|MadSci Network: Physics|
When nuclear rearrangements occur, the rest mass of the nuclei change. The change in binding energy is then calculated by using the change in rest mass and Einstein's mass-energy relation (E=mc2). But, it seems that the energy release during the formation, say, of a helium nucleus can be explained by the nuclear potential energy released by the protons and neutrons as they are brought close together. The nuclear force does positive work, making the change in potential energy negative (meaning the particles are releasing potential energy) - just as a falling object in a gravitational field turns gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy. So why is there a change in rest mass of the nucleons as well? This seems like a redundant reason for the release of energy in this nuclear process. How does this seemingly double explanation for the energy release jive with the law of conservation of energy? Of course, I understand that the same type of mass loss occurs in chemical reactions, apparently making the concept of chemical potential energy redundant as well? Thank you for your consideration of this question! Patrick Harmon AP Physics Teacher Country Day School, Costa Rica
Re: Aren't mass-energy and potential energy redundant?
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