Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Case of the Missing Energy

I wrote this for a five-point physics assignment. The objective was to demonstrate concepts we've learned so far in the class and apply them to the real world. I went kind of overboard on it, but I thought it turned out really well. Also, that simile about the lead weight is somewhat of an inside joke. Basically, I accidentally hit my physics professor with a lead weight in front of the entire class of 45 students. I know, hilarious, right? Anyway, here's the story of the Case of the Missing Energy:

I have two books in my desk. One’s a book of matches that light my cigarettes. They make me look cool. The other’s a book of physics that keeps my head cool. I’m Phil Sicks, Private Investigator.
The door to my office creaked open. The most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in months stepped in. I let her know that before she could get a word in.
“Oh, my, thank you. I’m sure it’s just the light. It sure is dark in here,” the dame said, blushing.
“Honey,” I said, “Light is simply a name for a range of electromagnetic radiation that can be detected by the human eye. But that’s a different story. What’s yours?”
“Well, it all started when I was driving home from work the other day. A squirrel dashed out in front of me, and I hit the brakes. The car came to a screeching halt. Like any normal person, the first thing that came to my mind was what happened to the car tires’ energy? It’s like it vanished into thin air. I hear you’re the best when it comes to physics problem investigations.”
“You heard right,” I said. “Now hurry on out of here, and I’ll get back to you when I have answers. This could be an all-nighter…”
After the lady left, I reached for my signature trench coat and, of course, my physics textbook. Then I hopped into my car. After hours of accelerating then slamming on the brakes outside the local Walmart parking lot, all I had come up with were two pairs of worn out tires.
“Okay,” I said to myself, “play time’s over. Let’s get to business. Textbook, do your thing.” So I began to read; shocking, I know. I managed to find a clue in the form of a formula:
Initial Kinetic Energy + Initial Potential Energy + Work = Final Kinetic Energy + Final Potential Energy
“Let’s start with Potential Energy,” I said. “Potential Energy is Mass times Gravity times Height. Well, I’m on the ground, so the height’s gotta be zero. That means I can cancel out both Potential Energies. Suspect P.E., you’re free to go.
“Okay, what’s next? Let’s have a look at the Final Kinetic Energy. Kinetic Energy is one-half times Mass times the Velocity squared. But the car’s stopped, which means my final velocity is zero. Looks like I got rid of another suspect, Mr. Final Kinetic Energy. But the car was moving when she started her story, so there’s gotta be an initial velocity. Not so fast, Initial Kinetic Energy. I’m not done with you just yet. “That just leaves Work. Now that’s Force times the Distance. Well, we definitely have both of those. The Force must be friction between the tires and the ground, in this case.”
Then it hit me like a lead weight to the chest. The energy didn’t disappear; it moved! It must have transferred from the tires to the ground. You managed to make your getaway right under the nose of the beautiful female driver (whose name I didn’t seem to get…). Clever, clever, but not clever enough I’m afraid, Energy. Looks like another case solved for… Detective Phil Sicks. Now to solve the mystery of how I get paid...