Potential generally refers to a currently unrealized ability. The term is used in a wide variety of fields, from physics to the social sciences to indicate things that are in a state where they are able to change in ways ranging from the simple release of energy by objects to the realization of abilities in people. Examples include:
- In linguistics, the potential mood
- The mathematical study of potentials is known as potential theory; it is the study of harmonic functions on manifolds. This mathematical formulation arises from the fact that, in physics, the scalar potential is irrotational, and thus has a vanishing Laplacian — the very definition of a harmonic function.
- In physics, a potential may refer to the scalar potential or to the vector potential. In either case, it is a field defined in space, from which many important physical properties may be derived.
- Leading examples are the gravitational potential and the electric potential, from which the motion of gravitating or electrically charged bodies may be obtained.
- Specific forces have associated potentials, including the Coulomb potential, the van der Waals potential, the Lennard-Jones potential and the Yukawa potential.
- In electrochemistry there are Galvani potential, Volta potential, electrode potential, standard electrode potential.
- In Thermodynamics potential refers to thermodynamic potential.
- In child development and psychology, potential refers to a child's presumed maximum performance ability. Parents and teachers sometimes make comments such as "He is not working up to his potential" or "I want her to reach her potential." NJ psychologists and authors Eileen Eileen Kennedy-Moore and Mark Lowenthal argue that potential "is not an endpoint but a capacity to grow and learn."
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- Kennedy-Moore, E. & Lowenthal, M. (2011). Smart Parenting for Smart Kids. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley. p. 3