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Simple Science

Matter and Energy

Burning or Oxidation:
When wood is burned, a small pile of ashes is left, and we think of the bulk of the wood as destroyed. It is true we have less matter that is available for use or that is visible to sight, but, nevertheless, no matter has been destroyed. The matter of which the wood is composed has merely changed its character, some of it is in the condition of ashes, and some in the condition of invisible gases, such as carbon dioxide, but none of it has been destroyed. It is a principle of science that matter can neither be destroyed nor created; it can only be changed, or transformed, and it is our business to see that we do not heedlessly transform it into substances which are valueless to us and our descendants; as, for example, when our magnificent forests are recklessly wasted. The smoke, gases, and ashes left in the path of a raging forest fire are no compensation to us for the valuable timber destroyed. The sum total of matter has not been changed, but the amount of matter which man can use has been greatly lessened.

The principle just stated embodies one of the fundamental laws of science, called the law of the conservation of matter.

A similar law holds for energy as well. We can transform electric energy into the motion of trolley cars, or we can make use of the energy of streams to turn the wheels of our mills, but in all these cases we are transforming, not creating, energy.

When a ball is fired from a rifle, most of the energy of the gunpowder is utilized in motion, but some is dissipated in producing a flash and a report, and in heat. The energy of the gunpowder has been scattered, but the sum of the various forms of energy is equal to the energy originally stored away in the powder. The better the gun is, the less will be the energy dissipated in smoke and heat and noise.

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