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Energy, the Subtle Concept

Jennifer Coopersmith

Published in print May 2015 | ISBN: 9780198716747
Published online August 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780191800955 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198716747.001.0001
Energy, the Subtle Concept

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  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
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Energy is explained through its history. Newton missed ‘energy’, Leibniz defined kinetic energy, and potential energy emerged from ideas about stored ‘live force’, the concept of ‘work’, analyses of vibrating strings, the figure of the Earth, and so forth. The Principles of Virtual Work, Least Action, and D’Alembert underpinned Lagrange’s Analytical Mechanics. Daniel Bernoulli appreciated energy-in-the-round, and quantified the ‘live force’ in coal. Rumford’s experiments on canon-boring showed an ‘inexhaustible’ source of frictional heating, but didn’t immediately topple caloric theory. Clairaut, Laplace, and Green founded potential function theory. Hamilton brought in the ‘Hamiltonian’, and his approach led into Schrödinger’s wave mechanics. Carnot defined an ideal heat-engine (Carnot cycle) and realized temperature was the parameter. Watt’s steam engine started the Industrial Revolution, but why was it discovered in just one place, at one time? Mayer and Joule crossed the ‘category error’, merging mechanics and heat. Helmholtz invoked Kantian ‘cause equals effect’ to justify conservation of ‘energy’. Maxwell was the first to use probability theory in physics; Boltzmann posited discrete energy levels. The Maxwell–Boltzmann kinetic theory brought in a deeper understanding of energy. Clausius and Thomson (Kelvin) discovered the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics. Einstein’s Principle of Relativity led to the famous E = mc2. The force and energy views are compared, and difficult questions are examined: why are there two forms of energy–kinetic and potential–and is one more fundamental? Why does kinetic energy have the form 1/2mv2? What are action, temperature, and the Hamiltonian? What is energy?

Keywords: what is energy; thermodynamics; what is temperature; steam engines; the Hamiltonian; history of science; philosophy of science; principle of Least Action; E = mc2; global warming

Book.  448 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics ; History of Science and Technology

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Introduction in Energy, the Subtle Concept

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Naked Heat in Energy, the Subtle Concept

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