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We have seen that work done by or against the gravitational force depends only on the starting and ending points, and not on the path between, allowing us to define the simplifying concept of gravitational potential energy. We can do the same thing for a few other forces, and we will see that this leads to a formal definition of the law of conservation of energy.

Making connections: take-home investigation—converting potential to kinetic energy

One can study the conversion of gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy in this experiment. On a smooth, level surface, use a ruler of the kind that has a groove running along its length and a book to make an incline (see [link] ). Place a marble at the 10-cm position on the ruler and let it roll down the ruler. When it hits the level surface, measure the time it takes to roll one meter. Now place the marble at the 20-cm and the 30-cm positions and again measure the times it takes to roll 1 m on the level surface. Find the velocity of the marble on the level surface for all three positions. Plot velocity squared versus the distance traveled by the marble. What is the shape of each plot? If the shape is a straight line, the plot shows that the marble’s kinetic energy at the bottom is proportional to its potential energy at the release point.

A book is lying on the table and one end of a ruler rests on the edge of this book while the other end rests on the table, making it an incline. A marble is shown rolling down the ruler.
A marble rolls down a ruler, and its speed on the level surface is measured.

Section summary

  • Work done against gravity in lifting an object becomes potential energy of the object-Earth system.
  • The change in gravitational potential energy, Δ PE g size 12{Δ"PE" rSub { size 8{g} } } {} , is ΔPE g = mgh size 12{Δ"PE" rSub { size 8{g} } = ital "mgh"} {} , with h size 12{h} {} being the increase in height and g size 12{g} {} the acceleration due to gravity.
  • The gravitational potential energy of an object near Earth’s surface is due to its position in the mass-Earth system. Only differences in gravitational potential energy, ΔPE g size 12{Δ"PE" rSub { size 8{g} } } {} , have physical significance.
  • As an object descends without friction, its gravitational potential energy changes into kinetic energy corresponding to increasing speed, so that ΔKE = − ΔPE g size 12{D"KE""=-"D"PE" rSub { size 8{g} } } {} .

Conceptual questions

In [link] , we calculated the final speed of a roller coaster that descended 20 m in height and had an initial speed of 5 m/s downhill. Suppose the roller coaster had had an initial speed of 5 m/s uphill instead, and it coasted uphill, stopped, and then rolled back down to a final point 20 m below the start. We would find in that case that it had the same final speed. Explain in terms of conservation of energy.

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Does the work you do on a book when you lift it onto a shelf depend on the path taken? On the time taken? On the height of the shelf? On the mass of the book?

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Problems&Exercises

A hydroelectric power facility (see [link] ) converts the gravitational potential energy of water behind a dam to electric energy. (a) What is the gravitational potential energy relative to the generators of a lake of volume 50 . 0 k m 3 size 12{"50" "." 0`"km" rSup { size 8{3} } } {} ( mass = 5 . 00 × 10 13 kg ) size 12{"mass"=5 "." "00" times "10" rSup { size 8{"13"} } `"kg " \) } {} , given that the lake has an average height of 40.0 m above the generators? (b) Compare this with the energy stored in a 9-megaton fusion bomb.

A dam with water flowing down its gates.
Hydroelectric facility (credit: Denis Belevich, Wikimedia Commons)

(a) 1 . 96 × 10 16 J size 12{1 "." "96" times "10" rSup { size 8{"16"} } " J"} {}

(b) The ratio of gravitational potential energy in the lake to the energy stored in the bomb is 0.52. That is, the energy stored in the lake is approximately half that in a 9-megaton fusion bomb.

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(a) How much gravitational potential energy (relative to the ground on which it is built) is stored in the Great Pyramid of Cheops, given that its mass is about 7  ×  10 9  kg size 12{7 times "10" rSup { size 8{9} } " kg"} {} and its center of mass is 36.5 m above the surrounding ground? (b) How does this energy compare with the daily food intake of a person?

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Suppose a 350-g kookaburra (a large kingfisher bird) picks up a 75-g snake and raises it 2.5 m from the ground to a branch. (a) How much work did the bird do on the snake? (b) How much work did it do to raise its own center of mass to the branch?

(a) 1.8 J

(b) 8.6 J

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In [link] , we found that the speed of a roller coaster that had descended 20.0 m was only slightly greater when it had an initial speed of 5.00 m/s than when it started from rest. This implies that Δ PE >> KE i size 12{D"PE>>KE" rSub { size 8{i} } } {} . Confirm this statement by taking the ratio of Δ PE size 12{D"PE"} {} to KE i size 12{"KE" rSub { size 8{i} } } {} . (Note that mass cancels.)

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A 100-g toy car is propelled by a compressed spring that starts it moving. The car follows the curved track in [link] . Show that the final speed of the toy car is 0.687 m/s if its initial speed is 2.00 m/s and it coasts up the frictionless slope, gaining 0.180 m in altitude.

A toy car is moving up a curved track.
A toy car moves up a sloped track. (credit: Leszek Leszczynski, Flickr)
v f = 2 gh + v 0 2 = 2 ( 9.80 m /s 2 ) ( 0 .180 m ) + ( 2 .00 m/s ) 2 = 0 .687 m/s size 12{v rSub { size 8{f} } = sqrt {2 ital "gh"+v rSub { size 8{0} rSup { size 8{2} } } } = sqrt {2 \( 9 "." "80"" m/s" rSup { size 8{2} } \) \( - 0 "." "180"" m" \) + \( 2 "." "00 m/s" \) rSup { size 8{2} } } =0 "." "687"" m/s"} {}
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In a downhill ski race, surprisingly, little advantage is gained by getting a running start. (This is because the initial kinetic energy is small compared with the gain in gravitational potential energy on even small hills.) To demonstrate this, find the final speed and the time taken for a skier who skies 70.0 m along a 30º size 12{"30"°} {} slope neglecting friction: (a) Starting from rest. (b) Starting with an initial speed of 2.50 m/s. (c) Does the answer surprise you? Discuss why it is still advantageous to get a running start in very competitive events.

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Questions & Answers

explain how a light wave can be propagated in accordance with the principal of reversibility
Chibuzo Reply
what is the meaning of musical instruments
Chibuzo
what is the four fundamental forces?
Adesu
the definition of photon
Bright Reply
8kg of a hot liquid initial T is 90°© is missed with another liquid 3kg at 20° calculate e équilibrium T
Balki Reply
8kg of a hot liquid initial T is 90°© is missed with another liquid 3kg at 20° calculate e équilibrium T
Balki
answer plz
Bright
what are the products when acid and base mixed?
Austin
salt and water
Gift
What's this place about?
michael
@Austin your answer should be SALT and WATER
michael
salts and water
Roben
i guess salt and water
Chibuzo
what work done
Dennis Reply
work done is the product of force and distance moved in the direction of force
Gift
Work done = force (F) * distance (D)
abdulsalam
what is resounance
Abdul
y
Tracy
explain the three laws of isaac Newton with the reference
glory Reply
1st law ; a body will continue to stay at a state of rest or continue to move at a uniform motion on a straight line unless an external force is been acted upon
Austine
3rd law; in every action there is an equal or opposite reaction
Austine
2nd law: F=ma
Austine
why am i not having access to the Link in your exemples /figures ?
Augustine Reply
what is circut
hasiya Reply
newtons law of motion
hasiya
First law:In an inertial frame of reference, an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force.
Manan
a circuit is an electric part Wich is linked by a wire
Chibuzo
is the ability to do work
Adjah Reply
Energy
Nwany
u from
Hejreen
any body online hain
Hejreen
ability to do work is energy
Irshad
energy
Chibuzo
what is energy
Mercy Reply
energy is ability of the capacity to doing work
shafiu
what is vector
mosco Reply
A quantity that has both magnitude and direction
Donaldo
can a body with out mass float in space
mosco
Is the quantity that has both magnitude and direction
Amoah
Yes it can float in space,e.g.polyethene has no mass that's why it can float in space
Amoah
that's my suggestion,any other explanation can be given also,thanks
Amoah
A charge of 1.6*10^-6C is placed in a uniform electric field in a density 2*5^10Nc^-1, what is the magnitude of the electric force exerted on the charge?
Omotosho Reply
what's phenomena
Enoch Reply
Phenomena is an observable fact or event.
Love
Prove that 1/d+1/v=1/f
James Reply
What interference
Moyinoluwa Reply
What is a polarized light called?
Moyinoluwa
what is a half life
Mama Reply
the time taken for a radioactive element to decay by half of its original mass
ken
what is radioactive element
mohammed
Half of the total time required by a radioactive nuclear atom to totally disintegrate
Justice
radioactive elements are those with unstable nuclei(ie have protons more than neutrons, or neutrons more than protons
Justice
in other words, the radioactive atom or elements have unequal number of protons to neutrons.
Justice
state the laws of refraction
Fabian
state laws of reflection
Fabian
Why does a bicycle rider bends towards the corner when is turning?
Mac
When do we say that the stone thrown vertically up wards accelerate negatively?
Mac
Give two importance of insulator placed between plates of a capacitor.
Mac
Macho had a shoe with a big sole moving in mudy Road, shanitah had a shoe with a small sole. Give reasons for those two cases.
Mac
what is the matter
Mohammed
Practice Key Terms 1

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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