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PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer

What is meant by conservation of energy? How is energy transferred between objects or systems?


Introduction to PS3.B

from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 124-125)

The total change of energy in any system is always equal to the total energy transferred into or out of the system. This is called conservation of energy. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transported from one place to another and transferred between systems. Many different types of phenomena can be explained in terms of energy transfers. Mathematical expressions, which quantify changes in the forms of energy within a system and transfers of energy into or out of the system, allow the concept of conservation of energy to be used to predict and describe the behavior of a system. 

When objects collide or otherwise come in contact, the motion energy of one object can be transferred to change the motion or stored energy (e.g., change in shape or temperature) of the other objects. For macroscopic objects, any such process (e.g., collisions, sliding contact) also transfers some of the energy to the surrounding air by sound or heat. For molecules, collisions can also result in energy transfers through chemical processes, which increase or decrease the total amount of stored energy within a system of atoms; the change in stored energy is always balanced by a change in total kinetic energy—that of the molecules present after the process compared with the kinetic energy of the molecules present before it. 

Energy can also be transferred from place to place by electric currents. Heating is another process for transferring energy. Heat transfer occurs when two objects or systems are at different temperatures. Energy moves out of higher temperature objects and into lower temperature ones, cooling the former and heating the latter. This transfer happens in three different ways—by conduction within solids, by the flow of liquid or gas (convection), and by radiation, which can travel across space. Even when a system is isolated (such as Earth in space), energy is continually being transferred into and out of it by radiation. The processes underlying convection and conduction can be understood in terms of models of the possible motions of particles in matter. 

Radiation can be emitted or absorbed by matter. When matter absorbs light or infrared radiation, the energy of that radiation is transformed to thermal motion of particles in the matter, or, for shorter wavelengths (ultraviolet, X-ray), the radiation’s energy is absorbed within the atoms or molecules and may possibly ionize them by knocking out an electron. 

Uncontrolled systems always evolve toward more stable states—that is, toward more uniform energy distribution within the system or between the system and its environment (e.g., water flows downhill, objects that are hotter than their surrounding environment cool down). Any object or system that can degrade with no added energy is unstable. Eventually it will change or fall apart, although in some cases it may remain in the unstable state for a long time before decaying (e.g., long-lived radioactive isotopes).


K-12 Progressions

from NGSS Appendix E: Disciplinary Core Idea Progressions

K-2 3-5 6-8 9-12
PS3.A
Definitions of Energy

PS3.B
Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer

N/A. PS3.A PS3.B

Moving objects contain energy. The faster the object moves, the more energy it has. Energy can be moved from place to place by moving objects, or through sound, light, or electrical currents. Energy can be converted from one form to another form. PS3.A PS3.B

Kinetic energy can be distinguished from the various forms of potential energy. Energy changes to and from each type can be tracked through physical or chemical interactions. The relationship between the temperature and the total energy of a system depends on the types, states, and amounts of matter. PS3.A PS3.B

The total energy within a system is conserved. Energy transfer within and between systems can be described and predicted in terms of fields or interactions of particles. 

Systems move toward stable states. PS3.A PS3.B


Grade Band Endpoints for PS3.B

from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 125-126)

By the end of grade 2. Sunlight warms Earth’s surface. 

By the end of grade 5. Energy is present whenever there are moving objects, sound, light, or heat. When objects collide, energy can be transferred from one object to another, thereby changing their motion. In such collisions, some energy is typically also transferred to the surrounding air; as a result, the air gets heated and sound is produced. 

Light also transfers energy from place to place. For example, energy radiated from the sun is transferred to Earth by light. When this light is absorbed, it warms Earth’s land, air, and water and facilitates plant growth. 

Energy can also be transferred from place to place by electric currents, which can then be used locally to produce motion, sound, heat, or light. The currents may have been produced to begin with by transforming the energy of motion into electrical energy (e.g., moving water driving a spinning turbine which generates electric currents). 

By the end of grade 8. When the motion energy of an object changes, there is inevitably some other change in energy at the same time. For example, the friction that causes a moving object to stop also results in an increase in the thermal energy in both surfaces; eventually heat energy is transferred to the surrounding environment as the surfaces cool. Similarly, to make an object start moving or to keep it moving when friction forces transfer energy away from it, energy must be provided from, say, chemical (e.g., burning fuel) or electrical (e.g., an electric motor and a battery) processes. 

The amount of energy transfer needed to change the temperature of a matter sample by a given amount depends on the nature of the matter, the size of the sample, and the environment. Energy is transferred out of hotter regions or objects and into colder ones by the processes of conduction, convection, and radiation. 

By the end of grade 12. Conservation of energy means that the total change of energy in any system is always equal to the total energy transferred into or out of the system. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transported from one place to another and transferred between systems. 

Mathematical expressions, which quantify how the stored energy in a system depends on its configuration (e.g., relative positions of charged particles, compression of a spring) and how kinetic energy depends on mass and speed, allow the concept of conservation of energy to be used to predict and describe system behavior. The availability of energy limits what can occur in any system. 

Uncontrolled systems always evolve toward more stable states—that is, toward more uniform energy distribution (e.g., water flows downhill, objects hotter than their surrounding environment cool down). Any object or system that can degrade with no added energy is unstable. Eventually it will do so, but if the energy releases throughout the transition are small, the process duration can be very long (e.g., long-lived radioactive isotopes).


Performance Expectations Associated with PS3.B

K-2 3-5 6-8 9-12
K-PS3-1
K-PS3-2
4-PS3-2
4-PS3-3
4-PS3-4
MS-PS3-3
MS-PS3-4
MS-PS3-5
HS-PS3-1
HS-PS3-4


Additional Resources

A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 124-126)

Bozemanscience Video

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