Lecture 7: Weight - Perceived Gravity - Weightlessness Free Fall - Zero Gravity in Orbit (misnomer)

author: Walter H. G. Lewin, Center for Future Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
recorded by: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: Oct. 10, 2008,   recorded: September 1999,   views: 7220
released under terms of: Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (CC-BY-NC-SA)

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1. What is Weight?

Weight is the force exerted on you by a bathroom scale. Your weight increases when you are in an elevator which is accelerated upward; you weigh less than your normal weight when the elevator is accelerating downward, and your weight is zero when the elevator is in free fall. When you hang from a rope, your weight is indicated by the tension in the rope.

2. Tension in Massless String:

Consider a string of negligible mass suspending two objects with different mass on either side of a frictionless pin. The tension in this string is everywhere the same because the string is "massless" and the pin frictionless. The masses of the two objects are NOT equal but the weight of the two objects IS THE SAME!

3. Weight, when Swinging around on a String:

An object is swirled around on a string in a vertical plane. The tension in the string is evaluated when the object is at the top and when it is at the bottom of its circular trajectory. The tension at the bottom is always higher than the normal weight of the object, but the tension can be zero when the object is at the top in which case the object is weightless.

4. Objects in Free Fall are Weightless:

Exploring the weight of a tennis ball being tossed in the air, and of a bottle of water in Professor Lewin's hands when he jumps off a table. The bottle and Lewin are in free fall, thus both are weightless.

5. Weight Measurements of a Free Falling Object:

Bathroom scales have too slow a response time to indicate your zero weight when you weigh yourself while jumping off a table. Professor Dave Truemper has built a scale with a response time of 10 ms (it uses pressure gauges instead of springs). Professor Lewin places a 10 lb object on the scale, and we see that the scale indicates this weight. He then tapes the object firmly to the scale and drops the scale with the object from about 2 meters. The weight of the object is zero during free fall!

6. Professor Young's "Zero Gravity" Experiments:

NASA has sponsored "zero gravity" experiments to study motion sickness. These are zero weight environments (not zero gravity) created in air planes which free fall for 30 seconds. The air plane's (a KC135) trajectory is discussed in detail, and one of Professor Young's video clips is shown.

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Reviews and comments:

Comment1 guohua Zhang, December 25, 2011 at 6:55 a.m.:

Thanks to Professor Lewin for the excellent courses, i learned form they very much!


Comment2 Davor form VideoLectures, December 18, 2017 at 10:26 a.m.:

Hi all!

We have translated this entire course for you from English into 11 languages.

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