Journal Article Detail Page
written by Arnold B. Arons
The work-energy theorem, derived from Newton's second law, applies to the displacement of a particle or the center of mass of an extended body treated as a particle. Because work, as a quantity of energy transferred in accordance with the First Law of Thermodynamics, cannot be calculated in general as an applied force times the displacement of center of mass, the work-energy theorem is not a valid statement about energy transformations when work is done against a frictional force or actions on or by deformable bodies. To use work in conservation of energy calculations, work must be calculated as the sum of the products of forces and their corresponding displacements at locations where the forces are applied at the periphery of the system under consideration. Failure to make this conceptual distinction results in various errors and misleading statements widely prevalent in textbooks, thus reinforcing confusion about energy transformations associated with the action in everyday experience of zero-work forces such as those present in walking, running, jumping, or accelerating a car. Without a thermodynamically valid definition of work, it is also impossible to give a correct description of the connection between mechanical and thermal energy changes and of dissipative effects. The situation can be simply corrected and student understanding of the energy concepts greatly enhanced by introducing and using the concept of internal energy, that is, articulating the First Law of Thermodynamics in a simple, phenomenological form without unnecessary mathematical encumbrances.
American Journal of Physics: Volume 67, Issue 12, Pages 1063-1067
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