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Work (physics)

The meaning of «work (physics)»

In physics, work is the energy transferred to or from an object via the application of force along a displacement. In its simplest form, it is often represented as the product of force and displacement. A force is said to do positive work if (when applied) it has a component in the direction of the displacement of the point of application. A force does negative work if it has a component opposite to the direction of the displacement at the point of application of the force.[1]

For example, when a ball is held above the ground and then dropped, the work done by the gravitational force on the ball as it falls is equal to the weight of the ball (a force) multiplied by the distance to the ground (a displacement). When the force F is constant and the angle between the force and the displacement s is θ, then the work done is given by:

Work is a scalar quantity,[2] so it has only magnitude and no direction. Work transfers energy from one place to another, or one form to another. The SI unit of work is the joule (J), the same unit as for energy.

The ancient Greek understanding of physics was limited to the statics of simple machines (the balance of forces), and did not include dynamics or the concept of work. During the Renaissance the dynamics of the Mechanical Powers, as the simple machines were called, began to be studied from the standpoint of how far they could lift a load, in addition to the force they could apply, leading eventually to the new concept of mechanical work. The complete dynamic theory of simple machines was worked out by Italian scientist Galileo Galilei in 1600 in Le Meccaniche (On Mechanics), in which he showed the underlying mathematical similarity of the machines as force amplifiers.[3][4] He was the first to explain that simple machines do not create energy, only transform it.[3]

According to Jammer,[5] the term work was introduced in 1826 by the French mathematician Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis[6] as "weight lifted through a height", which is based on the use of early steam engines to lift buckets of water out of flooded ore mines. According to Rene Dugas, French engineer and historian, it is to Solomon of Caux "that we owe the term work in the sense that it is used in mechanics now".[7] Although work was not formally used until 1826, similar concepts existed before then. In 1759, John Smeaton described a quantity that he called "power" "to signify the exertion of strength, gravitation, impulse, or pressure, as to produce motion." Smeaton continues that this quantity can be calculated if "the weight raised is multiplied by the height to which it can be raised in a given time," making this definition remarkably similar to Coriolis'.[8]

The SI unit of work is the joule (J), named after the 19th-century English physicist James Prescott Joule, which is defined as the work required to exert a force of one newton through a displacement of one metre.

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