<< Chapter < Page | Chapter >> Page > |
Potential energy is the energy a system has due to position, shape, or configuration. It is stored energy that is completely recoverable.
A conservative force is one for which work done by or against it depends only on the starting and ending points of a motion and not on the path taken.
We can define a potential energy $(\text{PE})$ for any conservative force. The work done against a conservative force to reach a final configuration depends on the configuration, not the path followed, and is the potential energy added.
How much energy does a bowling ball have? (Just think about it for a minute.)
If you are thinking that you need more information, you’re right. If we can measure the ball’s velocity, then determining its kinetic energy is simple. Note that this does require defining a reference frame in which to measure the velocity. Determining the ball’s potential energy also requires more information. You need to know its height above the ground, which requires a reference frame of the ground. Without the ground—in other words, Earth—the ball does not classically have potential energy. Potential energy comes from the interaction between the ball and the ground. Another way of thinking about this is to compare the ball’s potential energy on Earth and on the Moon. A bowling ball a certain height above Earth is going to have more potential energy than the same bowling ball the same height above the surface of the Moon, because Earth has greater mass than the Moon and therefore exerts more gravity on the ball. Thus, potential energy requires a system of at least two objects, or an object with an internal structure of at least two parts.
First, let us obtain an expression for the potential energy stored in a spring ( ${\text{PE}}_{\mathrm{s}}$ ). We calculate the work done to stretch or compress a spring that obeys Hooke’s law. (Hooke’s law was examined in Elasticity: Stress and Strain , and states that the magnitude of force $F$ on the spring and the resulting deformation $\mathrm{\Delta}L$ are proportional, $F=k\mathrm{\Delta}L$ .) (See [link] .) For our spring, we will replace $\mathrm{\Delta}L$ (the amount of deformation produced by a force $F$ ) by the distance $x$ that the spring is stretched or compressed along its length. So the force needed to stretch the spring has magnitude $\text{F = kx}$ , where $k$ is the spring’s force constant. The force increases linearly from 0 at the start to $\text{kx}$ in the fully stretched position. The average force is $\text{kx}/2$ . Thus the work done in stretching or compressing the spring is ${W}_{\mathrm{s}}=\text{Fd}=\left(\frac{\text{kx}}{2}\right)x=\frac{1}{2}{\text{kx}}^{2}$ . Alternatively, we noted in Kinetic Energy and the Work-Energy Theorem that the area under a graph of $F$ vs. $x$ is the work done by the force. In [link] (c) we see that this area is also $\frac{1}{2}{\text{kx}}^{2}$ . We therefore define the potential energy of a spring , ${\text{PE}}_{\mathrm{s}}$ , to be
where $k$ is the spring’s force constant and $x$ is the displacement from its undeformed position. The potential energy represents the work done on the spring and the energy stored in it as a result of stretching or compressing it a distance $x$ . The potential energy of the spring ${\text{PE}}_{\mathrm{s}}$ does not depend on the path taken; it depends only on the stretch or squeeze $x$ in the final configuration.
Notification Switch
Would you like to follow the 'College physics for ap® courses' conversation and receive update notifications?