Getting Started

Energy is the ability to do work. What is work? To understand the answers to these important questions we dive into the territory of classic physics, especially those of the “Golden Age” when Galileo, Newton, and other geniuses were finding out all kinds of amazing things about the world around us. If we have a firm grasp on these concepts, you’ll be very well prepared to tackle the toughest physics classes out there.

Students will start their energy studies by exploring some common ways that energy is converted into usable forms and transferred. To understand this, we’ll look at the chemicals and the ability they have to direct electrons to and fro. When electrons move around like this, it creates a current, and we have electricity! More importantly, we’ll explore some more advanced applications of chemical energy because they are the basis for our modern interest in solar energy.

We have many creative ways to harness energy today due to the increasing demand for resources and an increasing population with all kinds of energy needs. All our planet’s energy needs come from the sun, including wind energy (weather is driven by the sun).

We will explore several different energy concepts, including the dynamics behind sound waves and the energy that allows a bobsled or roller coaster to slide down a hill as we play with kinetic and potential energy. You’ll soon discover how energy is converted into one form or another, and that energy is not created or destroyed, but rather it changes forms.

Here are the scientific concepts:

  • Energy comes from the sun to the Earth in the form of light.
  • Sources of stored energy take many forms, such as food, fuel, and batteries.
  • Machines and living things convert stored energy to motion and heat.
  • The faster an object is moving, the more energy it has.
  • Energy can be moved from place to place by moving objects or through sound, light, or electric currents.
  • Energy is present whenever there are moving objects, sound, light or heat.
  • When objects collide, energy can be transferred from one object to another, changing their motion.
  • Light also transfers energy from place to place.
  • Energy can be transferred by electric currents, which can be used locally to produce motion, sound, heat or light. The currents may have been produced to begin with by transferring the energy of motion into electrical energy.
  • When objects collide, the contact forces transfer energy so as to change the object’s motion.
  • Energy and fuels that humans use come from natural sources, and their use effects the environment in many different ways. Some resources are renewable over time, and others are not.
  • “Produce energy” refers to the conversion of stored energy into a form for practical use.
  • Waves of the same type can differ in amplitude and wavelength.

By the end of the labs in this unit, students will be able to:

  • Design and build an experiment that shows how the speed and energy of an object are related.
  • Make observations to show that energy can be transferred by either sound, heat, light, or electric currents.
  • predict the outcome when two objects collide.
  • Design an experiment that converts energy from one form to another.
  • Understand how energy and fuels are made from natural resources, and how those resources affect the environment.
  • Design and build experiments that demonstrate that sources of stored energy take many forms, such as food, fuel, and batteries.
  • Construct an experiment that shown the patterns of waves in terms of amplitude and wavelength, and how these waves can cause objects to move.
  • Differentiate observation from inference (interpretation) and know scientists’ explanations come partly from what they observe and partly from how they interpret their observations.
  • Measure and estimate the weight, length and volume of objects.
  • Formulate and justify predictions based on cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Conduct multiple trials to test a prediction and draw conclusions about the relationships between predictions and results.
  • Construct and interpret graphs from measurements.
  • Follow a set of written instructions for a scientific investigation.

Select a Lesson

Special Science Teleclass: Renewable & Alternative Energy
This is a recording of a recent live teleclass I did with thousands of kids from all over the world. I’ve included it here so you can participate and learn! Discover the world of clean, renewable energy that scientists are developing today! Explore how they are harnessing the energy of tides and waves, lean how …Continue reading”Special Science Teleclass: Renewable & Alternative Energy”
Can a Battery Be Used to Store Energy?
A battery is a device that produces electrical energy from a chemical reaction. Another name for a battery is voltaic cell. Voltaic means to make electricity. Most batteries contain two or more different chemical substances. The different chemical substances are usually separated from each other by a barrier. One side of the barrier is the …Continue reading”Can a Battery Be Used to Store Energy?”
Salty Battery
Using ocean water (or make your own with salt and water), you can generate enough power to light up your LEDs, sound your buzzers, and turn a motor shaft. We’ll be testing out a number of different materials such as copper, aluminum, brass, iron, silver, zinc, and graphite to find out which works best for …Continue reading”Salty Battery”
Do Plants Store Energy?
A peanut is not a nut, but actually a seed. In addition to containing protein, a peanut is rich in fats and carbohydrates. Fats and carbohydrates are the major sources of energy for plants and animals. The energy contained in the peanut actually came from the sun. Green plants absorb solar energy and use it …Continue reading”Do Plants Store Energy?”
Can Electricity Be Made From Sunlight?
The solar cell you are using for this experiment is made from the element silicon. Silicon solar cells consist of two thin wafers of treated silicon that are sandwiched together. The treated silicon is made by first melting extremely pure silicon in a special furnace. Tiny amounts of other elements are added which produce either …Continue reading”Can Electricity Be Made From Sunlight?”
Solar Boat
Does it really matter what angle the solar cell makes with the incoming sunlight? If so, does it matter much? When the sun moves across the sky, solar cells on a house receive different amounts of sunlight. You’re going to find out exactly how much this varies by building your own solar boat. We’re going …Continue reading”Solar Boat”
Solar Car
Solar energy (power) refers to collecting this energy and storing it for another use, like driving a car. The sun blasts 174 x 1015 watts (which is 174,000,000,000,000,000 watts) of energy through radiation to the earth, but only 70% of that amount actually makes it to the surface. And since the surface of the earth …Continue reading”Solar Car”
Can the Sun Be Used to Heat Water?
The energy of sunlight powers our biosphere (air, water, land, and life on the earth’s surface). About 50 percent of the solar energy striking the earth is converted to heat that warms our planet and drives the winds. About 30 percent of the solar energy is reflected directly back into space. The water cycle (evaporation …Continue reading”Can the Sun Be Used to Heat Water?”
Marshmallow Roaster
Do you like marshmallows cooked over a campfire? What if you don’t have a campfire, though? We’ll solve that problem by building our own food roaster – you can roast hot dogs, marshmallows, anything you want. And it’s battery-free, as this device is powered by the sun. NOTE: This roaster is powerful enough to start …Continue reading”Marshmallow Roaster”
How Can the Sun Be Used for Cooking?
Cooking involves heating food to bring about chemical changes. Sometimes foods are heated simply because the food tastes better warm than cold. In making tea, we sometimes heat water to help dissolve tea or help dissolve sugar if the tea is sweetened. Normally the water used to make tea is heated on a range top …Continue reading”How Can the Sun Be Used for Cooking?”