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Simple Machines

November 26, 2000

When we think of machines, the likes of robots, appliances and manufacturing equipment come to mind, but scientists also classify such common objects as the screw, the lever, the wedge and the wheel as simple machines. These devices that enabled ancient people to construct pyramids, manage irrigation and travel distances continue to be used today in different combinations to make work easier. Learn about the history and everyday uses of simple machines and try experiments to understand how they function through these direct links on The Times' Launch Point Web site:

Level 1

Simple Machines: Inclined planes were used by the Egyptians to build the pyramids. View photos and animations of different simple machines, try some experiments to see how these machines work and find out how the ingenious rodents in the book, "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" used simple machines to create an elevator and move Mrs. Frisby's house.

Leonardo da Vinci: The Inventor's Toolbox: Renaissance artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci drew sketches of inventions that combined machine parts and elements in innovative new ways. Be like Leonardo and study how simple machines and machine elements work to see if you can deduce which elements are used in everyday gadgets.

Marvelous Machines: The Experiments: Discover for yourself how levers, wheels and inclined planes work through this collection of 21 experiments, most of which use common objects such as paper, rubber bands and pennies.

Level 2

BrainPOP: Simple Machines: A seesaw is an example of a class 1 lever, a wheelbarrow is an example of a class 2 lever and your arm is an example of a class 3 lever. View animated movies that explain how various types of levers work, as well as how inclined planes can make work easier.

Nathan's Simple Machine Page: The thread of a screw can be seen as an inclined plane that is wrapped around a cylinder. View diagrams and photos of the six types of simple machines.

Background on Simple Machines: Windmills, doorknobs and faucet handles are just a few examples of a wheel and axle. Learn about the history and development behind simple machines, find out how to calculate a machine's mechanical advantage and try making a simple pulley to lift an object.


Level 3

Encarta: Machine: Known for creating a special screw for raising water, ancient Greek inventor Archimedes once said, "Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I will move the Earth." Read about the history of machines and find out how complex contraptions are often made from combinations of simple machines.

How Stuff Works: Machines: From bathroom scales to automobiles, find out how complex machines are composed of such elements as levers and wheels and axles through diagrams, photos and animations.

Motion, Energy and Simple Machines: Can a 10-pound object be lifted with just 5 pounds of force? Discover how simple machines enable us to perform more work with less effort as you try some experiments and learn about Newton's Three Laws of Motion.

Launch Point is produced by the UC Irvine department of education, which reviews each site for appropriateness and quality. Even so, parents should supervise their children's use of the Internet. This column was designed by Anna Manring.


The answer to this Internet quiz can be found in the sites at right.

Scissors, catapults and balance scales are all examples of what simple machine?

CLUE: See Nathan's Simple Machine Page

Find What You Need to Know: Have a project on California history? Need help doing a math problem? Launch Point now covers more than 150 topics for getting your schoolwork done. Go to for the full list of subjects and direct links to the best Internet sites.

Answer to the Nov. 12 Quest: The number 6 or "six"is spelled the same in both French and English.

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