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3.4: Atomic Phenomena

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  • Variety is the spice of life, not of science. So far this chapter has focused on heat energy, kinetic energy, and gravitational energy, but it might seem that in addition to these there is a bewildering array of other forms of energy. Gasoline, chocolate bars, batteries, melting water --- in each case there seems to be a whole new type of energy. The physicist's psyche rebels against the prospect of a long laundry list of types of energy, each of which would require its own equations, concepts, notation, and terminology. The point at which we've arrived in the study of energy is analogous to the period in the 1960's when a half a dozen new subatomic particles were being discovered every year in particle accelerators. It was an embarrassment. Physicists began to speak of the “particle zoo,” and it seemed that the subatomic world was distressingly complex. The particle zoo was simplified by the realization that most of the new particles being whipped up were simply clusters of a previously unsuspected set of fundamental particles (which were whimsically dubbed quarks, a made-up word from a line of poetry by James Joyce, “Three quarks for Master Mark.”) The energy zoo can also be simplified, and it's the purpose of this section to demonstrate the hidden similarities between forms of energy as seemingly different as heat and motion.

    Contributors and Attributions

    Benjamin Crowell (Fullerton College). Conceptual Physics is copyrighted with a CC-BY-SA license.