Potential Energy Since mechanical energy must be conserved under conservative forces, but the kinetic energy can fluctuate based on the speed of the particles in the system, there must be an additional quantity of energy that is a property of the structure of the system. This quantity, potential energy, is denoted by the symbol Uand can be easily derived from our knowledge of conservative systems. Consider a system under the action of a conservative force. When work is done on the system it must in some way change the velocity of its constituent parts (by the Work Energy Theorem), and thus change the configuration of the system. We define potential energy as the energy of configuration of a conservative system, and relate it to work in the following way: ΔU= - WIn other words, work applied by a conservative force reduces the energy of configuration of a system (potential energy), converting it to kinetic energy.
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