Potential and Kinetic Energy

Energy comes from many sources such as sunlight, wind, water, coal, oil, gas etc., and is of many types: thermal, electrical, chemical, nuclear etc. Whatever the source, there are two main forms of energy: potential energy and kinetic energy.

Potential energy, sometimes symbolized by an upper case 'U', is energy stored in a system. A stationary object in a gravitational field, or a stationary charged particle in an electric field, has potential energy.

Kinetic energy is observable as the motion of an object, particle, or set of particles. Examples include the falling of an object in a gravitational field (Newton's apple), the motion of a charged particle in an electric field, and the rapid motion of atoms or molecules when an object is at a temperature above zero Kelvin.

Despite these strict scientific definitions, common wood has potential energy. When exposed to enough heat and oxygen, its potential energy is converted to kinetic energy in the form of light and heat, commonly called fire. There are many other examples of potential and kinetic energy. To summarize, potential energy is energy waiting to do work while kinetic energy is energy actually doing work.

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