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What is Mechanical Advantage? - Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Learn why you can bike faster than you can run and how you can lift really heavy things if you have the right type of machine to help you. It's all about mechanical advantage.

Mechanical Advantage

What's the heaviest thing you can lift? Do you think you could lift a whole car? Or a grizzly bear? Probably not by yourself - but if you had a mechanical advantage, you could! A mechanical advantage is the amount of help you can get from using a machine to do something instead of just doing it with purely your own strength.

Ways to Get Mechanical Advantage

You can use different kinds of machines to get a mechanical advantage. Let's explore some of these types of machines.

Levers

A lever is one type of machine that gives you a mechanical advantage. A seesaw is an example of a lever. The part that holds the seesaw off the ground is called the fulcrum. Using the lever and fulcrum, you can lift things that would otherwise be too heavy.

A seesaw is an example of a lever.
seesaw

For example, say you're on a seesaw with your mom. Your mom is probably heavier than you are and you probably can't just pick her up by yourself. But you can still lift your mom on the seesaw if your mom scoots up and sits really close to the fulcrum while you sit on the normal seat. By putting your mom closer to the fulcrum, you're giving yourself a mechanical advantage. You can lift her even though she's heavier. Try it for yourself and see!

Gears and Sprockets

You can also get a mechanical advantage by using gears. You can connect bigger gears and smaller gears in different ways to either get more power or to get more speed. You can also use sprockets, which are like gears, but instead of being connected directly to other sprockets, they're connected using belts or chains.

Think of a bicycle. There are two sprockets on a bike, one connected to the pedals and one connected to the back wheel. When you ride a bike, you move the pedals in a circle, which turns the pedal sprocket. The pedal sprocket is attached to the wheel sprocket by a chain. When you turn the pedal sprocket, the wheel sprocket turns too, and the bike moves. You can bike faster than you can run because the sprockets give you a mechanical advantage.

A bicycle has two sprockets connected by a chain. (Below the left sprocket is a mechanism that helps you switch gears.)
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