Einstein 1938: The Rate of Exchange

Reference: Evolution of Physics

This paper presents Chapter I, section 8 from the book THE EVOLUTION OF PHYSICS by A. EINSTEIN and L. INFELD. The contents are from the original publication of this book by Simon and Schuster, New York (1942).

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.  Feedback on these comments is appreciated.

The heading below is linked to the original materials.

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The Rate of Exchange

Less than a hundred years ago the new clue which led to the concept of heat as a form of energy was guessed by Mayer and confirmed experimentally by Joule. It is a strange coincidence that nearly all the fundamental work concerned with the nature of heat was done by non-professional physicists who regarded physics merely as their great hobby. There was the versatile Scotsman Black, the German physician Mayer, and the great American adventurer Count Rumford, who afterwards lived in Europe and, among other activities, became Minister of War for Bavaria. There was also the English brewer Joule who, in his spare time, performed some most important experiments concerning the conservation of energy.

Joule verified by experiment the guess that heat is a form of energy, and determined the rate of exchange. It is worth our while to see just what his results were.

Joule verified by experiment the guess that heat is a form of energy, and determined the rate of exchange.

The kinetic and potential energy of a system together constitute its mechanical energy. In the case of the switchback we made a guess that some of the mechanical energy was converted into heat. If this is right, there must be here and in all other similar physical processes a definite rate of exchange between the two. This is rigorously a quantitative question, but the fact that a given quantity of mechanical energy can be changed into a definite amount of heat is highly important. We should like to know what number expresses the rate of exchange, i.e., how much heat we obtain from a given amount of mechanical energy.

The kinetic and potential energy of a system together constitute its mechanical energy.

The determination of this number was the object of Joule’s researches. The mechanism of one of his experiments is very much like that of a weight clock. The winding of such a clock consists of elevating two weights, thereby adding potential energy to the system. If the clock is not further interfered with, it may be regarded as a closed system. Gradually the weights fall and the clock runs down. At the end of a certain time the weights will have reached their lowest position and the clock will have stopped. What has happened to the energy? The potential energy of the weights has changed into kinetic energy of the mechanism, and has then gradually been dissipated as heat.

A clever alteration in this sort of mechanism enabled Joule to measure the heat lost and thus the rate of exchange. In his apparatus two weights caused a paddle wheel to turn while immersed in water. The potential energy of the weights was changed into kinetic energy of the movable parts, and thence into heat which raised the temperature of the water. Joule measured this change of temperature and, making use of the known specific heat of water, calculated the amount of heat absorbed. He summarized the results of many trials as follows:

1st. That the quantity of heat produced by the friction of bodies, whether solid or liquid, is always proportional to the quantity of force [by force Joule means energy] expended.

And

2nd. That the quantity of heat capable of increasing the temperature of a pound of water (weighed in vacuo and taken at between 55° and 60°) by 1° Fahr. requires for its evolution the expenditure of a mechanical force [energy] represented by the fall of 772 Ib. through the space of one foot.

In other words, the potential energy of 772 pounds elevated one foot above the ground is equivalent to the quantity of heat necessary to raise the temperature of one pound of water from 55° F. to 56° F. Later experimenters were capable of somewhat greater accuracy, but the mechanical equivalent of heat is essentially what Joule found in his pioneer work.

Joule determined that a given quantity of mechanical energy was changed into a definite amount of heat.

Once this important work was done, further progress was rapid. It was soon recognized that these kinds of energy, mechanical and heat, are only two of its many forms. Everything which can be converted into either of them is also a form of energy. The radiation given off by the sun is energy, for part of it is transformed into heat on the earth. An electric current possesses energy, for it heats a wire or turns the wheels of a motor. Coal represents chemical energy, liberated as heat when the coal burns. In every event in nature one form of energy is being converted into another, always at some well-defined rate of exchange. In a closed system, one isolated from external influences, the energy is conserved and thus behaves like a substance. The sum of all possible forms of energy in such a system is constant, although the amount of any one kind may be changing. If we regard the whole universe as a closed system, we can proudly announce with the physicists of the nineteenth century that the energy of the universe is invariant, that no part of it can ever be created or destroyed.

It was determined further that in every event in nature one form of energy is being converted into another, always at some well-defined rate of exchange.

Our two concepts of substance are, then, matter and energy. Both obey conservation laws: An isolated system cannot change either in mass or in total energy. Matter has weight but energy is weightless. We have therefore two different concepts and two conservation laws. Are these ideas still to be taken seriously? Or has this apparently well-founded picture been changed in the light of newer developments? It has! Further changes in the two concepts are connected with the theory of relativity. We shall return to this point later.

Our two concepts of substance are, then, matter and energy. Both obey conservation laws: An isolated system cannot change either in mass or in total energy.

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FINAL COMMENTS

A substance is anything that is substantial. Matter is perceived as the primary substance. The activity of matter is perceived as mechanical energy. The mechanical energy, through friction converts into heat energy. There are other forms of energy, but all these forms are dynamic and proceed from motion.

Thus, energy is a dynamic form of substance and not a different concept of substance. Underlying substance is the concept of force as explained earlier.

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