Watt Watchers of Texas: Texas is Too Good To Waste™

Activity: Investigating Potential and Kinetic Energy

Activity Overview: The first law of thermodynamics states that energy in a closed system can neither be created nor destroyed but rather goes through a series of conversions from one form to another. The details of several conversions anchor the fundamentals of thinking about energy more concretely as a global industrial sector.

Time: The activity should take less than one class period and is also appropriate for a homework assignment.

Problem Statement

Review the following table adapted from Chapter 4 of Energy 101. Investigate examples of kinetic and potential energy and their transformations. Which of these forms of energy store potential energy? Which of them are examples of kinetic energy? Are there forms that combine both? Students should demonstrate well reasoned responses in their investigation and properly reference any external sources.

Thermomechanicalt→mheat to motion (engines)
chemical energy to heat (combustion) or heat to chemical changes (refining, distillation, smelting)
Thermonucleara→theat from nuclear reactions
chemical reactions that produce electricity (fuel cells, batteries, etc.) or reactions in which electricity produces a chemical change (electrolysis)
generators, electrical motors
Photoelectric, photovoltaic, optoelectronicr→e,
light to electricity, electricity to light
photosynthesis, paraffin candles

For example: Thermonuclear conversions transform atomic energy into thermal energy. They convert kinetic energy stored within the strong forces of atoms into the kinetic energy of the atomic components separating rapidly during nuclear fission.


Chapter 4: Energy Basics from Energy 101: Energy Technology & Policy provides an introduction to the laws of thermodynamics and energy conversions. Access to Energy 101 for Texas students and teachers is provided for free by the State Energy Conservation Office as part of the Watt Watchers of Texas program.



Watt Watchers of Texas is a Partner Program of Smart Energy Education.
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