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How to Do a Friction Science Experiment

What surfaces create the most friction?

What surfaces create the most friction?

Friction is something we experience everyday, but understanding it, let alone explaining it, gets tricky. These experiments will help teach the concept of friction and make it easier for kids to understand.

Test which surfaces create more friction, see how strong friction is, learn how to reduce friction, and even discover the side effects of friction.

Explaining Friction

Four Types of Friction

  • Fluid friction - friction that happens when an object moves through a liquid or gas.
  • Sliding friction - friction that occurs when two surfaces slide over each other.
  • Rolling friction - friction that is produced when a circular object rolls over another surface.
  • Static friction - friction that is applied to an object that isn't moving.

Ok, What Is Friction Anyway?

Most people have a hard time understanding friction because the term is used to describe a force that works in a wide variety of ways.

  • Without getting too technical, friction is simply a force that reduces the motion between objects that are in contact with each other. So friction stops or slows down movement.
  • In general, the smoother an object, the less friction it will create. The rougher the surface of an object is, the more friction will be produced. The angle of the surface and the weight of the object can also affect friction.
  • There are times when more friction is best, like when you are pressing the brakes in a car. And there are times when you want less friction, like when you are going down a water slide.

Now that we have talked about what friction is, let's investigate how it works with the following experiments.

Phone Book Friction Experiment

Stronger Than Glue

Interwoven pages of books will stick together so tightly they can't be pulled apart.

Interwoven pages of books will stick together so tightly they can't be pulled apart.

Phone Book Friction

Materials:

  • 2 Phone books about the same size (2 books with soft covers will work)

This experiment was tested on the show Mythbusters. The phone books wouldn't come apart using all the Mythbusters' gadgets and even attaching the phone books between two cars. It took two tanks to pull the books apart. That's how strong friction can be.

Phone books are what is usually used for this experiment, but any books with lots of pages (100+) and soft covers will work. Textbooks work great as well. The main thing you want is two books of about equal size.

  1. Before you begin, just half the books and put them together to show how easily they will come apart that way.
  2. Now, interlace the pages by alternating a page from each book. The pages of the books will be woven and the spines will be facing out. Make sure several inches of the pages overlap. So you'll lay down the cover of book A, then the cover of book B over it. Then the back page of book A and the back page of book B. Then the next page and so on until the books' pages are woven together.
  3. You don't actually have to do every page for the experiment to work. You can weave a few pages at a time so it won't be an all day process.
  4. Now grab one of the book spines and have a friend grab the other spine. Pull on the books to see if you can pull them apart. Have a game of tug of war with the books.

The books will stick together like glue because each page is exerting friction against the page from the other book. When the combined friction from each of the pages is added up, it equals a big force.

Do some tests with interlacing the pages. What if you only weave every ten pages or every twenty? Is the force still as strong? What is the least amount of weaving necessary to produce the glue-like effect?

When you are done with the experiment, just unlace the pages one by one to release the books. They don't have to stay stuck forever!

Which piece will float the best?

how-to-do-a-friction-science-experiment

Floating Paper Air Fricton

Materials:

  • Two pieces of paper
  • Timer (optional)

Air friction (air resistance or drag) is a type of fluid friction. This is a very easy way to show friction in action. The shape of the paper will determine how much friction is caused as it falls.

  1. Wad one of the pieces of paper into a ball. Leave the other piece of paper like normal. Have someone ready with a timer if you want to make measurements.
  2. Hold the pieces of paper above your head.
  3. Drop the pieces at the same time.

The wadded piece will fall to the ground immediately. The flat piece of paper will flutter down more slowly because it has more surface area to create friction or drag on the air as it drops.

You can also try dropping the pieces of papers from a higher spot, like while standing on a table or over a balcony. Does the time difference become more noticeable this way? Try other shapes of paper. What differences do those make? How can you make drop faster? How can you make it drop slower?

Holding Up Rice with Friction

Sticky Rice Friction

Materials:

  1. Bottle (about 20 oz size)
  2. Dry rice
  3. Chopstick

You can't hold up a bottle of rice with a just a chopstick, right? Well, actually you can if you know the trick to friction.

  1. To begin, fill the bottle with rice. Try sticking the chopstick down into the bottle. When you grab the chopstick and pull up, what happens? The stick should just come right out.
  2. How do you make the rice stick to the chopstick so you can just pick it up? You've got to add more friction. Here's how: Put the lid on the bottle and tap the bottom of the bottle on a hard surface. Do this a few times to compact the rice and get rid of the air pockets. Now you should have room to add a bit more rice to the bottle.
  3. Once you've added a bit more rice, stick the chopstick back into the bottle. This time, when you pull up on the chopstick, you should be able to pick up the whole bottle.
  4. If it still doesn't stick, try tapping the bottom again. You may have to add more rice as well. Sometimes letting the rice settle for about an hour will help if it doesn't seem to be working.

How does it work? Compacting the rice and adding a bit more created more friction when you put the chopstick back in. So the rice had a firmer hold on the stick.

Sliding Friction

Materials:

  • Slide (or ramp)
  • Items to be tested (toy car, shoe, paper, book, ball, block, etc.)
  • Water (optional)

You can test how much friction an item will produce by heading to a playground. You could also do this experiment on a ramp.

  1. Gather some items to be tested. You want a wide range of materials like a toy car, ball, book, shoe with rubber sole, a wooden block.
  2. Put each item at the top of the slide or ramp and let it fall down on its own. Don't give it a push. Measure how far it went.
  3. You could try wetting the slide and then retesting the items to see if they went farther than before. You could tape sandpaper to the slide or ramp and see how that affects the distance the items go. Spraying or rubbing oil onto the slide is another good way to test friction.

Which items slide the best? What materials slide the worst? What does this tell you about friction?

How will the car perform on the ramp with sandpaper?

How will the car perform on the ramp with sandpaper?

Static Friction Experiment

Static Friction Experiment

Materials:

  • Shoe
  • Rubber band
  • Ruler or measuring tape
  • Weight (something to put in the shoe to make it heavier, like rocks)
  • Aluminum foil (optional)
  • Cooking spray or oil (optional)

This is a good project for older kids who are studying the forces of friction and motion in more depth. It is easy to do, but can teach a lot.

When an object isn't moving, it has static friction. It will take a certain amount of force to get the object moving. The amount of force it will take depends on the surfaces and the weight of the object, among other factors.

To test how much force is needed to overcome static friction, you can try dragging a shoe over various surfaces.

  1. Cut a rubber band in half.
  2. Tie one end to a shoe.
  3. Tug on the other end of the rubber band until the shoe starts moving.
  4. Measure how far the rubber band had to stretch in order for the shoe to move.
  5. Now put something in the shoe to make it heavier, like rocks or small pieces of wood. Try pulling the shoe to see how far the rubber band has to stretch before the shoe starts moving.
  6. Tape some aluminum foil to the ground. Drag the shoe over it and measure the rubber band. Try oiling the aluminum foil. How hard do you need to pull the rubber band now?
  7. You can also try dragging the shoe over salt or grass or other types of terrain to see how easy or hard it is to get the shoe moving.
  8. You can even try testing ice. Fill a cookie sheet with water and carefully place it in the freezer for several hours. When it is a solid sheet of ice, try dragging the shoe across it.

What happens if you try a shoe with a different type of sole? What does this tell you about traction and friction?

Heated Friction

Materials:

  • 2 Sticks

When two objects are rubbed against each other, the friction can produce heat. You can demonstrate this by rubbing two sticks together. This is an old-fashioned way to make a fire.

  1. Take two sticks and rub them together in a back and forth motion, kind of like sawing.
  2. Rub as quickly as you can for about 30 seconds to a minute.
  3. Use your hand to feel where the sticks rubbed against each other. You will be able to feel warmth.

You are probably not going to be able to make fire this way, but you can understand friction from it. The friction will even rub part of the bark off the stick. It's a good way to demonstrate how friction can heat up objects as they come into contact with each other and how friction can wear away objects after a time.

If you really want to make a fire with friction, you can try some of the methods at campfiredude.com.

Salt and Marble Puzzle

Reducing Friction with Salt and a Marble

Materials:

  • Test tube with a lid (or an elongated bottle or jar with a lid)
  • Salt
  • Marble or gumball

We've tested the friction produced by surfaces and seen ways to increase friction. Well, here is an experiment that reduces friction.

  1. Put the marble (or gumball) into the bottom of the bottle or tube.
  2. Fill the tube about 3/4 of the way full with the salt.
  3. Screw the lid on tightly.
  4. Try to get the marble to the top of the bottle. Easier said than done, right?
  5. The trick is all in how you move the bottle. Try shaking the bottle straight up and down. Watch for the marble to work its way to the top.

It works because the friction is reduced when the bottle is shaken. All of the particles are moving around and the marble is free to move.

You can try getting the prizes out of cereal boxes the same way. Shake the box straight up and down until the prize works its way to the top of the box.

Friction Poll

More Friction Experiments

  1. Hold your hand out the car window when it is moving. How does moving your hand in different positions effect the fluid friction or create drag?
  2. Try sliding on the floor in socks. Why doesn't sliding on the floor work with most types of shoes?
  3. Use friction to create static electricity by rubbing a balloon on hair. What other types of materials create static electricity when you rub the ballon on them?
  4. Erasers work by friction. Get some erasable pens and explore how friction wears away surfaces.
  5. Head to a playground an slide down the fire pole. Try it with pants on and then with shorts so that your bare legs are against the pole. Why does it make a difference?

Comments

hi on August 13, 2020:

thanks really helpful on test A+

YEEEEEEET on May 13, 2020:

LOVE this rlly helpful in my science class B-)

nunya (Ryan) on April 20, 2020:

this was really helpful in my friction lesson thx!

Ruby S. on April 20, 2020:

I loved this and it was very helpful!

sdrwaoednmajow on February 03, 2020:

this is dum

loida s decin on November 06, 2019:

Thanks a lot! simple but very helpful for my lesson on friction

crystle on November 04, 2019:

i need more some example of friction.. plsss add more..!!

Noelia on February 08, 2019:

can you add more? I need to look for an friction experiment cause my friends already took these:/

Shantanu Kundu on November 12, 2018:

Thanks a lot for all these experiments. This will help in group project

Kiziah on October 14, 2018:

What if you put paint in salt or sand and it slides is that friction?

AA Marignator on September 11, 2018:

Thanx a lot his was very helpful

Noman khan wax on July 31, 2018:

wow like it

Nadeishka on May 16, 2018:

thanks

Jasmine Stephines on March 23, 2018:

Could you do this at home by yourself if your a kid

ash-a-layyyzz on March 21, 2018:

cool

maxwel on March 20, 2018:

could you ad a picture of a water slide that would be good

josh on February 27, 2018:

what experiments could I do for sliding friction for 8th grade hurry and plz respond this is due Monday

... on January 25, 2018:

Thanks for this website

Awesome_simba on December 20, 2017:

Thank you so much this was really helpful!

Soumya raj on June 26, 2017:

Where is rolling friction

Munir Mohammedali on January 26, 2017:

Ohh, After long research ,I have got my ISA experiment here .Thank you very much.

playstation1234 on January 18, 2017:

cool

No one on December 18, 2016:

Amazing

bethanie on December 05, 2016:

the books won

harambe on November 29, 2016:

hey thats pretty good

harsh pal on April 26, 2016:

i got 10 /10 in this class activity , i am very happy! thank you very mouch

dave goodman on January 15, 2016:

great site

charles nykolias on September 03, 2014:

yolo

charles Nykolias on August 31, 2014:

thnx man

annabell salusalu on July 23, 2014:

thnxz so muj 4 ur site it helped me lots wid my sch actvity......hope u put moa up lyk water friction.....

My name goes here on May 19, 2014:

went looking for this for about two hours before I found this site. really helpful. ^*^

janushee on October 22, 2013:

thank you so much

It helped in my school activity

abdulrahman on January 16, 2013:

thnxs really helpful

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on October 14, 2012:

Treefrog68 - That sounds like a great experiment set up. Hope the class enjoyed it! Glad these ideas sparked the scientific process for you.

Treefrog68 on August 23, 2012:

Fun and simple. I have worked out some adaptations for the static friction test to include recording results and making comparisons among a classroom full of different shoes. I think it will work well. Thanks for your ideas and enthusiasm.

Candace Bacon (author) from Far, far away on July 01, 2012:

Thank you! I'm glad you have found it helpful. Your plan sounds like a good idea. You could use the slide as it normally is for the control and then vary it with oil and water. Testing several objects is also good. Hope your project turns out well.

HowRadical on June 30, 2012:

Very useful hub! Stumbled across this while searching on google because I couldn't think of anything for my school science experiment. I'm thinking of doing the sliding friction for this assignment but I need to make it high school standard, I'm deciding whether I should run the tests of several objects and include variations, such as lubricating the slide with oil or water. Thanks for the great hub! voted up :D

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