Spring Potential Energy and Conservation
If you compressed a spring until you had a measurable
amount of energy stored within the spring, then you tied both ends of the
spring together (securing the energy within the spring), then immersed
the compressed spring into a vat of acid (theoretical acid that would
deteriorate the entire spring at the same rate) until the spring was
completely dissolved, where does the spring potential energy go?
The energy would go into heating the vat of acid.
When the spring is compressed, the work goes into pushing the molecules in
the spring closer together. The force with which they repel each other is
then larger then if the metal is not compressed.
So when the spring disintegrates, the molecules separate at a higher speed
than they would if the spring were not compressed. The additional kinetic
energy of all the molecules would just equal the energy stored in the spring
by compressing it. The moving molecules then collide with the molecules of
acid and heat them up, The additional heat energy is then just equal to the
energy stored by compressing the spring,
Best, Dick Plano, Professor of Physics emeritus, Rutgers University
It goes into extra heat in the final acid solution.
The solution with the compressed spring could be a fraction of a degree
warmer than the same with no compression.
As the acid pries each atom off the solid metal, the stored force can be
manifested as a slightly easier or more energetic separation from the solid.
After all, the elastic deformation means that each microscopic crystallite
in the metal has been stretched to a less-favorable shape,
where the electronic bonding between atoms can not have quite as much
In this sense, a solid stretched near its limits is slightly less of a solid.
It is a slightly less stable substance.
There is a commonly discussed phenomenon in metallurgy called
which is partly related to this, and partly more like
I think stress may noticeably accelerate mass-loss in the early to middle
stages of dissolution in acid.
Spring-grade (hardened, brittle) steels are rarely rust-resistant!
Do not forget that your spring may break before it is all dissolved,
and then it is stored energy would suddenly thrash the liquid, ending up
as a little heat.
Well, you have postulated a closed system with a single inevitable final
so the energy all ends up the same place, regardless of the exact sequence
of the events.
In principle, the heat released when a compressed (or expanded) spring is
dissolved is greater than the same spring dissolved in acid when it is in
equilibrium. However, the energy of compression or stretching is small
compared to the heat of reaction of the spring with the acid, so it is
Click here to return to the Physics Archives
Update: June 2012