# Calculating Contact Forces- Three objects

• student2013
In summary, if you have a system with three boxes, two side by side and one on top of the first box and there is a horizontal force acting on the boxes, you would need to account for the third box in calculating the contact force between two of them.

## Homework Statement

If you have a system with three boxes, two side by side and one on top of the first box and there is a horizontal force acting on the boxes, do you have to account for the third box in calculating the contact force between two of them? Say if box 1, box 2, and box 3 (three is on top of box 1) had masses of 10 kg, 5 kg, and 6 kg, respectively. And the horizontal force was equal to 20 N and you were asked to calculate the contact force between boxes 1 and 2...would you have to divide 20N by the sum of all THREE masses or just the masses of ONE and TWO in order to get the acceleration to calculate contact force?

## Homework Equations

You would need to use F = ma (a = F/m) to get the acceleration in the horizontal direction and then to get the contact force.

## The Attempt at a Solution

I thought that you would have to take the box on top into account so a = 20 N / (10 kg + 5 kg + 6 kg) = 0.95 m/s^2

And then to get the contact force between boxes 1 and 2, you would multiply 0.95 m/s^2 by 5 kg to get 4.76 N.

Last edited:
Yes you are correct

Yes correct but...

If the force is applied to the lower boxes then you may need to look at the friction force between upper and lower boxes. If you try to accelerate the lower boxes too fast they will "leave the top box behind". The top box can only accelerate as fast as the friction force/it's mass. That might be less than the applied force/total mass.

CWatters said:
Yes correct but...

If the force is applied to the lower boxes then you may need to look at the friction force between upper and lower boxes. If you try to accelerate the lower boxes too fast they will "leave the top box behind". The top box can only accelerate as fast as the friction force/it's mass. That might be less than the applied force/total mass.

Yes, thanks, I overlooked this, you include all thee masses in your calc for the acceleration of the 3-block system only if all three move together. As an example, if the bottom blocks are on a frictionless surface, and if there is also no friction between the top and bottom block, and a force of 20 N is applied to the lower block on the left, then the top block will not move at all and the acceleration of the lower blocks is determined without considering the mass of the upper block. The whole problem changes if the 20 N force is applied to the upper block, so you have to be more specific about values of friction coefficients and point of application of the applied force.

This would be the contact force between the two boxes since they are the ones directly experiencing the force.

Yes, you are correct in your approach. In this scenario, the force of 20 N is acting on the entire system of three boxes, so you would need to take all three masses into account when calculating the acceleration. This is because all three boxes are connected and will experience the same acceleration.

To calculate the contact force between boxes 1 and 2, you would need to use the individual mass of box 2 (5 kg) since it is the one in direct contact with box 1. Multiplying the acceleration (0.95 m/s^2) by the mass of box 2 would give you the contact force between the two boxes (4.76 N). The mass of box 3 (6 kg) would not be relevant in this calculation since it is not in direct contact with box 1.

In summary, when calculating contact forces between two objects, you would only need to consider the masses of those two objects, but when determining the overall acceleration, you would need to take into account the masses of all objects in the system.

## What is a contact force?

A contact force is a force that is exerted between two objects that are physically touching each other. It can also be referred to as a normal force or a push/pull force.

## How do you calculate contact forces between three objects?

To calculate the contact forces between three objects, you need to use Newton's third law of motion, which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This means that the force exerted by one object on another is equal in magnitude but opposite in direction to the force exerted by the second object on the first. By applying this law to all three objects in contact, you can determine the contact forces between them.

## What factors affect the magnitude of contact forces?

The magnitude of contact forces is affected by several factors, including the mass and acceleration of the objects, the surface area of contact, and the materials of the objects. For example, heavier objects will exert a greater force on each other compared to lighter objects, and objects with a larger surface area of contact will have a greater force acting on them.

## How can contact forces be used in real-life situations?

Contact forces are used in many real-life situations, such as when you push a door open, when you kick a ball, or when you hold an object in your hand. They are also essential in engineering and construction, where they are used to determine the strength and stability of structures, such as bridges and buildings.

## How can contact forces be represented in a free-body diagram?

In a free-body diagram, contact forces are represented by arrows pointing away from the point of contact. The direction of the arrow indicates the direction of the force, and the length of the arrow represents the magnitude of the force. For example, if two objects are pushing against each other, the arrows representing the contact forces will be pointing in opposite directions.

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