By: Aiden Shiu
In physics, potential energy is stored energy of position. In other words, it is the energy held by an object because of its position relative to other objects. For example, imagine a bow. When the bow is drawn, it can store energy based on position (potential energy). When it isn’t drawn, there is no stored energy in the bow. This stored energy of position (from drawn to not drawn) is what we refer to as “potential energy.” Another example of potential energy would be a coiled spring. When the spring is pressed down, it has stored energy and therefore potential energy. When it is in its usual position, it has no stored energy and therefore no potential energy.
There are many different types of potential energy. Among the most common, there is gravitational potential energy. This type of potential energy takes the same concept of potential energy but incorporates the force of gravity (usually attraction of the Earth). Gravitational potential energy is stored energy of an object based on its vertical position (height). In other words, it is the potential energy of an object based on mass in relation to another massive body (usually a planet) due to gravitational force. When gravity pulls the object downwards, it creates stored energy in the object which we can call potential energy. The amount of gravitational potential energy depends on two factors, the height in which the object is raised and the mass of the object. The greater the object is raised, or the greater the mass of the object, the greater the gravitational potential energy will be.
Another common type of potential energy is elastic potential energy. Elastic potential energy refers to the stored energy held inside elastic materials resulted by their stretching and compressing. Examples would include trampolines, rubber bands, etc. All these have elastic potential energy because of their stretching and compressing. Even the examples in the beginning paragraph (the bow and the coiled spring) count as forms of elastic potential energy. Both can stretch and compress. An object possesses elastic potential energy if it is an elastic material at a position other than the equilibrium position (meaning either it’s stretched or compressed).
The last type of potential energy I will be discussing is electric potential energy. Electric potential energy is the configuration of a certain set of charges within a defined physical system. In other words, a charge exerts a force on any other charge allowing the rise of potential energy. This stored energy is dependant on two key factors, the charge of the object and its relative position to other charged objects (along with those object’s charges). For example, imagine a positive charge fixed to a point in space, and another positive charge was brought close to it. Their positions have a repulsive effect and therefore potential energy.
Note: There are equations you can use to find the potential energies of objects.
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