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Simple machines

A simple machine is a mechanical device that changes the direction or magnitude of a force.

They are the simplest mechanisms that use mechanical advantage to multiply force.

The term usually refers to the six classical simple machines defined by Renaissance scientists:

1. Lever

first order lever

second order lever

2. Wheel and axle

3. Pulley

pulley simple machine

4. Inclined plane

5. Wedge

6. Screw

screw animation by Tapolako

screw animation by Tapolako

A simple machine uses a single applied force to do work against a single load force. Ignoring friction losses, the work done on the load is equal to the work done by the applied force.

The machine can increase the amount of the output force, at the cost of a proportional decrease in the distance moved by the load. The ratio of the output to the applied force is called the mechanical advantage.

Simple machines are the building blocks of which more complicated machines (“compound machines”) are composed.




COSI Simple machines

Learning Standards

MA 2006 Curriculum Framework

2. Engineering Design. Central Concept: Engineering design requires creative thinking and consideration of a variety of ideas to solve practical problems. Identify tools and simple machines used for a specific purpose, e.g., ramp, wheel, pulley, lever.

Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

HS-ETS4-5(MA). Explain how a machine converts energy, through mechanical means, to do work. Collect and analyze data to determine the efficiency of simple and complex machines.

Benchmarks, American Association for the Advancement of Science

In the 1700s, most manufacturing was still done in homes or small shops, using small, handmade machines that were powered by muscle, wind, or moving water. 10J/E1** (BSL)

In the 1800s, new machinery and steam engines to drive them made it possible to manufacture goods in factories, using fuels as a source of energy. In the factory system, workers, materials, and energy could be brought together efficiently. 10J/M1*

The invention of the steam engine was at the center of the Industrial Revolution. It converted the chemical energy stored in wood and coal into motion energy. The steam engine was widely used to solve the urgent problem of pumping water out of coal mines. As improved by James Watt, Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer, it was soon used to move coal; drive manufacturing machinery; and power locomotives, ships, and even the first automobiles. 10J/M2*

The Industrial Revolution developed in Great Britain because that country made practical use of science, had access by sea to world resources and markets, and had people who were willing to work in factories. 10J/H1*

The Industrial Revolution increased the productivity of each worker, but it also increased child labor and unhealthy working conditions, and it gradually destroyed the craft tradition. The economic imbalances of the Industrial Revolution led to a growing conflict between factory owners and workers and contributed to the main political ideologies of the 20th century. 10J/H2

Today, changes in technology continue to affect patterns of work and bring with them economic and social consequences. 10J/H3*

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