What is Work?

Reading Level: 3.7

Reading Time: 1 min 14 sec

I’m sure tons of things come to mind when you hear the word work. Most of them are probably things like a job, or homework, chores, or keeping your mouth shut when that one relative is rambling about some new conspiracy at the family Christmas get-together.

When it comes to science, work has a very specific, very mathy, meaning.

Work means to apply a force over a distance


Work is pushing a chair across the room

Work is NOT pushing a desk that doesn’t move

Take this as an example. Imagine you push a lawnmower with a force of 25 Newtons over a distance of 15 meters.

25 Newtons multiplied by 15 meters gives us 375. But 375 what? The unit for work, a kind of energy, is Joules. So we would say 375 Joules!

Let’s say you push on a wall with a Force of 25 N, but the wall doesn’t move. How much work did you do that time? Since the wall didn’t move, it traveled nowhere. No distance is 0 meters. 25 multiplied by 0 is 0. If there is no movement, there is no work.

What about a throw? It seems like that should count, right? Not quite.

Remember, the equation for Work uses Applied Force (N)

To be an Applied Force (N), you have to stay in contact with the object. Once you take your hands or body off, it is no longer an Applied Force (N)

As soon as the ball leaves your hands, it’s no longer doing any work.

All in all, when it comes to science, it doesn’t matter how hard you’re working. If you’re not moving or applying a force over a distance, you haven’t actually done any work.

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