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Gravitational Potential Energy: Seeing the Impact in the Sand

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Gravitational Potential Energy: Seeing the Impact in the Sand

Physics

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Students investigate factors that affect gravitational potential energy.

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Now You Know

After completing this tutorial, you will be able to complete the following:

  • Explain that energy is the capacity to do work.
  • Explain that the gravitational potential energy of an object is directly proportional to its height.
  • Explain that the gravitational potential energy of an object is directly proportional to its mass.

Everything You'll Have Covered

Energy can be described as the ability to move objects or cause a change in an object. The SI unit for energy is the joule (J), named for James Joule, who showed that work can be converted into heat. The joule is the work done by a force of one newton (N) acting through a distance of one meter.

Energy can be stored in different ways. Forms of energy include chemical, elastic, electrical, kinetic, light, magnetic, nuclear, gravitational potential, thermal, and sound. The total amount of kinetic and gravitational potential energy is often referred to as mechanical energy.

Look at your bookshelf. A book sitting on a shelf is no moving or producing any sound or light, so it may be surprising to some that the book contains energy. First, all matter contains thermal energy. A book, is after all, made up of matter. The book also contains gravitational potential energy, and that will make a bog impact on anyone who happens to be standing under the shelf if the book falls. The gravitational potential energy of the book is directly proportional to its height, mass and the strength of the gravitational field. The exact relationship is described by the formula, gravitational potential energy = mass x gravity x height. When the book leaves the shelf and falls towards the floor, its gravitational potential energy is transformed to kinetic energy. If two books of different masses fall from the same height, the one with the greater mass will hurt more. Likewise, if two books of the same mass fall from different heights, the one that falls from a greater height will hurt the head of an innocent bystander more.

Tutorial Details

Approximate Time 20 Minutes
Pre-requisite Concepts Students should be familiar with acceleration and mass.
Course Physics
Type of Tutorial Experiment
Key Vocabulary energy, experiment, gravitational force