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Scorpion Season 1 Episode 8: "Risky Business"

Rshadler

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It's everybody's favorite physics problem: the elevator! One does not learn mechanics without encountering the elevator problem (as far as I know). This is an interesting, sort of different take on it though.

http://www.cbs.com/shows/scorpion/video/46616DDC-D143-4956-909B-9B31759797B6/scorpion-i-love-machines/

I'll be honest, the first I saw this I had no idea why Walter and Toby were tying their belts to the elevator bars. But it all makes sense about 5 seconds later when a rather...well....happy Happy stopped the elevator very suddenly. The belts looped around their arms and the elevator bars keep the duo from a painful collision with the ceiling of the elevator, a fate their captors cannot avoid. By why do they slam into the top of the elevator when its acceleration is downward, why don't they hit the ground instead?

Let's start with what we know about elevators.

elev.gif

So this is pretty nifty! We are looking at the "accelerating downward" one. What we know is that while the elevator accelerates downward, the net force on the person is actually upward. This occurs due to the support force of the cable holding the total weight of the person and the elevator. We know from this that the net force (F=ma) on the person is total support force minus the force of gravity on the system. Therefore the net force on the person is less than their actual weight (thus the idea of weighing less in a downward accelerating elevator). What does this have to do with our problem from the episode? Well, we know from looking at this that person doesn't actually float (as much as I'd like that to happen) when the elevator moves down, but the contact force between the person and the floor of the elevator has lessened since the normal/net force on the person is less. Now we bring in the idea of inertia. The human body, in this case will want to stay at rest with in the elevator, so we are not seeing the people accelerate upward but rather the their bodies attempting to stay in place the elevator floor "falls out" from under them (so to speak). Their bodies will attempt to remain still as the elevator moves downward in short bursts and thus they are thrown into the ceiling. Well, Walter and Toby aren't, they have their belts. Although, I do wonder how they did not break an arm or something.

Anyways, that's all I've got to say, so thanks for reading!



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Hi! I stumbled across your blog when researching for a physics assignment, and I was wondering, are there any cases where scorpion breaks one of Newton's Laws?

Thanks!

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