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What is Mechanical Energy? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:06 What is Mechanical Energy?
  • 1:29 Application of…
  • 3:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: John Simmons

John has taught college science courses face-to-face and online since 1994 and has a doctorate in physiology.

In physics, energy is how work gets done. This video describes one important type of energy, mechanical energy, and provides examples of both kinetic and potential mechanical energy.

What Is Mechanical Energy?

Mechanical energy is the energy possessed by an object due to its motion or its position. Well, that seems simple enough, but what is energy? Energy is the ability to do work, where work is the movement of an object when a force is applied to it. For example, a person doing push-ups is doing work by applying force to the floor. Since the floor doesn't typically move, the person will move away from the floor. That same person could apply a force to a book and move it over his or her head. In each case, work is done when the applied force causes an object to move.

Let's describe mechanical energy in more detail. As I said before, mechanical energy is the energy possessed by an object due to its movement or position. In other words, an object possesses mechanical energy when it has the ability to do work due to its position or motion. Mechanical energy can take the form of either kinetic energy, which is energy due to an object's motion, or potential energy, which is stored energy due to an object's position.

Application of Mechanical Energy

Let's now look at some examples of mechanical energy. A demolition machine is a great example of both potential and kinetic mechanical energy. The wrecking ball possesses potential mechanical energy when it is raised to a vertical position above the ground. The ball has the ability to do work due to its vertical position. Now remember, work is done when a force moves an object. In the case of the wrecking ball, gravity provides the force to move the ball once it's released. Once released, the wrecking ball contains kinetic mechanical energy, as it has the ability to do work due to its movement. If the wrecking ball contacts a building, the building will move. It will fall down.

Let's do an experiment with mechanical energy. If you are watching this video on some mobile device like your laptop, go ahead and lift it about six inches from its present position. Congratulations! You just demonstrated mechanical energy. So, don't let anyone tell you that you didn't accomplish any work today. The force generated by your muscles moved the device, and that's work. Don't overexert yourself. You can put the device back down now.

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