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Some Words on Work and Energy

Updated on July 17, 2013
Playing in the Dirt
Playing in the Dirt | Source
Gottfried Wilheim Leibniz
Gottfried Wilheim Leibniz | Source


Yesterday, the kids were in the backyard in the dirt when I heard my daughter yell. I put down the dish I washed and ran out to see what was going on. She and her brother fought over some toys.

My reaction to my daughter yells began when I heard the yell and my nervous system told me to react. Then the potential energy stored within my leg muscles was put to use and I ran outside. Potential energy became kinetic energy as I began to move quickly into the backyard. This act of running outside was work, similar to the work of washing the dishes prior to my short jog.

There is a lot to be said about energy. For the purpose of this hub we will only look at how energy and work are related.

There is an obvious relationship since energy can be defined as the ability to do work. Kinetic energy is the energy of movement and potential energy is the energy an object has on hold until needed. We will stick with the definition given above that energy is the ability to do work.

To begin we must look at the

First Law of Thermodynamics:

Energy can never be created or destroyed but only transformed from one form to another. The total energy of an isolated system is always constant or the total energy of the Universe is constant.

The First Law of Thermodynamics has been an ongoing discussion throughout history. Thales of Miletus around 530 BCE mentioned conservation briefly and Empedocles (490-430 BCE) stated "nothing comes to be or perishes."

Galileo discusses conservation in his papers around 1638 yet conservation does not take the large step to becoming a law until Gottfried Wilheim Leibniz attempted to prove conservation through mathematics between 1676 and 1689.

Conservation had a roadblock that needed to be removed. Between the 1700's until the 1800's scientists and engineers tried to figure how to prove that energy was conserved and not lost. This finally was proven when the scientific community realized that energy was released in a system as heat and the amount of heat produced through work is hard to measure, especially if the heat is being released into the air.

James Joule (1818-1889) was the first to measure heat released through work. He created an apparatus that had a falling weight pull a string to rotate a shaft in water. He then was able to calculate the change of temperature in the water after work was performed.

His calculation still stand today and 1 Calorie = 4.184 Joules.

James Joule
James Joule | Source


An object or system possessing energy has the capability to do work. When a system does work it loses energy and when work is done on a system energy is gained.

In a conservative system energy is transferred between kinetic and potential energy. Kinetic energy is the energy being used in the conservative system and potential energy is the work that can be used.

According to the Law of the Conservation of Mechanical Energy the sum of the kinetic energy and potential energy is constant when the system is conserved. Yet one must keep in mind that In a nonconserved system some energy is lost as a result of work being expended against frictional forces.

According to the Law of Conservation of Total Energy, even though energy is lost due to friction the total energy of the system is conserved.

The equation for work:

W = fd

W = Work

f = force

d = distance


"Work done by something exerting a constant force is the product of the force along the displacment and magnitude along the displacement."

The SI unit of work is the Newton-meter (Nm) or the Joule (J).

Joule's Apparatus for Thermodynamics Experiment
Joule's Apparatus for Thermodynamics Experiment | Source

In Conclusion

The example given in the beginning of this hub has me responding to my childrens yelling with work.

The word work has been given a bad rap. Most people when they think of the word, think of sweat and toil.

When in fact the use of energy in work is constantly occuring around us and through us. As work is being performed the energy used is released as heat that will usually dissipate into the air.

In open systems, like car engines, the heat created through work is removed through a cooling system. Some systems have been able to reuse the heat created as another source of energy.

As we think about the tasks and machines that we use everyday we should ponder about the energy being released as heat and think about a more efficient way to conserve.

Science has been looking at Conservation of Energy for hundreds of years and with our natural resources reaching points of depletion we should continue to look at work and energy.


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    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 4 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you Lurana. Jamie

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image

      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      You make the scientific information so relevant to everyday life. Excellent approach! ~Lurana

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 4 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you Kim. Jamie

    • ocfireflies profile image

      ocfireflies 4 years ago from North Carolina

      While I can't say that I understand physics on the same level as you, I still enjoy reading your hubs and love how you can take an example that I can relate to: children playing - something simple as it relates to the complex.

      Best Always,


    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 4 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you tillsontitan. Jamie

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      I love the way you started this hub and just slipped into the dynamics of work and energy. It was nicely done and made the something interesting that I normally would not find interesting.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 4 years ago from Reno NV

      Sounds only fair.

    • moonfroth profile image

      Clark Cook 4 years ago from Rural BC (Canada) & N of Puerto Vallarta (Mexico)

      I get 2% of your royalties and my truck washed every Shrove Tuesday............

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 4 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you Moonfroth. What an incredible idea. I will certainly ponder what your comment. I appreciate your feedback and your kind words. Jamie

    • moonfroth profile image

      Clark Cook 4 years ago from Rural BC (Canada) & N of Puerto Vallarta (Mexico)

      A succinct, well-structured reminder to us all that the basics of thermodynamics are not some arcane study confined to eggheads in laboratories. As you established, our bodies are living examples of science-in-action. Kids need to know these correlations--and as a thought, Sir, with your extraordinary gift for explanation and description, why don't you do a series on principles of science written and illustrated for kids? I know there's some stuff out there, but none with the unique stamp of your excellent prose.