Potential energy

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In physics, potential energy is the energy stored in a body or in a system due to its position in a force field or due to its configuration.[1]. The SI unit of measure for energy and work is the Joule (symbol J). The term "potential energy" was coined by the 19th century Scottish engineer and physicist William Rankine.[2][3]

Contents

Overview

Potential energy exists when a force acts upon an object that tends to restore it to a lower energy configuration. This force is often called a restoring force. For example, when a spring is stretched to the left, it exerts a force to the right so as to return to its original, unstretched position. Similarly, when a mass is lifted up, the force of gravity will act so as to bring it back down. The action of stretching the spring or lifting the mass requires energy to perform. The energy that went into lifting up the mass is stored in its position in the gravitational field, while similarly, the energy it took to stretch the spring is stored in the metal. According to the law of conservation of energy, energy cannot be created or destroyed; hence this energy cannot disappear. Instead, it is stored as potential energy. If the spring is released or the mass is dropped, this stored energy will be converted into kinetic energy by the restoring force, which is elasticity in the case of the spring, and gravity in the case of the mass. Think of a roller coaster. When the coaster climbs a hill it has potential energy. At the very top of the hill is its maximum potential energy. When the car speeds down the hill potential energy turns into kinetic. Kinetic energy is greatest at the bottom.