Posts Tagged ‘Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis’

Applying the Work-Energy Theorem to Falling Objects

Monday, February 8th, 2016

    So far we’ve applied the Work-Energy Theorem to a flying object, namely, Santa’s sleigh, and a rolling object, namely, a car braking to avoid hitting a deer.   Today we’ll apply the Theorem to a falling object, that coffee mug we’ve been following through this blog series.   We’ll use the Theorem to find the force generated on the mug when it falls into a pan of kitty litter.   This falling object scenario is one I frequently encounter as an engineering expert, and it’s something I’ve got to consider when designing objects that must withstand impact forces if they are dropped.


Applying the Work-Energy Theorem to Falling Objects

Applying the Work-Energy Theorem to Falling Objects


    Here’s the Work-Energy Theorem formula again,

F × d = ½ × m × [v22v12]

where F is the force applied to a moving object of mass m to get it to change from a velocity of v1 to v2 over a distance, d.

    As we follow our falling mug from its shelf, its mass, m, eventually comes into contact with an opposing force, F, which will alter its velocity when it hits the floor, or in this case a strategically placed pan of kitty litter.   Upon hitting the litter, the force of the mug’s falling velocity, or speed, causes the mug to burrow into the litter to a depth of d.   The mug’s speed the instant before it hits the ground is v1, and its final velocity when it comes to a full stop inside the litter is v2, or zero.

    Inserting these values into the Theorem, we get,

F × d = ½ × m × [0 – v12]

F × d = – ½ × m × v12

    The right side of the equation represents the kinetic energy that the mug acquired while in freefall.   This energy will be transformed into Gaspard Gustave de Coriolis’ definition of work, which produces a depression in the litter due to the force of the plummeting mug.   Work is represented on the left side of the equal sign.

    Now a problem arises with using the equation if we’re unable to measure the mug’s initial velocity, v1.   But there’s a way around that, which we’ll discover next time when we put the Law of Conservation of Energy to work for us to do just that.


Copyright 2016 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog




The Work-Energy Theorem — Background

Friday, December 18th, 2015

      My work as an engineering expert sometimes involves computations of energy expended, as when I must determine how much energy is required to move something.   But sometimes the opposite needs to be calculated, that is, how much energy is required to stop something already in motion.   That’s the subject of today’s discussion, which we’ll approach by way of the Work-Energy Theorem.

      The Work-Energy Theorem states that the work required to slow or stop a moving object is equal to the change in energy the object experiences while in motion, that is, how its kinetic energy is reduced or completely exhausted.   Although we don’t know who to attribute the Theorem to specifically, we do know it’s based on the previous work of Gaspard Gustave de Coriolis and James Prescott Joule, whose work in turn built upon that of Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion.

      Consider the example shown here.  A ball of mass m moves unimpeded through space at a velocity of v1 until it is met by an opposing force, F.   This force acts upon the ball over a travel distance d, resulting in the ball’s slowing to a velocity of v2.

 The Work-Energy Theorem

The Work – Energy Theorem Illustrated


      Does the illustration make clear the Work-Energy Theorem dynamics at play?   If not, return for the second part of this blog, where we’ll clarify things by getting into the math behind the action.

Copyright 2015 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog



Calculation of the Effect of Machines — How to Calculate Kinetic Energy

Friday, September 18th, 2015

      Last time we introduced kinetic energy as the energy of movement.   Today we’ll see how to calculate it, using French mathematician Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis’ formula as set out in his textbook, Calculation of the Effect of Machines.  We’ll then apply his formula to our example of a coffee mug falling from its shelf.

      Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis’ book presented physics concepts, specifically the study of mechanics, in an accessible manner, without a lot of highbrow theory and complicated mathematics.   His insights made complicated subjects easy to understand, and they were immediately put to use by engineers of his time, who were busily designing mechanical devices like steam engines during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution.

      Within its pages the mathematics of kinetic energy was presented in the scientific form that persists to present day.   That formula is,

KE = ½ × m × v2

where m is the moving object’s mass and v its velocity.

      In the case of our coffee mug, its kinetic energy will be zero so long as it remains motionless on the shelf.   A human arm had lifted it to its perch against the force of gravity, thereby investing it with gravitational potential energy.   If the mug was sent freefalling to the ground by the mischievous kitty, its latent potential energy would be realized and converted into the kinetic energy of motion.

mechanical engineering expert witness

      To illustrate, let’s say a mug with a mass equal to 0.25 kg rests on a shelf 2 meters above the floor.   Its potential energy would then be equal to 4.9 kg • meter2/second2, as was computed in our previous blog, Computing Potential Energy.

      Once kitty nudges the mug from its perch and it begins to fall, its latent gravitational potential energy begins a conversion process from potential to kinetic energy.   It will continue to convert into an amount of kinetic energy that’s precisely equal to the mug’s potential energy while at rest on the shelf, that is, 4.9 kg • meter2/second2.   Upon impact with the floor, all the mug’s gravitational potential energy will have been converted into kinetic energy.

      Next time we’ll apply the Law of Conservation of Energy to the potential and kinetic energy formulas to calculate the mug’s velocity as it freefalls to the floor.

Copyright 2015 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog