Energy is the capacity to do work. To do work means to move something, whether it is a muscle or a molecule. Some examples of physiological work are breaking chemical bonds, building molecules, pumping blood, and contracting skeletal muscles. All of the body's activities are forms of work.
Energy is broadly classified as potential or kinetic energy. Potential energy is energy contained in an object because of its position or internal state, but which is not
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doing work at the time. Kinetic energy is energy of motion, energy that is doing work. It is observed in skeletomuscular movements, the flow of ions into a cell, and vibration of the eardrum, for example. The water behind a dam has potential energy because of its position. Let the water flow through, and it exhibits kinetic energy that can be tapped for generating electricity. Like water behind a dam, ions concentrated on one side of a cell membrane have potential energy that can be released by opening gates in the membrane. As the ions flow through the gates, their kinetic energy can be tapped to create a nerve signal or make the heart beat.
Within the two broad categories of potential and kinetic energy, there are several forms of energy relevant to human physiology. Chemical energy is potential energy stored in the bonds of molecules. Chemical reactions release this energy and make it available for physiological work. Heat is the kinetic energy of molecular motion. The temperature of a substance is a measure of rate of this motion, and adding heat to a substance increases this rate. Electromagnetic energy is the kinetic energy of moving "packets" of radiation called photons. The most familiar form of electromagnetic energy is light. Electrical energy has both potential and kinetic forms. It is potential energy when charged particles have accumulated at a point such as a battery terminal or on one side of a cell membrane; it becomes kinetic energy when these particles begin to move and create an electrical current—for example, when electrons move through your household wiring or sodium ions move through a cell membrane.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.