The Relationship Between Kinetic and Potential Energy


Kinetic energy is energy in motion, which is contained in any object when it is moving from one point to another. It is the energy that is required to kick-start the object from rest to the point that it gains momentum; after the object gains momentum it retains this energy. Kinetic energy is also the kind of energy needed to bring an object that is in motion to a halt. The amount of kinetic energy that an object exerts depends on motion as well as its mass. Kinetic energy can occur in various forms. These forms are translation when an object moves in a straight line, rotation form when the object moves in an axis, vibrational form or even a combination of two or more of these forms. Kinetic energy can be seen in objects at work such as a moving vehicle, a man running in the field and children playing on the merry- go-round. Potential energy is energy that is contained in an object that is at rest.

It is often associated with stretching objects such as stretching the bow, elastic or the spring. Potential energy stored in such objects changes to kinetic energy when the spring, bow or spring is released. It is the energy that forces an object back into its original shape once it is stretched. Potential energy changes to kinetic energy when the object starts moving. The potential energy can be converted into any form of energy. There are various forms of potential energy that include gravitational potential energy. This is the ability of a product to do work, because of its elevation. A good example can be an object that has been placed on top of the table or a vehicle that has been parked at the edge of the cliff. A falling object contains gravitational potential energy. There is also elastic potential energy. This is the form of energy that is stored in stretching objects such as the stretched bow, spring or rubber band. The energy that is used to stretch the rubber, bow or spring is stored in the form of potential energy. The third form of potential energy is chemical potential energy. This is energy that is stored in the molecules of a chemical. The other form of potential energy is the electric potential energy. This is the ability stored in a bulb that can be used to light a dark room (Viegas 2005).

Relationship between Kinetic and Potential Energy

Kinetic and potential energies are always interchanging since an object can either be in motion or at rest. For example, when an object is placed on the table it possesses kinetic energy and contains ability to do work. Once it is pushed and it starts rolling, consequently the potential energy changes into kinetic energy. The amount of work that a moving body can perform equals the change it can perform on any object that it hits. Potential energy, on the other hand, is kinetic energy waiting to happen. For instance, when a roller coaster is moving up the plane, the amount of potential energy keeps increasing with increasing in height. This energy is later converted into kinetic energy once the roller coaster starts moving down the plane. Another example is the movement of the train. As the train is moving down a hill, the amount of kinetic energy keeps decreasing. At the bottom of the hill, the train contains very little potential energy, but a lot of kinetic energy. As it ascends the hill, kinetic energy keeps decreasing as the potential energy keeps increasing until it reaches its maximum at the top of the hill. There is, therefore, a strong relationship between kinetic and potential energy and the two forms of energies keep exchanging their forms from one to another. Potential energy is energy stored in objects such as a car that is parked at the top of the hill, a mower that is filled with fuel and children waiting to run to the field. Once these objects are released, they start moving and it is at this point that they start emitting kinetic energy.

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Importance of Potential and Kinetic Energy in Everyday Life

Kinetic and potential energies can be harnessed to be of great use and benefit. They are used in all ranges of activities ranging from playing to production of electricity. Below are some of the benefits of both kinetic and potential energies.

The Orbiting of the Satellite and Bouncing a Ball

The satellite orbits under the same principle such as the movement of the pendulum. The only difference is that the pendulum moves in a frictional environment while the orbit rotates in a frictionless space. The movement of the orbit is one example of rotational kinetic energy in everyday life. The satellite is very vital in the observation of the space near the Earth so that if there is any intrusion, it can be reported through the satellite. Satellites are also used for communication. Satellite can also be used as security devices as they are used to monitor any forms of crimes. They ease communication all around the globe. One importance of potential energy is the bouncing of the ball. If a ball is lifted up high it contains gravitational potential energy that is ready to work. This energy is used once the ball hits the ground and it bounces off (Myers 2006).

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Roller Coaster and Swinging Ropes

Play items work with both kinetic and potential energy. The roller coaster is a play machine that uses gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy to roll a train along rising and falling tracks. For example, as the roller coaster moves up the hill its kinetic energy decreases until it reaches the hill top. As it happens, its potential energy keeps increasing until it attains its maximum at the top of the hill. As it starts rolling down the hill, the amount of potential energy keeps decreasing as the kinetic energy keeps increasing. Swinging ropes also work under the combination of kinetic and potential energy. When the rope is swung, it moves by kinetic energy. When the rope reaches the highest point, it contains a maximum of potential energy and very little kinetic energy. Play items provide pleasure in everyday life.

Example of Kinetic Vs. Potential Graph of Rolling Ball

The diagram above shows a rolling ball from high ground part to low ground part. The ball will move in different stages labeled (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G). In real life, when someone releases a ball from a high region to a low ground region two forces are involved; that is kinetic and potential forces. From the above diagram at point A, the ball has maximum potential energy and zero kinetic energy. Therefore, kinetic energy is active in any form of motion, while potential energy is active when objectives are not moving. When the ball is immediately released, the kinetic energy starts increasing as the ball moves downwards from point A, B and C. The motion gradually increases as the ball rolls downwards; hence kinetic energy is at maximum at point C, while at this point potential energy is at zero. However, when the ball hits the ground and bounces back, at point D, the kinetic energy is zero while potential is at its maximum. The same thing happens when the ball bounces back from the low ground to the upper ground. This motion of energy is very important in the sense that it enables the innovation of technological devices, which are useful in our daily activities so as to make our lives better.  

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Electricity Generation

Water stored in a dam contains potential energy. Once the water starts flowing through turbines it converts into kinetic energy. As the water hits the turbines, it transfers the kinetic energy into the turbines so that they start moving. As the turbines move, the kinetic energy in them is converted into electric potential energy that is stored in transformers ready for use. Electric energy is very vital in everyday life as it is required for plant and machinery operations. Electric energy is also used for home consumption. Generation of electricity is also done from wind mills. Kinetic energy in the wind is harnessed and is used to move the wind mills that in turn move the generators that produce electricity. This helps to save forests and other natural resources since people do not have to seek for other sources of fuel. Another method of producing electric energy involves harnessing of kinetic energy found in moving vehicles. As the vehicles move over a set of covered rollers, they transmit some of their kinetic energy, and in turn move the rollers that transmit that energy to generators that in turn generate electricity (Zapotocny 1985).

Catapult and Bow Operations/ Gas Cookers

When the catapult is pulled, the energy used to pull it becomes stored as potential energy. When the catapult is released the stored potential energy is converted into kinetic energy of the bullet. The bow and arrow works under the same property. Gas cylinders are normally filled with highly compressed gas atoms and molecules. These molecules contain both kinetic and potential energies. Since the molecules of the gas are always in constant motion. It is also potential since the entire cylinder is not in motion, but it is at rest.

People Walking Around and Moving a Bicycle

Kinetic energy is the energy that is required for movements. For instance, kinetic energy is required in order to walk, run and also to drive a car from one point to another. This energy enables people to move from one place to another without any resistance opposing the motion. Other useful examples of how kinetic and potential energy or forces are applicable in our lives include water stored in any form of a container, which has a fixed turbine. The movement of stored water in the container until the turbine moves is one of the applications of kinetic energy, but the settled water in the container is under the action of potential energy.


The discovery of kinetic and potential energy by scientist many centuries ago has made the world to move from analog to digital generation. Basically, the two energy forces play a great role in our present lives. From the discussion above, both kinetic and potential have value in our lives in terms of electricity production, pumping water from one place to another, the orbiting of satellite in the space, bouncing ball among other useful applications. As discussed above, the production of electricity by use of kinetic and potential energy has moved the world in digital technological world. Moreover, people use electricity in many forms to make life better. The production of goods and services at low cost has been one of the benefits of the innovation through the use of kinetic energy and potential energy.  On the other hand, we have examined the movement of the orbit. Scientists have used this form of innovation to monitor the movement of the Earth and planets as well as other bodies in the space. This has eased the communication process, since the scientists are in the position of explaining all activities occurring in the space. Finally, the two motion forces have not only benefited the human habitants, but also other creators (Berry 1991).

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