The Normal Force
Why is it that we stay steady in our chairs when we sit down? According to the first law of motion, if an object is translationally in equilibrium (velocity is constant), the sum of all the forces acting on the object must be equal to zero. For a person sitting on a chair, it can thus be postulated that a normal force is present balancing the gravitational force that pulls the sitting person down. However, it should be noted that only some of the normal force can cancel the other forces to zero like in the case of a sitting person. In Physics, the term normal as a modifier of the force implies that this force is acting perpendicular to the surface at the point of contact of the two objects in question. Imagine a person leaning on a vertical wall. Since the person does not stumble or fall, he/she must be in equilibrium. Thus, the component of his/her weight along the horizontal is balanced or countered (opposite direction) by an equal amount of force -- this force is the normal force on the wall. So, on a slope, the normal force would not point upwards as on a horizontal surface but rather perpendicular to the slope surface.

The normal force can be provided by any one of the four fundamental forces, but is typically provided by electromagnetism since microscopically, it is the repulsion of electrons that enables interaction between surfaces of matter. There is no easy way to calculate the normal force, other than by assuming first that there is a normal force acting on a body in contact with a surface (direction perpendicular to the surface). If the object is not accelerating (for the case of uniform circular motion, the object is accelerating) then somehow, the magnitude of the normal force can be solved. In most cases, the magnitude of the normal force can be solved together with other unknowns in a given problem.


Sometimes, the problem does not warrant the knowledge of the normal force(s). It is in this regard that other formalisms (e.g. Lagrange method of undertermined coefficients) can be used to eventually solve the physical problem.

From http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Physics_Study_Guide/Normal_force_and_friction