Physics of Pushing a Pencil
Many people write all day and never consider the physics behind the act of placing words on paper. However, there is a whole world of how and why these sticks of wood and lead leave various types of marks on a formerly clean white page. The structure, force, friction, and angle of each pencil constructs the reasons why it writes the way it does. Yet all of these factors are completely dependent on the writing style of the person using the pencil. For example one person could use a different mm pencil at a different force and angle, which would create a different friction, than the person sitting next to them. The main component of why the pencil leaves marks is the energy behind it — and energy which comes directly from the writer using that pencil.
The pencil represents the concept of a stationary mass until it is picked up and used by the writer. A normal pencil varies in length and diameter, but is mainly constructed using wood casings to hold a lead core which leaves marks on the paper being written on. Most lengths begin at around six inches, but can vary based on where and why the pencil was made. This length also shortens as the writer continuously sharpens the pencil and eats away at the wood casing in order to extract a sharper piece of lead core to write with. The diameter of the pencil varies, the general bulk of the wood casing is much larger and wider than the fine pencil tip. Most pencil’s diameters are measured in millimeters and average to around 0.05 mm to 0.07 mm. However, the standard yellow pencil is 0.05mm.
The oldest accredited laws in physics govern motion and the distribution of energy. As seen in Isaac Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, no object can create or destroy energy. Rather, energy continually moves from one object to another through motion and contact. According to Newton, if anything is to move, it must have a force acted upon in which installed the energy necessary to move (Benson, 2008). The concept of inertia states that a static object must have a force acted upon it in order to enter into motion. In the case of writing with a pencil, this force is the physical energy from the person using the pencil, (Zimmerman, 2008). The writer transfers his or her natural energy into the movement of the pencil. Now because every person is different, different levels of force may be placed upon the formerly static pencil. The mass of the pencil will accelerate at various speeds depending on the amount of force given out by the writer. Thus, some people tend to put more energy in their writing and write faster, as well as darker. The extra darkness of the lead comes from a greater amount of force being placed on the pencil. Therefore, light writing signifies less energy and less acceleration.
Newton’s Third Law of Motion also represents another feature in the act of writing. According to Newton, “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction; or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts,” (Zimmerman, 2008). In the act of pushing a pencil, the energy placed into pushing the pencil does not simply disappear with the writing. Most people write on flat, hard surfaces, such as wooden or acrylic desks. When these desks are met with the energy of the pencil, it creates friction which is essentially the next transfer move of the energy originating from the writer. This friction occurs dues to the hard surface being unable to continue moving the energy from the pushed pencil, and forces it to find new facets, (Benson, 2008). This frictions forces energy back onto the pencil and creates heat as well as sound vibrations and waves, which further transfer the energy. Although these noticeable signs of friction are relatively unknown to the average pencil user, they are the eventual transmissions of the originating energy. The level of friction created by writing is directly dependent on the amount of force which is placed on the pencil. The harder one writers, the more friction one encounters and the more energy is distributed into transferred heat and sound waves.
The friction met by the pencil in the act of writing is also affected by the angle which the writer places the pencil on the hard surface which he or she is writing on. Different angles represent different points of impact and will therefore distribute the energy differently, (Egler, 1995). Certain angles will create the maximum amount of friction and force, such as writing with the pencil directly vertical. This creates a wider point of impact for more energy to be distributed over a wider surface, causing slower writing and wider lines with the maximum levels of friction. Other, sharper angles create less friction due to a smaller point of impact. This creates a much different writing style, with less force placed upon the pencil and less friction encountered by the writer, resulting in finer and lighter lines.
Therefore all of the components necessary for writing all of one’s notes, grocery lists, and every other piece of writing one has every written depends on the source of the energy — the individual. No individual writes exactly the same, therefore the different levels of force and friction are unique to each and every individual. People also have their ways of holding their pencils, changing the angles and creating different styles of friction between the pencil and the paper. This leads to the conclusion that the individual carries much more responsibility in the act of writing than one would think.
Benson, Tom. “JumpStart: Newton’s Three Laws of Mtion. NASA Glen Research
Center. 2008. http://www.sciencemaster.com/jump/physical/newton_law.php
Egler, Robert a. “Definition of Angles.” The Physics Teacher. American Association of Physics Teachers. 1995. 33(5): p. 262.
Zimmerman, Andrew Jones. “Introduction to Newton’s Laws of Motion.” About.com:
Physics. 2008. Retrieved at http://physics.about.com/od/classicalmechanics/a/lawsofmotion.htm.
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