What is an Inclined Plane?

Nicole Williams

An inclined plane is one of the six simple machines defined by early scientists that are used with reference to physics or mechanics. The other five are levers, pulleys, screws, wedges, and wheels and axles. These simple machines were designed to magnify or redirect force in such a way as to maximize the amount of work they could accomplish. Simply put, an inclined plane is an object that has a flat surface and is slanted at a fixed angle.

Ramps are a form of inclined plane that have uninterrupted surfaces and are often used to raise or lower the elevation of a wheeled vehicle or tool.
Ramps are a form of inclined plane that have uninterrupted surfaces and are often used to raise or lower the elevation of a wheeled vehicle or tool.

The mechanical advantage this machine provides is a reduced amount of force required to move objects between locations with different elevations. Without the plane, moving an object vertically would require much more force. Additionally, it can help move objects safely downward.

Children descend down an inclined plane when playing on a slide.
Children descend down an inclined plane when playing on a slide.

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Using a child's slide on a playground as an example, if the child is on a platform above the ground and were to drop off of the platform straight down, he has a strong likelihood of getting injured. It's true that it would be faster, but it's definitely not safe. If a child uses a slide, an example of an inclined plane, then he will descend at a slower and safer rate. Similarly, if the child were to try to climb up to the top, it would require much more effort than if he walked up the slide.

As with a funicular, an inclined plane reduces the amount of force needed to move an object between two locations with different elevations.
As with a funicular, an inclined plane reduces the amount of force needed to move an object between two locations with different elevations.

An inclined plane has many applications and there are many examples of them in people's daily lives. Some examples are ramps, slides, chutes, knives, and hatchets. It may seem strange that a knife would be classified in this way, but a close look at the blade of a knife reveals the slope downward.

When an object is on an inclined plane, there are three main forces on it. These forces are normal force, gravitational force, and frictional force. While air resistance is a force on the object, it is usually not considered because it's typically negligible. The normal force is the force put on the object that is perpendicular (90°) to the incline. The gravitational force is the force pulling the object directly below it. Lastly, the frictional force is parallel to the plane. Rather than use trial and error, a person can predetermine whether an object can be moved up a plane by using a formula involving these three forces, the mass of the object, and the angle of the incline.

The blade of a hatchet is an example of an inclined plane.
The blade of a hatchet is an example of an inclined plane.

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Discussion Comments

anon103360

really great article. just what i was looking for!

anon81120

thank you for this article.

anon80644

Actually, i was going to by-pass giving a note on this subject, but you have clarified it using examples. Thank you

anon54691

Thank you so much I really couldn't find any kid-friendly research about inclined planes. Thank you so much for not using big vocabulary terms (I am in middle school)!

anon54505

this helped a lot with my science homework!:) I'm telling my friends about this!

anon48757

This helped me a lot with my Rube Goldberg project! Thanks!

anon25716

This helped me so much with my science project!!

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