Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/222

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

which it has acquired, and in the other to the position at which it rests, and to its capability of falling again when the support is removed. Energy in the first of these states is called "Energy of Motion," or "Kinetic Energy," and that in the second state, "Energy of Position," or "Potential Energy." In the case supposed, at the moment of starting, the whole of the energy is kinetic; as the body rises, the energy becomes partly potential and partly kinetic; and when it reaches the highest point the energy has become wholly potential. If the body be again dropped, the process is reversed.

The history of a discovery, or invention, so simple at first sight, is often found to be more complicated the more thoroughly it is examined. That which at first seems to have been due to a single mind proves to have been the result of the successive action of many minds. Attempts more or less successful in the same direction are frequently traced out; and even unsuccessful efforts may not have been without influence on minds turned toward the same object. Lastly, also, germs of thought, originally not fully understood, sometimes prove in the end to have been the first stages of growth toward ultimate fruit. The history of the law of the conservation of energy forms no exception to this order of events. There are those who discern even in the writings of Newton expressions which show that he was in possession of some ideas which, if followed out in a direct line of thought, would lead to those now entertained on the subjects of energy and of work. But, however this may be, and whosoever might be reckoned among the earlier contributors to the general subject of energy, and to the establishment of its laws, it is certain that within the period of which I am now speaking, the names of Séguin, Clausius, Helmholtz, Mayer, and Colding, on the Continent, and those of Grove, Joule, Rankine, and Thomson, in this country, will always be associated with this great work.

I must not, however, quit this subject without a passing notice of a conclusion to which Sir William Thomson has come, and in which he is followed by others who have pursued the transformation of energy to some of its ultimate consequences. The nature of this will perhaps be most easily apprehended by reference to a single instance. In a steam-engine, or other engine, in which the motive power depends upon heat, it is well known that the source of power lies not in the general temperature of the whole, but merely on the difference of temperature between that of the boiler and that of the condenser. And the effect of the condenser is to reduce the steam issuing from the boiler to the same temperature as the condenser. When this is once done, no more work can be got out of the engine, unless fresh heat be supplied from an outside source to the boiler. The heat originally communicated to the boiler has become uniformly diffused, and the energy due to that difference is said to have been dissipated. The energy remains in a potential condition as regards other bodies; but as regards the engine, it is of no further use. Now, suppose that we