Energy Transformation: Definition, Types & Examples

Richard Cardenas has taught Physics for 15 years. He has a Ph.D. in Physics with a focus on Biological Physics.

Amanda has taught high school science for over 10 years. She has a Master’s Degree in Cellular and Molecular Physiology from Tufts Medical School and a Master’s of Teaching from Simmons College. She is also certified in secondary special education, biology, and physics in Massachusetts.

Emergy transformation is the process where energy changes from one form to another. Discover the different types of energy transformation, their definitions, and examples. Updated: 09/16/2021

What is Energy Transformation?

The conservation of energy principle states that energy can neither be destroyed nor created. Instead, energy just transforms from one form into another. So what exactly is energy transformation? Well, as you might guess, energy transformation is defined as the process of changing energy from one form to another.

There are so many different kinds of energy that can transform from one form to another. There is energy from chemical reactions called chemical energy, energy from thermal processes called heat energy, and energy from charged particles called electrical energy. The processes of fission, which is splitting atoms, and fusion, which is combining atoms, give us another type of energy called nuclear energy. And finally, the energy of motion, kinetic energy, and the energy associated with position, potential energy, are collectively called mechanical energy.

That sounds like quite a lot, doesn’t it? Well it is, but don’t worry, it’s actually all pretty easy to remember. Next, we’ll explore all of these kinds of possible transformations in more detail.

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Different Types of Energy Transformations

Chemical energy is the energy stored within a substance through the bonds of chemical compounds. The energy stored in these chemical bonds can be released and transformed during any type of chemical reaction.

Think of when you’re hungry. When you eat a piece of bread to satisfy this hunger, your body breaks down the chemical bonds of the bread and uses it to supply energy to your body. In this process, the chemical energy is transformed into mechanical energy, which you use to move, and which we’ll cover in more detail in a moment. It also transforms it into thermal energy, which is created through the metabolic processes in your body to generate heat. Most of the time, chemical energy is released in the form of heat, and this transformation from chemical energy to heat, or thermal energy, is called an exothermic reaction.

Next, there are two main types of mechanical energy: kinetic energy and potential energy. Kinetic energy is the energy associated with the motion of an object. Therefore, any object that moves has kinetic energy. Likewise, there are two types of potential energy: gravitational potential energy and elastic potential energy. Gravitational potential energy is associated with the energy stored by an object because of its location above the ground. Elastic potential energy is the energy stored by any object that can stretch or compress. Potential energy can be converted to kinetic energy and vice versa.

For example, when you do a death-defying bungee jump off of a bridge, you are executing a variety of energy transformations. First, as you prepare to jump, you have gravitational potential energy – the bungee cord is slack so there is no elastic potential energy. Once you jump, you convert this gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy as you fall down. At the same time, the bungee cord begins to stretch out. As the cord stretches, it begins to store elastic potential energy. You stop at the very bottom when the cord is fully stretched out, so at this point, you have elastic potential energy. The cord then whips you back up, thereby converting the stored elastic potential energy into kinetic energy and gravitational potential energy. The process then repeats.

Electrical energy is the energy carried by charged particles as they move around a conductor. A perfect example of electrical energy being released is during a lightning storm. A lightning strike on a tree is an example of electrical energy being transformed into heat or thermal energy. The tree becomes hot and may even burn as a result of the electrical discharge.

Chemical energy can also be converted into electrical energy. For example, the chemical energy in a battery is converted into electrical energy. The electrical energy, which involves the motion of electrical charges or currents, can be used to power everyday devices like computers and flashlights.

Mechanical energy can also be transformed into electrical energy. For example, a hydroelectric plant uses the mechanical energy of flowing water to generate electrical energy. Wind energy is another mechanical to electrical energy transformation. The mechanical energy of the wind is transformed into electrical energy which can then be transformed into other types of energy.

Finally, nuclear energy is the energy stored in the nucleus of an atom. This energy can be manifested in two different ways. First is the fission process. In nuclear fission, an unstable nucleus breaks apart and, in the process, releases a tremendous amount of energy. The atomic bomb is an example of a fission process. In short, the energy released from breaking a tiny atomic nucleus can release enough energy to destroy a city or two. The energy from nuclear fission can be converted into electrical energy, thermal energy, and mechanical energy.

The other nuclear energy process is actually the opposite of fission. Nuclear fusion is the process of fusing two different nuclei to create another larger nucleus. This process also releases a tremendous amount of energy. Of the two types of nuclear energy, fusion is the most desirable because of the lack of nuclear waste. Fission processes leave residual effects like radiation, while fusion does not. Currently, we only have fission nuclear power plants, but research toward harnessing the power of nuclear fusion is underway.

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There are other secondary types of energy but these are just variations of the energy described above. For example, radiant energy and solar energy are results of electrical energy and nuclear energy. The sun releases energy by the process of fusion, combining hydrogen atoms to make helium atoms. The result is a release of light energy and solar energy which is also called electromagnetic radiation. Another type of energy is sound energy. Sound energy is the energy carried by sound waves. However, the sound has to be created by a mechanical or an electrical process, so we can classify this as a mechanical or electrical type of energy.

As you can see, most types of energy can be transformed into other types of energy. That is the basic concept behind energy transformations. The odd thing is that thermal energy is usually the end product of a transformation rather than the cause of a transformation. Most energy transformation processes end in the production of thermal energy. That being said, the one main example of thermal energy being transformed into another type of energy is an engine. The temperature difference in an engine is what allows the engine to operate and produce mechanical energy that moves the automobile. However, this process also produces thermal energy as a by-product.

Lesson Summary

The energy conservation principle states that energy can neither be destroyed nor created. Rather, energy will transform from one form to another. Many of these energy transformations can be useful. For instance, converting mechanical energy from a waterfall into electrical energy or converting nuclear energy to electrical energy to power a city is very useful. Some of these can be harmful, however, such as releasing nuclear energy to destroy a small city. But the main takeaway from this lesson is that for any type of process you can think of, there is probably an energy transformation involved. Try to think of everyday processes and look for energy transformations in them.

Learning Outcomes

Use what you learned during this lesson to accomplish these goals:

  • State the energy conservation principle
  • List several forms of energy that are capable of transformations
  • Discuss various types of energy transformations
  • Cite examples of energy transformations that are either useful or harmful

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energy transformation

law of conservation of energy

2:55

electric current

Introduction

Energy transformations occur naturally throughout the universe. People have invented many ways to…

Energy is the ability to do work. It is power that exists everywhere in many forms. The main forms of energy are light, chemical, mechanical, nuclear, electrical, heat, and sound. Energy changes form whenever it is used to do work. When energy changes form it is called energy transformation. Another name for energy transformation is energy conversion.

This video uses a tire swing to demonstrate the law of conservation of energy. The law states that…

Energy transformations occur everywhere in the universe. They take place constantly. That is because energy cannot be created or destroyed. Energy can neither appear out of nowhere nor vanish into nowhere. Instead, energy changes form when it does work—such as when it makes something move or when it makes a living thing grow.

Natural Energy Transformations

Light energy from the Sun transforms into chemical energy found in plants. As food is consumed by…

The Sun is Earth’s primary source of energy. The nuclear energy of the Sun is constantly being changed into electromagnetic energy, which includes light energy. This energy travels in waves through space. On Earth light energy from the Sun is used by plants to make their own food. During a process called photosynthesis it is transformed into the chemical energy found in plants. People and other animals then eat plants as food. The chemical energy of the food transforms into heat and mechanical energy. Heat energy maintains the body’s temperature. Mechanical energy is the energy the body has because of its motion and position. Activities such as breathing, walking, standing, or running involve mechanical energy.

Engineered Energy Transformations

An electric current, or moving electricity, flows through a circuit to provide power to devices such …

People have invented many ways to cause energy transformations. For example, engineers control how electrical energy is formed and where it goes so that it can be changed into light energy. Wind turbines transform the mechanical energy of the wind into electrical energy. Power lines transport the electricity from the wind turbines to buildings. Wires in buildings deliver the electricity to light bulbs. Electrical energy that reaches a light bulb changes to light and heat energy. The heat energy is considered to be “wasted” energy. Over time engineers have improved how well light bulbs convert electrical energy into light energy.

Death, Broken Legs and Addiction: The True Risks of Skydiving

Most Injuries Are Caused by Wrong Landings

Skydiving is a scary activity because people jump from 15,000ft and rely on the parachute – basically a specialized piece of nylon – to arrive safely at the ground. On the contrary, you might have heard that skydiving is safer than driving. To clear the myths around skydiving safety, here are the true risks of skydiving.

The risk of dying on a solo skydive is around 0.00045% and only 0.00020% on a tandem skydive. Injury rates, however, are higher and range between 0.3 – 0.7% depending on the level of expertise of the skydiver. Most common injuries include sprained ankles, broken legs, and little bone fractures.

Many people think that parachute malfunction poses the greatest risks for skydivers, however, nothing could be farther from the truth. Almost every injury or fatality in skydiving is caused by human error.

The Risks and Most Common Sources Of Skydiving Injuries

Skydiving injuries happen around one in every 130 – 240 jumps depending on the experience of the skydivers. In general, novice skydivers are more likely to get injured during skydiving.

Specifically, when novice skydivers get more and more used to the dangers involved, they might get a little bit sloppy during their jumps. If skydivers make it through this “valley of death” they become more experienced and routinized and are less likely to make any mistakes.

In order to understand the risks of injuries during skydiving let’s go through the typical skydiving process.

The Risks During the Airplane Exit When Skydiving

One of the most underrated risks occurs when exiting the airplane. If you are not careful, you might bump your head at the airplane when you jump out of it. Hitting your head is rarely fatal, however, it is a bad start in the skydive.

It might lead to a temporary loss of orientations such that the skydiver is not sure which direction is up and which one is down. As a result, it is more difficult for skydivers to stabilize themselves in freefall and to deploy the parachute properly. If a skydiver loses his orientation, he will also be less likely to watch out for other skydivers.

At the very best, bumping your head is just a bad start for your skydive and an annoying feeling for the rest of the jump. One of the reasons why skydivers wear helmets is, in fact, to avoid this experience and prevent any serious head injuries such as concussions.

It is very unlikely to hit one’s own head during a tandem jump. The tandem instructor usually sits at the edge of the door of the aircraft with the students on his knees. He does not actively jump out of the airplanes but just falls over forward. As a result, almost no tandem students hit their heads.

The Risks During Freefall When Skydiving

As there are almost no other objects in the air, one might think that skydivers can not be injured during freefall. However, one of the most common sources of injuries is the collision between two skydivers. Specifically, when beginners jump, they might not observe their environment accordingly or might not be able to track away from other jumpers in time.

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Skydivers also need to make sure never to be in the air above another skydiver. If the skydiver below changes his position from a head-down position to a belly-facing-earth position, he will decelerate quickly and the skydiver above might bump into him. Another risk occurs if the skydiver below accidentally opens his parachute – the skydiver above might not have the necessary time to avoid him.

Since the development of automatic deployment devices, freefall collisions almost never result in fatalities. Even if a skydiver is knocked unconscious, the parachute will be deployed automatically. However, the landing is likely to be uncontrolled and offside the dropzone which can result in severe injuries like back injuries, twisted ankles, and dislocations.

However, skydivers can also injure themselves during the collision specifically since both skydivers can reach speeds between 100 – 180 mph.

Skydiving collisions often happen either due to unintentional/ early parachute deployment or during formation jumps (or a combination thereof). During formation jumps the skydivers have close proximity to each other which makes them more likely to collide. They are also more prone to changes in wind speed and wind direction.

Since formation jumpers often wear weight bellies such that everyone has the same weight they will have the same falling speed. If two skydivers collide at a similar speed, the impact is limited and therefore the injuries are less severe.

The risk of collision is much lower for tandem skydives. The skydiving companies often make sure that there is enough time between each jump such that there is enough space between the tandem skydivers. Tandem instructors are also extremely experienced and will not make the mistake of flying over other skydivers or coming too close to them.

Besides collisions, the strong air resistance can dislocate the shoulders of skydivers if they move their arms in the wrong position. However, dislocating one’s shoulders normally happens to people that have dislocated their shoulders before and are not able to withstand so much pressure on them.

The Risks During Parachute Deployment When Skydiving

It can also happen that skydivers – specifically novice skydivers – lose control in freefall and start tumbling around strongly. This is not only dangerous during freefall but specifically when opening the parachute.

Having the wrong body position during opening can lead to parachute malfunctions. Lines can get entangled with each other or with the body. Entangled lines prevent the parachute from inflating properly such that the parachute cannot carry the weight of the skydiver.

In most cases, skydivers can cut loose of the entangled parachute and deploy their reserve parachute. However, if lines are entangled with the legs or arms, skydivers need to resolve this first before they can deploy the reserve. This often costs valuable time and height.

In the best case, line entanglements with the body only lead to a shock and several bruises. In the worst case, it can lead to a parachute failure and death.

Another risk during parachute deployments is hard openings. Hard openings happen when the parachute breaks the skydiver too fast and thereby puts pressure on his body through the harness. Hard openings often happen if skydivers open their parachutes when they are too fast (i.e. head-down position) or if the parachutes are too big.

While hard openings rarely kill someone, they can cause sprained neck muscles, slipped discs, and bruises along the harness straps.

If you perform a tandem jump, you do not need to worry about hard openings or wrong body position upon deployment. If you follow the instructions of your tandem instructor and don’t make any unnecessary arm movements, you will have a smooth ride.

The Risks During the Canopy Ride When Skydiving

Once the parachute is safely deployed, skydivers will need to steer it down to the dropzone. In my opinion, the canopy ride and the freefall are the safest steps in skydiving. The biggest risks during the canopy ride are getting lost and not making it to the dropzone. This is extremely annoying and landing in unknown territory is also extremely dangerous.

One man-made risk during the canopy ride, however, arises from risky parachute maneuvers. Maneuvers such as the “90-Degree Front-Riser Maneuvers” where you fly a circle and try to be almost horizontal in the air, are quite fun but also dangerous. Specifically, novice skydivers should only approach maneuvers slowly and step-by-step.

Similar to the freefall, skydivers might also collide during the canopy ride. Besides the direct injuries of the impact, the canopies can get entangled and the skydivers need to cut loose the main parachute and deploy the reserve one.

As canopy collisions often happen at a low height, the reserve parachute might not have enough time to inflate and therefore the skydiver will crash to the ground. If he is not killed, he will be injured severely.

The last risk during the canopy ride arises from strong or changing winds. If the wind is too strong, the skydiver will not be able to steer the canopy and will be buffeted by the wind. This might lead to a loss of orientation, parachute malfunctions, and injuries around the neck and disc.

Being exposed to strong winds is often the result of an early parachute deployment at high altitudes. Many skydivers underestimate the risk of early deployment.

If you want to learn more about the three underestimated risks of early parachute deployment, you can check out this article.

The Risks During the Landing When Skydiving

Most injuries happen by far during landings. If you meet someone who was injured during skydiving, it probably happened to him during the landing process. Injuries due to incorrect landings can range from light ones such as a twisted ankle or small fractures to severe ones such as broken legs or damaged spines.

One very dangerous form of landings is high impact landings. High impact landings describe landings where skydivers have too much speed when reaching the ground. This can either be caused by low parachute openings or, more likely, by canopy maneuvers before the landing.

In order to land at the dropzone, skydivers often go downwind with their parachutes and then break before landing. If they break too late, they hit the ground with too much speed. Skydivers might be able to reduce the impact by rolling off, however, sometimes even that is not enough. Skydivers can also wear special boots and protection that reduces the impacts and likelihood of injuries.

As aforementioned, landing offside the dropzone is also extremely dangerous. Skydivers might hit barbered wires, rocks, or other objects that can cause injuries.

Most of the injuries during tandem skydiving also occur during the landings. Most of the time, it is not the fault of the instructor but of the student. If the student does not lift his legs up properly, they might get twisted. This is also why skydiving companies test that students are able to lift their legs to 90 degrees before they allow them to jump.

A more unlikely but still underestimated risk occurs when skydivers do not pack their parachutes quickly enough after landing. If there are strong winds, the parachute might inflate again and pull the skydivers around at the ground. At best, this results in abrasions – at worst it causes broken bones or dislocations.

The Risks and Most Common Sources Of Skydiving Fatalities

Even though skydiving fatalities are highly unlikely and only happen one every 220,000 jumps, they still happen. Many people believe that parachute malfunctions (i.e. equipment problems) are the major cause of fatalities, however, nothing could be farther from the truth.

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The 13 Reasons Why Parachutes Fail During Skydiving

The number one reason why deadly skydiving accidents still happen is due to human error. Below you can find the 13 reasons why parachutes still fail:

  1. Material defects of the parachute and its lines can cause breaking canopies
  2. Wrong or sloppy packaging results in inflation failure
  3. Line entanglements jeopardize the inflation process
  4. Skydivers have the wrong body position when they deploy the parachute
  5. Early deployment of the reserve parachute
  6. Picking the wrong canopy size for the weight and wind conditions
  7. Deploying the parachute too late/ too low
  8. Blackouts of the skydiver result in no pull
  9. Collisions with other skydivers or airplanes
  10. Risky canopy maneuvers during the canopy ride
  11. Jumping in unfavorable and unpredictable wind conditions
  12. Landing offside the dropzone
  13. Executing the landing procedure incorrectly

If these errors do not result in fatalities, they are very likely to result in injuries for the skydivers.

If you want to know more about how these 13 mistakes happen, I have explained them in more detail in this article.

Tandem Skydiving Safety vs. Solo Skydiving Safety

Statistically, tandem skydiving is 2.5 times safer than solo skydiving. There is only one student fatality in every 500,000 jumps. The injury rates for tandem skydiving are also much lower than for solo skydiving.

As aforementioned, most of the skydiving accidents happen due to human error and not due to any equipment malfunctions. Because the tandem instructor will be in charge of the whole jump, accidents and injuries are highly unlikely. Tandem instructors are highly trained and experienced skydivers who almost never make any crucial mistakes.

If you want to learn more about tandem safety and why it is so much safer than solo skydiving, you can find more information in this article.

Other Risks Of Skydiving

Beyond the risks of being physically injured or dying due to skydiving, there are more risks that need to be taken into account.

Skydiving With Pre-Existing Medical Conditions

People that have pre-existing medical conditions should not go skydiving without seeing their doctor in advance. Your doctor knows about your state of health and is the best person to decide whether you are good to jump. If your doctor is unsure whether you can jump, you can consult doctors that specialize in aviation.

Below you can find a few pre-existing medical conditions that might prevent someone from skydiving and need to be checked in advance:

  • Heart problems
  • High blood pressure
  • A danger of aneurysms
  • Joint or back problems
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Eye injuries

Please note that this list is not exhaustive and does not replace your consultation with your doctor.

Skydiving When Being Sick

When skydivers feel unwell, they should also restrain from making a jump. Not only will it be an unpleasant experience, but it will also be dangerous for themselves and others.

People are more likely to lose their focus and control when being sick. In addition, their eardrum is more likely to burst due to the strong air pressure differences. If skydivers have headaches, it will also be much more intensified.

If you want to learn more about the 7 things that can go wrong when skydiving sick, you can check this article out.

Psychological Risks and Adrenaline Addiction

Psychological risks include traumas from having a bad experience oneself or from seeing someone dying or getting injured. Seeing someone having an accident is nothing that you want to experience and I consider myself lucky that I have not seen any severe accident in real life.

Seeing a skydiving accident can also make people drop skydiving as a hobby. As I was writing this, I met another skydiver in a cafe. He told me that he used to jump together with his business partner but stopped after he saw him pulling the parachute too low (the altimeter was broken). His business partner (and friend) was not killed, but lost his feeling for his left hand and is unable to use it anymore.

Another risk that drives some skydivers from skydiving to base jumping or wingsuit flying is adrenaline addiction. In the quest of getting the next adrenaline kick, adrenaline junkies perform the most incredible (and dangerous) jumps possible.

Adrenaline junkies often die from one of their jumps. If they don’t, constant adrenaline kicks will also deteriorate the nerve systems and the brain.

The Risks of Getting Hooked After Your First Skydive

A more positive risk of skydiving is that you might enjoy it so much that you will pick it up as a regular hobby. For me personally, skydiving is the hobby that had the greatest impact on my life beyond the hobby itself. Not only is skydiving a good physical workout, but it also boosts mental sharpness and emotional stability.

Skydiving regularly means facing someone’s own fears and to rethink one’s perspective for death and what is important in one’s life. These thoughts put other things in life into the right perspective. Since I started skydiving, I have become much calmer under pressure and more stress-resilient at work.

After all, nothing bad is going to happen to me if a project at work does not go as planned. But if a jump does not go as planned, it might be fatal for me.

If you want to learn more about the emotional, mental, and physical advantages of picking skydiving up as a hobby, you can find more information here.

If you are thinking about skydiving the risks should not stop you. Skydiving is an extremely safe sport. After all, you are more likely to die in a car accident on your way to the dropzone or to be killed by lightning.

If you are concerned about safety, you can also start by making tandem jumps, and progressing step-by-step from there.

Enjoy your freefall!

Hi, I’m Kai. The first time I jumped out of an airplane and experienced free fall was one of the most amazing moments of my life. For me, skydiving does not only stand for freedom and independence but being present in the moment and being respectful to others and oneself. Now I want to share what I’ve learned with you.

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ABOUT ME

Hi, I’m Kai. The first time I jumped out of an airplane and experienced free fall was one of the most amazing moments of my life. For me, skydiving does not only stand for freedom and independence but being present in the moment and being respectful to others and oneself. Now I want to share what I’ve learned with you.

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