|MadSci Net: Physics (View this file without Frames)|
That is a very good question... and very insightful for such a young age! It is certainly very perplexing... you look around you and you notice the apparently concrete nature of all the things you interact with (like desks, chairs, computers, etc.). These things are termed matter and you know that matter is made up of particles (like electrons, protons, and neutrons). That makes sense, right? Particles must be just miniature versions of what you see... maybe like little balls or solid spheres... that make up all the "things" around you... But energy? What the heck is that? You've never felt energy... never seen it. Or have you? In fact, energy is all around you and interacts with you constantly. If you've ever felt the heat from a stove, you've felt energy. If you've ever seen sunlight, you've seen energy. These are all forms of energy. Energy, it seems, isn't made up of any one thing... instead, it's an abstract concept that is popularly defined as "the ability to do work". The different forms that energy can take are discussed brilliantly at t his site, hosted by EnergyQuest (be sure to explore all around this site... it's got LOTS of stuff, including great science projects and experiments for you to try at home).
Briefly, matter and energy are interconvertible... one can "become" the other (maybe not easily but it is possible). At their core, the "particles" that make up everyday matter are really not anything like the solid spheres we all tend to imagine. And energy itself is a lot more ubiquitous and intrinsic part of our lives than we usually consider.
First, as was hinted above, matter and energy are completely interconvertible... one can be changed into the other. This equivalence of matter and energy was formulated by one of the most prolific geniuses of science, Albert Einstein, and is expressed by his famous equation E=mc2. So what does this really mean? It means that, at the fundamental level, there really is no difference between energy and matter. One is equivalent to the other.
This can really be seen when you encounter the strangeness that is Quantum Mechanics. This theory of the very small tells us that we can't really think of microscopic particles as particles at all! Instead, we're forced to look at these microscopic "particles" as solid yet not solid... they show aspects of both the solid particles you see around you (like baseballs, for example) and waves (somewhat like those you see on the ocean). It is certainly very strange but it shows that the "ultimate reality" (if there is such a thing) is quite unlike what we experience at our macroscopic level of existence.
I know a lot of this discussion might seem very strange and you're probably as confused as ever about the answer to your seemingly simple question (often, the simplest questions are the hardest to answer and the most profound). No fears... check out these sights below to get different presentations and interpretations of energy. My experience has been that the more different perspectives you're exposed to, the better you'll learn and the deeper your understanding. So I encourage you to check these sites and search for more on the Web (maybe at Yahoo, like I did, or at Altavista or Infoseek or your own favourite search engine). And, if you have any doubts whatsoever after checking them, please feel free to drop me a line... I'd be more than happy to discuss this with you at length.
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