The following items are from the NEWTON website: 11/2012
NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators,
sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

Origin of Energy

Question:   Energy can neither be created nor can be destroyed but only can be transformed. This is one of the most important statements in physics, "The Law of the Conservation of Energy" If this is true, then when did the first energy come from? i.e. Was energy created at the origin of the universe?

(1) There are two issues here. Neither is easy, nor obvious: The first is that "energy" is an abstraction. This is a difficult concept to get a grip on because energy is slipped into our thinking so "smoothly" and so soon in our physics education. It is made to appear so sacred, so "obvious" that who dares challenge the conservation laws! But look what happens in the practice of teaching "elementary" physics. We immediately invoke friction-free inclined planes, pulleys, etc. because if we do not then "energy" is not conserved because of friction and heat losses. Then enters thermodynamics: which deals with the conversions of mechanical work and heat, but look what has to be done -- idealized "reversible" infinitely slow processes must be invoked to "save" the laws of conservation.

Theoreticians, especially Emmy Noether, in the 1930's were truly concerned about the laws of conservation and another aspect of physical laws, namely their symmetry. She proved mathematically that a quantity is conserved, if and only if, some element of symmetry is preserved. Energy is "conserved" because the equations governing energy are symmetric with respect to "time". Momentum is "conserved" because the equations governing momentum are symmetric with respect to "space coordinates". Angular momentum is "conserved" because the equations governing angular momentum are symmetric with respect to "rotation".

We should not lose sight of the fact that the properties of some very obscure particles were predicted based upon other conservation laws holding true, without the particles ever having been observed experimentally. That is certainly a leap of "faith".

The second part of your question has to do with what happened "once upon a time" in the first microscopic fractions of a second after the creation of the Universe. And to the extent that I am able to fathom the problem, the honest answer is, "No one knows.".

Vince Calder, PhD


(2) Elvis, If the universe began with a "Big Bang", then the energy had to have already been here.

One theory is that it was all compressed into tightly packed matter. Energy can be in the form of matter, based on Einstein's E=mc^2. That tightly packed matter then exploded, much of the matter-energy converting into other forms.

Another theory is oscillation. The universe has always been here, and always will be. The universe expands to a certain limit, and then it collapses back to its compressed form. The universe does this repeatedly. It always has been oscillating and always will be oscillating.

Both of the above assume that the universe is all that exists. It is possible that other sources of energy do exist, other universes, other dimensions, a variety of possibilities. Because we would have no way to measure such a thing, science tends to limit itself to the first two options. We really have no way to know which is true.

Dr. Ken Mellendorf

Physics Instructor
Illinois Central College



The following is from the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA. website: 11/2012

Origin of Energy and Life

Serpentinization as a source of energy at the origin of life.
Russell MJ, Hall AJ, Martin W.

For life to have emerged from CO?, rocks, and water on the early Earth, a sustained source of chemically transducible energy was essential. The serpentinization process is emerging as an increasingly likely source of that energy. Serpentinization of ultramafic crust would have continuously supplied hydrogen, methane, minor formate, and ammonia, as well as calcium and traces of acetate, molybdenum and tungsten, to off-ridge alkaline hydrothermal springs that interfaced with the metal-rich carbonic Hadean Ocean. Silica and bisulfide were also delivered to these springs where cherts and sulfides were intersected by the alkaline solutions. The proton and redox gradients so generated represent a rich source of naturally produced chemiosmotic energy, stemming from geochemistry that merely had to be tapped, rather than induced, by the earliest biochemical systems. Hydrothermal mounds accumulating at similar sites in today's oceans offer conceptual and experimental models for the chemistry germane to the emergence of life, although the ubiquity of microbial communities at such sites in addition to our oxygenated atmosphere preclude an exact analogy.

Published 2010. This article is a US Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

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