<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

More precisely, we define the change in gravitational potential energy Δ PE g size 12{Δ"PE" rSub { size 8{g} } } {} to be

Δ PE g = mgh , size 12{Δ"PE" rSub { size 8{g} } = ital "mgh"} {}

where, for simplicity, we denote the change in height by h size 12{h} {} rather than the usual Δ h size 12{Δh} {} . Note that h size 12{h} {} is positive when the final height is greater than the initial height, and vice versa. For example, if a 0.500-kg mass hung from a cuckoo clock is raised 1.00 m, then its change in gravitational potential energy is

mgh = 0.500 kg 9.80 m/s 2 1.00 m = 4.90 kg m 2 /s 2 = 4.90 J.

Note that the units of gravitational potential energy turn out to be joules, the same as for work and other forms of energy. As the clock runs, the mass is lowered. We can think of the mass as gradually giving up its 4.90 J of gravitational potential energy, without directly considering the force of gravity that does the work .

Using potential energy to simplify calculations

The equation Δ PE g = mgh size 12{Δ"PE" rSub { size 8{g} } = ital "mgh"} {} applies for any path that has a change in height of h size 12{h} {} , not just when the mass is lifted straight up. (See [link] .) It is much easier to calculate mgh size 12{ ital "mgh"} {} (a simple multiplication) than it is to calculate the work done along a complicated path. The idea of gravitational potential energy has the double advantage that it is very broadly applicable and it makes calculations easier. From now on, we will consider that any change in vertical position h size 12{h} {} of a mass m size 12{m} {} is accompanied by a change in gravitational potential energy mgh size 12{ ital "mgh"} {} , and we will avoid the equivalent but more difficult task of calculating work done by or against the gravitational force.

There is a four-story building. A person is carrying a television up the stairs of the building. The height of third story is h from the ground. A girl is standing outside the building and is lifting a similar television with the help of a pulley.
The change in gravitational potential energy ( Δ PE g ) size 12{ \( Δ"PE" rSub { size 8{g} } \) } {} between points A and B is independent of the path. Δ PE g = mgh size 12{Δ"PE" rSub { size 8{g} } = ital "mgh"} {} for any path between the two points. Gravity is one of a small class of forces where the work done by or against the force depends only on the starting and ending points, not on the path between them.

The force to stop falling

A 60.0-kg person jumps onto the floor from a height of 3.00 m. If he lands stiffly (with his knee joints compressing by 0.500 cm), calculate the force on the knee joints.


This person’s energy is brought to zero in this situation by the work done on him by the floor as he stops. The initial PE g size 12{"PE" rSub { size 8{g} } } {} is transformed into KE size 12{"KE"} {} as he falls. The work done by the floor reduces this kinetic energy to zero.


The work done on the person by the floor as he stops is given by

W = Fd cos θ = Fd , size 12{W= ital "Fd""cos"θ= - ital "Fd"} {}

with a minus sign because the displacement while stopping and the force from floor are in opposite directions ( cos θ = cos 180º = 1 ) size 12{ \( "cos"θ="cos""180""°=" - 1 \) } {} . The floor removes energy from the system, so it does negative work.

The kinetic energy the person has upon reaching the floor is the amount of potential energy lost by falling through height h size 12{h} {} :

KE = Δ PE g = mgh , size 12{"KE"= - Δ"PE" rSub { size 8{g} } = - ital "mgh"} {}

The distance d size 12{d} {} that the person’s knees bend is much smaller than the height h size 12{h} {} of the fall, so the additional change in gravitational potential energy during the knee bend is ignored.

The work W size 12{W} {} done by the floor on the person stops the person and brings the person’s kinetic energy to zero:

W = KE = mgh . size 12{W= - "KE"= ital "mgh"} {}

Combining this equation with the expression for W size 12{W} {} gives

Fd = mgh . size 12{ - ital "Fd"= ital "mgh"} {}

Recalling that h size 12{h} {} is negative because the person fell down , the force on the knee joints is given by

F = mgh d = 60.0 kg 9.80 m /s 2 3 . 00 m 5 . 00 × 10 3 m = 3 . 53 × 10 5 N. size 12{F= - { { ital "mgh"} over {d} } = - { { left ("60" "." 0" kg" right ) left (9 "." "80"" m/s" rSup { size 8{2} } right ) left ( - 3 "." "00"`m right )} over {5 "." "00" times "10" rSup { size 8{ - 3} } " m"} } =3 "." "53" times "10" rSup { size 8{5} } `N "." } {}


Such a large force (500 times more than the person’s weight) over the short impact time is enough to break bones. A much better way to cushion the shock is by bending the legs or rolling on the ground, increasing the time over which the force acts. A bending motion of 0.5 m this way yields a force 100 times smaller than in the example. A kangaroo's hopping shows this method in action. The kangaroo is the only large animal to use hopping for locomotion, but the shock in hopping is cushioned by the bending of its hind legs in each jump.(See [link] .)

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

Questions & Answers

Is fundamental quantities under physical quantities?
Igwe Reply
please I didn't not understand the concept of the physical therapy
John Reply
physiotherapy - it's a practice of exercising for healthy living.
what chapter is this?
please I have probably with calculate please can you please and help me out
John Reply
What is Boyce law
Sly Reply
how to convert meter per second to kilometers per hour
grace Reply
Divide with 3.6
multiply by (km/1000m) x (3600 s/h) -> 3.6
2 how heat loss is prevented in a vacuum flask
Abdullah Reply
what is science
logical reasoning for a particular phenomenon.
I don't know anything about it 😔. I'm sorry, please forgive 😔
due to non in contact mean no conduction and no convection bec of non conducting base and walls and also their is a grape between the layer like to take the example of thermo flask
dimensions v²=u²+2at
Lagben Reply
what if time is not given in finding the average velocity?
Alan Reply
the magnetic circuit of a certain of the flux paths in each of the long and short sides being 25cm and 20cm reprectielectrove. there is an air gap of 2mm long in one the long sides if a flux density of 0.8weber/m is to produce in the magnet of 1500 turns..
Daniel Reply
How do you calculate precision
Sacky Reply
what module is that?
Chemisty 1A?
No it has something to do with measurements bro... What we did today in class
Tah bra honestly I didn't understand a thing in that class..when re your Tutorials?
Friday bro... But the topics we did are in this app... Just try to master them quickly before the test dates... Are you done with the Maths sheet
I eat ass
I'll work on the maths sheet tomorrow bra @Sacky Malyenge but I'll try mastering them
I'll eat your mom's ass with a side of tendies
@Fillemon Nanwaapo
lol, hush
There are very large numbers of charged particles in most objects. Why, then, don’t most objects exhibit static electricity?
Bilkisu Reply
Because there's an equal number of negative and positive charges... objects are neutral in nature
when a ball rolls on a smooth level ground,the motion of its centre is?
Mary Reply
what is electro magnetic field?
electromagnetic field is a special type of field been produced by electric charges..!!! like the word electro from Electricity and the word magnetic from Magnetism.. so it is more of a join field..!!!
Electromagnetic field is caused by moving electric charge
when a ball rolls on a smooth level ground,the motion of its centre is?
what's the relationship btw displacement and position
Declan Reply
displacement is the change of position 8======✊=D 💦💦
what is the meaning of elasticity
Pele Reply
is the ability of a material to or any object to expand to a limit point
this is about kinematics you bonk
what does emf/R mean
Eze Reply
Practice Key Terms 1

Get the best College physics course in your pocket!

Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'College physics' conversation and receive update notifications?