Estimates and order of magnitudes




We have stressed the importance of knowing the accuracy of numbers that represent physical quantities. But even a very crude estimate of a quantity often gives us useful information. Sometimes we know how to calculate a certain quantity, but we have to guess at the data we need for the calculation. Or the calculation might be too complicated to carry out exactly, so we make rough approximations.

   In either case our result is also a guess, but such a guess can be useful even if it is uncertain by a factor of two, ten, or more. Such calculations are called order-of-magnitude estimates. The great Italian-American nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi (1901–1954) called them “back-of-the-envelope calculations.” Exercises 1.17 through 1.23 at the end of this chapter are of the estimating, or order-of magnitude, variety. Most require guesswork for the needed input data. Don’t try to look up a lot of data; make the best guesses you can. Even when they are off by a factor of ten, the results can be useful and interesting.

  Estimates and order of magnitudes



Frequently Asked Questions

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Ans: Measurements always have uncertainties. If you measure the thickness of the cover of a hardbound version of this book using an ordinary ruler, your measurement is reliable to only the nearest millimeter, and your result will be 3 mm. It would be wrong to state this result as 3.00 mm; given the limitations of the measuring device, you can’t tell whether the actual thickness is 3.00 mm, 2.85 mm, or 3.11 mm. view more..
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Ans: An equation must always be dimensional consistent. You can’t add apples and automobiles; two terms may be added or equated only if they have the same units. view more..
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Ans: Experiments require measurements, and we generally use numbers to describe the results of measurements. Any number that is used to describe a physical phenomenon quantitatively is called a physical quantity. view more..
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Ans: We have stressed the importance of knowing the accuracy of numbers that represent physical quantities. But even a very crude estimate of a quantity often gives us useful information. Sometimes we know how to calculate a certain quantity, but we have to guess at the data we need for the calculation. Or the calculation might be too complicated to carry out exactly, so we make rough approximations. view more..
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Ans: Some physical quantities, such as time, temperature, mass, and density, can be described completely by a single number with a unit. But many other important quantities in physics have a direction associated with them and cannot be described by a single number. view more..
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Ans: A body that can be modeled as a particle is in equilibrium whenever the vector sum of the forces acting on it is zero. But for the situations we’ve just described, that condition isn’t enough. If forces act at different points on an extended body, an additional requirement must be satisfied to ensure that the body has no tendency to rotate: The sum of the torques about any point must be zero. This requirement is based on the principles of rotational dynamics view more..
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Ans: In this chapter we’ll apply the first and second conditions for equilibrium to situations in which a rigid body is at rest (no translation or rotation). Such a body is said to be in static equilibrium view more..
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Ans: In most equilibrium problems, one of the forces acting on the body is its weight. We need to be able to calculate the torque of this force. The weight doesn’t act at a single point; it is distributed over the entire body. But we can always calculate the torque due to the body’s weight by assuming that the entire force of gravity (weight) is concentrated at a point called the center of gravity view more..
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Ans: We can often use symmetry considerations to locate the center of gravity of a body, just as we did for the center of mass. The center of gravity of a homoge-neous sphere, cube, or rectangular plate is at its geometric center. The center of gravity of a right circular cylinder or cone is on its axis of symmetry. view more..
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Ans: There are just two key conditions for rigid-body equilibrium: The vector sum of the forces on the body must be zero, and the sum of the torques about any point must be zero. To keep things simple, we’ll restrict our attention to situations in which we can treat all forces as acting in a single plane, which we’ll call the xy-plane view more..
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Ans: Here are some solved examples to help your concepts to be more clear. view more..
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Ans: The rigid body is a useful idealized model, but the stretching, squeezing, and twisting of real bodies when forces are applied are often too important to ignore. view more..
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Ans: The simplest elastic behavior to understand is the stretching of a bar, rod, or wire when its ends are pulled (Fig. 11.12a). Figure 11.14 shows an object that initially has uniform cross-sectional area A and length l0. We then apply forces of equal magnitude F# but opposite directions at the ends (this ensures that the object has no tendency to move left or right). We say that the object is in tension. view more..
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Ans: When a scuba diver plunges deep into the ocean, the water exerts nearly uniform pressure everywhere on his surface and squeezes him to a slightly smaller volume. This is a different situation from the tensile and compressive stresses and strains we have discussed. view more..
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Ans: The third kind of stress-strain situation is called shear. The ribbon in Fig. 11.12c is under shear stress: One part of the ribbon is being pushed up while an adjacent part is being pushed down, producing a deformation of the ribbon. view more..
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Ans: Hooke’s law—the proportionality of stress and strain in elastic deformations— has a limited range of validity. In the preceding section we used phrases such as “if the forces are small enough that Hooke’s law is obeyed.” Just what are the limitations of Hooke’s law? What’s more, if you pull, squeeze, or twist anything hard enough, it will bend or break view more..
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Ans: summary of equilibrium and elasticity view more..
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Ans: Fluids play a vital role in many aspects of everyday life. We drink them, breathe them, swim in them. They circulate through our bodies and control our weather. The physics of fluids is therefore crucial to our understanding of both nature and technology view more..




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