potential, electric, work per unit of electric charge expended in moving a charged body from a reference point to any given point in an electric field (see electrostatics). The potential at the reference point is considered to be zero, and the reference point itself is usually chosen to be at infinity. It can be shown that the potential associated with a charged body at a given point in a static electric field is independent of the path along which the body has traveled in passing from infinity to the given point. Potential is measured in volts and is sometimes called voltage.

Amount of work needed to move a unit electric charge from a reference point to a specific point against an electric field. The potential energy of a positive charge increases when it moves against an electric field, and decreases when it moves with the field. Electric potential can be thought of as potential energy per unit charge. The work done in moving a unit charge from one point to another, as in an electric circuit, is equal to the difference in potential energies at each point. Electric potential is expressed in units of joules per coulomb, or volts.

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Energy stored by an object by virtue of its position. For example, an object raised above the ground acquires potential energy equal to the work done against the force of gravity; the energy is released as kinetic energy when it falls back to the ground. Similarly, a stretched spring has stored potential energy that is released when the spring is returned to its unstretched state. Other forms of potential energy include electrical potential energy, chemical energy, and nuclear energy.

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or ionization energy

Amount of energy required to remove an electron from an isolated atom or molecule. There is an ionization potential for each successive electron removed, though that associated with removing the first (most loosely held) electron is most commonly used. The ionization potential of an element is a measure of its ability to enter into chemical reactions requiring ion formation or donation of electrons and is related to the nature of the chemical bonding in the compounds formed by elements. Seealso binding energy, ionization.

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Brief (about one-thousandth of a second) reversal of electric polarization of the membrane of a nerve or muscle cell. Stimulation of the cell by certain chemicals or by sensory receptor cells causes depolarization of the membrane, permitting an impulse to move along the nerve fibre (in nerve cells) or causing the cell to contract (in muscle cells).

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