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.

Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

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.

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Additional Activities

Illustrated Energy

In this activity, students will be applying their artistic skills to draw examples of mechanical energy in action. For example, students might choose a car engine as an example of mechanical energy at work. They would draw an illustration of a car driving down the street and can include fun details, such as themselves or their family in the car. They should also write a caption explaining how the illustration shows mechanical energy. In this example, a student might write, "A car is an example of kinetic mechanical energy because the engine does work to move the car forward. In my illustration, you can see my dad driving the car to take my siblings and me to the beach!"

Directions

In this activity, you'll be creating three graphic illustrations of mechanical energy. For each one, you should choose a scenario in which kinetic or potential mechanical energy is used. Draw an illustration of the example and then include a three-sentence description of how the energy is being portrayed and additional information about the scene. To make sure your drawings have all of the required criteria, check out the criteria for success below.

Criteria For Success

  • Three illustrations show kinetic or potential mechanical energy
  • At least one example of kinetic and one example of potential mechanical energy is used
  • Each illustration has a three-sentence description of the scene and explains how mechanical energy is portrayed
  • Illustrations are colorful and professional

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