First Advisor

Ralf Widenhorn

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Physics and University Honors




Tug of war (Game) -- Mathematical models, Applied mechanics -- Mathematics, Motion, Dynamics, Mechanics




Introductory physics students frequently struggle with the application of Newton's laws of motion. Students frequently misinterpret Newton's 3rd Law, which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The confusion arises when allocating the action-reaction force pair to a system; students think that the force pair act on the same object, but the force pair actually act on different objects. One interesting example, where action-reaction force pairs come into play, is the game of Tug-of-War. Therefore, to address some misconceptions about Newton's laws of motion, we implemented an activity where we looked at how the magnitude of the tension force in a game of Tug-of-War changed over time and what factors lead one team to victory. Using an experimentally modified game setup, we measured the tension on the rope using a load cell and the position of the center of the rope was tracked using an ultra-wideband positioning system. The data collected from these sensors exhibited decreasing trends in the tension force magnitude as each match concluded. The loss of balance of the losing team caused this trend to develop. To further understand the outcome of complex systems like a game of Tug-of-War, new intuition needs to be built. During this engaging activity, students will learn how to correctly apply Newton's laws of motion. Implementing such activity into introductory level physics lab courses, demonstrations, or science outreach activities, will help students describe other complex systems using Newton's laws of motion.


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