## Energy in a Simple Harmonic Oscillator

To study the energy of a simple harmonic oscillator, we first consider all the forms of energy it can have. Recall that the potential energy (*PE),* stored in a spring that follows Hooke's Law is:

where PE is the potential energy, *k* is the spring constant, and *x* is the magnitude of the displacement or deformation. Because a simple harmonic oscillator has no *dissipative **forces**,* the other important form of energy is kinetic energy (*KE)*. Conservation of energy for these two forms is:

which can be written as:

This statement of conservation of energy is valid for *all* simple harmonic oscillators, including ones where the gravitational force plays a role. For example, for a simple pendulum we replace the velocity with *v*=*Lω*, the spring constant with *k*=*mg*/*L*, and the displacement term with *x*=*Lθ*. Thus:

In the case of undamped, simple harmonic motion, the energy oscillates back and forth between kinetic and potential, going completely from one to the other as the system oscillates. So for the simple example of an object on a frictionless surface attached to a spring, as shown again (see ), the motion starts with all of the energy stored in the spring. As the object starts to move, the elastic potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, becoming entirely kinetic energy at the equilibrium position. It is then converted back into *elastic potential energy* by the spring, the velocity becomes zero when the kinetic energy is completely converted, and so on. This concept provides extra insight here and in later applications of simple harmonic motion, such as alternating current circuits.

## Energy in a Simple Harmonic Oscillator

The transformation of energy in simple harmonic motion is illustrated for an object attached to a spring on a frictionless surface. (a) The mass has achieved maximum displacement from equilibrium. All energy is potential energy. (b) As the mass passes through the equilibrium point with maximum speed all energy in the system is in kinetic energy. (c) Once again, all energy is in the potential form, stored in the compression of the spring (in the first panel the energy was stored in the extension of the spring). (d) Passing through equilibrium again all energy is kinetic. (e) The mass has completed an entire cycle.

The conservation of energy principle can be used to derive an expression for velocity v. If we start our simple harmonic motion with zero velocity and maximum displacement (*x*=X), then the total energy is:

This total energy is constant and is shifted back and forth between kinetic energy and potential energy, at most times being shared by each. The conservation of energy for this system in equation form is thus:

Solving this equation for *v* yields:

Manipulating this expression algebraically gives:

and so:

where:

From this expression, we see that the velocity is a maximum (v_{max}) at *x*=0*.* Notice that the maximum velocity depends on three factors. It is directly proportional to amplitude. As you might guess, the greater the maximum displacement, the greater the maximum velocity. It is also greater for stiffer systems because they exert greater force for the same displacement. This observation is seen in the expression for v_{max}; it is proportional to the square root of the force constant *k*. Finally, the maximum velocity is smaller for objects that have larger masses, because the maximum velocity is inversely proportional to the square root of *m*. For a given force, objects that have large masses accelerate more slowly.

A similar calculation for the simple pendulum produces a similar result, namely: