Mass Energy Conversion

You've probably heard of Einstein's famous equation \(E=mc^2\). This equation has been referenced in hundreds of movies, TV shows, and books as a way of showing a character as smart. But have you ever wondered what this equation actually means? Well, we are going to be covering the concept behind this equation, so you too can be seen as one smart cookie!

Mass Energy Conversion Mass Energy Conversion

Create learning materials about Mass Energy Conversion with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents
    • This article focuses on mass-energy conversion.
    • First, we will look at Einstein's mass-conversion equation.
    • Next, we will use this equation in an example.
    • After that, we will look at radioactive decay reaction and calculate how much energy is released during one.
    • Then, we will look at the mass-energy conversion that happens in the sun called solar fusion.
    • Lastly, we will look at the mass-energy conversion that occurs when an atomic bomb explodes.

    Einstein's Mass-Energy Conversion Equation

    So let's take a closer look at that equation, shall we?

    $$E=mc^2$$

    Where:

    • E is energy,
    • m is mass
    • c is the speed of light.

    The key point here is that all objects have an intrinsic amount of energy stored within them. The speed of light is a pretty large number (approximately 3x108 m/s), so even a small particle can have a lot of energy stored within it.

    To understand what I mean, let's look at an example.

    Mass-Energy Conversion example

    Let's say we have a cute tuxedo cat that is 3.63 kg (about 8 pounds). How much energy does this cat contain? Well, let’s plug it into our formula:

    $$E=mc^2$$

    $$E=(3.63\,kg)(3x10^8\frac{m}{s})^2$$

    $$E=(3.63\,kg)(9x10^{16}\frac{m^2}{s^2})$$

    $$E=3.267x10^17\frac{kg*m^2}{s^2}$$

    $$1\,Joule(J)=1\frac{kg*m^2}{s^2}$$

    $$E=3.267x10^17\,J$$

    For reference, an atomic bomb releases about 1.5·1013 joules, so this is about 22,000 times stronger than that.

    While you may now be side-eyeing your furry friend, it isn't actually a ticking time bomb. In reality, it's pretty hard to convert that mass into energy, which is why nuclear weapons are used in warfare instead of cats (or equally heavy objects).

    Matter-Antimatter Annihilation

    It's incredibly difficult to release all of a species' energy. The only way to do so would be through annihilation. This is a process where the matter and antimatter collide and release all that energy through electromagnetic waves.

    For example, if an electron (-e) and a positron (+e) collide, they will annihilate each other and release the stored energy through gamma rays.

    Basically, these two species "cancel themselves out" which releases all the stored energy in the matter. However, this process is very uncommon as there isn't much antimatter around.

    Mass-Energy Conversion Reaction

    One of the ways mass is converted to energy is through radioactive decay.

    During radioactive decay, an unstable nucleus gives off radiation in the form of energy and/or particles to become more stable

    We can use the mass-energy conversion equation to calculate the energy emitted due to the loss of mass through particle emission.

    For example, let's calculate the energy loss due to this reaction:

    Mass-Energy Conversion Radioactive decay of cesium StudySmarterFig.1-Radioactive decay of cesium

    Here we see the decay of a cesium (Cs) atom. It converts one of its neutrons (n) into a proton (p+) and an electron (e-), which is ejected. Since the species is gaining a proton, it becomes barium (Ba).

    Every element has a set number of protons called an atomic number. When the atomic number changes (i.e, the number of protons changes), the identity of the element changes,

    First, we need to calculate the change in mass. We are going from a radioactive cesium-137 sample (mass 136.907 g/mol) to a neutral barium-137 sample (136.906 g/mol). So the change in mass is:

    $$\Delta m=m_{product}-m_{reactant}$$

    $$\Delta m=(136.906\frac{g}{mol})-(136.907\frac{g}{mol})$$

    $$\Delta m=-0.001\frac{g}{mol}$$

    If we assume that there is 1 mol of the sample, there is a -0.001 g or -1x10-6 kg change in mass.

    Now we can plug this into our mass-energy conversion formula:

    $$\Delta E=\Delta m*c^2$$

    $$\Delta E=(-1x10^{-6}\,kg)(3x10^8\frac{m}{s})^2$$

    $$\Delta E=-9x10^{10}\,J$$

    The amount of energy released here is much, much greater than that of a standard chemical reaction.

    Mass-Energy Conversion in the Sun

    Have you ever wondered how the sun produces energy? The answer is nuclear fusion.

    Nuclear fusion is the process where smaller atomic nuclei combine to form a heavier nucleus, releasing energy in the process.

    In the sun's case, four hydrogen (H) nuclei combine to form 1 helium (He) nucleus.When we calculate the energy released, we are going to treat it as if four hydrogen atoms all combine in one step to form a helium nucleus, but that isn't really the case. What actually happens is the process shown below:

    Mass-Energy Conversion Solar fusion StudySmarterFig.2-Solar nuclear fusion

    Basically, there are several collisions to make heavier and heavier nuclei until we form the stable helium nucleus (which has 2 protons and 2 neutrons).Now let's do our calculation!

    In the sun, four hydrogen nuclei fuse to form helium nuclei. If the total mass of the four hydrogen nuclei is 4.03130 amu and the mass of a hydrogen nucleus is 4.00268, what is the total energy amount released?

    $$\Delta m=m_{product}-m_{reactants}$$

    $$\Delta m=(4.00268\,amu)-(4.03130\,amu)$$

    $$\Delta m=-0.02862\,amu$$

    Assuming that there is 1 mol of the reactants, the mass change is -0.02862 g or -2.862x10-5 kg

    $$\Delta E=\Delta mc^2$$

    $$\Delta E=(-2.862x10^{-5}\,kg)(3x10^{8}\frac{m}{s})^2$$

    $$\Delta E=2.58x10^12\,J$$

    That's a lot of energy!!

    Mass Energy conversion in Atomic Bomb

    Atomic bombs work due to a different process called nuclear fission.

    Nuclear fission is the process of splitting a nucleus, which releases energy

    The way an atomic bomb works is through a chain fission reaction:

    1. A free neutron strikes the nucleus of a radioactive element (ex: uranium).
    2. The strike knocks off a few neutrons from the radioactive nucleus.
    3. These now free neutrons strike other nuclei, releasing more energy/neutrons.

    This chain reaction kicks off almost instantaneously, which is why so much energy is released.

    While the bombs themselves are massive, the mass change is a lot smaller. For example, one atomic bomb that weighed about 1.86x107 kilograms only converted 0.9 grams of it into energy.

    While that may seem small in theory, let's calculate the energy released.

    Calculate the energy released when an atomic bond converts 0.9 grams (9x10-4 kg) into energy:

    $$\Delta E=\Delta m*c^2$$

    $$\Delta E=(9x10^{-4}\,kg)(3x10^8\frac{m}{s})^2

    $$\Delta E=8.1x10^{13}\,J$$

    For reference, that would be like if you set off over 22,000 tons of TNT.

    Mass-Energy Conversion - Key takeaways

    • The equation for mass-energy conversion is: $$E=mc^2$$
      • Where E is energy, m is mass, and c is the speed of light
    • Mass is usually converted to energy through a nuclear or radioactive reaction
    • During radioactive decay, an unstable nucleus gives off radiation in the form of energy and/or particles to become more stable
    • Nuclear fusion is the process where smaller atomic nuclei combine to form a heavier nucleus, releasing energy in the process.
    • Nuclear fission is the process of splitting a nucleus, which releases energy

    References

    1. Fig.1-Radioactive decay of cesium (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/bd/Beta-decay-example.svg/640px-Beta-decay-example.svg.png) by MikeRun on Wikimedia Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)
    2. Fig.2-Solar nuclear fusion (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/78/Fusi%C3%B3n_solar.png/640px-Fusi%C3%B3n_solar.png) by Borb on Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Borb) licensed by CC BY-SA 3,0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Mass Energy Conversion

    How much mass is converted to energy in the sun?

    For each fusion reaction, about 0.002862 amu is converted into energy.

    What is the equation for converting mass to energy?

    E=mc2

    Where E is energy, m is mass, and c is the speed of light

    Can you convert mass to energy?

    Yes, though it is usually only very small amount

    Where is mass converted to energy?

    Mass is converted to energy, usually though some form of a nuclear reaction. For example, mass is converted to energy in the sun through nuclear fusion.

    What are some examples of energy conversion (energy to mass)?

    Some examples are:

    • Radioactive decay
    • Nuclear fusion
    • Nuclear fission

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is Einstein's mass-energy conversion equation?

    True or False: It is very difficult to convert matter into energy

    How much energy does a leather back turtle (270 kg) contain if all of its mass was converted into energy?

    Next
    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Mass Energy Conversion Teachers

    • 7 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App