“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Mass and energy

You might have heard of Einstein's famous equation E=mc^2. I would imagine if there is a single equation of any kind, let alone of physics, that a random American could quote, that would be the one. Many who can quote it don't have a grasp of what it means (much as I appreciate E=mc^2, I'd go for F=ma). Of course, it doesn't take much algebra to change E=mc^2 into m=E/c^2.

In the U.S., each year we use about 100 quadrillion btu (100 "quads") of primary energy. This is electricity, fuel for transportation, manufacturing, etc.; that is, for everything. With the handy Google calculator we can determine the mass whose total conversion to energy would supply this amount of energy by simply typing "(100 quadrillion btu)/((3*10^8 meters/second)^2) in kilograms" into a Google search bar (3*10^8 meters/second is the speed of light or "c"). Be careful with the parentheses and groupings or the units won't work out correctly. Google handles all of the unit conversions and returns "(100 quadrillion btu) / ((3 * (10^8) (meters / second))^2) = 1 172.28428 kilograms." That is, conversion of the mass of a small car completely into energy would supply our U.S. energy needs for a year.

Of course, many teams are pursuing the goal of reliable direct conversion of mass into energy using the fusion process. It's said that "fusion is the energy source of the future and always will be."

1 comment:

Michael Tobis said...

A possible magic bullet; a hot fusion reactor for under a million bucks: (H + B -> 3 He)