Does Mass Affect Potential Energy:Detailed Facts,Examples And FAQs

Does mass affect potential energy of an object? Before answering this question, we know that Potential energy can be affected by various things, including the mass of the object.

The mass has a direct relation with inertia, which is one reason for gaining or losing potential energy. The contribution of mass on the potential energy, how does mass affect potential energy, and what factors are responsible for the mass to influence the potential energy are discussed in detail in this post.

How does mass affect the potential energy

Consider a car, and a shot put is placed at the top of a hill. Does mass affect potential energy of the car and shot put? How? Which among them has more potential energy?

It isn’t easy to answer because both are at the same height. But by this question, we get a clear picture of how mass affects potential energy.

Generally, the mass of the car is more compared to the shot put. So that car needs an external force to trigger the motion. For any object, the stored potential energy is needed to trigger the first move. The car begins to move by converting its potential energy into work.

Since the mass of the car is more, the car has a lot of stored potential energy, which is responsible for the motion of the car. The work now has a new form of energy called kinetic energy.

does mass affect potential energy
Illustration to show how does mass affect potential energy

The shot put also has the potential energy that causes the motion, but it is comparatively less than the car because the mass of the shot put is less.

The effect of mass on potential energy can also be explained in terms of inertia since inertia is only due to mass.

If an object has more mass, the inertia acting on the body is more as the mass directly influences the inertia. This inertia makes the object possess more potential energy.

Consider a weight lifter is trying to lift the heavyweights. Since the mass of the weights is more than his body weight, he requires more energy to lift it.

The energy that a weight lifter needs to lift is nothing but potential energy. The lifter has more potential energy, which is transferred to the weights. Thus the body possesses more potential energy if it has more mass.

How does mass affect gravitational potential energy

The gravitational potential energy is largely influenced by the mass of the object.

By the formula of gravitational potential energy, given as

PE = m* g* h

The mass is directly corresponding to the potential energy. Thus increase in the mass makes the object possess more potential energy.

Consider the example of a rocket launch. The mass of the rocket is more; hence it requires a large amount of fuel to take off and escape from the earth’s gravitational pull. This implies that the rocket possesses more potential energy, so it requires a more external force to launch. As the fuel is burnt, the stored potential energy helps the rocket to take off by converting itself into kinetic energy.

How does doubling mass affect potential energy

Consider that an object of mass ‘m’ has the potential energy ‘PE’ and is ready to work. If another object of the same mass ‘m’ is attached to the first object, i.e., the total system has doubled mass as ‘2m’, does mass affect potential energy if it is doubled?

The effect of doubling mass on potential energy is similar to doubling the height. By doubling the mass, the potential energy is also doubled, which becomes the reason to begin the work.

For example, a person is working out in the gym by lifting a barbell. The person has the maximum potential to lift the barbell; hence the work is done on the barbell by the person.

Image credits: Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay 

Suppose the mass is doubled by attaching some more weights to the barbell, then potential energy is also doubled because now the man has to exert more force to do the work on the barbell. So it is clear that potential energy will also become doubled with the mass.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does mass affect potential energy of a spring?

No, in the case of spring, the mass has nothing to do with the potential energy.

According to the theory of elasticity, the potential energy of spring is due to the stretching or elongation of the spring. Other than that, the mass of the spring is very much less compared to other quantities involved in the process. So the mass does not affect the potential energy of the spring.

Does mass affect potential energy of a molecule required to break the chemical bond?

Potential energy is stored in all the chemical molecules or atoms, responsible for breaking the bond and causing the chemical reaction.

Let us consider an example of the water molecule, which has two hydrogens and oxygen covalently bonded. The hydrogen atom and the oxygen atom have a certain mass, contributing to their interaction to form the bond. It has stored potential energy, which may release in the form of heat by breaking the bond. Thus it is evident that mass has affected the chemical potential energy.

Give examples for each type of potential energy

The examples for potential energy are:

Does the mass remain the same even after the potential energy is converted into kinetic energy?

Yes, mass is constant whether the potential energy converts or not.

Suppose an object is at a stationary state, and after the application of force, it begins to move. The stationary object possesses potential energy, and the same object possesses kinetic energy if it is in motion. Only the energy is transformed when the object begins to move, but the mass does not change even though the form of energy changes.

What do you mean by zero-point potential energy?

The potential energy is a capacity of a stationary body that is ready to work by imposing some force on the body.

Generally, the body should possess a certain mass, and it has to place at a distance to begin the work. If the body is at the ground level, its height is zero, so potential energy becomes zero. Practically even the height is zero, and the body possesses a certain amount of stored potential energy. This is taken as a reference called zero-point potential energy.

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