• Question: Hi I just got my head around potential energy and Im still a little muddled about it. If you can, can you try and explain it easier to me. and can you please put your name at the bottom. my computer doesn't show names

    Asked by Evan to Aoife, Brian, Conor, Louise, Matthew on 16 Nov 2016.
    • Photo: Louise Mc Grath

      Louise Mc Grath answered on 16 Nov 2016:


      Potential energy.. it took me a while to wrap my head around it too! The definition of it is: the stored energy an object has because of its position or state.

      How I see it is.. kinetic energy is energy when an object is moving. Potential energy is the energy something has while standing still. If you squeeze a spring in your hand but do not let it go then you have stored some potential energy in the spring. It has energy but it is not moving!

      It has the POTENTIAL to move though. If you let go of the spring it will move. so as I see it potential energy is stored.

      There are two types of potential energy. One due to gravity, and one due to elastic energy (like a spring). So for gravitational potential energy the item wants to move towards the ground but doesn’t actually move.. Elastic potential happens when you stretch or compress something, like a spring!

      I hope that made sense to you! If not this website is good at explaining it as well: http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/energy/Lesson-1/Potential-Energy. I think I passed physics by googling websites like this!

      Louise =)

    • Photo: Matthew Kitching

      Matthew Kitching answered on 17 Nov 2016:

      Hi Evan

      sorry for the delay in answering your question – Ive been having problems with the website 🙁

      So Potential energy eh? thats a tricky thing – your right to think hard about it! The example your teachers probably used is lifting a ball off the ground. To lift the ball up to your head height – you need to use energy (from your muscles) to lift it up!

      So you may have heard energy can’t be created or destroyed? it can only change what “type” of energy it is. IF we accept this fundamental law of the universe (we don’t know of any places where this law isn’t true) – then where did the energy go when we lifted the block up?

      We say the block “stored” the energy as potential energy – meaning that the energy you put into the block to lift it up is still locked in the block!!!! How do you get the energy back, i here you ask? Well if you drop the block, the energy stored in the block (and the gravitional field between the block and the earth) is released by making the block move, or fall! We say the potential energy is converted to kinetic energy – or movement!

      So potential energy can be stored in lots of ways. Like louise says we can have gravitation potential energy as we’ve just described, or mechanical potential energy as with the spring louise talks about. But you can also store energy in chemicals (like explosives, fuels and batteries)! This chemical energy can be released when we bring chemicals together and make them react!

      As we make bonds between atoms – we generally release energy – and this process is what powers every battery, every car, and every cell in your body!

      heres a simple video to explain potential energy:

      Whats your favourite type of potential energy?

      hope that answers your question, let me know if you want to know more! 🙂