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Forces of Nature

Lab Assignment: Falling Bodies

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Forces of Nature Lab

Static Equilibrium

[This is a modification of the AP Physics Lab Force Vector Table. If you intend to submit a lab for AP credit in the Fall Scholars Online Advanced Placement/Honors Physics course, you should the instructions at that site.]

Goal: To become familiar with force measurements.

This lab, you have several options. You do not need to do both options, only one, but you may wish to experiment with more than one situation.

Option one: Force table experiments

Materials and Equipment

Remember that the setup below is a suggestion; any setup which will produce a force table on which you can read the angles of your as-much-as-possible freely swinging weights will work.


Assemble the force table as in the diagram. You may need to invert one of the protractors, so be careful when you are reading angles.

  1. The biggest source of error in this system will be due to friction where the string touches the table surface, so if you can think of a way to minimize friction there, do so. Physics lab force tables use pulleys for each string; any curved surface will help.
  2. Decide which half is the 0°-180° half of the circle, and which is the 180°-360° portion.
  3. Tie four nylong strings to the ring. These should be long enough to hang over the edge of your table and allow the attached weights to swing freely.
  4. Using three or four weights of differing masses, stabilize the ring around the nail, so that it is centered but not touching the nail.
  5. Record your hypothesis: is the sum of the forces in this situation <0, =0, or >0?
  6. Record the masses on each string, and the location (0°- 360°) around the table.
  7. Draw a force vector diagram of your system in equilibrium.
  8. Sum all the horizontal forces.
  9. Sum all the vertical forces.
  10. What do you expect to get for the sum of all the forces in this situation?
  11. Estimate errors for all measurments and discuss their effect on in your measurements.
  12. Explain any deviations in experimental data from your calculated data.
  13. Repeat this procedure for at least 4 different combinations of masses and positions.

Option two: Determining the coefficient of friction

Materials and Equipment



  1. Record your hypothesis: do you expect the static friction for a given slider to be a constant, or will it depend on the angle of the sliding surface?
  2. Weigh your slide. If you still have your equal arm scale, you can use that. If necessary, just get the weight of your slide in equivalent standard weights (e.g., 95 nickels). If you use a cup to hold your weights, you should weigh it also and include its weight along with your standard weight for total weights below.
  3. Fasten the pulley or tubing to your surface edge.
  4. Fasten the string to your slide
  5. Run the string over the edge of the tubing so that it hangs down; fasten your cup or other weight holder to the end.
  6. Start adding weights to the end of the string.
  7. Record the total amount of weight required for your slide to start moving.
  8. Repeat the above procedure with another slide which has a noticeably smoother or rougher surface.
  9. Repeat the above procedure for each slide with the slide surface inclined at approximately 10° and at 15°.
  10. Make a table which shows the mass of the slide, the normal force for each trial, and the weight required to overcome static friction. Determine the static friction.
  11. Estimate errors for each of your measurements.

Data Handling: Both Options

Data Reduction

Display your information appropriately in table format. Estimate your errors.

Lab Report: All options

Your report should include:

  1. A description of your equipment and procedure, in enough detail that a reasonably intelligent fellow student could repeat your experiment.
  2. Your data, arranged in tables or other format so that it is easy to read and relate values.
  3. Your error estimates for your measurments.
  4. Your conclusions.
  5. A description of your equipment and procedures which is sufficiently detailed that I could repeat your experiment myself to check your results.
  6. Your raw data and calculated data, with explanations of your asusmptions and calculations.
  7. Your conclusions about acceleration: is it constant?