What is mechanical energy

What is mechanical energy

In basic terms, work is performed upon an object when a force acts upon it, thereby causing its displacement. Work is the force that acts upon an object, thereby resulting in the object’s displacement.

Mechanical energy is the energy that an object possesses as a result of either its motion or its position. Mechanical energy can come in either the form of kinetic energy — the energy of its movement, or in the form of potential energy — the stored energy the object has as a result of its position.

An object possesses mechanical energy if it is in motion and/or it is standing at a position relative to a zero potential energy point. An example of this might be an object, such as a ball, held in a vertical position above the ground, or at a zero height point. If that same ball had been hit by a bat as in a game of baseball it would possess mechanical energy due to its kinetic energy and its gravitational potential energy, or its position above the ground. If you were to place a book on a high shelf the book would possess mechanical energy as a result of its vertical position above the ground. If you went to an archery range and shot a bow in the act of drawing the bow back to fire the arrow you equip the drawn bow with mechanical energy as a result of its elastic potential energy, or its stretched position. All of these objects, possessing mechanical energy in their respective ways, have the ability to perform work and this, in fact, is the very definition of mechanical energy. An object that possess mechanical energy is able to apply force to another object with the result that the other object is displaced – hence the work of the original object.

Perhaps the best example of this harnessing of mechanical energy in order to apply force is that shown by a demolition machine’s wrecking ball. The ball itself is a huge object and it is swung to a high position that subsequently allows it to swing forwards into an object such as a building with the result of demolishing it. Once the ball hits the building it applies force to it, thereby causing the displacement of the building’s walls and other structures, resulting in its demolition. This is a graphic example of the force of mechanical energy at work. The gravitational potential energy given to the ball by swinging it backwards to a high position and then the kinetic energy generated by its swing forwards and back down into the building is a powerful usage of the force generated by the principals of mechanical energy.

You can also see an everyday display of mechanical energy at work when you hammer a nail into a piece of wood or another object. The hammer is given mechanical energy in the form of kinetic energy (when you swing it into the nail, hitting it), and it then applies a force to the nail, causing the nail to be displaced.

(Energy FAQ Series)

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