The ABC of Energy: What is Energy

Part One of a Gaia Discovery Energy Series based on "The Energy Trail – Where Is It Leading" by George H Croy, available at Amazon and other good book stores.

Most people take energy for granted. You flip a switch and the light comes on. Or twist a key and the car’s engine roars into life. Energy is so much part of our lives that we pay very little attention to it. But, answer a simple question: What is energy? You can’t see, you can’t touch it, you can’t smell it – you can’t hold it in the palm of your hand.

In other words, does it exist? You can’t measure it. You can’t buy it by the metre, or the kilo - you can’t pour it into a bottle and carry it around with you. The simplest answer really, is that energy is a concept. Everything we see, feel or experience is some form of energy transformationbut not energy. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. Basic physics teaches us this. However, the whole Universe is full of it. What you can do is change energy’s form, turn it into something tangible, something people can understand – but you cannot see, touch or measure raw energy!

Let’s go back to the beginning - not of the Earth - to much earlier, to the origins of the Universe. Various theories exist about its creation, from The Big Bang, to Cyclic, to parallel Universes, but the general consensus is that it, especially in the Big Bang theory, began with a massive release of energy from a point source (if you want more information on that, delve into high energy physics or read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time).

The explosion that created the Universe was the conversion of the energy inherent in that point source, into the incalculable number of particles – photons, neutrons, protons, electrons etc. from which the Universe today is made. Note, we are talking about tangible, material things, not ‘energy’. Although the particles’ names are arbitrary, given to the particles according to their specific characteristics, as we learned more and more about these ‘subatomic’ particles ( parts of an atom smaller than the atom), we amassed an enormous list of them, now more than a thousand, each with a particular characteristic, bringing scientists to the conclusion that perhaps there is such a thing as an indivisible ‘energy’ particle from which all other subatomic ones are made. But right now, let’s get back to ‘real’ particles.

These particles, through gravitational attraction, agglomerated into clumps and clusters, creating the galaxies, stars, planets, rubble and dust clouds of which the Universe is made.

In the beginning, as these particles careened through space slowly becoming attached to each other through gravitational attraction, or gravity, the Universe was a dark, lifeless place. But as the particles began to clump together, pressure built up forcing the particles into closer and closer contact with each other. Eventually, the particles were forced into such close proximity with each other that collisions were inevitable (just think of a traffic jam!). An electron is a free moving particle with no allegiance to any other particle in particular. But force it to become an intimate companion of a proton, the two will ‘associate’ to become a neutron. This is the first instance where we have a chance to ‘see’ the physical effects of ‘energy’ – i.e. it takes energy to combine an electron and a proton into a neutron. So gravity must be a form of energy. Right?

And conversely, if a neutron releases an electron, it also releases energy. There are many such reactions that occur as gravity pulls the particles ever closer until we get a self sustaining reaction – a nuclear ‘fusion’ reaction, or what we call a sun.

The whole Universe is created based on this principle. Enormous gas clouds composed mostly of protons with an accompanying electron (to form a hydrogen atom) spiral together to form galaxies, stars and planets. As the material is crushed to form stars, it produces enormous quantities of ‘energy’ in the form of gamma rays, light and other forms. Anyone who is interested enough to check out the electromagnetic spectrum will find out just how many forms there are!

So, the Sun is Energy? No, not quite. It is just a machine, converting energy from one form to another. But more of that next time.

"The Energy Trail – Where Is It Leading"  is available at Amazon & other good book stores.Produced  by World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte Ltd (www.worldscientific.com)

ISBN-13 978-981-281-857-7

Read the other articles in this series:

Part One - The ABC of Energy: What is Energy

Part Two - The ABC of Energy: The Definition of Energy

Part Three - The ABC of Energy: Energy Sources

Part Four - The ABC of Energy: Applications & Consumption

Part Five - The ABC of Energy: Clean or Dirty Sources?