Science 101: What exactly is energy?

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It isn’t an easy task to explain what energy is. For that simple answer, let’s head to your average science textbook and retrieve the following: “Energy is the ability to do work.” Okay, but what does that mean? What do we mean by work? Even if we know what work is, does that give us a good feel for what energy is? Is energy something tangible, like a rock? Can you hold energy in your hand? Is energy something we can model in the same way we draw models of atoms or representations of magnetic field lines? This article attempts to answer some of these questions.

  • Elementary
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Reviews (5)
  • on Sat Nov 15, 2014 11:54 AM

Great review for elementary and middle school teachers about the basics of kinetic and potential energy

Chris Taylor  (Boise, ID)
Chris Taylor (Boise, ID)

  • on Wed Oct 16, 2013 12:17 PM

This quick article about energy gives a concise explanation of what energy is, what types there are and that energy is constant. Even though energy is an abstract idea, we can see the effects of it.

Betty Paulsell  (Kansas City, MO)
Betty Paulsell (Kansas City, MO)

  • on Wed Jul 06, 2011 11:12 AM

To understand the world of energy one has to accept the fact that all energies have a subdivision of either potential or kinetic energy. Then one has to understand the law of conservation of energy. Finally one learns about the work-energy theorem. All of this is what readers find out about when they read this author’s explanation of ’What is energy?’ This is a good article but the last section might be a little confusion for non mathematical readers.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

  • on Tue Oct 08, 2013 8:37 PM

In this two page essay, author Bill Robertson takes a stab at making this very abstract concept more understandable . It was a good beginning but now I need more. This is a good refresher or first step for someone getting ready to teach a unit on energy.

Kathy Renfrew  (Barnet, VT)
Kathy Renfrew (Barnet, VT)

  • on Sat May 21, 2011 3:46 PM

The purpose of this article is to define energy in a different way. The author makes a good effort to achieve that goal. However, there are some things that aren't well explained and the author assumes the reader will understand ("It turns out that all kinds of energy – sound energy, light energy, chemical energy, nuclear energy, and on and on – fit into the two categories of kinetic and potential energy.") but I am not certain that is a valid assumption. In this example, the reader may or may not understand that the terms "kinetic" and "potential" are categories that describe the state that the different types of energy are in at a given time. The battery may have potential energy because of the chemicals in it or may have kinetic energy because the chemicals are actively reacting to create the electricity - it depends on what the object is doing at the time that you are describing it. The mention of the term "calculus" gives "fits" to middle level teachers I know and I am not sure t

Tina Harris  (Fairmount, IN)
Tina Harris (Fairmount, IN)

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