Energy is the most powerful and useful concept in all of physics, but what exactly is it? PBS Space-Time Explains.
In physics energy is not a substance, nor is it mystical. Energy is a number. A quantity. And the quantity itself isn’t even particularly fundamental. Instead, it’s a mathematical relationship between other, more fundamental quantities. It was 17th-century polymath Gottfried Leibnitz who first figured out the mathematical form of what we call kinetic energy – the energy of motion. He realized that the sum of mass times velocity squared for a system of particles bouncing around on a flat surface is always conserved, assuming no friction and perfect bounciness. Leibnitz called this early incarnation of energy vis viva – the living force.