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Pulling Paper Under the Tumbler | Inertia | Mechanics


Newton's three laws of motion are taught in school from quite early times. Though students know the statements of the three laws but when it comes to application, quite often the laws are wrongly interpreted. The experiment described here is quite common and is shown to dramatize the concept of Newton's 1st law of motion or inertia. However, a detailed analysis reveals greater insight into the laws of motion.


  1. Near the edge of a table, place a glass tumbler filled with water.
  2. Now hold the part of the paper overhanging from the table using both hands.
  3. Give a sharp jerk to the paper and pull it quickly. What you find is that the paper comes out from below the glass and the glass just stays on the table with no water spilling out.
  4. Try pulling the paper with different speeds and see what happens.


The common explanation is that because of inertia, the glass remains at its place and the paper comes out. But is it the explanation? Where does this inertia go, when the paper is pulled slowly? Does inertia depend on velocity? It is friction, acceleration and distance moved under this acceleration that have to be roped in for proper understanding.

Pulling the Cloth Under the Glass

The outcome of experiment depends on acceleration \(a_\mathrm{paper}\) of the paper (see figure). The forces acting on the glass are its weight mg, normal reaction N, and frictional force f. Maximum value of frictional force is \(f_\mathrm{max}=\mu N=\mu mg\). By Newton's second law, acceleration of the glass is \(a_\mathrm{glass}=f/m\). If \(a_\mathrm{paper}\) is small then the paper and the glass moves together i.e., \(a_\mathrm{glass}=a_\mathrm{paper}\). Maximum value of \(a_\mathrm{paper}\) for the paper and the glass to move together is given by, $$ a_\mathrm{paper}=a_\mathrm{glass}=f_\mathrm{max}/m=\mu g. $$ Beyond this limit, \(a_\mathrm{paper}>a_\mathrm{glass}=\mu g\) and hence the paper comes out leaving the glass on table.


  1. Place the glass tumbler on a table near its edge and mark the boundary with a piece of chalk. Remove the tumbler.
  2. Take the strip of newspaper, and spread it on the table. Put the tumbler on the strip near its edge. Mark the boundary with a pen. Match the two boundaries by shifting the strip. Let the remaining part of the strip hang over the edge of the table.
  3. Hold the hanging strip firmly with both your hands. The hanging part is tight and vertical at this stage.
  4. Pull the strip down with a sharp jerk. The whole strip will be in your hand and the tumbler will stand still on the table.
  5. Check the position of the tumbler. Is the tumbler right in the boundary on the table, or it moved forward or backward? As the strip starts moving below the tumbler it exerts frictional force on the tumbler. Because of this, the tumbler moves ahead.


This demo can be shown in multiple ways. Place a coin on the playing card kept above a glass. When playing card is pushed, the coin fall into the glass. Another variant is `Jiddi Sikka'. Fill a glass with sand. Insert a pencil in the sand with its flat end on the top. Place a coin on top of the pencil. Now ask a friend to throw the coin out of the glass without touching the coin or the glass i.e., only by hitting the pencil. Most likely, your friend will fail in the test.


  1. IIT JEE 2007 question related to this concept

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