You are on page 1of 6

IB Physics HL 1

Study Guide

Unit 4

In our quest to understand and describe the motion that we observe in our world, several different
frameworks have been developed. One is based on the idea that pushing or pulling something will set it in
motion and we can describe the motion by looking at how it changes its location. Another framework for
describing how things behave is based on Energy. The concept of Energy has undergone some radical changes
during the course of the evolution of our understanding of nature. At one point it was thought to be an
invisible fluid (called caloric) that was exchanged between objects. We no longer think that way. Our current
best explanation is that energy is something objects possess because of their position relative to other objects
or because of their state of motion.


The foundation of the whole Energy Model is a very simple idea. The amount of energy that we
have to work with is constant. It cannot change. In physics we say that Energy is a Conserved

However, we havent completely abandoned the energy flow concept. We still think about energy as being
transferred from one object to another: For example I can burn many calories of energy by lifting a heavy
weight above my head. If I let go of the weight, it can potentially do a great deal of damage to whatever it
lands on. In this process I have lost energy (the calories that I burned). Where did it go? The answer is that I
transferred it to the weight. However much I lost, the weight gained. The total amount of energy has not
Lets start our look at energy by describing energy based on the position of an object.
Lets think about a few examples:
Pushing or pulling on the coils of a spring will transfer energy from
me to the spring. I will burn calories and the spring will have the
potential to push or pull on something else because of what I did.
The position of the coils changed relative to each other and the
amount of change describes the amount of energy that I
transferred to the spring.
Lifting the weights up, away from the earth, requires a force from the lifter. In
the process, the lifter burns energy by transferring it to the weights. They
have the potential to fall back towards the earth. The position of the weights
relative to the earth changed in the process and the amount of change
describes the amount of energy transferred to the weights.
In both cases, the energy is transferred as the result of pushing or pulling.
Both objects have the potential to do something that they didnt prior to the energy transfer (the spring wont
re-coil until it is pushed or pulled and the weights wont fall until they are lifted). In both cases, the thing that
describes how much energy was transferred is the position of the object before and after it was pushed or
This type of energy --- based on position --- is called Potential Energy.
We are going to concentrate on the potential energy associated with moving something above the surface of
the earth. Since it is the Earths gravity that requires us to lift things up in the air, this is called Gravitational
Potential Energy.

Edison Physics

The more massive the

object, the more energy
I transfer (burn as

The higher I lift

something the more
energy I transfer (the
more calories I burn).

Potential energy is
directly related to the
mass lifted.

Potential Energy is
directly related to
height above the Earth.

In our standard system of measurement, mass (m in the equation) is measured in kilograms -- kg. Height (h in
the equation) is measured in meters and earths gravity (g in the equation) has the value 9.8 m/s2. According to
the equation we end up with the combination of kg*m/s2*m = kg*m2/s2. This combination is given the name
Joule and the symbol J. The unit of energy is the Joule.
Energy because of motion is called Kinetic Energy. The word kinetic means motion. Since we use speed to
describe the amount of motion on object has, its probably not a shock that Kinetic Energy is related to speed.
The question becomes, exactly how is kinetic energy related to speed? For now, I will just tell you the answer
and later on we will stop and spend some time trying to figure out why it is this way.

KE = mv2
m is the mass of the object, measured in kg.
v is the speed of the object, measured in m/s
Notice that the units for KE are kg*(m/s)2 = kg m2/s2, which is what we named the Joule.
We use speed instead of velocity because we want to know the amount of energy the object has as it travels a
specific path and speed is how it moves along the path!
Now that we have defined both of the types of energy that combine to make up the total (mechanical) energy
that an object can have, we can start to get to the interesting aspects of energy. Remember the big idea about
energy is that it is conserved. Exactly how this plays out is very interesting. Suppose I lift an object up into the
air. In the process of lifting it I have to exert energy and that is how I transfer it to the object. Once I let go of
the object, it will start to fall. As it falls it loses height and potential energy. Where does the potential energy
go? Also, as it falls it gains speed and kinetic energy. Where did the kinetic energy come from? Does the total
energy remain constant while this is going on?
Well, the cool thing here is that the potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy by the force of gravity.
The total amount of energy doesnt change. Every Joule of lost PE is a Joule of gained KE. Imagine a pail full of
energy (like a pail full of water). When I have the energy in one bucket I call it PE. When gravity transforms it
into KE, its like the energy is being poured into a second bucket labeled KE. An example might help.

Edison Physics

page 2










A ball is thrown up into the air. When it leaves your hand (position #1
in the diagram) it is going as fast as it will go and it is at its lowest point
in its path through the air. So, at this point it has PE = 0 (empty bucket)
and KE = maximum (full bucket). The combination of KE + PE is shown
in the ME bucket.
As the ball moves up to position #2, it is losing speed because of
gravity. At this position, it has reached half of its final height. So, half
of the KE has been transformed into PE. The KE bucket is half full and
the PE bucket is half full. Notice that the ME bucket is still completely
At position #3, the ball has reached its highest point. When it gets
there it must stop for an instant before it starts to fall back down. At
this point, it has KE = 0 (no speed b/c it stopped) and PE = maximum.
So, the KE bucket is empty and the PE bucket is full.

The ME bucket remains full the whole time because ME is conserved!

In general, as objects move through the air an increase in PE will correspond to a decrease in
KE and vice-versa. This is because ME is conserved during the motion.

In this section our goal is to write equations that show how energy is conserved. This can be a very powerful
method for making predictions because it doesnt deal with the specifics of the motion, but only the starting
conditions and the conditions at some other time or place.
We have said that the big idea about energy is that it is conserved in the absence of external forces (like
friction). If friction or air resistance is present they will reduce the amount of mechanical energy present by
converting it into heat. This energy is said to be lost in the sense that it is no longer useful to us. However,
the total amount of energy in the universe has not changed, it has just been rearranged.
When friction and air resistance can be ignored then mechanical energy will be conserved. This means that
the total energy of an object (Potential Energy + Kinetic Energy) wont change as it moves under the influence
of gravity. So, if I know its height and speed at some point in its path then I can calculate exactly how much
energy it has.
I know that it will always have the same amount of energy, no matter where it is in its path. So, if I know its
height at some later time, I can use the total energy to find its speed at that time. Or, if I know its speed at
some other time, I can use the total energy to find its height at that time.
It breaks down into a 3-Step Process.
1. Find a place where you know the height and speed and Calculate the total energy at
that place.
2. Use the height or speed at a second place to write an expression for the total energy at
the second place.
3. Set the value you calculated in step #1 equal to the expression you wrote in step #2 and
solve for the thing you dont know (speed or height).
Edison Physics

page 3

The best way to see how this works is to do some examples.

First Example: A 0.5 kg ball is thrown up into the air with an initial speed of 24 m/s. How fast will the ball be
traveling when it has risen to a height of 5 meters above where you let go of it?
We know the speed (24 m/s) and height (0 m) when we let go of it. So, we can find the total energy at this
Step #1
E at the start = mv2 + mgh = (0.5 kg)(24 m/s)2 + (0.5 kg)(9.8 m/s2)(0 m)
E at the start = 144 J
Step #2 E at 5 m high = mv2 + mgh = (0.5 kg)v2 + (0.5 kg)(9.8 m/s2)(5 m)
E at 5 m high = 0.25v2 + 24.5
Step #3 E at the start = E at 5 m high
144 J = 0.25 v2 + 24.5
119.5 = 0.25v2
478 = v2
21.9 m/s = v

(subtract 24.5 from both sides)

(divide both sides by 0.25)
(take the square root of both sides)

Second Example: How high will the ball in the first example go?
We still know the total energy of the ball. Step #1 hasnt changed, so E at the start = 144 J.
Step #2 E at max height = mv2 + mgh
we know that when it reaches its highest point it will have no speed left (the energy
will be completely PE!)
E at max height = 0 + (0.5 kg)(9.8 m/s2)h = 4.9h
Step #3 E at start = E at max height
144 J = 4.9h
29.4 m = h

(divide both sides by 4.9)

Using conservation of energy can make a complicated problem become much simpler to solve!
Now we need to ask How does energy get transferred to an object?
The answer is through the use of forces. We know that forces are required to change the motion of an object.
When the motion is changed (acceleration) we know that the speed of the object might change. This would
mean the energy of the object has changed. So, forces might be the key to changing energy.
The process that forces use to change energy is called Work. To change the energy of an object, the force
must do work. So we can say that Work = change in energy.
Not all forces do work. If the object is moving forward and the force only causes it to change direction and not
its speed, then that force will not do any work. So, we need to qualify our statement.
Forces that are parallel to the displacement of an object will do work. Forces that are perpendicular to the
displacement of an object will not do any work.
We can calculate the work done as follows:

Edison Physics

Work = Force x displacement.

page 4

Force and displacement are both vectors, but when we multiply them together to get work, the answer is not a
The units of work are N (force) x m (displacement). This gives us Nm = (kg m/s2)(m) = kg m2/s2 = J. The units of
work are Joules. This is one more reminder that work is related to energy.
An example: the force of friction does work to change the energy of moving object. Lets say a 5 kg object is
coasting along at a constant speed of 10 m/s. It encounters a friction force of 5 N that acts over a distance of 3
m. The friction force is backwards and the object continues to move forward, so W =
= (-5N)(3m) = -15 J.
This means that the object lost 15 J of energy.
You might be wondering why we calculate PE and KE the way we do, and now we can look at the real
Suppose we want to lift a crate from a height h1 to a new height h2 so that it moves
with constant velocity. From Newtons first law we know that constant velocity means
equilibrium (balanced forces) and so the lifting force must be equal to the weight of
the crate. The work done to lift the crate is calculated as the product of the lifting
force and displacement. W = Flift x = mg (h2 h1) = mgh2 mgh1. Remember that the
definition of work is to change energy, so mgh2 mgh1 must be E. You recognize this
as the change in potential energy of the crate!



Now suppose that we want to push a cart at rest across a level, frictionless surface. We apply a force which
causes the cart to accelerate, according to Newtons 2nd Law of motion. The work done is the product of the
pushing force and the displacement of the cart, W = Fpush x = ma x. Using
our relationships to describe motion, we can write x = at2 and a = v/t. If
Fpush = ma
we substitute into our work equation we get: W = ma x = m (v/t)( at2).
We can substitute for a one more time to get W = m (v/t)( (v/t)t2).
Rearrange a bit to get: W = mv2 (all of the ts in the equation cancel each
other!). You recognize this result as the KE gained by the cart!
We can graph the force doing the work vs. the position of the object. This will provide some insight into how to
handle forces that are not constant. But first, lets look at the situation where the force doing the work is
constant. The graph will look as shown here:


The work done by this force is the product of force and

displacement = Fd. Notice that this product is the area of the
rectangle formed by the force line on the graph and the axes of
the graph. This is our clue to how to work with forces that change.
If we can produce a graph of force vs position then the area under
the graph will be the work done by the force.

An example of a changing force is one where the force is proportional to the displacement. It turns out that
springs obey this relationship. The graph looks like this:

Edison Physics


We can write the force as F = kd (k is the proportionality constant

and the slope of the force line). The work done is the area of the
triangle = Fd = (kd)(d) = kd2. This is the energy stored in the
spring as it is stretched (or compressed). It is potential energy
waiting to become kinetic when the spring is released!

page 5

Another useful quantity to explore is how fast the energy changes. This quantity, the rate at which energy is
changed, is called Power.
Power =E / t
Because E = Work, we can also say that power is the rate at which work is done.
The unit for power is J / sec. We call this combination the Watt (W). 1 W = 1 J/s.
Because power is inversely related to time (time is in the denominator) we see that more power is required to
change the energy quickly. The larger the time, the smaller the power required.

Edison Physics

page 6