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The Tribal Times

The Science Behind Seesaws

by Alexis Moreno, Staff Writer

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A seesaw consists of a lever that twists up and down when unbalanced, and hinges on a pivot in the middle. We call this motion torque, which translates as “to twist” in Latin.

When the forces on the lever are balanced, the lever will be seen as “level” in the air, or as a straight line.

Many forces act on a lever supported by the pivot. Therefore, the forces being the weight of the children (mass x gravity, we call the force mg), and the normal force acting on the lever from the pivot.

When a force is exerted on the pivot the seesaw moves less and torque is lower. Think of this process as when pushing on a door. If you’re closer to the hinges the door doesn’t move as well, and the torque will be  lower.

Torque is involved with Newton’s 1st law of motion, commonly referred to as the law of inertia. It states that objects in motion or that are in static equilibrium (not moving) stay in that state until an external force acts upon them.

We see this process a lot in the outside world; for example, the motion of a human arm moving up or down, and the elbow acting as the “pivot” on the seesaw, or in revolving doors, and the use of a hammer!

Because torque is everywhere around us, these examples are used in the basic teachings of physics teacher Beth Amacher.

“I use tons of examples.  Rotating doors, wrenches etc.,” Amacher said.

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The student news site of McEachern High School in Powder Springs, Georgia
The Science Behind Seesaws