Potential energy

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A basic diagram showing potential energy (Rankine, 1853), or "energy of configuration", transformed into kinetic energy (Thomson, 1862), or "energy of motion". Also shown are the 1769 terms "force morte" and "force vive", as used by Denis Diderot, in his Alembert's Dream (§1.8), one of several forerunner terms.

In terms, potential energy (TR:130) (LH:9) (TL:139) refers to energy of configuration of two more associated bodies.


In 1853, William Rankine, in his “On the General Law of the Transformation of Energy”, introduced the term “potential energy”, as a terminological upgrade to the older terms: vis mortua (Leibniz, 1673), force morte (Diderot, 1769), or dead force.[1]

In 1860s, the term potential energy, in respect to a body of some height above the earth, as follows:

where m is the mass of the body, g is the gravitational constant, and h is the height of the body above the surface of the earth.

In 1867, Rankine, in his "On the Phrase Potential Energy", explained the etymology of the term "potential energy".

End matter

See also


  1. (a) Rankine, William. (1853). “On the General Law of the Transformation of Energy”, read before the Philosophical Society of Glasgow, Jan 5th; in Proceedings, 3(5).
    (b) Rankine, William. (1872). Miscellaneous Scientific Papers Volume One (§11: pgs. 203-08, 229). Griffin, 1881.

External links

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