Kinetic Energy Formula and Half
Name: David B.
In the kinetic energy formula, why do we divide by 2? My
6th graders want to know and I'm not really certain.
When we push on something in the direction of motion, we make it speed up.
This adds energy, kinetic energy. The force we push with, times the
distance we push, is called the work we do. Kinetic energy is set up so
that this work equals the change in kinetic energy. It turns out that the
one-half in the kinetic energy formula is necessary to make this happen.
When doing motion, there are four major constant-acceleration formulas. One
that we see is v^2-v0^2=2ax. Remember, x is displacement. Multiply
everything by mass: mv^2-mv0^2=2max. The net force on an object equals
mass times acceleration: mv^2-mv0^2=2Fx. For constant acceleration work is
W=Fx. Also divide by two: (1/2)mv^2-(1/2)mv0^2=W.
Math, Science, Engineering
Illinois Central College
Because otherwise energy would not be conserved!
To do the derivation quickly and roughly, starting with a mass m at rest
with a constant force F acting on it. Then F = ma, or, if we multiply by x,
Fx = max. Fx is just what is defined as the work done on the mass m by the
force F acting over a distance x. The velocity of the mass after this
acceleration is given by v^2 = 2ax. Remember the kinematics?
Then work = W = Fx = m v^2/2. And now it is clear that that pesky factor of
2 comes from the kinematics. You can get v^2 = 2ax from x = at^2/2 and
v=at, which would be a good exercise to derive.
Best, Dick Plano, Professor of Physics emeritus, Rutgers U
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Update: June 2012