# Potential energy

## Energy held by an object because of its position relative to other objects / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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In physics, **potential energy** is the energy held by an object because of its position relative to other objects, stresses within itself, its electric charge, or other factors.^{[1]}^{[2]} The term *potential energy* was introduced by the 19th-century Scottish engineer and physicist William Rankine,^{[3]}^{[4]}^{[5]} although it has links to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle's concept of *potentiality*.

**Quick Facts**Common symbols, SI unit ...

Potential energy | |
---|---|

Common symbols | PE, U, or V |

SI unit | joule (J) |

Derivations from other quantities | U = m ⋅ g ⋅ h (gravitational)
U = ${\textstyle \int F(r)\,dr}$ |

Common types of potential energy include the gravitational potential energy of an object, the elastic potential energy of an extended spring, and the electric potential energy of an electric charge in an electric field. The unit for energy in the International System of Units (SI) is the joule (symbol J).

Potential energy is associated with forces that act on a body in a way that the total work done by these forces on the body depends only on the initial and final positions of the body in space. These forces, whose total work is path independent, are called *conservative forces*. If the force acting on a body varies over space, then one has a *force field*; such a field is described by vectors at every point in space, which is in-turn called a *vector field*. A conservative vector field can be simply expressed as the gradient of a certain scalar function, called a *scalar potential*. The potential energy is related to, and can be obtained from, this potential function.