Derivation of Stoke’s Law

Have you wondered why the raindrops falling from a great height acting under the force of gravity do not kill humans? This can be explained by Stoke’s law. This law is an interesting example of the retarding force which is proportional to the velocity. The force that retards a sphere moving through a viscous fluid is directly proportional to the velocity and the radius of the sphere, and the viscosity of the fluid. Sir George G. Stokes, an English scientist expressed clearly the viscous drag force F as

\(F=6\pi \eta rv\)

In this article, let us look at the derivation of Stoke’s law.

Stoke’s Law Derivation

The viscous force acting on a sphere is directly proportional to the following parameters:

  • radius of the sphere
  • coefficient of viscosity
  • velocity of the object

Mathematically, this is represented as


Now let us evaluate the values of a, b and c.

Substituting the proportionality sign with an equality sign, we get

\(F=k\eta^ar^bv^c\) (1)

Here, k is the constant of proportionality which is a numerical value and has no dimensions.

Writing the dimensions of parameters on either side of equation (1), we get

[MLT–2] = [ML–1T–1]a [L]b [LT-1]c

Simplifying the above equation, we get

[MLT–2] = Ma ⋅ L–a+b+c ⋅ T–a–c (2)

According to classical mechanics, mass, length and time are independent entities.

Equating the superscripts of mass, length and time respectively from equation (2), we get

a = 1 (3)

–a + b + c = 1 (4)

–a –c = 2 or a + c = 2 (5)

Substituting (3) in (5), we get

1 + c = 2

c = 1 (6)

Substituting the value of (3) & (6) in (4), we get

–1 + b + 1 = 1

b = 1 (7)

Substituting the value of (3), (6) and (7) in (1), we get

\(F=k\eta rv\)

The value of k for a spherical body was experimentally obtained as \(6\pi\)

Therefore, the viscous force on a spherical body falling through a liquid is given by the equation

\(F=6\pi \eta rv\)

Terminal Velocity Formula

In the case of raindrops, initially, it is due to the gravity that it accelerates. As the velocity increases, the retarding force also increases. Finally, when viscous force and the buoyant force is equal to the force due to gravity, the net force becomes zero and so does the acceleration. The raindrop then falls with a constant velocity. Thus, in equilibrium, the terminal velocity vt is given by the equation

\(v_t=\frac{2a^2(\rho -\sigma )g}{9\eta }\)

where \(\rho\) and σ are mass densities of sphere and fluid respectively.

From the equation above, we can infer that the terminal velocity depends on the square of the radius of the sphere and inversely proportional to the viscosity of the medium.

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Practise This Question

A coil of 100 turns carries a current of 5mA and creates a magnetic flux of 105 Weber. The inductance is