Pressure is Force per Unit Area
The equation for pressure is the force divided by the area where the force is applied.
- Although this measurement is straightforward when a solid is pushing on a solid,
- the case of a solid pushing on a liquid or gas requires that the fluid be confined in a container. The force can also be created by the weight of an object.
- What is the pressure when a solid pushes on another solid?
- What happens when a solid pushes on a confined fluid?
- What happens when the force comes from gravity?
Pressure of solid on a solidWhen you apply a force to a solid object, the pressure is defined as the force applied divided by the area of application. The equation for pressure is:
P = F/Awhere
- P is the pressure
- F is the applied force
- A is the surface area where the force is applied
- F/A is F divided by A
20 / 10 = 2 pounds per square inch.
Pressure equals Force divided by Area
- You can see that for a given force, if the surface area is smaller, the pressure will be greater.
- If you use a larger area, you are spreading out the force, and the pressure (or force per unit area) becomes smaller.
Solid pressing on confined fluidWhen a liquid or gas is confined in a container or cylinder, you can create a pressure by applying a force with a solid piston. The pressure created in the cylinder equals the force applied divided by the area of the piston: P = F/A.
In a confined fluid—neglecting the effect of gravity on the fluid—the pressure is the same throughout the container, pressing equally on all the walls. In the case of a bicycle pump, the pressure created inside the pump will be transmitted through the hose into the bicycle tire. But the air is still all confined.
Pressure is in all directions in a fluidIncreasing the force will increase the pressure inside the cylinder.
Caused by gravitySince the weight of an object is a force caused by gravity, we can substitute weight in the pressure equation. Thus the pressure (P) caused by the weight (W) of an object is that weight divided by the area (A) where the weight is applied.
P = W/AIf you place a solid object on the floor, the pressure on the floor over the area of contact is the weight of the object divided by the area on the floor.
Pressure equals Weight divided by Area
Example with shoesA good example of how a force on small area can result in a very high pressure is seen in women's shoes with high spiked heels. These types of shoes can cause damage to some floors due to the very high pressure on the floor at the heel.
An average shoe distributes the weight of the person over 20 square inches. Thus, a 100-pound person applies 100/20 = 5 pounds per square inch on the floor.
Since a spike-heel is only 0.25 square inches, the 100-pound person would be applying 100/0.25 = 400 pounds per square inch on the floor at the heel! In some cases, that is sufficient to damage the floor.
Fluid weightIf you put a liquid in a container, the weight of that liquid would be pressing on the bottom of the container similar to that of the weight of a solid object. The pressure on the bottom of the container would be the same as if the weight was from a solid:
P = W/A.The only difference is that pressure in a fluid goes in all directions. So the pressure on the sides at the bottom would be the same.
Gases and liquids exhibit pressure due to their weight at every point in the fluid.
SummaryPressure is the force on an object that is spread over a surface area. The equation for pressure is P = F/A. Pressure can be measured for a solid is pushing on a solid, but the case of a solid pushing on a liquid or gas requires that the fluid be confined in a container. The force can also be created by the weight of an object.
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