Mass of a Physics Textbook

The Physics Factbook
Edited by Glenn Elert -- Written by his students
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Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Standardized
Result
Gonzales, Margaret. New legislation to be passed will limit weight of textbooks on students' backs. The Union, 2002. "Average weight of textbooks …
seniors … physics 4.8 lbs."
2.8 kg
Creager, Ellen. Backpack Backlash. Detroit Free Press, 22August 1999. "Hardcover textbooks weigh between 2 and 7 pounds." 1-3 kg
Tan, Betty. I did my own experiment [see data table below] 1.65 kg

To some, textbooks call to mind the burdensome load of information that we have to haul around school with five days a week. The size of textbooks today is becoming increasingly larger as more illustrations, diagrams, charts, and special features appear to motivate interest in the subject matter, especially with science textbooks. Older substantial science textbooks are densely packed with text, equations, and problems, while newer textbooks commonly display among other things, lots of white space, lab activities, and "society connections" sections throughout the book. The newer books undoubtedly engage students more since those books contain interesting pictures that help visualize difficult concepts, reduce monotony and are easier to skip around. Most school textbooks are hardcover for the durability. Hardcover books generally weigh between two to seven pounds (0.9 kg to 3.18 kg).

Weight and mass are not interchangeable terms. Mass is resistance to acceleration and is also defined as the measure of how much matter and object contains, and weight is the force of gravity on an object. The weight of an object is proportional to its mass for most objects. That is, a bigger object (with more mass) would weigh more than a smaller object (with less mass). One unit of mass is the kilogram (kg), while one unit of weight is newtons (lbs). One kilogram weighs 9.8 N on earth or about 2.2 pounds.

According to a Californian high school study, the average weight of a physics textbook is 4.8 pounds, which equals a mass of 2.18 kg. In my investigation, I determined that the average weight of the physics textbooks in Midwood High School is 3.64 pounds and the average mass is 1.65 kg. The most widely used high school physics textbook that we also use, Merrill Physics, published in 1995, measures 1.59 kg, whereas its 1987 counterpart measures 1.40 kg, 0.45 kg less. Cutnell and Johnson Physics 3rd Edition is 2.27 kg, while the 4th Edition measures 2.05 kg. The newer physics textbooks that Midwood uses actually have less mass than the older books. Less text and more illustrations may be the reason for less mass. To drag a 1.59 kg, or 3.5 lb textbook all day is certainly troublesome, but fortunately we don't have to carry physics textbooks to school regularly.

Physics Textbook Weight (lbs) Mass (kg)
Merrill Physics: Principles and Problems
(McGraw-Hill Publishing, 1995)
3.5 lbs 1.59
Merrill Physics: Principles and Problems
(McGraw-Hill Publishing, 1987)
2.5 lbs 1.40
Physics 3rd Edition
(Cutnell and Johnson, 1995)
5.0 lbs 2.27
Physics 4th Edition
(Cutnell and Johnson, 1998)
4.5 lbs 2.05
Conceptual Physics
(Addison-Wesley, 1987)
2.7 lbs 1.23
Average weight: 3.64 lbs 1.65 kg

Betty Tan -- 2003


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