Monday, May 14, 2012

How much energy can one atom make?

A surprisingly large amount! That was what physicist Albert Einstein meant when he wrote out this simple and now famous equation:
E = mc 2
If E is energy, m is mass (the scientific word for the ordinary stuff around us), and c is the speed of light, Einstein's equation says that you can turn a tiny amount of mass into a huge amount of energy. How come? Looking a...t the math, c is a really huge number (300,000,000) so c 2 is even bigger: 90,000,000,000,000,000. That's howmany joules (the standard measurement of energy) you'd get from a kilogram of mass. In theory, if you could turn about seven billion hydrogen atoms completely to energy, you'd get about one joule (that'sabout as much energy as a 10-watt lightbulb consumes in a tenth of a second). Remember, though, these are just ballpark,guesstimate numbers. The only point we really need to note is this: since there are billions and billions of atoms in even a tiny spec of matter, it should be possible to make lots of energy from not very much at all. That's the basic idea behind nuclear power.

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