PS2.B: Types of Interactions
What underlying forces explain the variety of interactions observed?
- Introduction to PS2.B
- K-12 Progression and Grade Band End Points for PS2.B
- Performance Expectations Associated with PS2.B
- Additional Resources for PS2.B
All forces between objects arise from a few types of interactions: gravity, electromagnetism, and strong and weak nuclear interactions. Collisions between objects involve forces between them that can change their motion. Any two objects in contact also exert forces on each other that are electromagnetic in origin. These forces result from deformations of the objects’ substructures and the electric charges of the particles that form those substructures (e.g., a table supporting a book, friction forces).
Gravitational, electric, and magnetic forces between a pair of objects do not require that they be in contact. These forces are explained by force fields that contain energy and can transfer energy through space. These fields can be mapped by their effect on a test object (mass, charge, or magnet, respectively).
Objects with mass are sources of gravitational fields and are affected by the gravitational fields of all other objects with mass. Gravitational forces are always attractive. For two human-scale objects, these forces are too small to observe without sensitive instrumentation. Gravitational interactions are nonnegligible, however, when very massive objects are involved. Thus the gravitational force due to Earth, acting on an object near Earth’s surface, pulls that object toward the planet’s center. Newton’s law of universal gravitation provides the mathematical model to describe and predict the effects of gravitational forces between distant objects. These long-range gravitational interactions govern the evolution and maintenance of large-scale structures in the universe (e.g., the solar system, galaxies) and the patterns of motion within them.
Electric forces and magnetic forces are different aspects of a single electromagnetic interaction. Such forces can be attractive or repulsive, depending on the relative sign of the electric charges involved, the direction of current flow, and the orientation of magnets. The forces’ magnitudes depend on the magnitudes of the charges, currents, and magnetic strengths as well as on the distances between the interacting objects. All objects with electrical charge or magnetization are sources of electric or magnetic fields and can be affected by the electric or magnetic fields of other such objects. Attraction and repulsion of electric charges at the atomic scale explain the structure, properties, and transformations of matter and the contact forces between material objects (link to PS1.A and PS1.B). Coulomb’s law provides the mathematical model to describe and predict the effects of electrostatic forces (relating to stationary electric charges or fields) between distant objects.
The strong and weak nuclear interactions are important inside atomic nuclei. These short-range interactions determine nuclear sizes, stability, and rates of radioactive decay (see PS1.C).
Grade Band Endpoints for PS2.B
By the end of grade 2. When objects touch or collide, they push on one another and can change motion or shape.
By the end of grade 5. Objects in contact exert forces on each other (friction, elastic pushes and pulls). Electric, magnetic, and gravitational forces between a pair of objects do not require that the objects be in contact—for example, magnets push or pull at a distance. The sizes of the forces in each situation depend on the properties of the objects and their distances apart and, for forces between two magnets, on their orientation relative to each other. The gravitational force of Earth acting on an object near Earth’s surface pulls that object toward the planet’s center.
By the end of grade 8. Electric and magnetic (electromagnetic) forces can be attractive or repulsive, and their sizes depend on the magnitudes of the charges, currents, or magnetic strengths involved and on the distances between the interacting objects. Gravitational forces are always attractive. There is a gravitational force between any two masses, but it is very small except when one or both of the objects have large mass—for example, Earth and the sun. Long-range gravitational interactions govern the evolution and maintenance of large-scale systems in space, such as galaxies or the solar system, and determine the patterns of motion within those structures.
Forces that act at a distance (gravitational, electric, and magnetic) can be explained by force fields that extend through space and can be mapped by their effect on a test object (a ball, a charged object, or a magnet, respectively).
By the end of grade 12. Newton’s law of universal gravitation and Coulomb’s law provide the mathematical models to describe and predict the effects of gravitational and electrostatic forces between distant objects.
Forces at a distance are explained by fields permeating space that can transfer energy through space. Magnets or changing electric fields cause magnetic fields; electric charges or changing magnetic fields cause electric fields. Attraction and repulsion between electric charges at the atomic scale explain the structure, properties, and transformations of matter, as well as the contact forces between material objects. The strong and weak nuclear interactions are important inside atomic nuclei—for example, they determine the patterns of which nuclear isotopes are stable and what kind of decays occur for unstable ones.