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Condition in which the net force acting on a particle is zero. A body in equilibrium experiences no acceleration and, unless disturbed by an outside force, will remain in equilibrium indefinitely. A stable equilibrium is one in which small, externally induced displacements from that state produce forces that tend to oppose the displacement and return the body to equilibrium. An unstable equilibrium is one in which the least departures produce forces tending to increase the displacement. A brick lying on the floor is in stable equilibrium, while a ball bearing balanced on a knife-edge is in unstable equilibrium.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on equilibrium, visit Britannica.com.