In my work as an Engineer I’ve never had to convert Joules of work-energy into calories, but that’s exactly what we’ll be doing together today. Last time we applied the Work-Energy Theorem to the progress of Santa’s sleigh and found that an opposing wind force of 3848.7 Newtons –or 865.2 pounds for those of us who are American– slowed his team from an initial velocity of 90 meters per second to a final velocity of 40 meters per second and that it happened over a distance of 760 meters. Today we’ll see how many calories the reindeer need to expend to get them back up to full delivery speed.

Prancer Loves Oats

Now we know that Santa successfully made all his deliveries on time this past Christmas, so that means that at some point his reindeer team was able to get back up to full sleigh-flying speed. They did it by expending extra energy. We’ll use the Work-Energy Theorem to find out how much energy that equates to. Here’s the Theorem again,

W = ½ × m × [v_{2}^{2} – v_{1}^{2}]

where W is the work/energy required to speed up the sleigh team’s mass, m, from an initial velocity v_{1} to a final velocity v_{2}. For a refresher on the special relationship between work and energy, see Previous topic on the subject.

If Santa’s sleigh has a mass of 900 kilograms and its speed must increase from 40 to 90 meters per second, then the work required to do so is calculated as,

W = ½ × (900 kilograms) × [(90 meters/second)^{2} – (40 meters/second)^{2}]

W = ½ × (900 kilograms) × (6,500 meters^{2}/second^{2})

W = 2,925,000 kilogram^{2} · meters^{2} per second^{2} = 2,925,000 Joules

So Rudolph and his buddies had to expend 2,925,000 Joules of energy to perform 2,925,000 Joules of work. To understand where Rudolph and his team got that energy, we must state things in terms of nutritional value, that is, units of calories.

Did you know that 1 calorie is equal to 4,184.43 Joules? Applying that equivalency to our situation we get,

Nutritional Energy Required = (2,925,000 Joules) × (4,184.43 Joules/calorie)

= 699.02 calories

The net result is Santa’s team expended a total of 699.02 calories for all the reindeer to regain their full speed of 90 meters per second. That’s the nutritional energy found in slightly more than one cup of oats. Now everybody knows that Santa takes good care of his reindeer, so undoubtedly they were fed plenty of oats and hay before take off. This was stored in their body fat for future, on-demand use.

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