Work and Kinetic Energy

Work done by a constant force[edit | edit source]

The term work, in physics, is a term whose meaning is different from everyday meaning. Consider an object being displaced along the x axis by a force, constant in magnitude and direction. We define the work W done on an object by constant force acting on the object as the product of the component of the force in the direction of the displacement and the magnitude of the displacement:

As example of the difference between the definition of work and the everyday understanding of the word, consider holding an heavy object for several minutes. Your arm at the end will be shacking for the amount of work done on the object. Instead, according to the definition given in physics, you would have done no work at all. This is because, you applied a force to support the object but you did not move it at all. Thus d=0 and the result of the product was equal to zero.

Note from definition that the work is null if the force is perpendicular to the displacement of the object as the .

The sign of the work depends on the direction of F relative to d. In particular, the work is positive when the vector associated with the product F is in the same direction as the displacement. Contrary, it is negative when the direction of the vector associated with F is opposite the displacement. If the force F acts along the exact direction and verse of the displacement and the equation gives


Work is a scalar quantity, and its units are force multiplied by length. The SI unit of work is (). This combination of units has been given a name: the joule (J).

Work done by a varying force[edit | edit source]

Consider now an object being displaced along the x axis by a varying force, , increasing x from to . In such situation we can not use

to calculate the work done by the force F because the equation applies only when the force is constant in magnitude and direction. However, if we examine a very small fraction of the displacement when the x component of the force is approximately constant we can express the work done by the force as

If we imagine the versus x curve divided in a large number of such intervals, then the total work along the displacement from to is approximately equal to the sum of such terms:

If the displacements approach zero, then the number of terms increases and the sum approaches a definite value equal to the area underneath the curve:

This equation is reduced to

when the component is constant.

If more then one force is applied to an object the total work is the work done by the resultant force. Thus becomes


Work done by a varying force/Work done by a spring[edit | edit source]

A clear example of a variable force is the force that acts on an object connected to a spring that has been either stretched or compressed described by the following equation

where x represents the displacement of the object from its point of equilibrium (where the spring is unstretched/uncompressed), and k is the force constant of the spring. This force law for springs is called Hook's Law and it's valid only for small displacements. The k of a spring indicates its stiffness. To stiff spring are related big k values and, viceversa, to soft springs are related small k values.

The negative of the force indicates that the force produced from a spring is always directed the opposite way of the displacement. For this reason is called a restoring force. (For full details see Spring Force in newton mechanics [...]).

Suppose the object has been pushed to the left a distance from equilibrium. Let's calculate the work done by the spring force from the point to the point of equilibrium

When we consider the work done by the spring force from to we find that because the spring force and the displacement have opposite direction. In general, if the object undergoes an arbitrary displacement form to the work done by the spring force is

Equation and describe the work done by the spring on the object. Consider now the work done on the spring by an external force. This force stretches the spring very slowly form to . At any value of the displacement of the object the applied force is equal to the opposite of the spring force , so that . So, the work done by this applied force is

This is the work equal to the negative of the work done by the spring force for his displacement.


Kinetic energy ant the work-kinetic energy theorem[edit | edit source]

Solving motion problems involving complex forces can be difficult using Newton's second law. In fact, is easier to relate the speed of a moving object to its displacement under the influence of a force. If we can calculate the work done by that force its easy to extract the speed of the object.

Consider a constant net force applied on an object of mass m. From Newton's second law the object is moving with constant acceleration a. If we call d the displacement of the object, the work done by the net force is

From the study of kinematic we know that if an object is moving with constant acceleration, then this relationships are valid

Substituting these relationships in the equation we obtain a new relationship between the work done by a net force and the speed of the object on which the force is applied

The member represents the energy associated with the motion of the object, and it has been called kinetic energy.

In general the kinetic energy of a particle of mass m and speed v is

The kinetic energy is a scalar quantity and it has the same units as work, the joule. Is often useful to write the as

The is a very important result known as the work-kinetic energy theorem. It's important to note that when we apply this theorem we must include, in calculating the net work, all the forces applied to the particle. Also, from this theorem, we can deduce that the speed of the particle increases only if the work, done by the net force acting on it , is positive. This because the final kinetic energy is greater than the initial one. Contrary, the speed of the particle decreases only if the work is negative. In this configuration the final kinetic energy is smaller than the initial one, so the is negative.

The theorem expressed by the tell us two different characteristic of kinetic energy: the kinetic energy can describe the work that a particle can do in coming to rest, but also can be seen as the energy stored in a moving particle.

We derive the equation considering the work done only by a constant net force, but it also valid when the forces are variable. If we consider the x direction of , apply the Newton's secondo law, , and use

to express the work done by a varying force

If the resultant force is depending by x, the acceleration and speed also depend on x. Now consider the acceleration expressed in a not so usual way:

Substituting this expression of a into the equation of gives


Situations involving kinetics friction[edit | edit source]

Adding the frictional forces into the analysis of the motion of an object sliding on an horizontal surface, we can describe the kinetic energy lost because of friction. Consider an object sliding on an horizontal rough surface we no forces applied to it. The only force acting on the object is the force of kinetic friction between the surface on which is sliding and the object itself, and it cause the object to accelerate in the negative x direction. Newton's second law gives . Multiplying both members for d and using the equation for the motion of a particole under constant acceleration give . In other terms:

This equation tells that the difference in the kinetic energy of an object on which is applied a kinetic friction force is equal to . Parts of this quantity goes into warming the surface of the object, part in warming the surface on which it slides.

When other forces, as well as the kinetic friction, concurrently act on an object the difference of work-kinetic energy theorem reads

in other terms:

where is the work done by all the forces acting on the object except the kinetic friction one.


Power[edit | edit source]

Power is the time rating of doing work. Consider an external force applied to a particle; the work done by this force in the interval is equal to W. The average power expended during this interval is:

Istantaneous power can be defined as the limiting value of the average power as approaches zero:

From the definition of the work done by a constant force

we have

where v=ds/dt

The SI unit of power is (J/s), also called watt (W) (after James Watt the inventor of the steam engine), where

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