Applications of Pascal's Principle

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  • 0:02 What is Pascal's Principle?
  • 1:38 Applications of…
  • 3:32 Example Calculation
  • 4:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this lesson, you should be able to explain what Pascal's principle is, including providing the equation that represents it. You should also be able to provide examples of Pascal's principle in action and solve problems using the equation.

What is Pascal's Principle?

Fluids are cool and super useful. If you've ever filled up a water balloon to throw at your friends or blown up an air mattress, you'll probably have some intuitive understanding of how fluids (liquids or gases) work. If an air mattress is half blown-up, and you lay on it, or screw up part of it, pushing all the air into one corner, you'll feel the air pushing hard on the walls of the mattress. By squeezing on one side of the mattress, you can apply a force to the opposite side. Your force can transmit all the way through the mattress. This is how fluids work, and this vitally important property is explained in Pascal's principle.

Pascal's principle says that a change in pressure applied to an enclosed fluid is transmitted undiminished to all portions of the fluid and to the walls of its container. Thanks to Pascal's principle, we can lift huge trucks and cars with only human muscles, pump blood around the body, and stop a bike by just pressing a button. All through the power of fluids.

Mathematically, pressure is force, F, measured in Newtons, divided by area, A, measured in meters squared (F / A). So Pascal's principle says that the pressure, F divided by A, is the same when it's transmitted across a fluid. So F1 divided by A1 is equal to F2 divided by A2 (F1 / A1 = F2 / A2). What this means is that if you push with a small force across a small area that can lead to a large force being applied over a large area. This is amazingly useful; so next, let's talk about some of the ways we can use this principle in everyday life.

Applications of Pascal's Principle

Hydraulics is defined as the branch of science and technology concerned with the conveyance of liquids through pipes and channels, especially as a source of mechanical force or control. And this is by far the most common application of Pascal's principle. There are many, many uses of the principle, but nearly all of them boil down to hydraulics.

Car brakes are the most commonly used hydraulic system. A liquid in a tube takes the pressure you apply on the brake pedal and transfers it all the way to wheels to apply a force there. What's more, by pushing that fluid against a larger area, A, your little push of the pedal can lead to a much larger braking force.

If that doesn't convince you that Pascal's principle is powerful, let's take a look at a car lift. We can lift cars and trucks in the air through hydraulics. By pushing down on a small area, with a small force, we can apply a large force over a large area at the other end of the lift, pushing the car upwards.

Okay, one more example. The human heart also works on Pascal's principle. By enclosing a fluid - in this case, your blood - in blood vessels under pressure, your heart can apply relatively minor force and pump blood all the way around your body!

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