In all the universe, there are few ideas more fundamental than those expressed in the three laws of motion. Together these explain why it is relatively difficult to start moving, and then to stop moving; how much force is needed to start or stop in a given situation; and how one force relates to another. In their beauty and simplicity, these precepts are as compelling as a poem, and like the best of poetry, they identify something that resonates through all of life. The applications of these three laws are literally endless: from the planets moving through the cosmos to the first seconds of a car crash to the action that takes place when a person walks. Indeed, the laws of motion are such a part of daily life that terms such as inertia, force, and reaction extend into the realm of metaphor, describing emotional processes as much as physical ones.

The three laws of motion are fundamental to mechanics, or the study of bodies in motion. These laws may be stated in a number of ways, assuming they contain all the components identified by Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727). It is on his formulation that the following are based:

The Three Laws of Motion

  • First law of motion: An object at rest will remain at rest, and an object in motion will remain in motion, at a constant velocity unless or until outside forces act upon it.
  • Second law of motion: The net force acting upon an object is a product of its mass multiplied by its acceleration.
  • Third law of motion: When one object exerts a force on another, the second object exerts on the first a force equal in magnitude but opposite in direction.
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