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  • Sara Thompson

Everyday Simple Machines

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Machines are all around us, helping us do tasks and work all day, every day.  The most basic ones are deemed “simple machines”, but these were, and still are, some of the most essential technological advancements a society could invent.  The main types of simple machines are wheels and axles, gears, levers, pulleys, wedges, and inclined planes or ramps.  All of these are still everywhere in everyday life, even if we do not always recognize them.

Wheels and axles are one of the most noticed simple machines as they are easily recognizable, and their design haven’t changed much through the centuries.  If force is applied to the wheel, the axle moves in response, and if force is applied to the axle, it moves the wheel.  Wheels and axles attached to boxes created wheelbarrows and carts revolutionizing transportation.  Even now we use wheels and axles in our cars and bikes.

Gears are very similar to wheels and axles as they are round, and one affects the other.  The important thing about gears is that they all work together to do work.  The more gears you have, the less force a person needs to apply to the system.  A series of gears are often inside clocks and car engines, helping the whole system operate.

Levers are simple machines that can help a single person perform a job instead of an entire team of people.  Leavers are mainly used to lift large objects.  Levers are dependent on the use of fulcrum to help a person do the work.  The closer a fulcrum is to the object, the easier it is to lift.  This is because there is more of the lever on the side of the lift to help them generate more force to do the work.  A simple example is a door.  The hinge is the fulcrum, the door is the lever, and the knob is where the person performs the work.  The closer a knob gets to the hinges, the harder it is to open.

Pulleys are another simple machine that revolutionized work and lifting.  By simply throwing a rope over a tree branch a single person could lift nearly double the weight they could just by picking it up with their hands.  Pulley systems are often used today with cranes and other construction equipment, and even to lift haybales and other farm supplies into barns and other structures.  The more pulleys and the longer the rope, the easier the work will be, and thus the heavier the load you could lift.

Wedges are triangular objects that have a variety of uses.  Wedges can be a simple as a doorstop holding a door open, and as essential as the head of an axe chopping wood to keep someone warm for the winter.

Inclined planes and ramps make traversing a building much easier.  Rudimentary ramps are built around buildings to ease the movement of materials from the ground up the building.  All access ramps are inclined planes, making access and entering buildings easier for those with mobility issues.  Even a screw is a modified inclined plane, with the ramp wrapping around a nail or inside a bottle cap.

Campers in our Everyday Engineering Fall Camp will be learning about these simple machines and more. 


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