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Forms Of Energy

The operation of a steam engine is an example of heat being used as a source of energy. Hot steam is pumped into a cylinder, forcing a piston to move within the cylinder. When the steam cools off and changes back to water, the piston returns to its original position. The cycle is then repeated. The up-and-down motion of the piston is used to turn a wheel or do some other kind of work. In this example, the heat of the hot steam is used to do work on the wheel or some other object.

The source of heat energy is the motion of molecules within a substance. In the example above, steam is said to be "hot" because the particles of which it is made are moving very rapidly. When those particles slow down, the steam has less energy. The total amount of energy contained within any body as a consequence of particle motion is called the body's thermal energy.

One measure of the amount of particle motion within a body is temperature. Temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy of the particles within the body. An object in which particles are moving very rapidly on average has a high temperature. One in which particles are moving slowly on average has a low temperature.

Temperature and thermal energy are different concepts, however, because temperature measures only the average kinetic energy of particles, while thermal energy measures the total amount of energy in an object. A thimbleful of water and a swimming pool of water might both have the same temperature, that is, the average kinetic energy of water molecules in both might be the same. But there is a great deal more water in the swimming pool, so the total thermal energy in it is much greater than the thermal energy of water in the thimble.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Electrophoresis (cataphoresis) to EphemeralEnergy - Potential And Kinetic Energy, Conservation Of Energy, Forms Of Energy, Electrical Energy, Magnetic Energy