Work is the transfer of energy.
In physics we say that work is done on an object when you transfer energy to that object. For introductory thinking, this is the best definition of work.
If you put energy into an object, then you do work on that object.
If a first object is the agent that gives energy to a second object, then the first object does work on the second object. The energy goes from the first object into the second object. At first we will say that if an object is standing still, and you get it moving, then you have put energy into that object.
For example, a golfer uses a club and gets a stationary golf ball moving when he or she hits the ball. The club does work on the golf ball as it strikes the ball. Energy leaves the club and enters the ball. This is a transfer of energy. Thus, we say that the club did work on the ball.
And, before the ball was struck, the golfer did work on the club. The club was initially standing still, and the golfer got it moving when he or she swung the club.
So, the golfer does work on the club, transferring energy into the club, making it move. The club does work on the ball, transferring energy into the ball, getting it moving.
In almost all cases considered when studying mechanical forms of energy, when work is done on an object a force is applied to the object, and the object is displaced while this force is acting upon it. That is, the object moves as a result of a force being placed on it.
In the previous golf example the club places a force on the ball, and this force acts on the ball over the short distance through which the club and the ball are in contact as the ball is being hit. Energy is transferred as the force acts over this displacement.
The amount of work is calculated by multiplying the force times the displacement. That formula looks like this:
At first we will consider only forces that are aimed in the same direction as the displacement. For example, we will imagine an object being pushed horizontally to the right, and the object will be moving horizontally to the right as a result of this applied force.
Below is an animation that shows just that. The force vector is drawn in blue. It is pushing the object to the right. This force is applied over a displacement. The displacement vector is shown in red. The object starts out standing still. While the force is acting on the object the object picks up speed, that is, it accelerates. When the force quits acting the object quits picking up speed, that is, it quits accelerating.
Notice that in the above animation the object picks up speed while the force is acting upon it. This picking up of speed means that the object is gaining more and more energy as the force is acting on it. That is, as the force is acting upon the object, energy is being transferred to the object. Therefore work is being done on the object. Whatever we might imagine is providing the force is the agent that is doing work on the object. In our above discussion the force could be applied by the golf club, and the object in the animation represents the golf ball. This, of course, would need to be thought of as in slow motion!
Now, since work is calculated as the product of force times displacement, many different combinations of forces and displacements could yield the same work, or the same energy transfer. For example, in the following animation a larger force acts over a shorter displacement, yet the same amount of work is ultimately done as in our first example above.
And in this next animation a smaller force and a larger displacement that is present is the first animation is demonstrated. Again, the same amount of work is done. The same amount of energy is transferred.
Later, we will see what happens when a force is applied at an angle to the displacement. For a while, though, we will consider only forces in the same direction as the displacement.
How much work is done if a force of 20 N is used to displace an object 3 m?
|W = F · d||Formula for work.|
|W = (20 N)(3 m)||Plug in values for force and displacement.|
|W = 60 N-m||Work equals 60 units of energy transferred. Looks like the unit for energy transferred, and thus, the unit for energy, is Newton-meter. However, this is not so.|
|W = 60 Joules||Energy units are called Joules, 1 Joule is equal to 1 Newton-meter. A Joule is the MKS metric unit for energy.|
|W = 60 J||Joule is abbreviated J.|
Here are some questions to work with using the above formula.