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Definition: lever from The Penguin Dictionary of Physics

A simple MACHINE that can be regarded as a rigid bar that can turn about a pivot. The relative positions of load, effort, and pivot determine the type of lever.

Summary Article: lever from The Columbia Encyclopedia

simple machine consisting of a bar supported at some stationary point along its length and used to overcome resistance at a second point by application of force at a third point. The stationary point of a lever is known as its fulcrum. The term lever is also applied to a projecting piece that is moved to operate or adjust inner machinery, such as a lever moved to the right or left to switch electric current on or off or to adjust the size of the opening of a shutter in a camera.

Principle of the Lever

It has been found by experiment that two equal forces acting in opposite directions, i.e., clockwise and counterclockwise, and applied to a uniform lever at equal distances from the fulcrum counteract each other and establish a state of equilibrium, or balance, in the lever. Experiment has also shown that two unequal forces when acting in opposite directions will bring about an equilibrium when the product of the magnitude of one force and its effort arm, or lever arm (the distance of its point of application from the fulcrum), is equal to the product of the magnitude of the other force and its effort arm. In physics the product of a force by its effort arm is called a moment of the force; the general conclusion known as the principle of moments states that equilibrium is established when the sum of the moments of the forces acting in a clockwise direction is equal to the sum of the moments of the forces acting in a counterclockwise direction. It is possible, as a result, to overcome a very large force at a short distance from the fulcrum with a very small force at a great distance from the fulcrum. Archimedes is supposed to have boasted, having the lever in mind, that given a place to stand he could move the world.

Classification and Application of Levers

In the use of a small force to overcome a large one the lever finds its many common applications. The lever is used for prying, as in the case of the crowbar, or for lifting. For example, the fulcrum is the point upon which a crowbar rests when used to lift or to pry loose some object; the effort is applied at the end farther from the fulcrum and is relatively small. The distance from the operator's hands to the fulcrum is known as the lever arm, or effort arm; the object being pried loose is the resisting force, or resistance; the object's distance from the fulcrum is the resistance arm. Levers in which the fulcrum is located between the effort and the resistance, as in the crowbar and the beam balance, are known as first-class levers. The fulcrum may also be located at one end of the lever, with the effort applied at the other end and the resistance in between; this type of lever, illustrated by the wheelbarrow and the nutcracker, is known as a second-class lever. The final possibility, known as a third-class lever, has the effort applied between the fulcrum and the resistance and is illustrated by various types of tongs.

Many other common tools, instruments, and appliances are applications of the principle of the lever. The human forearm is an application of the third-class lever, the elbow acting as the fulcrum, the weight held in the hand and being lifted as the resistance, and the pull of the muscles between the elbow and the hand as the effort. In a second-class lever, the effort arm is always longer than the resistance arm, so that a smaller effort moves a larger resistance, while in a third-class lever the reverse is always true, with the effort greater than the resistance. In a first-class lever, the effort may be either larger or smaller than the resistance, depending upon the location of the fulcrum.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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