The Definition of Work in Physics

Whether you’re an employee who works from home, or a freelancer who contracts through a virtual company, the ability to work from anywhere in the world is changing the way we work. Working from home offers employees many benefits, including avoiding the cost and time of a daily commute, eliminating distractions in an office environment, reducing stress and improving health, and being more productive by not having to deal with constant operational noise, co-workers stopping by your desk for a chat or water cooler conversation, and frequent meetings.

What does work mean? The definition of work in physics is the amount of energy transferred from one place to another or from one form to another. The SI unit for work is the joule (J), which is also the same unit used for energy. For example, the same force is needed to lift a 100-pound weight two feet up as it is to lift it only one foot.

There are three essential ingredients for work to occur: force, displacement and cause. The direction of the displacement is important, since if the force is applied at an angle to the displacement vector, it does no work. For instance, if you push against a wall for weeks and get tired but haven’t moved the wall a single inch, this is not considered work by scientists. However, if you’re pulling an object against gravity upwards, the gravitational force does positive work.

If the force is continuously applied for an extended period of time, it does infinite work. However, if the force is continuously applied for a short period of time, it does only finite work. This is because the amount of energy that is transferred per unit of time is proportional to the square of the distance traveled.

For a constant force, the amount of work done is equal to the product of the force and the displacement, or in other words, F times d. When the force and displacement are parallel or perpendicular to each other, the amount of work done is zero.

When the force is applied to a moving object, the amount of work done is the integral of the power over the entire trajectory, which depends on the angular velocity . This is called a path dependent integral.

If the body is at rest, no work has been done on it. If the force is continuously applied to a stationary body, it will eventually do infinite work, which means that the body will gain infinite energy. Conversely, if the force is continually removed from a moving body, it will lose energy. Thus, a continuously applied force will never do infinite work. Consequently, the amount of work that is done on a moving body is inversely proportional to its mass and the acceleration it experiences. If the mass of the body is larger, its acceleration is lower, and therefore its net work is less. This is why it is easier to do work on heavier objects than on lighter ones.