Chemistry » Thermochemistry » Energy Basics

Summarizing Energy Basics

Key Concepts and Summary

Energy is the capacity to do work (applying a force to move matter). Kinetic energy (KE) is the energy of motion; potential energy is energy due to relative position, composition, or condition. When energy is converted from one form into another, energy is neither created nor destroyed (law of conservation of energy or first law of thermodynamics).

Matter has thermal energy due to the KE of its molecules and temperature that corresponds to the average KE of its molecules. Heat is energy that is transferred between objects at different temperatures; it flows from a high to a low temperature. Chemical and physical processes can absorb heat (endothermic) or release heat (exothermic). The SI unit of energy, heat, and work is the joule (J).

Specific heat and heat capacity are measures of the energy needed to change the temperature of a substance or object. The amount of heat absorbed or released by a substance depends directly on the type of substance, its mass, and the temperature change it undergoes.

Key Equations

  • \(q=c\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}m\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\text{Δ}\text{T}=c\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}m\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}×\phantom{\rule{0.2em}{0ex}}\left({T}_{\text{final}}-{T}_{\text{initial}}\right)\)


calorie (cal)

unit of heat or other energy; the amount of energy required to raise 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius; 1 cal is defined as 4.184 J

endothermic process

chemical reaction or physical change that absorbs heat


capacity to supply heat or do work

exothermic process

chemical reaction or physical change that releases heat

heat (q)

transfer of thermal energy between two bodies

heat capacity (C)

extensive property of a body of matter that represents the quantity of heat required to increase its temperature by 1 degree Celsius (or 1 kelvin)

joule (J)

SI unit of energy; 1 joule is the kinetic energy of an object with a mass of 2 kilograms moving with a velocity of 1 meter per second, 1 J = 1 kg m2/s and 4.184 J = 1 cal

kinetic energy

energy of a moving body, in joules, equal to \(\frac{1}{2}m{v}^{2}\) (where m = mass and v = velocity)

potential energy

energy of a particle or system of particles derived from relative position, composition, or condition

specific heat capacity (c)

intensive property of a substance that represents the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of the substance by 1 degree Celsius (or 1 kelvin)


intensive property of matter that is a quantitative measure of “hotness” and “coldness”

thermal energy

kinetic energy associated with the random motion of atoms and molecules


study of measuring the amount of heat absorbed or released during a chemical reaction or a physical change

work (w)

energy transfer due to changes in external, macroscopic variables such as pressure and volume; or causing matter to move against an opposing force

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