● Key Concepts
How are different forms of energy related?
What is a common energy transformation?
What is the law of conservation of energy?
law of conservation of energy
Target Reading Skill
Previewing Asking Questions Before you read, preview the red headings and ask a
what or how question for each heading. As you read, write the answers to your questions.
What Would Make a Card Jump?
1. Fold an index card in half.
2. In the edge opposite the fold, cut two slits that are about 2 cm long and 2 cm apart.
3. Keep the card folded and loop a rubber band through the slits. With the fold toward
you, gently open the card like a tent and flatten it against your desk.
4. Predict what will happen to the card if you let go. Then test your prediction.
Think It Over
Drawing Conclusions Describe what happened to the card. Based on your
observations, what is the relationship between potential and kinetic energy?
The spray bounces off your raincoat as you look up at the millions of liters of water plunging
toward you. The roar of the water is deafening. Are you doomed? Fortunately not—you are
on a sightseeing boat at the foot of the mighty Niagara Falls. The waterfall carries the huge
amount of water that drains from the upper Great Lakes. It lies on the border between
Canada and the United States.
What many visitors don’t know, however, is that Niagara Falls serves as much more than
just a spectacular view. The Niagara Falls area is the center of a network of electrical
power lines. Water that is diverted above the falls is used to generate electricity for much of
the surrounding region.
Niagara Falls is more than 50 meters high.
What does flowing water have to do with electricity? You may already know that the
mechanical energy of moving water can be transformed into electrical energy.Most forms
of energy can be transformed into other forms. A change from one form of energy to
another is called an energy transformation. Some energy changes involve single
transformations, while others involve many transformations.
Sometimes, one form of energy needs to be transformed into another to get work done.
You are already familiar with many such energy transformations. For example, a toaster
transforms electrical energy to thermal energy to toast your bread. A cell phone transforms
electrical energy to electromagnetic energy that travels to other phones.
Your body transforms the chemical energy in your food to mechanical energy you need to
move your muscles. Chemical energy in food is also transformed to the thermal energy
your body uses to maintain its temperature.
Often, a series of energy transformations is needed to do work. For example, the
mechanical energy used to strike a match is transformed first to thermal energy. The
thermal energy causes the particles in the match to release stored chemical energy, which
is transformed to thermal energy and the electromagnetic energy you see as light.
In a car engine, another series of energy conversions occurs. Electrical energy produces a
spark. The thermal energy of the spark releases chemical energy in the fuel. The fuel’s
chemical energy in turn becomes thermal energy. Thermal energy is converted to
mechanical energy used to move the car, and to electrical energy to produce more sparks.
Many common devices transform electrical energy into other forms. Think about the
following devices in terms of energy transformations.
● steam iron
● ceiling fan
● digital clock
For each device, describe which form or forms of energy the electrical energy becomes.
Do these devices produce single or multiple transformations of energy?
Transformations Between Potential and
One of the most common energy transformations is the transformation between
potential energy and kinetic energy. In waterfalls such as Niagara Falls, potential
energy is transformed to kinetic energy. The water at the top of the falls has gravitational
potential energy. As the water plunges, its velocity increases. Its potential energy becomes
Energy Transformation in Juggling
Any object that rises or falls experiences a change in its kinetic and gravitational potential
energy. Look at the orange in Figure 11. When it moves, the orange has kinetic energy. As
it rises, it slows down. Its potential energy increases as its kinetic energy decreases. At the
highest point in its path, it stops moving. Since there is no motion, the orange no longer has
kinetic energy. But it does have potential energy. As the orange falls, the energy
transformation is reversed. Kinetic energy increases while potential energy decreases.
FIGURE 11 Juggling The kinetic energy of an orange thrown into the air becomes gravitational potential
energy. Its potential energy becomes kinetic energy as it falls.
Energy Transformation in a Pendulum
In a pendulum, a continuous transformation between kinetic and potential energy takes
place. At the highest point in its swing, the pendulum in Figure 12 has no movement, so it
only has gravitational potential energy. As it swings downward, it speeds up. Its potential
energy is transformed to kinetic energy. The pendulum is at its greatest speed at the
bottom of its swing. There, all its energy is kinetic energy.
FIGURE 12 Pendulum A pendulum continuously transforms energy from kinetic to potential energy and back.
Interpreting Diagrams At what two points is the pendulum’s potential energy greatest?
As the pendulum swings to the other side, its height increases. The pendulum regains
gravitational potential energy and loses kinetic energy. At the top of its swing, it comes to a
stop again. And so the pattern of energy transformation continues.
Try This Activity
1. Set up a pendulum using washers or a rubber stopper, string, a ring stand, and a
2. Pull the pendulum back so that it makes a 45° angle with the vertical. Measure the
height of the stopper. Release it and observe how high it swings.
3. 4. Use a second clamp to reduce the length of the pendulum as shown. The pendulum
will run into the second clamp at the bottom of its swing.
5. Pull the pendulum back to the same height as you did the first time. Predict how high
the pendulum will swing. Then set it in motion and observe.
Observing How high did the pendulum swing in each case? Explain your observations.
Energy Transformation in a Pole Vault
A polevaulter transforms kinetic energy to elastic potential energy, which then becomes
gravitational potential energy. The polevaulter you see in Figure 13 has kinetic energy as
he runs forward. When the polevaulter plants the pole to jump, his velocity decreases and
the pole bends. His kinetic energy is transformed to elastic potential energy in the pole. As
the pole straightens out, the polevaulter is lifted high into the air. The elastic potential
energy of the pole is transformed to the gravitational potential energy of the polevaulter.
Once he is over the bar, the polevaulter’s gravitational potential energy is transformed
back into kinetic energy as he falls toward the safety cushion.
FIGURE 13 Pole Vault Energy transformations enable this athlete to vault more than six meters
into the air.
Conservation of Energy
If you set a spinning top in motion, will the top remain in motion forever? No, it will not. Then
what happens to its energy? Is the energy destroyed? Again, the answer is no. The law of
conservation of energy states that when one form of energy is transformed to another,
no energy is destroyed in the process. According to the law of conservation of
energy, energy cannot be created or destroyed. So the total amount of energy is the
same before and after any transformation. If you add up all the new forms of energy after a
transformation, all of the original energy will be accounted for.
Energy and Friction
So what happens to the energy of the top in Figure 14? As the top spins, it encounters
friction with the floor and friction from the air. Whenever a moving object experiences
friction, some of its kinetic energy is transformed into thermal energy. So, the mechanical
energy of the spinning top is transformed to thermal energy. The top slows and eventually
falls on its side, but its energy is not destroyed—it is transformed.
The fact that friction transforms mechanical energy to thermal energy should not surprise
you. After all, you take advantage of such thermal energy when you rub your cold hands
together to warm them up. The fact that friction transforms mechanical energy to thermal
energy explains why no machine is 100 percent efficient. You may recall that the output
work of any real machine is always less than the input work. This reduced efficiency occurs
because some mechanical energy is always transformed into thermal energy due to
Energy and Matter
You might have heard of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. His theory stated that energy
can sometimes be created—by destroying matter! Matter is anything that has mass and
takes up space. All objects are made up of matter.
Just as one form of energy can be transformed to other forms, Einstein discovered that
matter can be transformed to energy. In fact, destroying just a small amount of matter
releases a huge amount of energy.
Einstein’s discovery meant that the law of conservation of energy had to be adjusted. In
some situations, energy alone is not conserved. However, since matter can be transformed
to energy, scientists say matter and energy together are always conserved.
Reviewing Key Concepts
1. (a) Reviewing What is the relationship between different forms of energy?
2. (b) Relating Cause And Effect When you turn a toaster on, what happens to the
3. (c) Sequencing Describe the energy transformations that happen when you strike
a match. List them in the order in which they occur.
4. (a) Identifying What common energy transformation allows you to send a rubber
band flying across the room?
5. (b) Describing Describe the energy transformations that occur when you bounce a
(c) Interpreting Diagrams Describe the energy transformations that occur in the
pendulum in Figure 12.
(a) Summarizing State the law of conservation of energy in your own words.
(b) Explaining Thermal energy is produced when a firefighter slides down a pole.
Where does it come from?
(c) Making Generalizations Based on the theory of relativity, what must always be
Hot Wire Straighten a wire hanger. Have a family member feel the wire and observe
whether it feels cool or warm. Then hold the ends of the wire and bend it back and forth
several times. CAUTION If the wire breaks, it can be sharp.Do not bend it more than a
few times. After bending the wire, have your family member feel it again. Explain how
energy transformations can produce a change in temperature.