Force Field: Definition, Theory & Example Video

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  • 0:00 Definition of a Force Field
  • 1:30 Examples of Force Fields
  • 3:05 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.

If you're a fan of science fiction, you may be familiar with a type of force field. But the idea of force fields is also used in physics. Use this lesson to learn about force fields, along with scalar and vector fields, and see some examples of each.

Definition

A force field is a map of the force felt over a particular area of space. To explain this better, we should first describe a field. While it might sound mysterious, a field, in physics, is really just a map of a particular quantity over an area of space. For example, if you walked around an actual farmer's field and took temperature measurements, and then wrote those measurements on a map, you would have just drawn a temperature field. Below is an example of a temperature field of the United States:

A temperature field (map) of the USA
A Temperature Field (Map) of the USA

Instead, if you walked around that same farmer's field and measured the wind speed and direction, you would create a wind velocity field. In these kinds of maps, the length of the arrow represents the speed of the wind - longer means faster. Whenever we have the length of an arrow represent a number, the arrows are called vectors. So such a wind speed map would be called a vector field, and it is also a force field, because it is a map of the force of the wind felt over the area. The aforementioned temperature field on the other hand, since it contains only numbers and no arrows with direction, is called a scalar field.

A prevailing wind map of the world
A Prevailing Wind Map of the World

A vector is a quantity with a number and a direction, like wind speed. A scalar is a quantity that is just a number, with no direction. Force is a vector, because it has both a size and direction - you feel a force, or a push, in a particular direction. Because of this, all force fields are vector fields.

Examples of Force Fields

In physics we talk about magnetic fields, electric fields, and gravitational fields. All these things sound impressive, but really they're just ways of showing a force felt over an area of space.

If you move a compass near to a magnet, the needle will move. Magnets apply forces to certain magnetic materials, including the compass needle. If you move that compass to lots of different places, and note down the direction it points, you are drawing a magnetic field.

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