I am looking into the historical perspective of how the concept of work and energy came about: who coined the terms "mechanical work" and "energy", and how the concept evolved over time.

I know that James Joule developed a relation between mechanical work and the mechanical equivalent of heat, but was he the first to use this term, or was it in use before him?


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  • $\begingroup$ It's a complex story, also because natural philosophers in the past used the same concepts under different names – or different concepts under the same names. Check out the texts mentioned in this question and its answers. The quantity $\text{force}\times\text{displacement}$ has been associated with "work" in the non-technical sense of the word since antiquity, owing to the principle of the lever/pulley. Consider loading cargo into a ship with pulleys: you must pull a short length of rope with large strength, or a long length with small strength. $\endgroup$ – pglpm Apr 4 '18 at 20:44

In 1826, French mathematician Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis coined the term work as "weight lifted through height". Here, weight id the Force F, and height is distance d.

Kinetic energy was defined by Gottfried Leibniz and Johann Bernoulli as $\frac{1}{2}mv^2$

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @XcoderX, can you also comment about kinetic energy? $\endgroup$ – Rajneesh Singh Jan 15 '18 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ I have edited @RajneeshSingh does that answer? $\endgroup$ – XcoderX Jan 15 '18 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ Many thanks. Could you please point any web giving more information about kinetic energy. I checked but couldn't readily find any resource which tells more about it. $\endgroup$ – Rajneesh Singh Jan 15 '18 at 13:56

According to the description of this book, A History of the Concept of Work:

In modern times the concept of work is analyzed in the context of applied mechanics mainly in Lazare Carnot mechanics and the mechanics of the new generation of polytechnical engineers like Navier, Coriolis and Poncelet. In this context the word "work" is finally adopted.

These engineers are also responsible for the incorporation of the concept of work into the discipline of economics when they endeavoured to combine the study of the work of machines and men together.

  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Jan 16 '18 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ @carl Witthoft: Why not - can you explain rather than coming out with a blunt unexplained and unexplainable comment? I note that Coriolis is mentioned in this short extract and this is the name that is mentioned in the other answer. Or did you not read the answer? $\endgroup$ – Mozibur Ullah Jan 16 '18 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ "...incorporation of the concept..." is not the same as first use. You also left out the date(s) of the actions quoted. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Jan 16 '18 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft: If dates had been mentioned then it would be true that I 'left out the dates', no dates were mentioned in the extract and I did not leave anything relevant out. You can check this yourself by clicking on the link provided. Please also note that the OP asked 'who' not 'when'. Apology please - or don't you do apologies - especially when you're shown to be in the wrong? $\endgroup$ – Mozibur Ullah Jan 16 '18 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ I'd also say that the second paragraph is pertinent to the question 'how did the concept evolve with time' - is this the part that annoyed you? $\endgroup$ – Mozibur Ullah Jan 16 '18 at 14:30

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