Work and Energy problems

When you try to solve problems of Physics in general and of Work and Energy in particular, it is important to follow a certain order. Try to be systematic when you solve these problems, and you will see how it gives good results. It is worth spending a bit of time on the analysis of a problem before starting to solve it.

When solving problems related to Work and Energy, follow these steps:

  • Read carefully the problem statement.
  • Draw a picture of the physical situation described in the problem.
  • Write in your notebook the givens in the problem statement.
  • The first thing you need to identify when solving an energy problem is whether the mechanical energy (kinetic + potential) is conserved or not in the situation described by the problem.

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The basic equation that you will have to learn to solve this type of problems is the following:

Where EC is the kinetic energy of the particle and W the work (with its sign) of each of the forces acting on it.

Then, depending on whether the forces are conservative or not, this work can be written in terms of the variation of the potential energy of the particle.

  • You must choose a zero height position to calculate the gravitational potential energy.
  • Do not forget to include the units in your results.
  • Review the problem and check that the results you have obtained make sense.

On the following pages you will find solved problems of Newton’s second law. Try to do them before looking at the solution.

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