Introduction to Mechanical Energy
All objects have energy. The word energy comes from the Greek word energeia (ένέργεια), meaning activity or operation. Energy is closely linked to mass and cannot be created or destroyed.
What is mechanical energy?
In the physical sciences, mechanical energy is the sum of potential energy and kinetic energy. It is the energy associated with the motion and position of an object. The principle of conservation of mechanical energy states that in an isolated system that is only subject to conservative forces the mechanical energy is constant. If an object is moved in the opposite direction of a conservative net force, the potential energy will increase and if the speed (not the velocity) of the object is changed, the kinetic energy of the object is changed as well.
In all real systems, however, non-conservative forces, like frictional forces, will be present, but often they are of negligible values and the mechanical energy being constant can therefore be a useful approximation. In elastic collisions, the mechanical energy is conserved but in inelastic collisions, some mechanical energy is converted into heat. The equivalence between lost mechanical energy (dissipation) and an increase in temperature was discovered by James Prescott Joule.
Many devices are used to convert mechanical energy to or from other forms of energy, e.g. an electric motor converts electrical energy to mechanical energy, an electric generator converts mechanical energy into electrical energy and a steam engine converts heat energy to mechanical energy.
In this tutorial, we will consider gravitational potential and kinetic energy.