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Name: Steph
Status: student
Grade: 12+
Location: N/A
Country: Australia
Date: Summer 2011


Question:
Why does energy cause movement in particles? How does, for example, when an atom absorbs a photon does that electromagnetic energy transform into kinetic energy and why does this addition cause movement? What happens to the photon, can one type of fundamental energy be transformed into another? Sorry for all the questions, but as you can probably see, I am quite confused.

Replies:
Steph,

Single particles do not behave like balls bouncing off each other. Particles are emitted and absorbed by others all the time. When a proton absorbs a photon, all that remains is a photon. The new proton has a new energy, new rotation (called spin), new energy, and even a new direction for its velocity. That proton can then release a completely new photon in a completely new direction. The proton can also change into a neutron and a positive pion. If this pion reaches a neutron, they can then join to become a proton. Energy transfers all the time.

A kind of energy transfer we see all the time happens when a ball falls: potential energy to kinetic energy. Another kind happens inside a nuclear power plant: mass energy to heat energy to electrical energy. Even bumping into a wall is energy transfer. If energy did not transfer, nothing would ever interact.

Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Physics Instructor
Illinois Central College


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