two forces
moon toward the earth. How do we know? What is it? have the same strength.

object in the universe interacts with every other object
through gravitational interaction (Fig. 4.4). Since the
strengths of the resulting forces depend on mass, they
are ordinarily too small to be noticed for most objects.
Only if one of the interacting objects has a large mass,
like the earth, does the force become appreciable.
This Universal Law of Gravitation (or the Law
of Gravity) can be summarized as follows:

Every object in the universe attracts every

other object by a long-range gravitational
interaction that obeys Newton’s Third Law.
The strength of the attractive force, F, varies
with the masses, M and m, of the two objects
and the distance, d, between their centers
according to the relationship

GmM .

Newton’s hypothesis is subject to experimental ver-

ification. It was confirmed in every detail over 70 years
after Newton’s death by Henry Cavendish (1731-1810),
who finally developed a method of measuring the grav-
itational attraction between such ordinary-sized objects
as two large lead balls. Earlier support had come by
studying the planets and their moons, whose motions
through space can be explained in terms of Newton’s
Universal Law of Gravitation.
The number G that appears in the equation for the
strength of the gravitational force is called the gravita- Figure 4.5. Two rubbed rubber rods or two rubbed glass
tional constant. It must be measured experimentally rods repel each other. Yet a rubber rod and a glass rod
and is so small that the mutual attractive gravitational are attracted. Why?
force between two 100-kilogram balls placed 30 cen-
timeters apart would be equivalent to the earth weight of
only 0.01 gram of mass. (The actual value of G is 6.67 increases as the rods get closer.
! 10–11 in the metric system of units.) No wonder we A new feature is revealed, however, when we bring
ordinarily do not notice these forces, which were mea- a charged glass rod near a charged rubber rod. The two
sured only in fairly recent times. dissimilar rods attract each other with a force that
becomes larger as the rods come closer together. We are
Some Simple Experiments with Electricity dealing with something more complicated than gravity,
since these forces can be either attractive or repulsive,
It has been known, at least since early Greek times, depending on the circumstances. Other kinds of mate-
that certain pairs of materials become “electrified” or rials can be electrified by rubbing. When they are, pairs
“charged” when they are rubbed together. Suppose we of similar rods always repel each other. Some, howev-
rub one end of a hard rubber rod with a piece of fur and er, are attracted to a charged rubber rod and some are
then hang the rod from a string without touching the repelled by it. Those that are attracted to the charged
rubbed end. Then we similarly rub one end of a second rubber rod are repelled by a charged glass rod and vice
rod and hold it near the first. You will see from the versa. Those attracted to the rubber rod are said to be
motion of the hanging rod that the rods repel each other positively charged; those attracted to the glass, nega-
even when they are some distance apart. There is an tively charged (Fig. 4.5).
interaction between the two rods. Further careful test- The explanation of these experiments requires two
ing would show that the repulsion becomes greater as new broad insights. First, we need to know more about
the two rods come closer together. how materials are made and what it is that changes
Two glass rods that are rubbed with silk react sim- when they become charged. The second major part of
ilarly. The glass rods repel each other with a force that the puzzle has to do with the law governing the interac-

tion itself. What determines the strength and direction force, and speed, can have any value and are said to be
of the resulting forces? continuous.
In many materials some of the electrons can be
The Electrical Model of Matter removed from the surface by rubbing. When rubber is
rubbed with fur, some of the electrons in the fur are
An important conclusion of these experiments is transferred to the rubber, which becomes negatively
that matter is made of more basic pieces. Rubber, glass, charged. (The fur and rod are attracted to each other,
silk, fur, and all other materials presumably have some incidentally.) The electrons carry so little mass that the
important constituents in common. The experiments objects seem the same as before, except that they are
suggest at least two kinds. now electrically charged. Protons, because of their larg-
Many objects do not seem to be either attracted or er mass, are held rigidly in place in all solid materials.
repelled by charged objects, yet can be charged by rub- This picture of matter might be termed the
bing. This suggests that the materials normally contain Electrical Model of Matter. It leaves many questions
both kinds of constituents. When the constituents occur unanswered (e.g., how these charged particles are
in equal amounts, they cancel each other’s effects; the arranged in matter, how they combine to create the
material is not charged, and is said to be electrically almost numberless kinds of materials found in living
neutral. When this balance is disturbed by rubbing one and nonliving matter, and what happens when materials
of the constituents either off or onto the object, for change form). But it does provide an adequate model
example, the object becomes charged. If it has more of for explaining a wide range of experiences. We can
one constituent, it is said to have a positive charge; if summarize the model as follows:
more of the other, a negative charge (Fig. 4.6).
All matter contains two kinds of electrically
charged particles: positive protons and negative
electrons. Electrons have little mass and can be
quite mobile and transferable from one object to
another. Protons are held rigidly in place in
solid materials. Objects that have equal num-
a bers of protons and electrons are electrically
neutral. Objects with more electrons than pro-
tons are negatively charged. Those with fewer
electrons than protons are positively charged.
The amount of extra charge of either kind is
called the “charge of an object.”
b c
Figure 4.6. All matter contains electric charge. The The Electrical Force Law
object in (a) is electrically neutral, in (b) it is positively
charged, and in (c) it is negatively charged. By now you have probably guessed the main fea-
tures of the electrical interaction. Objects with the same
More sophisticated research that is discussed later kind of charge repel each other. (Remember that in our
reveals that protons are an important constituent of all experiments identical rods always repelled each other.)
matter. These are tiny, dense particles in the center of all Objects with opposite charges—one positive, the other
atoms. All protons are exactly alike, and each carries negative—attract each other. The forces, attractive or
one unit of positive electric charge. The negative charge repulsive, become stronger when the charged objects
in matter is supplied by electrons, each of which can bal- are closer together. Careful measurements have shown
ance the positive charge of a proton exactly. Electrons that the strength of the force varies with separation in
have little mass—only about 1/1,836 that of protons. exactly the same way as for gravitational force—
The unit of charge used in calculations is the inversely as the square of the distance between the inter-
coulomb, equivalent to the charge of about 6.0 ! 1018 acting objects. The strength also depends on the
protons. We could measure electric charge by simply amount of extra charge possessed by each object,
counting the number of excess electrons or protons, but increasing in exact proportion to the net charge on each.
this is usually impractical because of the large numbers Finally, electrical forces obey Newton’s Third Law.
involved. These important features of the electrical interaction are
Electric charge has one property that we have not summarized in the following statement (Fig. 4.7):
encountered previously. It is discrete; that is, it occurs
only in multiples of a fundamental unit, the charge of a Pairs of objects with similar charges repel each
single proton. Other physical quantities, such as mass, other and pairs with dissimilar charges attract

each other with forces, F, that obey Newton’s Imagine water flowing through a pipe loosely filled
Third Law and whose strength depends on the with gravel. Electric current in a metal wire is similar.
net charges, q and Q, on the objects and the The moving water represents the electrons; the station-
distance, d, between them according to the ary gravel represents the positive charges in the wire
relationship. (together with the rest of the electrons, which are not
kqQ free to move about). Notice that no part of the wire is
F" .
d2 charged, because there are always equal numbers of
positive and negative charges in any part of the metal.
d Electric current flows in a circuit in which a battery
plays the role that a pump plays in our water and pipe
analogy (see Fig. 4.8). The circuit must be completed by
closing the switch. Batteries produce a direct current of
electrons that flows in only one direction through the cir-
cuit. The wall socket into which household appliances are
Q connected is like the battery, except that it reverses the
direction of current flow 60 times per second. Such a cur-
rent flow is called alternating current.



Figure 4.7. Every charged object is attracted or repelled by

every other charged object through the electrical interac- Switch Conducting
tion. The two forces have the same strength in every case. wire
(Only the excess charges are shown in these diagrams.) +
The constant, k, that appears in the strength equa-
tion is called the electrical force constant. As with the
gravitational constant, it must be measured experimen-
tally. The electrical force constant is large; its numeri-
cal value is about 9 ! 109 in the metric system. This Battery
means that the electrical force is easy to demonstrate,
whereas the gravitational force between ordinary
objects can be observed only in sensitive and careful
experiments. In fact, the experiments described earlier
involve the transfer of only a small fraction (about 1 out Figure 4.8. Electric current flows in a complete circuit.
of every 1012) of the electrons actually present. If sepa- The arrows show the direction of motion of the electrons.
rating all the electrons from the protons in a single cop- What are the purposes of the switch and the battery?
per penny were possible, and the electrons and protons
were placed 100 meters (about the length of a football Electromagnetic Forces
field) from each other, the collection of particles would
attract each other with a force of about 1012 tons. The The electrical interaction described to this point is
electrical force can be strong indeed. accurate for charges that are at rest. The total interaction
between charged particles depends on the motion of the
Electric Currents particles, as well as the factors already discussed. The
changes that occur when charges are moving result in mag-
Some of the electrons are free to move on the sur- netic forces, some of which you have undoubtedly encoun-
face or through the interior of some materials which are tered. They are usually not important if the electrical inter-
known as conductors. Insulators are materials that do action is operating, and they result only in small
not permit this free interior motion of electrons. motion-dependent corrections. They can become impor-
Semiconductors contain a few free electrons, but not as tant, however, when charges are moving inside electrically
many as conductors. neutral objects, such as when current flows through a wire.
Moving charged particles form an electric current. The complete interaction due to electric charge is

known as the electromagnetic interaction. It includes forces exerted by gasoline and steam engines.
the electrical interaction between charged particles, Now that we have studied the fundamental motion
either moving or at rest, as well as the magnetic inter- and force laws one at a time, we are ready to consider
actions between moving charged particles. some real applications.


Chapter 4: The Fundamental Interactions
Four fundamental interactions—gravitational, elec-
tromagnetic, weak, and strong (or nuclear)—cause all A. FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES
the forces we know about. The gravitational interac- 1. The Universal Law of Gravitation: Every object
tion, together with the laws of motion, explains the in the universe attracts every other object by a long-
motion of falling objects and is the source of the force range gravitational interaction that obeys Newton’s
called weight. The electromagnetic interaction is asso- Third Law. The strength of the attractive force, F,
ciated with all the other forces governing the motion of varies with the masses, M and m, of the two objects
objects larger than atomic nuclei. and the distance, d, between their centers according
The five important laws are the three laws of to the relationship
motion and the two macroscopic force laws. Together
they make a tidy package that describes and predicts GmM .
with amazing accuracy the motions of objects ranging F"
in size from atoms to clusters of galaxies. All five are
needed before we are ready to apply any of them.
2. The Electric Force Law: Pairs of objects with
The gravitational acceleration of an object is the
similar charges repel each other and pairs with dis-
acceleration it would experience if the gravitational
similar charges attract each other with forces that
force were the only force acting on it. Gravitational
obey Newton’s Third Law and whose strength
acceleration depends on the location of an object, but
depends on the net charges, q and Q, on the objects
not on its mass. That is, all objects have the same grav-
and the distance, d, between them according to the
itational acceleration at a given point in space.
The weight of an object is the gravitational force
acting on it. It depends on the object’s location. The kqQ .
weight of an object near the surface of the moon would F"
be about 1/6 its weight near the earth. Weight on Jupiter
is 2.7 times earth weight and weight near the sun’s sur-
face is 28 times earth weight. B. MODELS, IDEAS, QUESTIONS, OR
It is possible to measure the very small gravitation- APPLICATIONS
al attraction between ordinary-sized objects by using a
Cavendish balance. Such measurements provide direct 1. The Newtonian Model (sometimes, the
experimental evidence supporting the Universal Law of Newtonian Synthesis): The model based on
Gravitation. Newton’s three laws of motion and the Universal
The electric force can be a very strong force, even Law of Gravitation which explains the motions of
between ordinary objects. If it were possible to separate the heavens as well as the terrestrial motions of
all the negative and positive charges in a penny from common experience. The Newtonian Model when
each other, for example, they would attract each other applied to the motions of the planets replaces the
with a force of more than one trillion tons at a distance medieval model which placed the earth at the cen-
of 100 meters. ter of the solar system and the universe.
Several common demonstrations illustrate the 2. Electrical Model of Matter: All matter contains
Electric Force Law and the motion of electric charges: two kinds of electrically charged particles: positive
walking across a rug, then touching a metal doorknob; protons and negative electrons. Electrons have lit-
lightning; the attraction and repulsion of rubber and tle mass and can be quite mobile and transferable
glass rods rubbed with fur and silk; the operation of an from one object to another. Protons are held rigid-
electroscope when touched by a charged object. ly in place in solid materials. Objects that have
The electrical force is the “glue” that holds the par- equal numbers of protons and electrons are electri-
ticles of matter together. It is responsible for all the cally neutral. Objects with more electrons than
contact forces we ordinarily experience. Examples are protons are negatively charged. Those with fewer
friction; atmospheric pressure; the strength of bridges electrons than protons are positively charged. The
and buildings; the impact forces that occur, for example, amount of extra charge of either kind is called the
when billiard balls or automobiles collide; and the “charge of the object.”

3. Why do both heavy and light things accelerate at stant is usually represented by the symbol G. It is
the same rate when only the gravitational force is a constant of proportionality in Newton’s Universal
acting on them? Law of Gravitation which connects the strength of
4. How can the acceleration of the moon and the the gravitational force to its dependence on the
acceleration of a falling apple be accounted for by masses of the objects and their separations.
the same Universal Law of Gravitation?
5. What determines the strength of all gravitational
GmM .
forces? F"
6. What is the Electrical Model of Matter? d2
7. What determines the strength of electrical forces? 10. Insulator (specifically, of electricity): A substance
8. What interactions are responsible for all of the which does not readily allow an electric current to
forces we observe in ordinary life experiences? flow through it. The opposite of a conductor. Glass
is an insulator.
C GLOSSARY 11. Semiconductors: Materials whose electrical con-
1. Circuit: A connected, continuous path along ducting properties place them somewhere midway
which electrical charge flows to produce an electri- between conductors and insulators. Silicon is a
cal current. semiconductor.
2. Conductor (specifically, of electricity): A sub- 12. Weight: The gravitational force of attraction of a
stance which readily allows an electric current to very massive object, usually a planet or moon, for
flow through it. The opposite of an insulator (non- a less massive object on or near its surface.
conductor). Copper wire is a conductor.
3. Continuous: Varying smoothly without distinct D. FOCUS QUESTIONS
parts or discontinuous elements. Used here to 1. In each of the following situations:
mean the opposite of “discrete.” a. Describe what would be observed.
4. Coulomb: The unit of charge used in calculations, b. Name and state in your own words the funda-
equivalent to the charge of about 6 ! 1018 protons. mental principle(s) that could explain what would
5. Discrete: Separate or individually distinct, con- happen.
sisting of distinct parts or discontinuous elements. c. Explain what would happen in terms of the fun-
Used here to mean the opposite of “continuous” or damental principle(s).
smoothly varying. The electric charge of an elec- (1) A penny and a feather are caused to fall
tron is described as discrete since it cannot be toward the earth in a vacuum tube. They start
smoothly subdivided into smaller parts. to fall at the same time.
6. Electrical Force Constant: The electrical force (2) Suppose an elephant and a feather were to
constant is usually represented by the symbol k. It fall from a high cliff at exactly the same time.
is a constant of proportionality in the Electric Force If air friction could be ignored, what would
Law which connects the strength of the electrical happen?
force to its dependence on the charges of objects (3) A rubber rod is rubbed with fur and placed
and their separations. on a wire rack suspended by a string. A second
rubber rod that has been rubbed with fur is
kqQ . brought nearby. The second rod is then taken
d2 away and a glass rod that has been rubbed with
a vinyl sheet is brought nearby. (Note: the rub-
ber rod acquires extra electrons. The glass rod
7. Electric Current: A coherent motion of electrical
loses electrons.)
charges constitutes an electrical current. The
motion of electrons along or through a copper wire
is an example of an electrical current. If the flow is
4.1. The earth pulls on you with a gravitational
only in one direction, the current is said to be
force of attraction, your weight. Describe the “reaction”
direct. If the current periodically reverses its direc-
to this force. Show that your answer is consistent with
tion of flow, the current is said to be alternating.
the Third Law of Motion.
8. Free-fall Acceleration, g: The acceleration of a
falling object on which the only significant force is
4.2. If you are pulling on the earth with a gravita-
the gravitational force. Near the surface of the
tional force, why doesn’t the earth move in the same
earth, the free-fall acceleration is about 35 kilome-
way you do in response to that force? Show that your
ters per hour per second.
answer is consistent with the Second and Third Laws of
9. Gravitational Constant: The gravitational con-

4.3. Why does an object weigh less near the sur- 4.14. Describe the important properties of a proton.
face of the moon than near the surface of the earth?
4.15. Describe the important properties of an
4.4. The sun has much more mass than the earth electron.
(about 330,000 times as much). Why aren’t we pulled
toward the sun with 330,000 times as much force as we 4.16. Describe the Electrical Model of Matter.
are toward the earth?
4.17. What is meant when we say that electric
4.5. Compare the weights of an object in three charge is discrete?
(a) near the surface of the earth, 4.18. Describe how the electrons and protons in an
(b) near the surface of the moon, and atom could be held together by the electrical force.
(c) in a place outside the solar system where there
are almost no gravitational forces. 4.19. Explain why you experience a repulsive
force when you slap a table with your hand.
4.6. How does the mass of the object in the previous
exercise change as it is taken to the same three locations? 4.20. Precisely what is electric current?

4.7. Compare the definitions of weight and mass. 4.21. A rubber rod rubbed with fur and then
Can you see why the weight of an object can change brought near a second, similarly prepared, rubber rod
from place to place while its mass does not? Explain can illustrate the Electric Force Law.
how this can be so. (a) Describe what happens when the two rods are
brought near each other.
4.8. A cannonball originally at rest and a marble (b) Explain how the observed results illustrate the
originally at rest are dropped in a vacuum from the same Electric Force Law.
height at the same time. (c) What happened to the rubber rods when they
(a) What happens when they are dropped? were rubbed with fur?
Compare the speed and acceleration of the cannon- (d) What would happen if the rubber rods were
ball with that of the marble. brought near a glass rod which had been rubbed
(b) Is the gravitational force of attraction larger on with silk?
the cannonball than it is on the marble? Justify (e) What additional feature of the Electric Force
your answer using a fundamental law. Law is illustrated by this second experiment?
(c) Does the cannonball require a larger force to (f) What happened to the glass rod when it was
provide the same acceleration as the marble? rubbed with silk?
Justify your answer using the Second Law of
Motion. 4.22. State the Electric Force Law and explain its
(d) Show that your answers to (a), (b), and (c) are meaning.
consistent with each other.
4.23. How do we know that the Electrical Model of
4.9. State the Universal Law of Gravitation and Matter and the Electric Force Law are valid descriptions
explain its meaning in your own words. of nature?

4.10. A small ball is dropped from the edge of a cliff. 4.24. When a glass rod is rubbed with rubber, it
One-tenth of a second later a much heavier ball is becomes positively charged. This is because
dropped from the same position. Ignoring the effects of (a) protons are transferred from rubber to glass.
air friction, can the second ball overtake the first? Justify (b) protons are transferred from glass to rubber.
your answer using fundamental laws or principles. (c) electrons are transferred from glass to rubber.
(d) electrons are transferred from rubber to glass.
4.11. Describe an experiment that demonstrates (e) electrons and protons annihilate each other.
that there are two kinds of electric charge.

4.12. What is meant when we say that an object is


4.13. Describe what happens when a glass rod

becomes positively charged by being rubbed with silk.