By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Define pressure
- Explain the relationship between pressure and force
- Calculate force given pressure and area
The information presented in this section supports the following AP® learning objectives and science practices:
- 7.A.1.1 The student is able to make claims about how the pressure of an ideal gas is connected to the force exerted by molecules on the walls of the container, and how changes in pressure affect the thermal equilibrium of the system. (S.P. 6.4, 7.2)
You have no doubt heard the word pressure being used in relation to blood (high or low blood pressure) and in relation to the weather (high- and low-pressure weather systems). These are only two of many examples of pressures in fluids. Pressure is defined as
where is a force applied to an area that is perpendicular to the force.
Pressure is defined as the force divided by the area perpendicular to the force over which the force is applied, or
A given force can have a significantly different effect depending on the area over which the force is exerted, as shown in Figure 11.6. The SI unit for pressure is the pascal, where
In addition to the pascal, there are many other units for pressure that are in common use. In meteorology, atmospheric pressure is often described in units of millibar (mb), where
Pounds per square inch is still sometimes used as a measure of tire pressure, and millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) is still often used in the measurement of blood pressure. Pressure is defined for all states of matter but is particularly important when discussing fluids.
Making Connections: Gas Particles in a Container
Imagine a closed container full of quickly vibrating gas particles. As the particles rapidly move around the container, they will repeatedly strike each other and the walls of the container.
When the particles strike the walls, a few interesting changes will occur.
Each time the particles strike the walls of this container, they will apply a force to the container walls. An increase in gas particles will result in more collisions, and a greater force will be applied. The increased force will result in an increased pressure on the container walls, as the areas of the container walls remain constant.
If the speed of the particles is increased, then each particle will experience a greater change in momentum when it strikes a container wall. Just like a fast-moving tennis ball recoiling off a hard surface, the greater the particle's momentum, the more force it will experience when it collides. For verification, see the impulse-momentum theorem described in Chapter 8.
However, the more interesting change will be at the wall itself. Due to Newton's third law, it is not only the force on the particle that will increase, but the force on the container will increase as well! While not all particles will move with the same velocity, or strike the wall in the same way, they will experience an average change in momentum upon each collision. The force that these particles impart to the container walls is a good measure of this average change in momentum. Both of these relationships will be useful in Chapter 12, as you consider the ideal gas law. For now, it is good to recognize that laws commonly used to understand macroscopic phenomena can be applied to phenomena at the particle level as well.
Example 11.2 Calculating Force Exerted by the Air: What Force Does a Pressure Exert?
An astronaut is working outside the International Space Station where the atmospheric pressure is essentially zero. The pressure gauge on her air tank reads . What force does the air inside the tank exert on the flat end of the cylindrical tank, a disk 0.150 m in diameter?
We can find the force exerted from the definition of pressure given in , provided we can find the area acted upon.
By rearranging the definition of pressure to solve for force, we see that
Here, the pressure is given, as is the area of the end of the cylinder , given by . Thus,
Wow! No wonder the tank must be strong. Since we found , we see that the force exerted by a pressure is directly proportional to the area acted upon as well as the pressure itself.
The force exerted on the end of the tank is perpendicular to its inside surface. This direction is because the force is exerted by a static or stationary fluid. We have already seen that fluids cannot withstand shearing (sideways) forces; they cannot exert shearing forces, either. Fluid pressure has no direction, being a scalar quantity. The forces due to pressure have well-defined directions: They are always exerted perpendicular to any surface. (See the tire in Figure 11.10, for example.) Finally, note that pressure is exerted on all surfaces. Swimmers, as well as the tire, feel pressure on all sides. (See Figure 11.11.)
Making Connections: Pressure
Figure 11.10 and Figure 11.11 both show pressure at the barrier between an object and a fluid. Note that this pressure also exists within the fluid itself. Just as particles will create a force when colliding with the swimmer in Figure 11.11, they will do the same each time they strike each other. These forces can be represented by arrows, whose vectors show the resulting direction of particle movement. The same factors that determine the magnitude of pressure upon the fluid barrier will determine the magnitude of pressure within the fluid itself. These factors will be discussed in Chapter 13.
PhET Explorations: Gas Properties
Pump gas molecules to a box and see what happens as you change the volume, add or remove heat, change gravity, and more. Measure the temperature and pressure, and discover how the properties of the gas vary in relation to each other.