Last time we learned 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 × v^{2}

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.

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 • meter^{2}/second^{2}, as was computed in our previous topic, **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 • meter^{2}/second^{2}. Upon impact with the floor, all the mug’s gravitational potential energy will have been converted into kinetic energy.

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