What is energy?

April 16, 2008

What is energy? Textbooks (and exhibit labels, for that matter) usually define it as “the ability to do work.”


Does that mean the desire to get out of bed 5 mornings a week and go to a job that I actually have the ability to perform? That’s the picture this very general definition brings to mind.

Creative Commons License photo credit: THINKING IN ƎƧЯƎVƎЯ

Other definitions include the concept of “power” – to produce movement, heat, or light. But there again the actual concept is in the word “power,” which is even more ambiguous than the word work!

Energy is essential to our lives, but it’s almost impossible to define. I tend to think of it as “the power to move something.” But light doesn’t move anything, so again, my definition just doesn’t quite cover it. The problem is the word has many meanings, many of which cannot be visualized directly.

We see the effects of energy. We see the wind make the trees sway. We see our cars move with the explosion of energy in their engines. We see the lights go on when we provide a current of electricity. We feel the cool air coming from the air conditioner (arguably the most important energy effect, if you live in Houston!) But the energy that drives these effects is not so easily seen.

So, what does the word “energy” mean to you? If I asked you to draw a picture of it, what would you put down on paper? Leave us a comment with your thoughts – we may even create a useful definition that would defy all previous attempts to harness this powerful concept!

Authored By Claire Scoggin

As Director of Wiess Energy Hall Programming, Claire coordinates energy education activities for schools, universities and business; promotes energy-related events, and generally works on spreading the word about the Wiess Energy Hall, the premiere energy resource worldwide. Check out her posts for all things energy – from the “Big Bang” to sustainability.

One response to “What is energy?”

  1. S E Zachariah says:

    Great job….who knew….thank y’all

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