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Electromagnetic forces

Almost all of the forces that we experience in everyday life are electromagnetic in origin. They have this unusual name because long ago people thought that electric forces and magnetic forces were different things. After much work and experimentation, it has been realised that they are actually different manifestations of the same underlying theory.

Electric or electrostatic forces

If we have objects carrying electrical charge, which are not moving, then we are dealing with electrostatic forces (Coulomb's Law). This force is actually much stronger than gravity. This may seem strange, since gravity is obviously very powerful, and holding a balloon to the wall seems to be the most impressive thing electrostatic forces have done, but if we think about it: for gravity to be detectable, we need to have a very large mass nearby. But a balloon rubbed against someone's hair can stick to a wall with a force so strong that it overcomes the force of gravity between the entire Earth and the balloon—with just the charges in the balloon and the wall!

Magnetic forces

The magnetic force is a different manifestation of the electromagnetic force. It stems from the interaction between moving charges as opposed to the fixed charges involved in Coulomb's Law. Examples of the magnetic force in action include magnets, compasses, car engines and computer data storage. Magnets are also used in the wrecking industry to pick up cars and move them around sites.


According to Newton's First Law (we will discuss this later in the chapter) an object moving without a force acting on it will keep on moving. Then why does a box sliding on a table come to a stop? The answer is friction. Friction arises where two surfaces are in contact and moving relative to eachother as a result of the interaction between the molecules of the two contact surfaces—for instance the interactions between the molecules on the bottom of the box with molecules on the top of the table. This interaction is electromagnetic in origin, hence friction is just another view of the electromagnetic force. Later in this chapter we will discuss frictional forces a little more.

Drag forces

This is the force an object experiences while travelling through a medium like an aeroplane flying through air. When something travels through the air it needs to displace air as it travels and because of this, the air exerts a force on the object. This becomes an important force when you move fast and a lot of thought is taken to try and reduce the amount of drag force a sports car or an aeroplane experiences. The drag force is very useful for parachutists. They jump from high altitudes and if there was no drag force, then they would continue accelerating all the way to the ground. Parachutes are wide because the more surface area you have, the greater the drag force and hence the slower you hit the ground.

Systems and external forces

The concepts of systems and forces external to such systems are very important in Physics. A system is any collection of objects. If one draws an imaginary box around such a system then an external force is one that is applied by an object or person outside the box. Imagine for example a car pulling two trailers.

Questions & Answers

during a snooker competition ,a 200g ball A m moving with velocity va collide head on with a identical ball B that was at rest.A after the collision ball A remains at rest wile ball B moves on with a velocity of 4m/s? With what speed was ball a moving before the collision
mathew Reply
a vector can be resolved into a horizontal component only
Lizoh Reply
how to calculate normal force
Chauke Reply
how to calculate wavelength
Hello. How does a real gas behave under low temperature and high pressure?
Valerie Reply
does a vector quantity include force and distance?
Lebo Reply
what's the difference between a vector and a scalar?
vector is the physical quantity with magnitude and direction Scalar is the Physical quantity with magnitude only
Newton's second law of motion
Thelma Reply
Newton second law motin
Newton's second law of motion: When a resultant/net force acts on an object, the object will accelerate in the direction of the force at an acceleration directly proportional to the force and inversely proportional to the mass of the object.
newtons third law of motion
what is tail to tail method
Thobile Reply
a person was standing in a stationary lift / elevator and scale shown is 490N and then 470N when the lift started to move. Did the lift go up or down?
Kamva Reply
How do you state snell's law
Mlondi Reply
The ratio of the sine of the angle of incidence in one medium to the sine of the angle of refraction in the other medium is constant
who was the first person to discover nuclears bomb
Ismael Reply
how to calculate resistance in grade 11
Ngomane Reply
last year memo in 2018 June exam
can I have last june question paper2
is there any physics e-copy textbooks?
states the Newton's second law of motion
Shallin Reply
In words it says:" when a net force is applied to an object of mass, It accelerates in the direction of the net force. The acceleration is directly proportional to the net force and inversely proportional to the mass".
And in symbols: Fnet = ma
thank you
hello everyone
which degree is usually be a refractive angle before it complete a totally reflection?
yes obviously 90 degree
how does hydrogen bonds differ from London force
Madzivha Reply
Hydrogen bonds are the strongest intermolecular forces and London forces are the weakest. Hydrogen bonds exist between polar molecules ( they are a special case of dipole-dipole forces ), while London forces occur between non-polar molecules.
how come the resultant force is 0
Andrew Reply
It's when you have equivalent forces going different directions then your resultant will be equal to zero
describe what john's experiment proves about water molecules?
Fanozi Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Siyavula textbooks: grade 11 physical science. OpenStax CNX. Jul 29, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11241/1.2
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