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  • Subject area(s): Science
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  • Published on: 15th October 2019
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In physics, energy is a property of objects which can be transferred to other objects or converted into different forms, but cannot be created or destroyed. The "ability of a system to perform work" is a common description, but it is difficult to give one single comprehensive definition of energy because of its many forms. Sometime energy can be defined as capacity to the work. For instance, in SI units, energy is measured in joules, and one joule is defined "mechanically", being the energy transferred to an object by the mechanical work of moving it a distance of 1metre against a force of 1 newton. However, there are many other definitions of energy, depending on the context, such as thermal energy, radiant energy, electromagnetic, nuclear, etc., where definitions are derived that are the most convenient.

1.2 Type of Energies

1.2.1 Kinetic Energy:

Consider a baseball flying through the air. The ball is said to have "kinetic energy" by virtue of the fact that its in motion relative to the ground. You can see that it is has energy because it can do "work" on an object on the ground if it collides with it (either by pushing on it and/or damaging it during the collision).

The formula for Kinetic energy, and for some of the other forms of energy described in this section will, is given in a later section of this primer.

1.2.2 Potential Energy:

 Consider a book sitting on a table. The book is said to have "potential energy" because if it is nudged off, gravity will accelerate the book, giving the book kinetic energy. Because the Earth's gravity is necessary to create this kinetic energy, and because this gravity depends on the Earth being present, we say that the "Earth-book system" is what really possesses this potential energy, and that this energy is converted into kinetic energy as the book falls.

1.2.3 Thermal or heat energy:

Consider a hot cup of coffee. The coffee is said to possess "thermal energy", or "heat energy" which is really the collective, microscopic, kinetic and potential energy of the molecules in the coffee (the molecules have kinetic energy because they are moving and vibrating, and they have potential energy due their mutual attraction for one another - much the same way that the book and the Earth have potential energy because they attract each other). Temperature is really a measure of how much thermal energy something has. The higher the temperature, the faster the molecules are moving around and/or vibrating, i.e. the more kinetic and potential energy the molecules have.

1.2.4 Chemical Energy:

Consider the ability of your body to do work. The glucose (blood sugar) in your body is said to have "chemical energy" because the glucose releases energy when chemically reacted (combusted) with oxygen. Your muscles use this energy to generate mechanical force and also heat. Chemical energy is really a form of microscopic potential energy, which exists because of the electric and magnetic forces of attraction exerted between the different parts of each molecule - the same attractive forces involved in thermal vibrations. These parts get rearranged in chemical reactions, releasing or adding to this potential energy.

1.2.4 Electrical Energy

All matter is made up of atoms, and atoms are made up of smaller particles, called protons (which have positive charge), neutrons (which have neutral charge), and electrons (which are negatively charged). Electrons orbit around the center, or nucleus, of atoms, just like the moon orbits the earth. The nucleus is made up of neutrons and protons.

Some material, particularly metals, has certain electrons that are only loosely attached to their atoms. They can easily be made to move from one atom to another if an electric field is applied to them. When those electrons move among the atoms of matter, a current of electricity is created.

This is what happens in a piece of wire when an electric field, or voltage, is applied. The electrons pass from atom to atom, pushed by the electric field and by each other (they repel each other because like charges repel), thus creating the electrical current. The measure of how well something conducts electricity is called its conductivity, and the reciprocal of conductivity is called the resistance.  Copper is used for many wires because it has a lower resistance than many other metals and is easy to use and obtain. Most of the wires in your house are made of copper. Some older homes still use aluminum wiring.

The energy is really transferred by the chain of repulsive interactions between the electrons down the wire - not by the transfer of electrons per se. This is just like the way that water molecules can push on each other and transmit pressure (or force) through pipe carrying water. At points where a strong resistance is encountered, its harder for the electrons to flow - this creates a "back pressure" in a sense back to the source.

As the electrons move through a "resistor" in the circuit, they interact with the atoms in the resistor very strongly, causing the resistor to heat up - hence delivering energy in the form of heat. Or, if the electrons are moving instead through the wound coils of a motor, they instead create a magnetic field, which interacts with other magnets in the motor, and hence turns the motor. In this case the "back pressure" on the electrons, which is necessary for there to be a transfer of energy from the applied voltage to the motor's shaft, is created by the magnetic fields of the other magnets (back) acting on the electrons

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