Tension (physics)

In physics, tension is described as the pulling force transmitted axially by the means of a string, a rope, chain, or similar object, or by each end of a rod, truss member, or similar three-dimensional object; tension might also be described as the action-reaction pair of forces acting at each end of said elements. Tension could be the opposite of compression.

At the atomic level, when atoms or molecules are pulled apart from each other and gain potential energy with a restoring force still existing, the restoring force might create what is also called tension. Each end of a string or rod under such tension could pull on the object it is attached to, in order to restore the string/rod to its relaxed length.

Tension (as a transmitted force, as an action-reaction pair of forces, or as a restoring force) is measured in newtons in the International System of Units (or pounds-force in Imperial units). The ends of a string or other object transmitting tension will exert forces on the objects to which the string or rod is connected, in the direction of the string at the point of attachment. These forces due to tension are also called "passive forces". There are two basic possibilities for systems of objects held by strings:[1] either acceleration is zero and the system is therefore in equilibrium, or there is acceleration, and therefore a net force is present in the system.

Nine men at the Irish champion tug of war team pull on a rope. The rope in the photo extends into a drawn illustration showing adjacent segments of the rope. One segment is duplicated in a free body diagram showing a pair of action-reaction forces of magnitude T pulling the segment in opposite directions, where T is transmitted axially and is called the tension force. This end of the rope is pulling the tug of war team to the right. Each segment of the rope is pulled apart by the two neighboring segments, stressing the segment in what is also called tension, which can change along the two football field's members.

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