Wonders of Physics: Skating and the Newton’s Laws


Physics operates the skates, be it the new age inline skates or the traditional roller skates. Our world is all about technology and science. And when it comes to discussing the science behind the working of things, it’s physics everywhere.

Newton’s laws of motion are composed of three basic rules. Instead of going from one to two, let us go in the direction of how the skater starts skating and eventually stops. This way, the perception of Newton’s laws becomes easy.

Beginning the skating process

The skater starts the skating process by pushing the heels and toes on the concrete road or any other piece of land, opposite to the direction in which they want to move. Here, the muscles’ pressure (potential energy) is transported to the skates’ wheels (kinetic energy). The skater pushes, and later they move because the ground exerts an equal and opposite force to the rollers, thereby making it a spin.

This is overseen by Newton’s third law of motion, which says, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” The action here was to quickly push the ground with the skates, and the same and opposite reaction was to move the skater forward.

While this occurs, the wheels spin because of a torque that is produced by the ground’s friction. In physics, we call it static friction. This force causes one surface to slide over the other. It happens so that when the roller blades move forward, the Earth’s surface moves backward to let the skater move. Sounds strange?! Well, the Earth is so massive that you hardly notice that it is going few millimeters to the other side on regular basis!

A motion that is rhythmic and repetitive 

To go on, this entire process is replicated over and over again to gain momentum. This is overseen by Newton’s second law, which says, “The rate of change of momentum is proportional to the force and goes in the direction of the force.” It means if you accelerate twice as hard, the acceleration is going to be double, compared to before. 

It also indicates that you will start decelerating if you push the other way, reducing your speed. It also implies that the heavier the person (or the body), the more force is needed to accelerate. Hence, the lighter the person, the faster the acceleration will be. Such a simple process, right?

Gliding with impulse

After a while, the skater will start coasting or gliding. This occurs solely based on the momentum gathered from the high velocity gained earlier.

Newton’s first law of motion states, “A body remains at rest or in motion with a constant speed unless acted upon by an outside force”. That is, the skater will proceed to coast unless she/he stops by using brakes or she/he bumps onto someone or trips and falls due to a sad loss of balance.

This is how Newton’s laws of motion relate physics and skating in the manner mentioned above. Next time you try your hands (yes, legs, not hands) on skating, experience it with physics knowledge. 

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